The Montreal Screwjob of 1997 is regarded as one of the biggest scandals in the history of not only the WWE, but in the history of all of pro wrestling. The incident and the consequences of the decision changed the landscape of American pro wrestling and sent shockwaves throughout the pro wrestling world. The betrayal, the politics, the aftermath of the decision and everything in between is what led many casual viewers of wrestling to take a bit more interest into what really goes on behind the scenes of their favorite wrestling programming.
The event changed the game for pro wrestling journalism, creating a seismic shift from kayfabe based coverage of storylines and happenings in wrestling to a boom of pro wrestling insider websites that went over news and rumors about the booking of shows and the pushes or discouragement of performers.
In the nearly 20 years since the incident, the WWE and Vince McMahon in particular have come out with various documentaries and revisionist history of their side of the story and why things went the way they did and Bret Hart has presented his side which conflicts with Vince’s recollection. Plenty of other figures in the wrestling industry who were present in the company at the time or observed closely have presented their takes on the scandal as well. In this list, we will be covering some interesting details that Vince McMahon may want you to forget surrounding that fateful night in November of 1997.
14 This Wasn’t The First Time Vince Deceived Bret
Before the incident at Survivor Series 1997, Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had a very good working relationship between the two of them. While it wasn’t the sort of Father-Son relationship the documentary Wrestling With Shadows made it out to be, Bret and Vince had been in the trenches with one another during hard times for the company. Vince relied on Hart to be his centerpiece of the company after Hulk Hogan had gotten old and moved on to WCW.
Vince made a promise to honor Bret’s wishes of walking out Champion at Survivor Series 97 and we all saw first-hand the promise get broken, but it wasn’t the first time Vince had gone back on his word with Hart. After cutting Hart’s title reign short with a loss to Yokozuna at WrestleMania IX just so he could put the belt back on Hogan, Vince McMahon promised to make it so Hogan and Hart would headline SummerSlam and Hogan would drop the belt to Hart in a sort of symbolic “torch-passing” moment for Hart. Hogan would instead drop the belt to Yokozuna at King of The Ring 93 because it was stated that Hogan didn’t want to lose against Bret Hart. Even if it wasn't Vince's fault, he still didn't follow through for The Hitman.
13 Oh, There Was Another Time Too
Vince McMahon is a lot of things. He’s a CEO, he’s a father, he’s essentially the head of creative, but before all else, Vince McMahon is a businessman and a politician. Former WWE Wrestlers have noted in shoot interviews about their interactions with Vince that he has this aura about him where he seems like he’s the friendliest guy in the room and is on your side, but there’s this lingering feeling of it being just a power play.
In 1993, Bret and Vince had entered into contract negotiations because Bret’s deal at the time was set to expire by the end of the year. Vince and The Hitman would reach a verbal agreement with the main terms being that Hart would have the rights to the “Hitman” trademark and would be allowed to pursue acting opportunities outside of the WWE. McMahon would later send Hart a written contract that omitted the terms on which they negotiated verbally. Hart would call him on it and McMahon would redo the contract according to the handshake deal they had. This would happen again in 1996 when his contract was up for renegotiation and he was mulling an offer with WCW.
12 Vince Asked Bret To Leave WWE
You read that right. Vince McMahon, a person who prides himself on being loyal to those who are loyal to him, actually asked Bret Hart to leave WWE because he couldn’t afford to pay him what he wanted.
In 1996, the WCW made a play at The Hitman when his contract had expired and he was essentially a free agent. Eric Bischoff made Bret a very lucrative deal of $2.8 million a year for three years, something Vince could not match. Vince was able to land Bret, who preferred not to leave, with a 20 year contract that would pay Bret more over time than WCW and keep him loyal to his home company. This deal proved to be one Vince didn’t have the bank rolls at the time to back up.
In 1997, WWE was going through some dire straits financially and it got to the point where Vince asked Bret if he could restructure his contract so he could take less money. Bret balked at the notion, so Vince suggested he leave the company, stating Bret would be doing the company a “favor” by negotiating another deal with WCW.
11 Vince Was The Wedge Between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart’s Friendship
Based on the backstage chatter and news rumors at the time, as well as the on-camera conflict between the two WWE Hall of Famers, it appeared as though Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart hated each other’s guts. What some may find surprising is that before the drama of Bret’s final years with the company, Shawn Michaels and Bret were really good friends and respectful to one another and admired one another’s abilities in the ring.
The common denominator in their falling out of their friendship is none other than their boss, Vince McMahon. We’ve heard that Vince enjoys seeing competitive conflict in the office. This may very well have been the case when Vince was looking for the next marquee guy to lead the company and Bret and Shawn were vying for that slot.
