The Montreal Screwjob: Who screwed who?

The most controversial event in the history of professional wrestling (and perhaps in the history of Canada as well, I’m not good on Canadian History) Was a match in which Bret Hart was screwed out of his WWE championship in a match against Shawn Michaels at the 1997 Survivors Series. The ending of the match came when Shawn Michaels locked Bret Hart in his own submission hold, the sharpshooter and Vince McMahon told the referee to call for the bell even though Bret Hart never tapped out. This controversial finish led to Bret Hart spitting in Vince McMahon’s face, throwing a fit and destroying the announcers table after the match and punching McMahon in the face after the show went off the air. But what led up to this event and who is to blame?


Bret Hart was leaving the company and Survivors Series 1997 was supposed to be his last night. Bret Hart was going to WCW because the WWE was losing the ratings war between the two companies and they didn’t have enough money to pay Bret Hart. Vince McMahon told Bret personally to go to WCW because he couldn’t afford Bret while WCW, which was owned by Billionaire Ted Turner, could afford him.

The only problem with Bret Hart leaving was that he was the WWE champion. Vince McMahon, who had a lot of faith in Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart’s biggest rival, proposed that Bret Hart would lose the title to Shawn at the Survivors Series…Bret Hart didn’t agree with that at all and that’s where the idea of a screwjob began.


Vince McMahon was doing everything he could to protect the value of his WWE championship. He was afraid of another Alundra Blaze/ Madusa stunt. When Alundra Blaze left the WWE she was their women’s champion, she then turned around on WCW Nitro and threw the title in the garbage. Vince McMahon refused to let his companies biggest title possibly go to WCW so he devised a plan to screw Bret Hart out of the title.

Shawn Michaels, Triple-H, the referee of the match Earl Hebner, and various other road agents held secret meetings with Vince McMahon to devise a plan to remove the title from Bret Hart. Ultimately the agreed that they needed a quick finish somewhere in the match that Bret Hart could not reverse and have the whole plan backfire. Ultimately they decided to have the referee ring the bell even though Bret Hart did not submit.


Many people blame McMahon for this event but a lot of the could fall on Bret Hart himself. Bret refused to give Shawn Michaels the title even though the company wanted him to. He refused to do it out of sheer hatred for Shawn, who in the 90’s was known in the wrestling world as a huge troublemaker who was very immature at the time. Bret Hart went on record and said he would stay an extra day and lose the title on Raw to anybody EXCEPT for Shawn Michaels.

It is an unwritten wrestling rule that when you are leaving a company as one of the top performers that you lose to one of the new up and coming superstars in order to make them look more successful, this is known as putting someone over. Bret Hart refused to put Shawn Michaels over simply out of hatred even though it was the most logical business decision.


Somehow Vince McMahon was able to turn the Montreal Screwjobs into one of his most successful endeavors. There have been many DVD’s, Video Games and Books that center around, or at least feature, this controversial event.

Perhaps the biggest success coming out of this event was the character of Mr. McMahon. The night after the screwjob Mr. McMahon gave an interview on Raw where he claimed that he didn’t screw Bret Hart and that “Bret screwed Bret.” This led to Mr. McMahon becoming one of the most hated entities in wrestling. With this new found level of hatred Mr. McMahon would begin a huge feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin, which ended up helping the WWE earn record high ratings and ultimately defeat WCW in the Monday Night Wars.

This controversial event ended up making the WWE a very successful place. Even though all parties involved carry some of the blame they have all finally moved on from what has happened (Even if it did take 13 years for Bret Hart to forgive them)




2 thoughts on “The Montreal Screwjob: Who screwed who?

  1. “Wrestling With Shadows” is now on Netflix Instant. It’s well worth watching and documents the whole thing from start to finish. Actually before that, as the movie was initially just going to be short doc about wrestling in general with Hart as the focus. Talk about right place and right time.

    Bret Hart’s book is a great read, too. Hart is shockingly self-aware about the whole thing, even when he doesn’t necessarily intend to be all that revealing.

    My whole take on it has always been that Bret, for as much as I always liked him and respect him, was always too much of a mark for himself. It’s not really his fault. Understanding his family’s dynamic and what he was brought up in, he can’t really help it. The Hart Family is as carny as they come, and even with all of Bret’s shortcomings it’s shocking that he came through it as well-adjusted as he did. Still, what it boils down to is that he put way too much stock into things that really, in the long run, don’t matter. Perfect example: he’s admitted that had the title switch been planned for the States, he would have done it, but didn’t want to do it in front of his “home” (re: same country yet barely) crowd. Yes, he was uber-popular in Montreal, but who cares? It’s professional wrestling, which is why a lot of the old-timers – even the guys that hated Vince – tended not to speak out on Bret’s behalf when this all went down. Because that was the general consensus: that Bret, for lack of a better term, had swallowed his own bulls***.

    That said, what McMahon did – which was to lie to Bret and go along with a plan only to screw him – was still super shady. It did change the industry and, like you pointed out, eventually led to the Mr. McMahon character, Attitude era, and all the things that led to wrestling’s last boom period. The undisclosed long-term effect, though, was that it forever killed the notion of pro wrestling and made “sports entertainment” a permanent state. By that I mean nothing’s done on a handshake anymore, especially since Vince is essentially the only major promoter in town. The Montreal Screwjob’s real contribution is the transformation into wrestling as just another business. Hell, before that, there were still guys in both major companies that were working without long-term contracts. For better or worse, nobody trusted anyone enough after this happened for that to be a feasible option.

    The other fallout from this is how spectacularly WCW mishandled Bret’s eventual arrival. They booked stupid angles with him, turned him heel but without the Canadian nationalist angle, and put him in the nWo to make him just another guy. What should have been a major turning point that still could have legitimately hurt the then-WWF – even with Austin’s ascent – instead became a black eye to Hart’s legacy and the beginning of the end for WCW.

    By the way, if you ever get a chance, read up on what really was a horrific screwjob that ended Wendi Richter’s career (the incident at MSG with Moolah). She was arguably the WWF’s third biggest star at the time, and Vince chased her out of the business at a time when she might have been able to find work anywhere else. A real travesty, but because it was women’s wrestling, nobody paid it much mind or took the stock in it that they should have (re: Vince wasn’t to be trusted, ever).

    • I have seen that movie and it is a classic. Also the rivalries DVD that the WWE did between Bret Hart and Shawn Michales was really good and it shows how they got up to the point of the screwjob. WCW mismanaged lots of superstars but I definitely should have mentioned that in the aftermath. I agree with you, Richter got screwed hardcore.

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