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Reliving the Montreal Screwjob 25 years later

We look back at Dave Meltzer's coverage of the infamous WWE Survivor Series moment along with some recent audio.
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With Wednesday marking 25 years since the infamous Montreal Screwjob involving Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels at WWE Survivor Series 1997, we wanted to point to some of Dave Meltzer's coverage of all of the fallout from those specific issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

Dave said at the time, "It will go down in history as the single most famous finish of a pro wrestling match in the modern era."

The November 17, 1997, edition of the WON (sub only) kicked things off with a day-by-day breakdown of what happened and who was involved, also available in full (with more) in the 1997 yearbook.

"It will go down in history as the single most famous finish of a pro wrestling match in the modern era. Twenty or 30 years from now this story, more than any famous wrestler jumping promotions, more than any prominent death, and more than any record setting house, will be remembered vividly by all who watched it live, and remembered as legendary from all who hear about it later. Through the magic of videotape, the last minute of this match will live forever, and be replayed literally millions of times by tens of thousands of people all looking for the most minute pieces of detail to this strange puzzle. But the story of what led to those few seconds starts more than one year ago, far more reminiscent of the dirty con man past of the industry than the current attempted facade of a multi-million dollar corporate above board image those in the industry like to portray outwardly that it has evolved into.

October 20, 1996

Bret Hart was in a hotel room in San Jose, CA, hours from making the biggest decision of his life--who would win the biggest bidding war in the history of pro wrestling. He had pretty well leaned toward staying with the World Wrestling Federation despite a much larger offer from World Championship Wrestling, but had changed his mind a few times over the previous two weeks as each side presented new offers. In the waning hours, Eric Bischoff and Kevin Nash were trying to convince him to change his mind and how great life was with an easier schedule. Bischoff was offering big money and a shot at becoming a movie star, a goal Hart had been pursuing while on a semi-retirement from wrestling since dropping the title to Shawn Michaels a few months earlier at Wrestlemania. 

Vince McMahon was offering him, in the now immortal words of Arn Anderson, not just a spot, but the top spot in the company, the chance to be a major part of deciding the future direction of the company, and almost literally, to be WWF 4 life. Many close advisers of Hart's tried to tell him going to WCW was the best move for his present, and more importantly, his future after wrestling. But largely out of loyalty, and that obviously wasn't the only factor involved, he declined the offer. McMahon, determined not to lose a very public fight, offered him the famous 20-year contract where he'd, after retirement in about three years, become almost a first lieutenant when it came to the booking process. 

Hart would earn somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.5 million per year as an active wrestler, and a healthy but far lesser figure working the front office for the 17 years after retirement as an active wrestler. As part of McMahon's offer, he also was going to allow Hart to explain live on television his decision making process should be sign with WCW. Hart flew to Fort Wayne, IN, where the WWF was holding its live Raw taping after having already verbally agreed to the deal, signed the contract, and gave the interview saying basically that he would be in the WWF forever, figuring to be positioned as the top babyface and perennial champion until he finished his active career riding off in the sunset in a blaze of glory, like Hogan, Savage, and the rest of the superstars before him didn't. 

As is the case in wrestling, not all the promised scenarios that everyone believed were going to happen transpire as originally planned. And just over one year later, the feelings between McMahon and Hart had taken a 180 degree turn, to the degree nobody would have ever believed.

*****

March 10, 1997

Top babyface didn't last long as McMahon asked him to turn heel. At first Hart balked at the idea but after three days, McMahon presented him with two lists. One list was his prospective opponents as a babyface--Vader, Mankind and Steve Austin. The other list was his prospective opponents as a heel, Undertaker, Michaels and Austin. Hart agreed for drawing money, his opponents as a heel made up a better list, and he and McMahon agreed that he would turn back babyface over the last few months of his contract and end his career on a positive note. He and Steve Austin did the double-turn at Wrestlemania. Hart himself then came up with the Anti-American angle, where he would remain a babyface in Canada and Europe and do interviews that would for the most part speak the truth, so he could when the time came to turn back in the U.S., have a reasonable explanation.

