... A Sour Apple Tree

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Location: Huntington, WV, United States

I'm a 37 year-old guy from Huntington, WV.

Friday, November 09, 2007

10 years on...

Today is the ten year anniversary of the Montreal Screwjob. For those of you who weren't down with late '90s rasslin, here is the deal:

A few years earlier, Bret Hart had signed a 20 year deal with the WWF for a boatload of cash. Well, by 1997, Stanford (location of WWF's headquarters, BTW) was getting its ass kicked by World Championship Wrestling, a Time Warner owned promotion out of Atlanta. In order to save money, WWF owner Vince McMahon suggested that Hart should seek a deal with WCW for more money and he would be released from his contract.

Documents were signed, deals were made, and it was agreed that Hart, then the WWF champion, would leave for Turnerville after the Survivor Series pay-per-view in Montreal. But what should be done with the title? You see, one of the rules of thumb in wrestling is that if a performer leaves, he leaves on his back.

Here we start running into problems. Hart was booked to face Shawn Michaels at the PPV, a man he hated on a personal level and to whom he didn't want to job the title. Over the previous couple of years, Michaels had been allowed to forfeit the title a couple of times rather than put Hart over, for various lame-ass reasons like he "lost his smile." Obviously Hart, a proud Canadian, didn't want to lose to HBK (Michaels' nickname, short for the Heart Break Kid) in his own country (note: there was a big kayfabe US vs. Canada feud in the WWF at the time). Depending on who is telling the story, Hart is said to have offered to drop the title before or during Survivor Series to just about anyone other than Michaels, hand the belt over to McMahon on the next night's Monday Night Raw, or even drop it to Ken Shamrock on Raw. Hart, who had a terrific reputation for putting people when asked, had drawn his line in the sand. Not to Michaels. Not in Montreal.

Supposedly Hart and McMahon agreed to a double disqualification finish for the match and would then turn over the title the next evening and address the fans and his coworkers on live TV in order to leave the company on good terms.

Vinnie Mac, however, had another idea.

McMahon had been burned a couple of years earlier by the WWF women's champ, Alundra Blayze, who showed up on WCW Monday Nitro and dumped the WWF title in the garbage. Now no one has ever accused VKM of not being a little bit paranoid and, despite Hart's word that such an action would not be repeated, Vince decided that he had to get the strap off of Bret that Sunday night, whether Hart was in on it or not.

At Survivor Series, the match between Hart and Michaels started as planned and continued going according to the booked finish. Michaels was supposed to put Hart in the Sharpshooter, the Hitman's signature submission hold, which Hart would reverse. The match would then continue for a bit before wrestlers allied with Hart and Michaels would brawl with each other and eventually lead to the double-DQ. Hart, who had been warned of a double cross by a few of the other wrestlers, trusted referee Earl Hebner and allowed himself to be placed int he move by Michaels while the ref was knocked out. As soon as he was in the move, however, Hebner hopped to his feat while McMahon yelled something along the lines of "ring the fucking bell." The bell was immediately sounded and Michaels' theme music started. Yup, the fix was in. Bret got screwed.

Michaels, despite being involved in the planning, was told to pretend to be disgusted with the outcome and to leave the ringside immediately. This was due to the fact that, in a real altercation a few months earlier, Bret beat the shit out of HBK in a fist fight and it would not look so good for the WWF if their champ was legit walloped on national TV by the guy he supposedly just defeated.

Hart was furious and so were the fans. Hart spat in McMahon's face and trashed several thousand dollars worth of TV monitors at ringside while his fellow countrymen hurled trash at Vince and other WWF employees. His brother Owen and his two brother-in-laws, Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart--fellow WWF wrestlers who were to be involved in the brawl--finally came to calm down Hart. He then left ringside, telling the fans that he loved them and flashing WCW hand gestures.

Now to the backstage: Bret was pissed and the locker room was in near-revolt. Hart first confronted Michaels, who feigned ignorance. Meanwhile, The Undertaker demanded that McMahon apologize to Hart for the screwjob. When Vince went to Bret, Hart cold-cocked him and threatened a similar fate for his lackeys if they didn't leave, too. McMahon would later semi-pacify the rest of the talent by pointing out that he was thinking of the best interests of the WWF and (in a mildly threatening tone) reminding them of their contractual obligations. A few day later, in an interview with Jim Ross, McMahon uttered the infamous phrase: "Vince McMahon didn't screw Bret Hart. Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart."

Bret did indeed go to Atlanta where, despite some title reigns, he never quite achieved the same level of success that he had enjoyed in the WWF. McMahon parlayed the legit heat towards him into the evil "Mr. McMahon" character who would seek to thwart the success of anti-authority faces/tweeners like "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock, and Mick Foley. Within four years, Owen Hart would be dead after a stupid stunt went wrong and he fell nearly 80 feet onto a turnbuckle, the WWF would win the Monday Night Wars and purchase WCW from AOL Time Warner, and Bret would be forced into retirement after a stiff kick to the head from Bill Goldberg.

In recent years, the relationship between Hart and McMahons has thawed a bit. Hart and the (now) WWE collaborated on a DVD telling the complete story of Hart's career and Hart was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame. Hart still does not speak to Michaels, however.

If there are two lessons to be learned from this tale, I suppose one would be to always watch your back, even in the company of those you generally trust. The other would be that even the deepest grudges can be settled, as unwillingness to forgive hurts the holder as much as it does the target of the hard feelings.

(Note: Thanks to the Wikipedia article on the event for filling in some of the gaps in my memory)

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3 Comments:

Blogger All Click said...

Thanks for this! I coincidently read through Bret Hart's wikipedia entry recently and really admire the guy. I especially like the part where he was inducted in the WWE hall of fame AND the Professional Wrestling Hall of fame and said that the later was a bigger honor for him.

Friday, November 09, 2007  
Blogger Jackie said...

Fucking-A!

I taped "Wrestling With Shadows" on VHS a looong time ago and still watch it occasionaly. Oddly enough nobody around wants to watch it for the 200000th time. Wanna come over?

Friday, November 09, 2007  
Blogger Evil Twin's Wife said...

I don't know much about wrestling, but I do love sour apples! :-) Thanx for visiting me and I'll be back...

Saturday, November 10, 2007  

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