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Wrestling: Montreal Screwjob
aka: Montreal Screw Job
Ring the bell!

The Montreal Screwjob is one of the most important events in the history of professional wrestling.

In 1997, the World Wrestling Federation was facing its most heated competition ever in the form of World Championship Wrestling. The Monday Night Wars were in full swing and the New World Order angle was giving WCW better ratings than the WWF. Vince McMahon's promotion was looking at some seriously hard times, and McMahon himself was being forced to make some tough decisions. One of these decisions involved Bret "The Hitman" Hart.

In 1996, Hart had signed an unprecedented twenty-year deal with the WWF for a considerable amount of money — but with McMahon losing his shirt thanks to WCW, he felt that he would have to breach Hart's contract in order to keep the company alive; McMahon has been accused by Hart and others of exaggerating his financial situation at the time. Backstage tension between Hart and fellow performer Shawn Michaels were also reaching a boiling point around this time, and the fiscal security that the WCW contract offered was enough to get Hart to jump ship: in November 1997, Hart, then the reigning WWF Champion, signed a contract with WCW for a guaranteed three million dollars per year.

Hart's last appearance on WWF programming would be Survivor Series 1997 (taking place in Montreal), where he faced Michaels in the main event for the WWF Championship. The event was not scheduled to be Hart's last booking with the WWF, as his working agreement ran for three weeks after the pay-per-view, and he had received verbal approval from WCW to work another PPV in early December where he likely would have dropped the title in a four-way match to either Michaels (if Michaels agreed to lose at Montreal) or another wrestler who would later lose to Michaels (if Michaels refused to job). Michaels refused to lose the Survivor Series match to Hart under any circumstances, and Hart made it clear that he would not lose to Michaels in Montreal. The exit clause in Hart's aforementioned contract required that Hart and McMahon come to an agreement regarding any booking decisions regarding Hart, leaving him with all the cards. The pair's mutual stubbornness placed McMahon between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

The original plan for the match's finish (according to Hart) was for Michaels to use Hart's famous Sharpshooter submission hold against him while the referee was down. After Michaels applied the hold, Hart would reverse it, and feuding factions D-Generation X (which Michaels was a part of) and the Hart Foundation (which Hart led) would run in and cause the match to be tossed out, leaving Hart open to drop the title at the four-way match the next month (Hart briefly discussed simply giving up the title on TV, but at that point, McMahon was committed to the Screwjob, and he agreed to nearly anything Hart said in order to get Hart to perform at Survivor Series).

McMahon was still angry over then-WWF Women's Champion Alundra Blayze tossing the WWF Women's Championship belt in the trash live on WCW's Nitro, and he was afraid Hart would show up on WCW programming with the WWF Championship and toss that belt in the trash (or worse) —despite the fact that multiple lawsuits had been filed regarding the Blayze incident (and an earlier incident with Ric Flair taking WCW's World Championship belt with him to the WWF). Since Hart refused to drop the belt to Michaels in Canada, McMahon was worried about the possibility of Bret jumping ship with the championship belt.

Well, that was McMahon's story, anyway. More recent analyses by wrestling critics/historians says that the people pressuring Bischoff to sign Hart didn't want him to get over — Hart was kept on the WCW shelf for over a month before popping a buyrate with the then-considered-washed-up Flair and being buried in pointless United States Title feuds — and the real reason for the Screwjob on McMahon's end was the fact Hart was earning just shy of two million dollars per year [compared to Michaels' $750,000 per year]. "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Undertaker were negotiating new contracts at this point; when they compared themselves to the highest paid guy — Hart — McMahon got really scared.

A plot was hatched and carried out the night of Survivor Series: when Hart was caught in the Sharpshooter by Michaels, McMahon ran down to the ring and ordered the referee (Earl Hebner) to ring the bell as if Hart had submitted to the hold (despite Hart clearly not submitting in any fashion). This singular moment — known today as the "Montreal Screwjob" — was one of the most controversial and shocking events in the history of the entire pro wrestling industry. The Screwjob not only sent Hart packing to WCW without a real sendoff, but it also had a hand in destroying kayfabe for many fans around the world, and it served as the launching pad for the "Mr. McMahon" character, which was played full hilt by McMahon — who famously said the next night on Raw that "Bret screwed Bret" — as he feuded with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin during the Attitude Era.

The screwjob actually qualifies as Hilarious in Hindsight when you consider how Hart won his first title in the WWF. The Hart Foundation (Hart and brother-in-law Jim "The Anvil" Neidhart, w/non-relative manager "The Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart) defeated the British Bulldogs (The Dynamite Kid and cousin Davey Boy Smith- another brother-in-law, though not acknowledged as such at the time) for the WWF World Tag Team Titles on the February 7, 1987 (taped January 26) episode of WWF Superstars due to referee Danny Davis generally ignoring the Harts' constant double-teaming and spending most of the time checking on the injured Dynamite Kid. After the Harts won the match, Davis left with them.

