The Montreal Screwjob is the most notorious and divisive day in the wrestling business.
Various forms of media have documented and dissected the infamous incident. Typically, despite attempts otherwise, one side over the other is favored. Wrestling With Shadows is the voice of the Hitman. The TNN WWE Confidential program in 2002 provided an outlet for McMahon and Michaels. Even the timeline written by Dave Meltzer is laden with his personal opinions and seems reflective of Hart's position.
The first part of “Through the Looking Glass” examined the viewpoint of Bret Hart.
This is one part of the other side of the story.
Vince McMahon, Jr. pioneered the modern wrestling business. After 11 years of learning the ins and outs of his father’s business, McMahon embarked on a visionary journey.
He acquired talent from other promotions. He began promoting outside of the Northeast territory. He invested the majority of his funds into a true integration of athleticism and entertainment, Wrestlemania, and it became an undisputed success. He initiated a new form of revenue stream in pay-per-view events.
In 1993, McMahon presented Monday Night RAW. The first live wrestling show was a tremendous success. Two years later, Eric Bischoff unveiled his response. Monday Nitro would be the instrument of WCW for the Monday Night Wars. June 10, 1996 was the last victory RAW would enjoy for a shocking 84 weeks.
Four months later, Bret Hart was the center of a bidding war between the two wrestling titans. Bischoff had stolen a tactic of McMahon’s, recruiting talent from the latter. With such coups as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, and Scott Hall, Bischoff looked to add Hart to that illustrious list.
Desperate to prevent the loss of any more stars that he had put in the spotlight, McMahon offered Hart an unprecedented 20-year deal. Understandably, McMahon was concerned that many wrestlers he made into marketing darlings were now being showcased for his biggest competition. He did not want it to happen again.
Hart resigned with the WWF after an eight month absence. He would pick up right where he left off, the potential of programs with several WWF top players and a rapidly deteriorating relationship with the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels.
With the amount of money that McMahon was going to be paying Hart, he wanted to secure the greatest return from the Hitman’s star power. That translated into another world title win after Michaels was forced to vacate the belt due to injury. After reviewing his roster, McMahon suggested that Hart turn heel.
Reluctantly, Hart agreed, provided that he could remain a babyface internationally.
As November of 1997 loomed on the horizon, McMahon had assisted Hart in securing a huge contract with WCW due to financial constraints within the WWF. Reportedly $3 million per year for three years, it was an unprecedented deal.
Meanwhile, the racy, edgy WCW was still outperforming the WWF. McMahon was taking steps to bring more attitude to his broadcasts; an attitude that formed the basis of Hart’s complaints with the creative direction of the promotion.
The quandary for McMahon after Hart signed the contract with WCW was the cutthroat tactics in the Monday Night Wars. Bischoff had displayed no hesitation in using air time to denigrate the WWF.
While Hart’s last day with the WWF was scheduled to be December 7th, there was no guarantee that Bischoff would keep it quiet following the Survivor Series PPV on November 9.
A little under two years prior, Alundra Blayze, also known as Madusa, appeared on WCW Nitro with the WWF Women’s Championship belt and threw it in the trash in the midst of a fiery promo denouncing the WWF.
McMahon was concerned that either the same would transpire with the WWF Championship belt or that Bischoff, once clear from the obligations set forth in Hart’s contract signing, would announce that the WWF Champion was coming to WCW on the November 10 edition of Nitro.
Either way, it would be a disaster for the struggling World Wrestling Federation.
Several times, McMahon suggested scenarios that would lead to crowning a new champion before the enforced silence on Bischoff expired. The long-term plan for the WWF was for a rising Stone Cold Steve Austin to win the title from a white-hot heel. McMahon wanted that heel to be Michaels.
Each scenario was refused by Hart.
The final 30 days of his contract contained a reasonable creative control clause. Hart enacted this clause to avoid dropping the strap to Michaels at the Survivor Series pay-per-view, or the next night on RAW. In essence, Hart claimed that he could not lose the title in Montreal or Ottawa. As a Canadian hero, it would be a devastating blow to the fans of his home country.
According to Dictionary.com, the definition of reasonable is as follows:
agreeable to reason or sound judgment; logical
Due to the documented behavior and habits of Eric Bischoff, McMahon could make a solid case that refusing to do the honors prior to November 12th was not reasonable. No matter where Hart lost the title, it would still be seen by Canadians. Montreal was not Hart’s hometown.
It is akin to Austin, Undertaker, or Michaels refusing to do any jobs in the United States. McMahon wanted his business to be protected. He expected Hart, notorious for supporting old school traditions, to do the honors on his way out. Each refusal was less and less reasonable.
The stark reality of the business was that the WWF was losing the war to WCW and another major blow might well be fatal.
McMahon understood that Hart wanted to protect his marketability. He was more than willing to have Hart lose the strap at the pay-per-view and come out on RAW in Ottawa to cut a babyface promo to preserve his character’s integrity.
It is a common perception that the sole reason why McMahon made the decision he did was because he did not trust Hart to surrender the title. He did not trust Hart not to go out on WCW and trash the belt. This leads to outrage that, after 14 years, McMahon did not trust Hart.
However, Hart was not the only factor in the potential destruction of the WWF. Bischoff had set a precedent that indicated that, once he was not bound by conditions of the contract signing, he would employ whatever means necessary to decimate the WWF. It was logical for McMahon not to trust Bischoff.
Going into the Survivor Series match, Hart could have secured a different outcome by understanding the business necessity for McMahon. The date November 10th was crucial to the decision making process. Provided Hart was not the champion by the Nitro broadcast, McMahon could mitigate the lethality of WCW securing another of his major stars.
As the countdown ticked down to zero, Hart maintained that he would neither lose at Survivor Series, nor any time before the 12th of November. McMahon felt his back firmly against a wall. Everything he had worked for and built since 1971 was in jeopardy. Without reasonable cooperation from Hart, McMahon made an extremely difficult decision.
One week later, following the deliberate destruction of WWF property by Hart and the single punch to the face that McMahon expected, an interview was conducted on WWF programming. Jim Ross sat down with Vince McMahon and the owner of the WWF gave a straight shoot on the controversy.
An excerpt is below:
“There’s a time honored tradition in the wrestling business. When someone is leaving, they show the right amount of respect to the WWF Superstars, in this case, that helped make you that Superstar. You show the proper respect to the organization that helped you become who you are today.
"It’s a time honored tradition and Bret Hart did not want to honor that tradition. He is known as a traditionalist in this business. It would never have crossed my mind that Bret would not have wanted to show the proper respect to the Superstars who helped make him what he is today.” - Vince McMahon
(Part Three will be Michaels' Perspective)