September 8, 1997

Vince McMahon and Bret Hart had their first meeting where McMahon seriously approached Hart about his contract. About three months earlier, McMahon had told Hart that the company was in bad financial straights and that they might have to defer some of the money until later in the contract. This time his approach was more point blank. He wanted to cut Hart's regular salary, around $30,000 per week, more than in half and defer the rest of the money until later in the contract period when hopefully the company would be in better shape financially. Hart declined the suggestion, because he didn't want to risk not getting the money in the future after he was through taking all the bumps.

September 20, 1997

About one hour before the beginning of the PPV show in Birmingham, England, McMahon approached Davey Boy Smith and asked him to put over Shawn Michaels that night for the European title. Smith was apparently shocked, having been told all along in the build-up of the show, that Michaels was going to do a job for him, since Europe was promised to be "his territory." 

The explanation, which made and still makes logical business sense, is that they wanted to build for a bigger show, a second PPV from Smith's former home town of Manchester, England, where Smith would regain the title--the same scenario the WWF did to draw 60,000 fans in San Antonio with Michaels in the other role working a program with Sycho Sid. So while it all made sense, it was rather strange he wasn't approached with this idea until just before the start of the show.

At around this same time period, McMahon approached Hart about working with Michaels. Hart said that he had a problem with that since Michaels had still never really apologized to him for the Sunny days comment, and said it would be hard to trust somebody like that in the ring and due to their past, and told McMahon that he would figure that Michaels would have the same concerns, since a few weeks earlier after first making it clear he would never work with anyone in the Hart Foundation, Michaels had finally agreed to work only with Smith, saying he couldn't trust Bret or Owen.

September 22, 1997

On the day of the Raw taping at Madison Square Garden, McMahon told Bret Hart flat out that they were going to intentionally breach his contract because they couldn't afford the deal. He told a shocked Hart that he should go to World Championship Wrestling and make whatever deal he could with that group. "I didn't feel comfortable doing it," Hart said of the suggestion. "I feel like an old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and I have the best cell. Why would I want to move to a new prison where I don't know the guards and the inmates and I know longer have the best cell? I felt really bad after all the years of working for the WWF." 

Hart had an escape clause built into his contract since he had so much negotiating leverage when making his WWF deal 11 months earlier, in that he could leave the company giving 30 days notice, and that he would have what the contract called "reasonable creative control" of his character during that lame duck period so that he couldn't be unreasonably buried on the way out. There was a window period for giving that notice and negotiating elsewhere that hadn't begun, so McMahon, showing he was serious, gave Hart written permission to begin negotiating with WCW and Hart contacted Eric Bischoff. The same day, during a meeting with Hart, Michaels and McMahon, Michaels told both of them point blank that he wouldn't do any jobs for anyone in the territory, word that when it got out made most of the other top wrestlers feel even more warmly than usual toward Michaels. 

Michaels later reiterated that statement to Hart on 10/4 in St. Paul when the two had agreed that for the good of the business that they'd work together. At the meeting, McMahon proposed a scenario where the two would have their first singles match in Montreal, where Undertaker would interfere causing a non-finish. This would lead to Hart wrestling Undertaker on the 12/7 PPV in Springfield, MA, where Michaels would interfere causing Hart to lose the title, as poetic justice since his interference caused Bret to win the title in the first place, and that Royal Rumble on 1/18 in San Jose would be headlined by Undertaker vs. Michaels. During the meeting, Hart told Michaels that he'd be happy to put him over at the end of the run, but Michaels told Hart flat out that he wouldn't return the favor to him. 

Michaels and Hart spoke again on the subject on 10/12 in San Jose, where once again Michaels told Hart that he wasn't going to do a job for him.