Even before it became a running gag, other promotions were already parodying it. At ECW November to Remember '97 PPV, held a mere three weeks later, Al Snow, in the early months of his carrying around a mannequin head gimmick, cut a promo where he said, "I didn't screw the Head. The HEAD SCREWED THE HEAD!" Even Scott Keith thought it was funny.

Hart left the WWF and spent three years floundering around in WCW thanks to crappy booking and nobody really knowing what to do with someone who was — at the time — the hottest free agent in professional wrestling (something that McMahon himself predicted would happen). Thanks to an errant kick by Goldberg during a match, Hart suffered a career-ending concussion and has been retired from in-ring action ever since (a stroke suffered after his retirement has ensured that, save for special circumstances where he doesn't have to take a bump, he'll never be able to perform in the ring again). Following his retirement, Hart had very little love lost for WWF — thanks both to the Screwjob and the death of his brother Owen in 1999 — but managed to put his animosity aside to help preserve his legacy, working with WWE to produce a DVD set that was widely acclaimed as being a great retrospective on his career (it was initially going to be a smearjob set called ''Screwed'' until Hart heard about the plans). In 2006, Hart accepted induction into the WWE Hall of Fame, making his first appearance on WWE programming of any kind in nearly a decade to accept the honor. A few years later, Hart signed up again with the WWE to ensure that he got a proper and honorable exit from the business (see below).

Michaels spent the next few months as the WWF Champion, but back injuries suffered during a Casket Match with The Undertaker at Royal Rumble 1998 eventually caught up to him. Following his loss to Steve Austin at WrestleMania 14 (where he performed despite his injury causing him severe pain), Michaels spent the next four years on the shelf, making sporadic appearances for WWE while he slowly healed up. In this interim, Michaels not only admitted that he was aware of the plan to screw over Hart, but he became a born-again Christian. Michaels made his return to active competition in 2002; he remained one of WWE's most popular and skilled performers until his retirement at WrestleMania 26.

In December 2009, Hart confirmed that he would return to WWE in 2010 to guest host the first Raw of the year (his first appearance on Raw in over twelve years), and during that show's opening segment, Hart made his peace with Michaels in the middle of the ring in one of the most surreal moments in wrestling history. He was (kayfabe) attacked by McMahon at the end of the show, which set up an angle that led up to WrestleMania 26, where McMahon faced Hart in a "No Holds Barred" Match. Although McMahon tried to bribe the rest of the Hart family into screwing Hart over again, they knew it was coming and double-crossed McMahon, allowing Hart to finally make McMahon pay for Montreal (via thirteen chairshots and the Sharpshooter) and get the full closure he'd been looking for (as part of the angle, Hart's father — legendary Canadian wrestling promoter/trainer and patriarch of the Hart family, the late Stu Hart — was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame). After WrestleMania, he appeared sporadically to help put over The Hart Dynasty (David Hart Smith, Tyson Kidd, and Natalya) and serve as Raw's General Manager for a brief period (he was eventually taken out by The Nexus). Both Hart and Michaels continue to make special "cameo" appearances at WWE events to this day.

In late 2011, WWE released Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart on DVD and Blu-ray; the set — a first-of-its-kind release for WWE — was dedicated to the long rivalry between Hart and Michaels, which stretched back all the way to the feud between The Rockers and The Hart Foundation. The real meat of the DVD was Jim Ross' sitdown interview with both Hart and Michaels, who discussed their careers and their rivalry — including the Screwjob — at length. The DVD pretty firmly backs Bret Hart's side of the story, with Ross conceding that no one in the WWE had any fear of Bret pulling a Ric Flair with the belt, and that he had acted reasonably regarding the Survivor Series finish. The set was generally regarded as being one of WWE's best in years.

Along with the extensive article on That Other Wiki, this 411mania column is a good rundown of the events leading up to and surrounding the Screwjob.

Tropes associated with the Montreal Screwjob include:

