THE RANT - The Montreal Screw Job May Have Been a Work All Along

Posted By James Walsh on 04/18/19


First, I am really loving this VICE series "Dark Side of the Ring." I fear it doesn't appeal to everyone. In fact, I think its key demographic might be men about my age who are me. But, if there enough me's out there to create enough of an audience for them to do more of these, I hope they do. It is truly special.

Last night's episode looked at the Montreal Screwjob. Boy, what a topic that has gone untalked about.... That was sarcasm, by the way.

The Montreal Screwjob did change wrestling forever. While the new phrase is to say it broke down the "4th wall", what it did really was drive an even halfway aware section of the wrestling viewing audience to the Internet to find out what is "really" going on. That impact, in particular, continues to this day.

The Internet wrestling scene existed before Montreal. I was on Prodigy during the days of Bob Ryder being the ultimate insider. Early on, though I was 12 or 13, you realized that wrestling was discussed in a way where we "get it". We didn't speak as though we were talking about an NFL game. The conversation was basically by fans who were "smart" to the business - The definition, by the way, of "smart mark." We knew it was a show. We knew, basically, how we believed t worked. And, we presented our ideas in that way. In a sense, we were long before our time. Because, isn't that what EVERYONE now does on social media?

So, I grew up a wrestling fan and in the 80's and early 90's, that was cool to be. But, by 1993, if you were 12 or so and still a wrestling fan, you might as well have been wearing Barney the Purple Dinosaur shirts to school. You were blasted for liking it and the oh so smart and cool crowd thought they were somehow offending you by calling it "fake." But, the day after Survivor Series 1997, I was approached by all, literally all, of those people who had been wrestling fans in years prior that now claimed to hate it. They either said they "heard about" or were watching with someone else and were confused by what really was happening as it seemed to be more than met the eye. Yeah, no kidding. It sure did seem that way.

On the surface, the story makes sense. Bret Hart had been playing the proud Canadian who was critical of American pop culture. As a result, a strange dynamic where Bret was a "bad guy" anywhere in the US yet a "good guy" anywhere outside of it, especially Canada. He did not, as a result, want to lose in Canada to the ver person that spawned this anti-American rhetoric for a year or so - Bret's arch rival Shawn Michaels.

The story also was a little too perfect in other ways.

For one, Bret would get screwed and be sent to the rival promotion as a potential sympathetic good guy. However, lets not forget, he did spend a year bashing the United States and people don't forget that stuff as easily as we would like. So, he was, somewhat, damaged.

WWE could have, but didn't really, played it like Shawn Michaels legit beat Bret Hart with the Sharpshooter meaning they were sending away a guy who just lost to his own move.

Vince McMahon came off as a jerk and as such was the kind of evil boss you always wanted to see get theirs. Enter Steve Austin.

Do I think this was a work?

Yes! I must admit, I do.

Why do I believe it was a work? I have 3 valid reasons why.

1. As mentioned above, it all worked too perfectly. Everyone could and should have come away from it being a screw job finish looking good except Vince McMahon who would use that to his advantage also.

2. A film crew just happened to be following Bret around, an active WWE performer, for a feature documentary at the same time all of this goes down. If that is not suspect to you, you probably never once found out where in the world Carmen Sandiego was when you were a child. Why Bret? Bret was a good wormer, maybe the best worker in the ring of all time. But, his personality wasn't that big. You would imagine the prima-donna who was popping pills like M&M's and banging wrestling's most "downloaded personality ever" Sunny on the side would have made for a better documentary... Why was the camera crew following Bre? It just seems too perfect yet again.