October 21, 1997

McMahon approached Hart with the idea of losing the title to Michaels in Montreal, but promised that he would win it back on 12/7. Hart, remembering his conversations where Michaels was adamant about not doing any more jobs in the territory, was reluctant, saying after the way the angle had been done with him representing Canada and it becoming a big patriotic deal, that he didn't want to lose the title in Canada. He was then asked to lose to Michaels on 12/7 in Springfield, MA. Hart told McMahon that since Michaels had told both of them that he wasn't doing anymore jobs, that he had a problem doing a job for someone who wouldn't do a job back. He told McMahon that he didn't want to drop the title in Montreal. 

Later, McMahon, Pat Patterson, Michaels and Hart had another meeting where Michaels, teary eyed, told Hart that he was looking forward to returning the favor to Bret and once again talked about his mouth saying the stupidest things (in regard to saying he'd never do another job in the territory). Hart still refused to lose the title in Montreal. The night before he had been asked to put Hunter Hearst Helmsley over in Oklahoma City via pinfall due to Michaels' interference, but changed the finish to a count out. On this night he was asked to tap out to Ken Shamrock before the DQ ending involving Michaels, which he had no problem doing because he liked and respected Shamrock and wanted to help elevate him. The personal problems with himself and Michaels, which had become legendary in the business, resurfaced once again when the two and McMahon made an agreement to work together but to leave their respective families out of their interviews.

It took just one week before Michaels did the interview talking about Stu Hart being dead but walking around Calgary because his body and brain hadn't figured it out yet. By this point, Hart had already stopped watching Raw because he had problems with the content of the show because he had four children that were wrestling fans that he didn't want seeing the direction it was going, so he was reacting to the remark based on the fact that his father and brother Owen heard the remarks and were upset about them.

October 24, 1997

McMahon, before the show at the Nassau Coliseum, told Hart that the money situation in the company had changed and they would have no problems paying him everything promised in his contract. Hart told McMahon that WCW really hadn't made him a serious offer and that he really didn't want to leave but that he was still uncomfortable doing the job for Michaels in that situation. He left the country for the tour of Bahrain and Oman with the idea that he was staying with the WWF, but knowing due to his window in his contract, he had to make the decision to give notice by midnight on 11/1.

October 31, 1997

Never one to work without a flair for the dramatics, Bischoff finally caught up with Hart who was basically incommunicado in a foreign land most of the week. Just one day before Hart had to either give notice or stay for another year, Bischoff made a huge concrete offer. We don't know the exact terms of the offer, only that Hart said of the $3 million per year figure that both Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler talked about on the 11/10 Raw, that "they don't have any idea what I was offered," but others close to the situation say that figure is "close enough that you couldn't call it wrong." Hart neither agreed nor turned down the deal, but gave the impression to WCW that they had a great shot at getting him.

November 1, 1997

Hart had until midnight to make up his mind. He called McMahon and told him about the WCW offer and said that he wasn't asking for anymore money to stay, but that he wanted to know what his future in the WWF would be over his next two years as an active wrestler and that at this point he was leaning toward accepting the WCW offer. McMahon said he'd think about it and call him back in one hour with some scenarios. Before McMahon called back, Bischoff called again trying to solidify the deal. McMahon ended up calling back four hours later from his barber shop in Manhattan and told Hart that he didn't know what he was going to do with him but to trust his judgement because of their past relationship, that he had many him into a superstar and that he wanted him to stay and that he should trust him and asked Hart to give him ideas of where he wanted to go. 

During the conversation, McMahon still brought up the scenario of wanting Hart to drop the title in Montreal, but promised that he would get it back in Springfield. "I realized he had given the top heel spot to Shawn, but to turn back babyface, it was too soon," Hart said. Like in the negotiations one year earlier, it was going down to the wire and he had until midnight to make up his mind. When he was talking to McMahon, McMahon told him he could extend his deadline for giving notice. Hart asked for the permission in writing but McMahon told him that he was going out to a movie that night with his wife and said that he was verbally giving permission to extend it and to get written permission from the company's Chief Financial Officer. When Hart called to get the written notice, he wasn't given it because he was told he couldn't get it in writing on such short notice.

