NOVEMBER 9, 1997 SURVIVOR SERIES
Yes, it's been 16 years since the most talked about match in pro wrestling history took place in Montreal. Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels for the WWE Title. For the uninformed youth who don't know the full story. Bret had signed a 20-year contract with the WWE the year before, but Vince McMahon later told him he would be unable to fulfill the terms of the deal, and for Bret to negotiate a contract with WCW. Bret did, and gave notice to the WWE. As part of the agreement WCW would not mention Hart's signing until after the Survivor Series Pay Per View. and Hart didn't want to take the focus off his match with Michaels. But somehow word leaked out.
The afternoon of November 9th was spent discussing how the match would end. Hart was adamant about not doing a job for Michaels in Montreal. Mostly due to Michaels unwillingness to do a job for Bret after WrestleMania 12, but also because at this point Hart couldn't stand Michaels. A double disqualification was the agreed upon finish. Earl Hebner would take a bump. Michaels would put the sharpshooter on Bret, Bret would reverse it, Michaels would tap out but the ref would be down and wouldn't see it. Bret would release the hold to go check on Earl, then Shawn would hit Bret with the Super Kick (I hate the term "Sweet Chin Music"). A second referee would come down to count, but Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart would pull him out of the ring eventually leading to a large scrum between DX and Team Canada ending in a Double DQ. Hart was even agreeable to doing the exact same finish the next night on RAW with Owen & Neidhart being too late to stop the referee's count. What Bret REALLY wanted to do was voluntarily give up the title on RAW. Hand the belt to Vince in the ring, put the WWE over, say goodbye to the fans, thank the company and leave gracefully. But as adamant as Bret was about not doing a job to Shawn, that's how adamant Vince was about getting the belt off Bret before WCW announced they had signed the WWE Champion on Monday Nitro. So the "Farewell to Bret" Night on RAW was not gonna happen on Vince's watch!
We all know what happened next. Hebner didn't lay down. He popped up and called for the bell while Bret was reversing the sharpshooter. Michaels acted pissed off at the ending though he later admitted he was in on the screwjob the whole time. And Bret trashed the announcer's table and threw monitors, something that we take for granted now, but Bret did it first.
I was really hoping that Bret would come out on top in the end since he was severely mistreated on his way out of a company he'd been loyal to for 10 years. I was hoping that he would go to WCW and help them maintain their Number One spot in the Monday Night Wars and that WWE would be the one going out of business. But alas, Bret was going to a sinking ship while the WWE thrived. In part to the screwjob heard 'round the world. The next 16 years the WWE and Vince milked this event as much as humanly possible. Whenever you've seen a superstar leave the ring and jump into a waiting car, that was a nod to Earl Hebner doing the same thing that night in Montreal. Every event that took place in Montreal, or any Canadian ring, saw every Canadian wrestler do a job or get humiliated. Vince's proclamation that "Bret screwed Bret" further infuriated fans. They've even done the same ending several times since then.
I still can't stand Vince for what he did to Bret. I firmly believe if he had to do it all over again he would screw Bret again without hesitation. He wouldn't let someone leave on their own terms, they have to leave on his. Lying to Bret the day of the Survivor Series to prevent WCW from announcing Bret's signing (a deal that Vince encouraged Bret to take)and taking the belt off him without his knowledge, was best for business in Vince's eyes. Bret towed the line, carried the water, paid his dues, and was The Face of the company for many years. Why do this to someone who's been so loyal to you?
Having seen the Bret Hart-Shawn Michaels sit down interview with Jim Ross, I'm happy that Bret and Shawn have at least squashed their beef. But I'd like to see a similar interview with Bret and Vince. I wonder if there could've been a compromise without one screwing the other. Why couldn't Bret just do the job in Montreal so he could say goodbye on RAW the next day? Why couldn't Vince let the double disqualification finish go as planned and trust that Bret wouldn't betray the company he loved so much by announcing his contract with WCW?
Best for Business or Best for the fans?