Vince was a liaison between the two and when backstage rumors would start piling up, rather than squash any tension, he’d egg it on by letting it fester. This would lead to a growing hatred between Hart and Michaels as they both would throw veiled shots at each other in promos and it even lead to a real backstage fight between the two.
10 Jim Ross Was Let In On the Screwjob
Regarded as one of the most respected and decorated WWE commentators in the history of the company, Jim Ross was the voice of the company during the WWE’s boom period in the late 90s. His exceptional commentary earned Good Ol’ JR a place in WWE’s Hall of Fame.
Ross has stated that his approach to commentary on WWE programming was to go into the show knowing nothing when it came to the finishes and “calling it as he sees it,” by just reacting like a well-educated fan of the product. This would give his commentary a genuine feel despite it being a pre-determined sport.
However, Jim Ross didn’t have the gift of ignorance when Vince McMahon held a secret meeting at his hotel room the night before the Survivor Series event with Jim Ross, Pat Patterson, Jim Cornette and Shawn Michaels to discuss the plans for the main event. Dave Meltzer and the PWTorch publications both reported this to be true and that when Ross left the hotel that night, he was visibly shaken and irritable from the news that was dropped on him.
9 Earl Hebner and Bret Made Peace
Long-time veteran referee of the WWE Earl Hebner has been given the responsibility of officiating a lot of high-profile matches in his long career and he unfortunately had the dubious honor of officiating the Screwjob main event and being responsible for calling for the bell. Hebner was a trusted referee by the wrestlers in the back and especially trusted by Bret Hart. But for obvious reasons, like job security, he made the call that would ignite the controversial Montreal Screwjob.
As much as fans might dislike Hebner for what went down that night, it seems that he and Bret Heart have made peace. It happened at a "Big Time Wrestling" promotion in Prince George, Virginia. While onstage, Hart invited Earl and his brother to the ring and had some fond words for the former WWF referee. "Whatever happened in Montreal certainly is no reflection on the character of Earl Hebner or Dave Hebner. There is still a lot of love left in wrestling, and it’s right here."
8 The Undertaker Made Vince Go Face Bret and Apologize
The Undertaker has for a long-time been regarded as a locker room general and in the late 90s, that couldn’t be more true. The Undertaker is a company guy through and through and has tremendous respect for his boss, but even he felt that it wasn’t right for Vince McMahon to conduct business the way he did with Bret.
After the screwjob went down the ring and the cameras stopped rolling, the backstage area was filled with chaos as to what would go down when Bret got back there with Vince. McMahon at first locked himself in his office with his son Shane, Pat Patterson, Brisco and other agents, refusing to have any sort of interaction with the fuming Hitman.
It was The Undertaker who would bang on McMahon’s door and eventually get him to come out and go face Bret like a man and apologize and make things right.
7 Triple H Was In On The Screwjob
Triple H has been regarded as having one of the greatest wrestling minds in the business. His respect for history, his wrestling IQ and attention to detail when it comes to ring psychology and his eye for scouting talent for NXT has made his transition from full-time wrestler to corporate executive a fruitful one. But while Triple H is now fully embracing life as a corporate executive and doing what’s “best for business” as a part of The Authority, it appears he foreshadowed his eventual push into the executive branch of the company by doing what was “best for business” when it came to coming up with a finish for Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart’s main event contest.
Though it would be many years before he joined the WWE brass, Triple H did in fact play a role in The Montreal Screwjob. In Shawn Michaels' autobiography, Triple H spoke up in a private meeting between HBK, Vince and Hunter that if Bret doesn’t want to do business and drop the title, “We’ll do business for him.” This would sow the seeds for the eventual screwjob plan.
6 Wrestlers Wanted to Boycott RAW The Next Night
After committing such a dastardly deed to a long-time veteran wrestler and loyal company man like Bret Hart, the WWE roster was close to having a full blown mutiny as a response. The Screwjob sent shockwaves to the backstage area as the locker room watched on the TV monitors the events unfold.
The locker room was divided on who was in the rightm but practically all unanimously agreed that the way this situation was handled was totally uncalled for. Several of the stars backstage were rightfully suspicious of their boss and were worried about their own standing with the company. If Vince would do such a thing to a loyal company guy who’s carried the company during the dark years like Bret Hart, what makes them feel so secure that it wouldn’t happen to them?
Vince had some serious explaining to do and he held a meeting with the entire roster explaining his motive for how he handled things. McMahon explained that if it wasn’t done this way, the company’s future would be in jeopardy and he couldn’t afford to take a chance on Hart leaving with the WWE Championship. The potential walk-out was mitigated by Hart telling the locker room not to boycott Raw for risk of being fired. Besides fellow Hart Foundation members and family members Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart and Jim Neidhart, only Mick Foley would boycott Raw the next night.