At 7 p.m. Bischoff called again and presented a deal that, according to Hart, "would have been insane not to be taken." At that point Hart was really having mixed emotions. He somehow felt bad about leaving the WWF and was just hoping McMahon would lay out a good set of scenarios for him and convince him to stay. At 9 p.m., McMahon called and, reversing fields once again, urged him to take the WCW offer. Hart told him that his heart was with the company and it would break is heart to leave, and that he appreciated everything McMahon and the company had done for him. McMahon told Hart that he wanted him back as a babyface, and had been wanting him to turn babyface for two or three months but just hadn't brought it up until this point. He then presented a scenario to Hart, presenting it as a way to get Hart to stay, but obviously designed to get Hart to take the WCW offer. He wanted Michaels to win the title in Montreal. 

For Springfield, they would do a Final Four match with he, Michaels, Undertaker and Ken Shamrock, that Michaels would again win. At the Royal Rumble, the two would have a ladder match, which Michaels would win. On Raw on 1/19 in Fresno, CA, Hart would open the show and say that if he couldn't beat Michaels and win the title that night, that he would retire from wrestling, and in that match he would regain the title. And then in Boston at Wrestlemania, he'd drop the title to Austin. Hart looked at that scenario of four major losses with only one win and before his midnight deadline, gave official notice to the WWF and signed the contract WCW had sent over, with the agreement from all three parties that the word wouldn't leak out until 11/10 to protect the Survivor Series PPV. Hart went so far as to have his few confidants sign written confidentiality letters to make sure the word of his negotiations and signing with WCW didn't get out until 11/10.

November 2, 1997

Hart and McMahon started a very amicable conversation with the pressure finally off and the decision for Hart to leave having been made. He again suggested that Michaels win the title in Montreal, and in what will go down as perhaps the ultimate irony, said they could do a screw-job ending to steal the title from him, and that the next night on Raw, McMahon suggested the two get into a mock argument where Hart would punch him, blaming him for the screw job. McMahon even suggested to hardway him (give him a hard punch that would either open him up or at least give him a noticeable black eye) to make it look legit. Hart again refused to do the job in Montreal, saying that he had never refused to do a job but he wasn't going to lose on Sunday or Monday (at the Raw tapings in Ottawa).

He agreed to put Michaels over in Madison Square Garden on 11/15, Springfield, or anywhere else, and said he'd put over Vader, Shamrock, Mankind, Undertaker or even Steve Lombardi (who earned a title shot at MSG by winning a Battle Royal at the last show, but they dropped that idea almost immediately but there had been talk of giving Lombardi the match after all). McMahon then made legal threats to Hart if he wouldn't lose in Montreal. Hart talked about the clause in his contract giving him "reasonable" creative control, but McMahon claimed that refusing to drop the title in Montreal wasn't reasonable. The two argued about the finish in Montreal and the legalities of their respective positions all day Sunday and well into the night before finally agreeing to do a DQ finish in Montreal. 

Then in Springfield, in the final four match, Michaels would win the title. Bret would then go out on Raw on 12/8 in Portland, ME and give a farewell interview as a babyface to WWF fans and put the company and McMahon over as big as possible. He would apologize to the American fans and try to reasonably explain his actions as a way to end his 14-year association with the WWF on the highest note possible, something largely unheard of in pro wrestling, so that all parties and the fans could come out of it and his legacy with the company with a good feeling.

Technically there was a problem, in that his WCW contract began on 12/1, so Hart called Bischoff, who when presented the scenario, agreed to allow him to work through 12/8 with Titan. Hart asked an associate who monitors news for him if he thought it was possible to keep the secret from the public until 11/10. Hart specifically asked about being able to keep it secret from one person until after the show, and the associate laughed and said they would bet a million dollars that person already knew.

