Every year at Survivor Series, the 30-something WWE fans recall the infamous 1997 Survivor Series, when Vince McMahon “screwed” Bret “Hitman” Hart out of the WWE title.
Hart was headed to WCW, but he refused to lose the title to Shawn Michaels in Canada. Hart wouldn’t agree to lose, so McMahon changed the planned ending of the match and ordered referee Earl Hebner to ring the bell as soon as Michaels put Hart in the sharpshooter.
Hebner called for the bell as soon as Michaels put the hold on, indicating that Hart had given up. Hart did not give up. The match was supposed to end with a “schmoz,” essentially a run-in by Davey Boy Smith and other members of the Hart Foundation to break up the match, ending in disqualification.
Instead, Hebner fled from the building, and Hart destroyed thousands of dollars in ringside camera equipment. Later backstage, Hart smacked McMahon in the face for “screwing” him in front of his Canadian fans.
The whole idea that a pro wrestler would have such conviction that he would refuse to “lose” to a guy whom he disliked personally sounds preposterous today. Yes, pro wrestling outcomes are predetermined, but Hart took pride in his work, and didn’t believe that Michaels deserved to win the World Championship.
The “Montreal Screwjob,” as it is known, sparked the bad-Vince McMahon era, and what remains today of that is the overused storyline of a corporate antagonist ruining the lives of the popular wrestlers on the roster.
Montreal was a historical moment in wrestling — a turning point for the organization. Michaels would next feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, who would revolutionize the industry. Hart went on to WCW and had a mediocre career largely because the WCW bookers didn’t know how to use him. Hart’s in-ring career ended when Bill Goldberg stiff-kicked him in the head.
As wonderful as the WWE is and as much of a genius as McMahon is, the WWE really needs to get over the heel corporate bogeyman and return the focus to professional wrestling.