This is one of the biggest questions in wrestling and regardless of whether it was a hoax or not it certainly is one of if not THE biggest moments in wrestling history. Prompted by the latest ITR podcast I have to ask was the ‘Montreal Screw Job’ a big joke played out on live PPV and for thirteen years after OR was it the big deal we have all been lead to believe it was?
We have all heard the stories told by different sources with different agendas. Let’s start with ‘The Facts’ as I believe them to be. In the mid 90’s WCW was destroying the WWF. WCW had the big names, a seemingly limitless budget thanks to its billionaire owner ted turner who also happened to own a TV station on which to show his product. WWF didn’t have these things. While the WWF had a fairly rich history and presented itself as the No.1 company it wasn’t reflected where it mattered. In the ratings and in the money. Something had to be done.
Bret Hart was one of WWF’s biggest ever stars and a mainstay since he arrived in 1984 and was reaching a cross roads in his career. Wrestling was beginning to change and at that point in his career he felt like he had done pretty much everything and it might be time for a change. Despite that Bret had signed an unprecedented 20 year contract in 1996 partly out of respect for the WWF and Vince McMhaon (who he saw as a father figure) and partly for long term security which is almost impossible to find in wrestling.
Unfortunately because of the dire situation the WWF was in they could’t afford to honour Brets contract and still being loyal to the company Bret said he would waver the contract and go to WCW where he could make a good deal of money essentially going out to pasture before retiring in the not so distant future. Vince was okay with this. Bret had been a loyal servant and Bret moving at that point in time wasn’t going to the major blow it would have been earlier in his career. Vince himself said ‘WCW wouldn’t know what to do with Bret hart’ and that was pretty much a fact. It is no secret WCW/Eric Bischoff essentially just hired anyone that had ever been near a ring, gave them a stupid amount of money ( It wasn’t Erics) and hoped for the best. If you can’t imagine what that is like go watch TNA.
The problem arose because Bret was still WWF champ and a way for him to lose the title needed to be decided. The Survivor Series PPV was the obvious choice but Bret refused to lose in Canada to Shawn Michaels. He was willing to have a no contest and the next night on RAW vacate the title before leaving the WWF. Vince seemed to be okay with this but unfortunately due to previous problms with people jumping ship to WCW on some occasions taking title belts with them ( and dumping them in a bin) Vince got paranoid. His relationship with Bret had deterioated and Bret refusing to lose and essentially holding the WWF title to randsome was the final straw so Vince and his minions came up with a plan. Instead of the no contest finish they had planned, Shawn Michaels would put Bret in his own finisher the Sharp Shooter, ref Earl Hebner would call for the bell signalling Bret had tapped, HBK is the new champ and so long Bret. That is what happend and the rest is history. But again was this whole thing one elaborate hoax?
The arugments for it being a hoax normally are:
1. Bret was loyal to the WWF
2. By doing it Vince could get rid of a large finacial obligation.
3. Bret was going to get paid a good few million to essentially sit on his ass a few years in WCW.
4. It made Vince the biggest heel in wrestling and started the ‘Attitude’ era.
5. So many people knew about it it couldn’t possibly be a secret.
6. The film crew being there to catch all the backstage drama was too convenient.
The way I see it I think it is obvious Bret was as loyal as anyone to the WWF. Him and Shawn Michaels stuck around through the good and bad times like very few others. If he wanted the money he could have left a lot earlier when he was worth more. The fact so many people knew isn’t that suprising. I imagine there are few really well kept secrets in a locker room although there are notable exceptions. Really though for it to have been a master plan you have to accept a few things that seem a bit implausible.
1. Bret was willing to throw away 20+ years of good will and respect from loyal fans all over the world for a few million/ to help the WWF. It’s possible. Bret is human after all but Bret has always had a reputation for arrogance and taking things too seriously which if true means he wouldn’t have thrown it all away so easily. No one is that loyal or stupid.
2. Vince knew this would make the WWF. Hind sight is always 20-20 but you have to admit no matter how smart Vince may be he couldn’t have known how things would play out. DX were popular but he couldn’t have known they would take off like they did and there is no way anyone could have seen Stone Cold being anywhere near as big as he became. By doing that Vince would effectively have been playing russian roulette with the WWF. Fans could have easily stopped watching after seeing what happened to one of their icons and Stone Cold could have easily flopped in his new role. You also have to think the plan would have to be amazing given WWF’s that top guy Shawn Michaels managed to injure himself just a couple of moths down the line. I doubt they had planned for that too. That is a huge gamble which would make Vince an even bigger gambler/genius/mad man than Paul Heyman. If that were true why the hell hasn’t he used a tenth of that to improve the WWE now.
3. The locker room. If what people say is correct than evereyone in the back knew and always had. Ff that is true why havn’t more disgruntled wrestlers from that time of which there are many said something. It seems to be something some of them bring up in their RF video shoot but other that that no word. You have to imagine the type of things wrestlers are willing to say and do many more would have been forth coming. If they were kept in the dark again it was another ridictulous risk. I think Mick Foley seriously did quit for a day or whatever. I doubt he would lie about that. Thats my opinion and I stick to it. But again if the wrestlers were in the dark many could have walked out such as…
4. The Hart foundation: If it was a hoax why did they leave. I have never heard stories of them getting paid millions to go. They had no reason to leave the WWF other than over that incident even if it did mean two less checks WWF had to write. But then they paid Tyson a decent sum just to show up so it couldn’t have been too bad. And why would Owen stay? He gained nothing from staying. He was essentially DX/HHH’s whipping boy for the next year or so, had a couple of ok mid card feuds and that was it. I have to imagine he would have got more out of the whole thing had it been a hoax and no one has ever said that. I know Owen was a thrifty man who cared greatly for his family and his future so if he was getting something decent why did he do so much stupid crap for seeminlgy nothing. It would also make all the good will towards him before and after his death seem hollow and wasted and I can’t beileve he would do something like that just for the WWF. He could have jumped ship to WCW and flourished in the mid card. One of the saddest parts of his death is he never got to wrestle the likes of Y2J, Benoit or Gurrero but thats for another time.
5. Vince would let us peek behind the curtain. This really never ever happens at least not in any major way though if you were going to do it that was the time.
Again, while we won’t ever know for sure I think there is enough reasonable doubt to suggest that it was just a break down of a relationship that Vince took advantage of as opposed to the most daring gambit ever seen in wrestling ever.
Any questions of comments please get in touch and thank you for reading.