Survivor Series 1997 was supposed to be the last big show for Bret Hart with WWE. Bret faced Shawn Michaels for the then-WWE World Title at the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. The storyline behind the match was that Michaels’ DX was a babyface faction that was feuding with Bret Hart’s heel Hart Foundation. In America, the Foundation was the most hated group in professional wrestling, even feuding with The Patriot and Steve Austin. However, in Canada, where Bret and Owen Hart hailed from, and where all five members of the Foundation trained, the Foundation was cheered while their opponents were reviled.
Because the Foundation was so popular in Canada, Bret Hart felt that he should leave the arena and the company as a hero and as a champion in his last PPV match. Unfortunately, Vince McMahon and his advisors had different ideas, and the result was what came to be known as the Montreal Screwjob. The match did not end as it was expected to, and the resulting melee became one of the most memorable events in the history of WWE.
Twenty years later, wrestling fans and historians still talk about the match and the events surrounding it. Therefore, here are 15 things that you didn’t know about the Montreal Screwjob.
15 Bret Never Wanted To Leave WWE
As WWE was approaching Survivor Series 1997, Bret Hart’s contract with WWE was close to expiring. In many instances, before contracts expire, management and the talent will come together to negotiate a new deal. During this period, WWE was battling with WCW for professional wrestling supremacy, and WCW had secured the talents of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage, and the New World Order was giving WCW ratings domination. Bret was WWE’s top star, and Vince needed him to stay with the company.
The interesting part of this scenario is that Bret Hart actually wanted to stay with WWE. Bret was quoted as saying that, up to that point, he had only worked for two promoters; his father Stu Hart and Vince McMahon. He felt like WWE was his second family, and he didn’t want to leave, which is why the negotiations were so difficult. Bret was the top star and deserved top dollar, as Vince was fighting for his professional life.
14 Bret Was Disgusted With The Direction Of WWE
While Bret wanted to stay with the company, he was also slightly disgusted with the direction of WWE. As the Attitude Era was well underway, and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was becoming the top star in the company, Bret felt that the sex, the beer drinking and the profanity was becoming too provocative for a product that was supposed to be family entertainment. The Attitude Era created a style of professional wrestling presentation that took what ECW was doing and turned the volume up to the max, and this was not what Bret truly wanted to be associated with.
Bret’s feelings for the product as WWE was presenting it in 1997 created a dichotomy within Bret. On one hand, Bret wanted to stay with the company, but on the other, Bret did not like being associated with a company that was rife with sex and extreme violence. If Bret had the power to make change, he would have been able to stay in WWE, but WWE would be as it was prior to the Attitude Era.
13 WCW Offered Bret A 3-Year Deal/WWE Offered Bret Hart 20 Years
During the negotiations between Bret Hart and WWE, Bret was also receiving contract offers from Eric Bischoff and WCW. WCW was offering Bret Hart a 3-year contract, valued at around $9 million, which would have been $3 million per year. At the same time, Vince McMahon offered Bret a 20-year contract, but the annual salary was well less than the WCW deal. One issue of the deal was that Bret Hart would be 40-years-old by the time Survivor Series 1997 happened, so the length of the contract was important as Bret aged.
The 20-year deal that Vince was offering Bret was for him to wrestle as long as he was physically able, and then, when Bret’s wrestling days came to an end, it would allow Bret to work for the company in some other capacity. The move looked like a smart deal for WWE, as it created a contract that would not have to be re-negotiated in the near future as WCW’s deal would have.
12 Vince Told Bret He Should Leave WWE
While these negotiations were going on between Bret and the two top wrestling companies in the world, WCW was consistently beating WWE in head-to-head television ratings. The way that television works is that the shows with higher ratings can generate greater revenue from advertisers. As a result, though WWE was producing more live events, WCW was generating greater revenue, which allowed the company to pay higher salaries. WCW was making more money than WWE, and Vince was feeling the pinch.
As Bret was deciding between the greater yearly pay from WCW and staying “home”, Vince approached Bret to let him know that WWE was experiencing “financial peril” and that Bret should accept the offer from WCW. As previously mentioned, Bret did not want to leave WWE, even for the larger contract from WCW, but when Vince told Bret that he could not afford the 20-year deal, Bret signed with WCW.
11 Bret Didn’t Want To Drop The Title To HBK In Canada
As previously mentioned, Bret was a heel in the United States and a babyface in Canada. Seemingly, if Survivor Series 1997 was scheduled to take place in the United States, Bret would have been willing to drop the title to Shawn Michaels, even though Bret had disdain for HBK. However, since the show was scheduled for Canada, Bret did not was to drop the title to Shawn in Canada. He would have lost to anyone else, or to Shawn anywhere else, but not to Shawn in Canada.