3. I could just say, "What Scott Hall said" and leave it at that. But, I won't. The camera angles were too perfect. If Bret was to look like he just got beat, should we not have had Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross selling that Bret Hart just gave up to his own hod and singing the praises about how good Shawn Michaels was to beat Bret with his own hold? Instead, we had perfect angles to see that Bret did not give up, the spit that flew right in Vince's face and was even zoomed in upon, and Bret standing in the ring making the WCW letters like a member of the Village People. And, instead of cutting the PPV feed right away and fading to black after Shawn Michaels got the win, they stayed with Bret as he threw around expensive equipment to a confused audience who had not internalized what they had just seen fully yet.

Now, if it was not a work, and I think that is an if and not an accepted reality, there are things that support that theory as well.

1. Bret Hart was bitter for years afterwards. Unless he is a great actor, for him to seem so mad for so long had to be no easy task. That said, could Bret have been in on it and tanked his initial pushes in WCW intentionally to benefit WWE? Is that a crazy thought? Because, they tried him as a face.... He did not do well. They tried him in the nWo, it was half cokced. It wasn't until the Goldberg plate incident that we saw a spark of the old Bret Hart really in WCW. Until then, the man was physically there but his creativity and spirit wasn't. Then, well, Owen died.

2. Would Vince McMahon really put himself in a position to look like an asshole? I mean, he used to disguise it bette... Didn't he? In fact, I firmly believe the "Bret screwed Bret" interview, in Vince's mind, was him letting the cat out of the bag and he believed everyone would see it his way after the fact. No one did. Or, at least, most didn't. So, am I suggesting that the Mr. McMahon heel persona was an accident and not a planned part of this? You damn bet I am.

3. "Ravishing" Rick Rude (who apparently can't even get in the Hall of Fame as a member of DX which he was), Davey Boy Smith and Jim Neidhart left after that as well. It stands to reason they would have left at that point anyway. The Hart Foundation had lost its leader not long after Brian Pillman's death. So, where would they have fit in? Owen had the most upside at that point and WWE did not let him leave. But, I recall seeing Martha Hart remark that he had considered going to WCW in an interview after Owen's death because he wasn't always happy with WWE based on how Bret left. Tell me, would a grieving widow refer to a wrestling angle to work the fans as reality when her husband just died in a wrestling accident? That keeps me on the fence on the whole thing. It really does.

Who came up with the idea?

"I think we went to an architect for that," The Ultimate Warrior shooting down what he felt was a stupid question asked by Mike Johnson during a shoot interview DVD. The question was who came up with the concept of Warrior and Hogan clotheslining one another at the Royal Rumble 1990.

The idea was not exactly rocket science. Can we agree on that? It isn't like who came up with the idea for the lightbulb. It is more like who came up with the least offensive way out of a bad situation. Isn't it? Yet, like most great ideas or, at least, ones that are talked about 20 plus years later, there is an argument over who dreamed up the sceme of being slimey little trolls - Vince Russo or Jim Cornette?

To answer, I believe Jim Cornette came up with the Sharpshooter finish for the Montreal Screw Job. He had the history behind his idea. Plus, with Bret's finish being a submission hold, it is a virtual duplicate of the original Montreal double-cross of which I had never heard before. To Cornette's credit, he has mentioned his proposal of the finish in prior interviews and his chain of events has not deviated from how he told it years ago. One can lie so often that they start to believe it to be true. But, I don't get that impression from Cornette. And, again, what does he stand to gain by coming up with it?

Vince Russo, on the other hand, had different versions of his involvement. In WCW, where Russo booked Bret Hart as a top guy, he said multiple times on the WCW Live online radio show which, much like my talk show, pre-dates the term "podcast", that he knew nothing of the screw job and it was not his idea. Suddenly, he pitched it? Plus, and Jim Cornette will enjoy this next line, it involved wrestling moves or at least a wrestling move. As much of a fan of Vince Russo's angles as I am and I do respect his work more than most who have my view of pro wrestling, I think he (Russo) himself would admit the wrestling part was not his concern. So, I highly doubt he suggested a move for the finish. I would believe it was Russo if a Vietnamese prostitute named Ming Li gave birth to an egg with legs under it that somehow stumbled into the ring, knocked over Earl Hebner, and resulted in Bret Hart's shoulders being pinned to the mat as a Vince Russo idea. Anyone else picturing Yoshi as said walking egg?