November 4, 1997

McMahon called Hart and said that he had changed his mind. He suggested now that Michaels should lose clean in Montreal, then he'd "steal" the title with a controversial finish in Springfield and Hart would get to do his farewell speech in Portland. He said he was going to call Michaels and present the scenario to him. By this point, word that Hart had signed with WCW had actually been reported the previous night on the Observer and Torch hotlines, and it was only about one hour later before the folks who call those hotlines for much of their news started breaking the latest "biggest story in the history of wrestling" as their "exclusives." 

In response, WWF Canada released a press statement originally totally denying the story, claiming it was simply propaganda being spread by WCW. However, as the word got out, Titan Sports in Connecticut a few hours later contradicted that story saying simply that Bret Hart was exploring all his options, but not going any farther, with the feeling that they wanted to protect the PPV show. Hart wouldn't publicly talk to anyone.

November 5, 1997

The Internet had paved the way for stories in the Calgary Sun, the Toronto Sun and one line in the Montreal Gazette in a PPV preview story about Steve Austin, a line which resulted in the paper getting an incredible switchboard-blowing response of phone calls. McMahon called Hart and said that Michaels had agreed to the previous days' scenario, but that now he had changed his mind. He said the news was out everywhere and that Bret had to drop the belt before Monday because he couldn't have Bischoff go on television on 11/10 and announce the signing of his world champion while he still had the belt.

Hart said that he would get Bischoff to postpone the announcement, but with Bischoff on a hunting trip all week in Wyoming, Hart couldn't get a hold of him. McMahon then asked Hart to drop the title on 11/8 at the house show in Detroit. Hart again refused, feeling the way everything had been built up, he wanted the match with Michaels, which in the wake of all the insider publicity was building up a life of its own like no match in the recent history of wrestling, to not come off as anti-climactic and for that to happen he needed to go into Montreal as the champion. He said that he would drop the title any time after 11/12, suggesting he'd do it at the house shows in Youngstown, OH on 11/13, Pittsburgh on 11/14 or in Madison Square Garden if they wanted it that soon rather than waiting for 12/7. 

Jim Ross, on the company's 900 line, acknowledged the statement that Hart was exploring other options, said that nobody knows the real story, and in hyping the big match, tossed in the phrase they'd be pushing in the final days leading up to the match--it will be their first meeting in 18 months, and most likely the final match between the two ever.

*****

November 6, 1997

In a story in the Toronto Sun, Tiger Ali Singh, at a press conference promoting the WWF house show the next night in Toronto said of Hart's leaving, "It's very disheartening. He's not only been a mentor, but I've been a great admirer of him since I was a kid. And if he leaves, you're going to see a whole bunch of other people leaving. And I'm not going to mention any names but WCW has been approaching a lot of people."

November 7, 1997 - There is no question that the power of on-line services when it comes to influence of pro wrestling was established this past week. It was generally portrayed that it was a power struggle between Hart and Michaels, that Michaels had won out, and to a lesser extent Hart was leaving over the direction of the product. While there was some truth to all of this, probably the greatest truth of all is it was simply a manipulation by McMahon to get out of a contract that in hindsight he wished he'd never offered. Whether Michaels, who the wrestlers feel has McMahon's ear right now and has convinced him that what turned around WCW is Kevin Nash and Scott Hall, and not Hulk Hogan and Roddy Piper, and that he should and the company should do what they did to get WCW over. 

There is also feeling among WWF wrestlers that Michaels pushed McMahon in that direction to rid the company of his hated rival who had apparently one-upped him when signing the new deal that made him so much higher paid. Maybe it was simply economic because the company is in financial straights. Hart did have a lot of problems over the direction of the company and his own decision was partially made based on that, but it's clear, in hindsight, that McMahon had a strong hand in manipulating Hart's decision to get out of the contract. In the vast majority opinion on-line from people who really had no clue as to what was really going on, Titan, McMahon and Michaels were coming off as major heels. The WWF's own online site, said to be the domain of young kids with no clue about wrestling, was besieged with the reports about Hart leaving and the so-called marks were reacting very negatively toward Titan to the point Titan pulled all its folders by the early afternoon, which caused another outcry of censorship of opinions from wrestling fans.