The issue between Bret and Shawn ran deeper than a storyline feud between two wrestlers who are really friends off television. Bret’s storyline feelings that Shawn was a degenerate, and that he was ruining professional wrestling, stemmed from Bret’s actual feelings for the Heartbreak Kid. Bret did not like Shawn, and Bret was unwilling to do business and give Shawn the championship on Bret’s way out of the company. This was the heart of the problem.
10 Vince Gave Bret Creative Control For The Last 30 Days
The Montreal Screwjob was never supposed to happen, because once Bret decided that he was leaving WWE for WCW, and since he was champion and unwilling to drop the belt to Shawn Michaels, Vince McMahon gave Bret Hart limited creative control for the last 30 days that Bret was employed by WWE. Bret was told that he would be allowed to leave on his own terms, and Bret did not want to drop the title to Shawn in Canada.
Bret told Vince, in discussions leading up to the end of Bret’s run in WWE, that he was willing to drop the title to anyone of Vince’s choosing at Survivor Series or on the Raw after Survivor Series. Bret also considered forfeiting the title and surrendering it back to the company. Bret was willing to do anything else other than a loss to HBK in Canada on PPV. Bret’s disdain for Shawn was bigger than doing business the right way.
9 Bret And Vince Agreed On The Finish Of The Match
While Bret and Vince were discussing options for Bret giving the World Championship back to the company, a finish was discussed on which the two men agreed. There are many stories regarding who actually came up with the finish, but in essence the finish was simple, and both Bret and Vince agreed on it. At the end of the match, Shawn was supposed lock Bret into the Sharpshooter, Bret would reverse it, and then the match was to end in a massive brawl that caused a double disqualification.
There were several other components to the ending of the match. There was supposed to be a ref bump where referee Earl Hebner was unconscious, and a pinfall by Shawn on Bret that Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith broke up, causing the brawl between the two factions. As it turned out, when Shawn locked Bret in the Sharpshooter, the bell rang and the match ended, giving HBK the WWE World Title, not the finish that Bret and Vince agreed to.
8 Vader Warned Bret Not To Get Caught In Any Submission Holds
Leon White, the man known as Big Van Vader, spent a good portion of his wrestling career in Japan, and he has seen things like what happened at the Montreal Screwjob many times before. Because of what he has experienced, as the match was drawing near, Vader had a feeling that something was wrong. Vader warned Bret to be careful during the match, and for Bret to not allow himself to be caught in a situation where the match and the title could be taken away from Bret.
Vader told Bret that he should be careful not to lie on his back for too long and not to allow himself to be caught in any submission holds. He also told Bret to kick out immediately of any pinfalls so that Bret could not be caught by any fast counts. Vader felt that these were ways in which the company could take the title from Bret, despite the agreed upon finish to the match.
7 Bret Trusted That Earl Hebner Wouldn’t Screw Him
Leading into the match, while people like Vader, Davey Boy Smith and Bret’s wife Julie were warning Bret about the possibility of something unscrupulous happening during the match, Bret was not concerned, because he felt that he had an ace in the hole. The assigned referee for the match was Earl Hebner, who Bret had a good relationship with. Prior to the match, Bret had a conversation with Earl Hebner, and Bret was assured that Earl would not be involved with anything untoward.
When Bret spoke to Earl about the match, Bret expressed his concerns that someone would do something dirty to him during the match. Earl swore on his children that he would never double-cross Bret, and told Bret that he would rather lose his job than take part in something like screwing over Bret. Despite this, while Earl was supposed to be knocked out because of a ref bump, when Shawn put the Sharpshooter on Bret, Earl stood up and called for the bell, ending the match. Earl gave his word, and then did what he had to do to keep his job.
6 The Undertaker Ordered Vince To Talk To Bret After The Match
After the match was over and Bret had lost, Bret was noticeably angry, and he displayed that anger towards Vince McMahon (but more on that in a moment). While Bret and the members of the Hart Foundation stood in the ring amid all of the chaos, Shawn Michaels left with the belt, and Vince, along with Pat Patterson and Gerald Brisco, left ringside and headed for Vince’s office. Bret went to Vince’s office to speak with him, but Vince refused to come out of his office until the Undertaker intervened.
Vince and his assistants locked themselves in Vince’s office, and refused to open the door when Bret came to the office to speak to Vince. The Undertaker then banged on the office door and essentially ordered Vince to speak to Bret, telling the boss that he owed Bret an explanation regarding the events at the end of the match. At the Undertaker’s urging, Vince went to the dressing room to speak to Bret, and what happened next is what made the story legendary.