  • Big Damn Heroes: Mark Calaway (The Undertaker) put his career on the line to force McMahon to apologize, likely saving the WWF from imploding and the number of wrestlers upset from walking out.
  • Blatant Lies: Michael Cole interviewed McMahon before the event and when asked who will win, he replied, "I don't know." Michaels suggested a screwjob to McMahon when Hart refused to lose several weeks before, and McMahon had said they needed to do it because he couldn't talk Hart around.
  • Continuity Nod: The ending was recycled a year later for the purpose of turning the Rock heel, and several other companies have used the Screwjob as a template for screwy endings:
    • When Rick Rude jumped to WCW he called out McMahon for the screwjob and used it as his reasoning why Hart and other wrestlers should jump ship.
    • Running Gag: The main event of WCW's Starrcade 1997, one month later - Sting was pinned by WCW World Heavyweight Champion "Hollywood" Hogan via a "fast" three-count, but before the bell could be rung, Hart (a special referee during an earlier match) stopped the timekeeper from ringing it, knocked out the ref, and tossed Hogan back into the ring, where he eventually tapped to the Scorpion Deathlock (which coincidentally is Sting's version of the Sharpshooter) while Bret acted as the ref (this was made worse by the fact that the "fast" three-count wasn't really "fast", and it's long rumored that Hogan called for the screwy finish so as not to lose clean to Sting).
      • The Screwjob also became a running gag on parody wrestling news site Scoop This, as "Shootin' Vince McMahon" was said to call for screwy finishes at wildly inappropriate times; one such article had a submission victory due to a "devastating pre-match handshake", at McMahon's behest.
    • The Rock vs Mankind at Survivor Series 1998 was the original Screwjob copycat with Rock playing Michaels, Mankind playing Hart and McMahon betraying Mankind.
    • On the May 28, 2001 edition of Raw is War held in Calgary, Alberta (Hart's hometown), "Stone Cold" Steve Austin (the then-WWF Champion) put Chris Benoit (a long-time friend of the Hart family) in the Crippler Crossface, and McMahon ordered the bell rung. As if recreating the Screwjob in Hart's hometown wasn't bad enough, Hart's father Stu was sitting at ringside.
    • Backlash 2004 played with the Screwjob by having Michaels put fellow Hart's fellow Canadian (and then-WWE World Heavyweight Champion) Chris Benoit in the Sharpshooter, then having Earl Hebner rush down to the ring to call the submission (the first ref had been knocked out). This time, Hebner plays the referee job straight, and Benoit never taps; in fact, he later wins by making Michaels tap out to the Sharpshooter, WWE offering up a symbolic apology for the Screwjob.
    • Hebner made his TNA debut at Against All Odds 2006, and was about to call for the bell when Jeff Jarrett had Christian Cage in the Sharpshooter, but Cage stopped him and went on to win the match.
    • Shane McMahon defeated Michaels on the March 18, 2006 Saturday Night's Main Event when he put an unconscious Michaels in the Sharpshooter, and Vince ordered the bell to be rung, and Shane to be announced as winner by submission.
    • Breaking Point 2009note  had CM Punk lock The Undertaker in the Anaconda Vice. Despite Undertaker escaping the hold, Theodore Long rang the bell and declared Punk the winner by submission. This match was actually a double screwjob. A few minutes earlier, Undertaker made Punk tap out with Hell's Gate, but Long declared that it didn't count and ordered the match to continue.
      • In a Continuity Nod of its own, the Hell's Gate had been ruled to be an illegal hold by previous SmackDown GM Vickie Guerrero, and Long had never rescinded the ban.
    • The January 21, 2010 edition of TNA Impact featured a damn-near recreation of the Screwjob; this time, however, the screwjob was in favor of the TNA World Heavyweight Champion (AJ Styles) rather than the challenger (Kurt Angle).
    • The July 17, 2011 match between CM Punk VS John Cena was eerily similar till Cena, who locked Punk in a STF, knocks out John Laurinaitis, who was gonna ring the bell! Cena then tells McMahon that this match is his match and that he finishes it his way, comes back to the ring and gets hit with a GTS by Punk! CM Punk wins the WWE Championship belt with the stipulation that he leaves WWE and Cena gets fired if he loses.
      • On the July 18, 2011 edition of RAW, Cena outright calls McMahon out on trying to recreate this incident and on what it had done to Michaels' career as part of "The Reason You Suck" Speech.
    • Daniel Bryan locked The Big Show in the Yes Lock on the May 11, 2012 edition of SmackDown and John Laurinaitis immediately rang the bell and declared Bryan the winner by submission.
  • Documentary: Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows and The Montreal Theory
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Even after Michaels' Real Life Heel-Faith Turn, this has been his stance regarding the screwjob. Vince feels very much the same.
  • Iconic Moment: The screwjob itself, obviously. However, a little over 12 years later, on January 4, 2010, Hart finally returned to the WWE as one of many RAW guest hosts. His first order of business was to call out Michaels. The pair of them traded stories back and forth, finally apologized and hugged it out. Though they'll never be close friends, they're able to stand the sight of one another now. They even chronicled their rivalry in a DVD hosted by Jim Ross.
  • Memetic Mutation: "Bret screwed Bret".
    • "Ring the fucking bell!"
  • Never Live It Down: Even to this day, Vince, Shawn, and Earl Hebner still get "YOU SCREWED BRET!" chants in Canada, especially in Montreal. For Shawn however, he gets a pass whenever he's in DX, as it gives him uber-Popularity Power.
    • Though it's died down a bit due to Bret and Shawn burying the hatchet and Shawn's own retirement in 2010.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot
  • Shoot the Dog: McMahon views the Montreal Screwjob as an I Did What I Had to Do moment. Ditto for Michaels.
  • Signature Scene: Earl Hebner ringing the bell is one of the most iconic images in WWE, if not, wrestling history.
  • Talk to the Fist: Backstage footage of Bret afterwards showed Bret saying afterwards that "Vince ran into [his] fist."
  • Wham Episode
  • Wham Line: "Ring the bell!"
WCW Monday NitroThe NinetiesThe Howard Stern Show
Survivor SeriesProfessional WrestlingWrestleMania

alternative title(s): Montreal Screwjob
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