I will say this, though. The idea was NOT Vince McMahon's. I'm sure he would tell you it was. And, like the lie that you tell yourself so often you start to believe it, maybe he does even think he came up with it. But, I do believe many, especially over the past 25 years, of the ideas that have worked in WWE, Vince McMahon feels he came up with. Of course, none of the ideas that did not work were his idea. Because, that is how the mind of a person who lives in a bubble and calls it his own "Universe" works.

Here's a stupid question:

Where was it written that Bret Hart HAD to lose the title at the Survivor Series 1997? Hear me out because I probably mean something that will blow your mind and not what you think I mean. The week before Survivor Series, WWE was in the US. Why not have a major main event where Bret drops the title to Shawn Michaels in America days before Survivor Series in a massive run in filled mess. And, Survivor Series is the rematch. Bret doesn't have to WIN the rematch. But, maybe that is a gang war, Bret could even have been left in the ring standing with the Canadian flag, and ridden off to WCW with his head held high whereas WWE had their champion who did beat Bret and they could just not reference the finish where Bret is left standing tall and chalk it up to sending the live crowd home happy.

That, my friends, is a genius idea.

The End Result:

As I mentioned, teens had long since denied watchng wrestling. But, it became "cool" again after the Montreal Screw Job. Of course, it wasn't just that. The advent of the nWo really started it and Austin 3:16 was WWE's answer to WCW's nWo. But, when people would opnely discuss what their theory was on Survivor Series 1997, wrestling fans seemed more willing to be fans and admit they watch. That grew the audience for both WWE and WCW... Mostly WWE.

After the Montreal Screw Job, Vince McMahon emerged as WWE's biggest heel and took cartoon-like beatings from the common man employee "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. As mentioned above, I believe this was adapting to how the fans reacted to his "Bret screwed Bret" interview with Jim Ross and not how he thought it would come out all along.

Shawn Michaels suffered karma literally 2 months later taking the edge of the Undertaker's casket to the small of his back which ended his WWE career for 4 and a half years. When he returned, the pill popping, conniving, skirt chasing "Heartbreak Kid" that was Shawn Michaels in 1997 was replaced by a reborn Christian, married man, with a far less overbearing ego. And, he finally admitted he knew all along and, in fact, was the one banging Sunny at the time.

Bret Hart went to WCW. In the Wrestling with Shadows documentary, Bret said Bret Hart went to WCW but the "Hitman" died in Montreal. That could explain why his WCW run was largely hot garbage. He made his debut in a blue dress shirt walking down to a country rock sounding theme song and mumbled about being a referee. It was pitiful. And, at Starcade 1997, he was the good guy referee that more or less called Larry Zbyszko versus Eric Bischoff match down the middle. However, Hollywood Hulk Hogan had just pinned Sting in the main event. It would have been Hogan's first clean win in a year and a half. Instead, Bret Hart restarted the match and basically screwed Hogan over which had irony that was not lost on many. Now, Sting should have won that match. But, to have Bret Hart screw someone as a referee in his first major night in the company pretty much summed up his WCW run. At least, his initial one.

In the end, the Montreal Screw Job sent wrestling into a new era driving fans who were not already on the Internet to the Internet to find out what "really" is goign on with their favorite simulated sport. As a result, the line between reality and fiction have forever ben erased. Wrestling, now, pushes the button of the "worked shoot" so often, we even believe Twitter bickerings from those who will face off in the near future aren't part of the show and instead are the real words of those who can't stand one another. Except, when they can actually physically harm each other, it looks like every other wrestling match you have ever seen before. Because, it isn't real. It isn't a shoot. It is all a work. Much like my view of the Montreal Screw Job. It was all a work.