5 Bret Assaulted Vince – Twice
Once the match was over, Bret Hart stood in the ring with the Hart Foundation, staring at Vince McMahon angrily because Bret and Vince had previously agreed on a finish. Vince called an audible in order to screw Bret out of the title, not trusting that Bret would keep his word and drop the belt the next night on Raw. Realizing this, Bret’s first action was to spit in the face of his now former boss. Some people have actually been arrested for spitting in the faces of other people.
After that, Bret stormed to Vince’s office to no avail. Once the Undertaker told Vince that he should speak to Bret, Vince went to the dressing room to talk to Bret. Bret punched Vince in his eye, and in the ensuing scuffle, Vince sprained his ankle. Allegedly, Vince also suffered a concussion in the struggle. In all, Bret spit in Vince’s face and punched him in the eye, causing him to sprain his ankle and suffer a concussion. It begs the question of if this was the best idea.
4 Several Wrestlers Boycotted WWE In Protest Of The Decision
Once the chaos had calmed, many WWE wrestlers were upset at the events of Survivor Series night. As a result, several WWE wrestlers threatened to either boycott the next night’s Raw broadcast, or to leave the company altogether. Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith asked for, and ultimately received releases from WWE. Mick Foley actually boycotted the broadcast, and Rick Rude appeared on WCW Nitro, cutting a promo on the company and its treatment of Bret Hart.
Ironically, it took Bret Hart to put an end to the revolt. Bret met with the wrestlers, and convinced them that they should not put their own careers in jeopardy due to their outrage over the end of the Survivor Series main event. Bret also convinced Mick Foley to not place his career in jeopardy. Coincidentally, or maybe not, Mick Foley stayed with WWE and remained on good terms with the company, while Rick Rude, who passed away in 1999, was left out of the WWE Hall of Fame for nearly 20 years after his death before being inducted in 2017.
3 Owen Hart Was Forced To Stay In WWE
Bret Hart left WWE after Survivor Series 1997 because his contract with WWE had expired and because he had signed a deal with WCW. Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith, because of how they felt after the end of the show in Montreal, asked for and received releases from WWE and both ultimately signed with WCW. Davey left immediately, while Neidhart took part in a storyline where he was humiliated and beaten by DX, only to have HBK and HHH spray paint “WCW” on his back, reminiscent of what Kliq members Hall and Nash were doing in WCW when they painted “NWO” on fallen wrestlers.
However, Owen Hart, the fourth living member of the Hart Foundation (Brian Pillman passed away in October of 1997), remained in WWE, but not of his own choice. Though the company granted releases to Neidhart and Smith, Vince refused to grant Owen Hart a release from his contract. Owen was forced to stay with the company, joining the Nation of Domination before returning to his Blue Blazer gimmick. At the same time, Owen stayed because Eric Bischoff was unwilling to pay Owen what he was making in WWE, and Owen was not sure that he would be used correctly in WCW. Either way, while his brothers-in-law were floundering in WCW, Owen was alone in WWE.
2 “Mr.” McMahon Became A Star
On the Raw following Survivor Series, Vince McMahon participated in a sit-down interview with WWE announcer Jim Ross where Ross asked Vince to give his accounting of the events of the previous night. During the interview, Vince uttered the now legendary phrase “Vince McMahon did not screw Bret Hart. Bret screwed Bret”. From this single line, the “Mr. McMahon” character was born, and he became the top heel in professional wrestling.
With the Attitude Era in full swing, and Steve Austin becoming the popular anti-hero, Mr. McMahon became the perfect foil for Austin. The battles between Vince and Austin made Vince more hated with each passing day; and Austin among the most popular professional wrestlers in the history of the business. Not only did the emergence of the Mr. McMahon character enhance the careers of Steve Austin and Vince McMahon, it helped WWE to recover, and eventually defeat WCW in the ratings war.
1 Bret Ended His Career In WCW
While Mr. McMahon was taking his place among the most hated heels in the history of professional wrestling, alongside Larry Zbyszko when he turned on Bruno Sammartino, and Hulk Hogan when he joined the New World Order, Bret Hart was in WCW, trying to be the star that he was in WWE. Bret captured the WCW US Title four times, and the WCW World Title twice, including winning a 32-man tournament to capture the title that had been previously vacated. Bret was on his way to becoming one of the top WCW stars of the new millennium until tragedy struck and his career was effectively ended.
During a World Title defense against Bill Goldberg, Goldberg launched a thrust kick that landed stiffly on Bret’s head, giving Bret a concussion. The concussion, combined with other concussions from earlier matches that Bret was unaware of, made it difficult for him to continue wrestling, though he participated in several matches after that one. Eventually, the injuries became too much for him, and Bret retired from active competition. Bret’s WCW contract was terminated just a few months before it was scheduled to expire on its own, but either way, Bret Hart was done as a full-time professional wrestler.