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“The Montreal Screwjob” turns 18
[Occurred November 9th, 1997]

If you were born on November 9th, 1997, congratulations. You are now a legal adult. 18 years ago, you were born, but there was a controversy taking place in pro wrestling that would forever change wrestling history.

The WWF Champion at the time was Bret “Hit Man” Hart. Once a beloved fixture in the WWF, Hart’s championship reign took place during the downfall of a hero, as Hart had turned his back on the American audience. Although the fans hated Bret in America, they loved the Hit Man in Canada, which is where the now-infamous “Montreal Screwjob” took place.

Hart had plans to leave the WWF and retire from the company as its champion, but having been burned by former WWF Women’s Champion Madusa (who famously trashed the title belt on WCW Nitro), WWF Chairman Vince McMahon was nervous that Hart might do the same and soil the reputation of the company even further. Had that taken place, had Hart arrived at WCW and publicly destroyed the WWF Championship, the Monday Night Wars may have gone significantly different and Hart’s career may have lasted several years after. It’s also possible that Bret’s brother Owen may have jumped ship, and thus, wouldn’t have appeared at the Over The Edge event where his tragic death took place.

Instead, at the annual WWF Survivor Series pay per view, Hart’s championship reign came to an abrupt end. Depending on who you ask, someone (Michaels, Gerry Brisco, Vince Russo, Triple H, or a short list of others) came to Vince McMahon with an idea: to end the match in favor of Hart’s opponent and long time rival, Shawn Michaels, when the Heartbreak Kid applied Hart’s signature finishing maneuver, The Sharpshooter, to the champion. Business went as it typically did between Hart and Michaels, as the two had a strong disdain for one another, but when the hold was applied, referee Earl Hebner called for the title, and immediately fled the scene. For years after, in Montreal and several parts of Canada, Hebner, Michaels, and McMahon would receive “You screwed Bret!” chants.

Following the match’s end, Hart was visibly upset. Vince McMahon, who was standing ringside, acted puzzled at the decision, but Hart suspected an issue and immediately spat in the face of the WWF Chairman. It was because of the incident that the Mr. McMahon character was born, thus building a character that would play off of Stone Cold Steve Austin and add some extra gusto to the rising superstar. Shawn Michaels was escorted to the back and feigned irritance, though he later admitted that he knew the plan from the get-go. Hart began destroying televisions and expensive equipment at ringside, turning to the hard camera and spelling “WCW” with his fingers, signaling that fans of Hart would have to tune into Nitro to see the superstar any further.

Backstage, Hart asked Michaels if he had any idea what happened was going to happen. Michaels lied and said he didn’t, and told The Undertaker the same thing. When McMahon and Hart came face to face, Hart slugged McMahon in the face and a brief altercation happened between McMahon’s son Shane and Bret’s Hart Foundation brethren and brother in law, The British Bulldog. Following the incident, The British Bulldog would soon leave the WWF, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart was soon to follow, and the last remaining member of The Hart Foundation, Owen Hart, would continue to be employed for the next two years.

Bret Hart wouldn’t return to the WWE for over a decade. The only time the Hit Man would resurface at all was in late 2005, when a DVD documentary was released about him, and at the 2006 Hall Of Fame where he was inducted as a member of the Class Of 2006. Four years later, Hart would return to WWE Raw in the first episode of 2010, coming face to face with Shawn Michaels and shaking his hand in a famous moment that shocked wrestling fans worldwide.

The reaction Bret gets when he steps out onto the stage brings a tear to my eye. The reaction of the fans during the entire conversation, and its conclusion, is so appropriate. Fans were seeing a moment take place that by any definition was monumental. It was a conversation that could have occurred in private, but one that was a real treat for fans who followed the careers of both men, both before and after the Montreal Screwjob. Michaels and Hart burying the hatchet but to bed a long staked rivalry between fans, both of their work and some who believed one side was right over the other.

As it stands today, The Montreal Screwjob is the most infamous moment in pro wrestling history, and for a number of reasons. Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels are arguably the two biggest stars of the 1990′s, and definitely the best that the WWF had for their era. To see or have heard of either brings a gleam to the eye of fans who haven’t even watched wrestling since either man’s heyday, and a smile to the face of fans who still watch today.

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Shawn Michaels discusses the WrestleMania 14 rumor
[2014]

There’s a rumor that’s existed on the internet for some time regarding the aftermath of the 1997 Survivor Series, and the effect it had on the locker room. After Shawn Michaels took part in the Montreal Screwjob, The Undertaker asked Michaels if he had any idea of the goings-on involving Hart getting defeated in the fashion in which he did. Michaels feigned confusion, firmly stated that he did not, but the truth was always speculated by Michaels’ peers.

That being said, at WrestleMania 14, the rumor is that The Undertaker allegedly threatened Michaels by saying that he’d be waiting behind the curtain at the Gorilla Position with taped fists to take care of HBK if he didn’t drop the title to Stone Cold Steve Austin. Though this has been speculated for several years, Michaels states in this video that such was not the case.

However, to hear The Undertaker’s side of it…

While everyone has their own version of any story, there’s one YouTuber that commented something that resonated with me: “I believe Taker. Find one wrestler to say a bad thing about him. Now find a wrestler to say something bad about HBK.”

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HBK recalls the events leading into the Montreal Screw Job..preview off the first Greatest Rivalries dvd