5 Shawn Michaels Took The Heat Backstage
Though he is a beloved WWE Hall of Famer and legend, Shawn Michaels has had to deal with a long run of resentment from WWE crowds, particularly whenever the WWE toured in Canada, as he would always be subjected to “You Screwed Bret” chants even a decade after the incident. The resentment that HBK was more worried about though after the events unfolded at Survivor Series 1997, was the ones directed at him by the “boys in the back.”
When Vince McMahon held that talent-only meeting with the roster after the incident, he saw to it that 100 percent of the responsibility and the heat would fall on him. However, seeing as he is the boss and is the one signing the paychecks, the heat would transfer off of him and go onto his partner in crime, Shawn Michaels.
Michaels would state in interviews and his biography that after The Screwjob, he felt heat on him from the wrestlers backstage and was increasingly paranoid after the incident. In the locker rooms he felt alienated and was afraid to be in the dressing rooms alone for fear that a resentful fellow wrestler would get him for his participation in the Screwjob.
4 McMahon Lied About Bret’s Contract On Air
The night after Survivor Series 1997, Vince McMahon aired his side of the story on Monday Night RAW with his infamous “Bret Screwed Bret” interview. In the Interview, sporting a black eye from the punch he received from The Hitman, Vince would go on to talk in-depth about the incident front his point of view and the point of view from the company. It was very uncharacteristic of the usual scripted storylines and contained a lot of insider and business information about Bret Hart’s contractual agreements and obligations.
On top of tearing into Hart about being disrespectful to the company and being difficult to work with, Vince McMahon touched on contractual details that ended up being false. In the interview, Vince states that he came up with a deal to give Bret Hart a 20 year contract with the company, with the first three years being contracted as an active wrestler. Those first three years he quotes, Bret would be paid “$3 million a year/”
The numbers on the 20 year deal were actually: “$1.5 million per year for three years as a wrestler. $500,000 per year for seven years as a senior adviser. $250,000 per year for ten years as a company standby.” So to say that there was a little bit of inflating done for television by Vince would be an understatement.
3 Owen Was Forced To Stay With WWE
Following what transpired at Survivor Series 1997, you would think that if you have close connections with Bret Hart or better yet, are related to the guy, you’d take off along with him. That’s exactly what Hart Foundation members and brothers-in-law “The British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart did when WWE granted them quick releases from their contracts to go join “The Hitman” in WCW. However, Bret Hart’s own flesh and blood Owen Hart wasn’t given the same luxury. Vince did not grant Owen a release from the company because his contract was stipulated a bit differently and he had several years left. He'd come back a few months after Survivor Series to attack Shawn Michaels, before moving on to feud with his running mate, Triple H.
Sadly, Owen died a couple of years later.
2 Shane McMahon Got Involved Backstage During The Confontation
When the dust settled and the smoke cleared from The Screwjob, Bret made his way backstage looking for answers and looking to get a piece of Vince. As detailed in the Wrestling With Shadows documentary where cameras had been following Bret Hart in the events leading up to the scandal, Bret gave Vince fair warning that after he got showered and dressed, he was going to punch Vince in the face.
What isn’t touched on very much is that Vince McMahon’s son, Shane, was right by Vince’s side during the altercation with Bret and even tried to get involved after seeing his father go down from The Hitman’s fist.
Shane O’Mac would be restrained by Davey Boy Smith while the adults hashed things out. After Hart was done with Vince, he told Shane and Gerald Brisco to pick Vince up off the floor and get out of the locker room or risk the same consequences.
1 This Event Was The Inspiration For The Mr. McMahon Character
Before the events that transpired at Survivor Series 1997, the only way the television viewing audience knew Vince McMahon was as the announcer and occasional commentator for Monday Night Raw. The Montreal Screwjob brought Vince McMahon into the spotlight in his true role with the company, as the owner and CEO of WWE.
While Vince tried to be a well-spoken professional corporate figurehead for the company on television by explaining his actions on his “Bret Screwed Bret” interview, but it merely came off as villainous to fans of The Hitman who felt he was done wrong.
Vince decided that since he couldn’t get the crowd on his side, why not channel that resentment that fans had towards him and turn himself into a villainous character who abused his authority. Thus, Mr. McMahon was born out of The Screwjob, along with taking inspiration from Eric Bischoff's heel character on WCW. As history would show, the character became a great success during The Attitude Era by being the foil to rising WWE Superstar Stone Cold Steve Austin. The rivalry between boss and employee would wind up overtaking WCW in the ratings and would signal victory for WWE during the Monday Night Wars.