Finally, McMahon responded publicly on-line with a letter of his own, stating:

"Over the past few days I have read certain comments on the Internet concerning Bret Hart and his "alleged" reasons for wanting to pursue other avenues than the World Wrestling Federation to earn his livelihood. While I respect the "opinions" of others, as owner of the World Wrestling Federation I felt that it was time to set the record straight. As it has been reported recently online, part of Bret Hart's decision to pursue other options is "allegedly due to his concern with the "direction" of the World Wrestling Federation. Whereby each and every individual is entitled to his, or her, opinion, i take great offense when the issue of the direction of the World Wrestling Federation is raised. In this age of sports-entertainment, the World Wrestling Federation REFUSES to insult its audience in terms of "Baby Faces" and "Heels." 

In 1997, how many people do you truly know who are strictly "good" guys or "bad" guys? World Wrestling Federation programming reflects more of a reality-based product in which life, as well as World Wrestling Federation superstars, are portrayed as they truly are--in shades of gray...not black or white. From what I am reading, it has been reported that Bret may be concerned about the morality issues in the World Wrestling Federation. Questionable language. Questionable gestures. Questionable sexuality. Questionable racial issues. Questionable? All of the issues mentioned above are issues that every human being must deal with every day of their lives. Also, with that in mind, please be aware that Bret Hart had been cautioned--on "numerous" occasions--to alter his language, by not using expletives or God's name in vain. He was also told--on numerous occasions--not to use certain hand gestures some might find offensive. My point is: regardless of what some are reporting, Bet's decision to pursue other career options IS NOT genuinely a Shawn Michaels direction issue, as they would like you to believe! In the personification of D-Generation X, Shawn Michaels' character is EXPECTED to be living on the edge--which, I might add, Mr. Michaels portrays extremely well. The issue here is that the "direction" of the World Wrestling Federation is not determined by Shawn Michaels, OR Bret Hart for that matter. It is determined by you--the fans of the World Wrestling Federation! You DEMAND a more sophisticated approach! You DEMAND to be intellectually challenged! You DEMAND a product with ATTITUDE, and as owner of this company--it is my responsibility to give you exactly what you want! Personally, I regret the animosity that has built up between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart, but in the end, it is the World Wrestling Federation that is solely responsible for the content of this product--NOT Bret Hart--NOT Shawn Michaels--NOT Vince McMahon, for that matter. May the best man win at the Survivor Series! .

That only made the situation worse in regard to how fans were viewing McMahon and the company even worse. "You demand to be intellectually challenged?" By doing racial angles. The fans chose that direction? They asked to see Michaels pull his pants down and jump up and down on television? Hart was booked for his first public appearance before the house show that night at the SkyDome in Toronto. It was on a half-hour TSN (The Sports Network, the Canadian version of ESPN) talk show called "Off The Record." Host Michael Landsberg opened the show saying the show had received more than 1,000 calls to ask Hart if he was leaving for WCW. Despite the word being out everywhere by this point, Hart would only go so far as to say that he had given his 30 day notice to the WWF, that he's reviewing offers from both groups and is strongly leaning going one way. "I'd like to really come more clean on it than I can, you know, than I have, but I have to do this thing by the book kind of thing." 

Hart categorized the split as not being a money issue but said that he and the WWF had "reached kind of a crisis or we've reached professional differences as to what direction that the wrestling shows are taking. You know, I'm not saying I'm always right, but I feel that some of the content of the shows goes against my belief in what wrestling should be, and can be." Later in the show he criticized Michaels, and then stated that "wrestling is often scoffed at as a form of entertainment sometimes, or it used to be. I believe it came way up, and I was very proud in the direction, which has a lot to do with where I am right now today. Wrestling was cleaned up, and it became something families could watch..." He talked about inner workings of the business, having to trust the guy you are working with because you give them your body and said the real animosities and hatred that exists have to be set aside. He said that everything he has said about Shawn Michaels is about the Shawn Michaels character, but said that Michaels has said things that have hit a raw nerve with him to the point it's unprofessional. 

The show aired the footage of the Shawn Michaels interview where he blamed the Hart Foundation for trashing the NOD dressing room and insinuating that Hart was a racist. Hart said that he doesn't blame Michaels for that. "That's obviously a promotional direction, and that's a poor concept. I think that racial tension is something to be very, very careful with. When you start messing around with racial things, that I don't like." Hart said that he stopped watching Raw about five weeks earlier because he didn't like the direction, and agreed when the host brought up Michaels calling him the Grand Wizard (a KKK reference, not a reference to a famous wrestling manager of the 70s), and then brought up what Michaels said about his father that he didn't see. "You know, I don't mind if someone pokes fun at my dad. Jerry Lawler's made a living the last two or three years saying comments about my mom and dad, but he's always fairly humorous about it. Actually I used to get offended at some of the things he used to say about my mother... until I realized that my mother thought they were humorous, and then it was kind of OK with me." He then spoke at length about Brian Pillman. By this point, in certain circles and particularly within the industry, interest in the match on Sunday due to all the uncertainty, some of which was known and most of which actually wasn't, had reached a level not seen in years. 

For all of Hart and McMahon's wanting to keep the story quiet, word getting out was the greatest thing for the buy rate. There were 14,374 fans paying $296,674 at Sky Dome that night for the show. To credit the huge house to the interest in Canada since Hart leaving had been reported in the local newspapers would be incorrect, as WWF officials a week before the event had figured on a crowd of 15,000. Obviously some fans knew, and there were chants of "You sold out" directed at Hart. Although this should have been expected, and Hart has been a pro wrestler for 21 years and been around the business a lot longer than that, the chants in his home country knowing what he was going through did get to him. 

The main event was a six-man tag with Undertaker & Mankind & Austin vs. Bret & Smith & Neidhart, subbing for brother Owen who was supposed to start back but still wasn't ready to return after a severe concussion from a few weeks earlier. Bret was asked to do the job for the stone cold stunner, debated the question for a while, then refused, figuring he was the only Canadian in the main event in the U.S. vs. Canada type match with the big nationalistic angle, and Austin ended up using the stunner on Neidhart instead.

November 8, 1997

The WWF ran a house show in Detroit at Cobo Arena for what would turn out to be Bret Hart's final match in the United States as a wrestler for the World Wrestling Federation. Tensions were really high and the prospects of a double-cross were looming by this time in many of the more paranoid types. By really, this was 1997, and this was the World Wrestling Federation. That's stuff from the 20s when the real bad guy low-lifes were running the business. The days of making Lou Thesz world champion because you needed someone who could handle himself in the case of a double-cross had been over for more than three decades.

That day, Hart went to the one member of the front office he knew he could trust, Earl Hebner. While there are what you call a lot of good acquaintances in the business, Hart and Hebner were genuine close friends for years. Hart said he'd use his influence to get Hebner to referee the match because he wanted someone in the ring that he could trust. Hebner said he understood the situation, and told Hart, "I swear on my kids lives that I'd quit my job before double-crossing you." 

On a personal basis a little more than 24 hours later, remembrance of that conversation crushed him more than anything. At about the same time, the WWF braintrust was in Montreal one day early. Vince McMahon held a meeting at the hotel with Jim Ross, Jim Cornette, Pat Patterson and Michaels. Reports are that at least two of the aforementioned names looked extremely uncomfortable leaving the meeting. Ross, on the WWF 900 line, filed a report saying due to the tension between Hart and Michaels that there would be armed security backstage and the two would dress as far apart from each other as possible. That was a total work since Michaels and Hart actually dressed together and were on professional terms the next afternoon. He also said that McMahon was not going to announce the show, and instead would be handling any last minute problems backstage. Ross also hinted that it could be Hart's final match in the World Wrestling Federation, something Hart at that point wasn't aware of.

November 9, 1997

The Prelude

Imagine going into the most anticipated match on the inside of pro wrestling in years and on the day of the show, not having any semblance of a finish? McMahon and Hart met that afternoon and McMahon said something to the effect of, "What do you want to do? You've got me by the balls." Hart said that he just wants to leave the building with his head up. Hart said to McMahon, "Let me hand you the belt on Raw (the next night in Ottawa). Everyone knows I'm leaving. I'd like to tell the truth on Raw Monday." 

At this point the "truth" wouldn't include talking about finances, contract breaches, arguments about finishes or anything that would make McMahon or the company look bad publicly. McMahon said he agreed, that it was the right thing to do and the two shook hands on it. Hart and Michaels were dressing together putting together a match. Both were professional with one another and talking about putting on the best match possible in Hart's last hurrah, agreeing to a DQ finish in about 17:00 after a lengthy brawl before the bell wound even sound to start the match. As they were putting their spots together, Patterson came in. He had a suggestion for a high spot in the match as a false finish. There would be a referee bump. Michaels would put Hart in his own sharpshooter. Hart would reverse the hold. Hebner would still be down at this point and not see Michaels tap out. Hart would release the hold to revive Hebner.

Michaels would hit him when he turned around with the sweet chin music. A second ref, Mike Ciota, would haul ass to the ring and begin the count. A few paces behind, Owen Hart and Smith, and possibly Neidhart as well, would run down to the ring. Ciota would count 1-2, and whomever got to the ring first, likely Owen, would drag Ciota out of the ring. While they think they've saved the day on the pin on Bret, suddenly Hebner would recover, 1-2, and Bret would kick out. That would set the pace for about five more minutes of near falls before it would end up in a disqualification ending. Before the show started, both Vader, with his Japanese experience, and Smith, told Hart to watch himself. He was warned not to lay down and not to allow himself to be put in a compromising position. 

He was told to kick out at one, not two, and not to allow himself into any submission holds. Hart recognized the possibility of the situation, but his thoughts regarding a double-cross were more along with lines of always protecting himself in case Michaels tried to hit him with a sucker punch when he left himself open. The idea that being put in a submission or one of the near falls while working spots would be dangerous for him would be something to worry about normally, but he put it out of his mind because he had Hebner in the ring as the referee.

The Match

People on the inside were watching this as close as on the outside. Would Bret do the job? Would Shawn do the job? Would Bret give Shawn a real beating before putting him over? The Molson Center was packed with more than 20,000 rabid fans, who up to that point had seen a largely lackluster undercard. While the fear going in about the word getting out of Hart leaving hurting the PPV most likely turned out to be just the opposite, the sellout was not indicative of that either as it was well known by the advance that the show was going to sellout one or two days early. It appeared that about 10 to 20 percent of the crowd knew Hart was leaving, and there were negative signs regarding his decision, and negative signs toward the promotion for picking Michaels above him or the direction that seemingly forced him to leave. Some things were also strange, and not just the absence of McMahon from the broadcast. Hart, the champion in the main event, wasn't scheduled for an interview building up the match.

When his name was announced early in the show, there were many boos from fans who knew he signed with the opposition. Once he got in the ring for the introductions, Michaels wiped his butt, blew his nose and then picked his nose with the Canadian flag. He then put the flag on the ground and began humping it. Hart was immediately established as the babyface. The two began the match as a brawl all around ringside and into the stands. The crowd was so rabid that it appeared there was genuine danger they'd attack Michaels. At one point, they were brawling near the entrance, knocking down refs as planned, knocking down Patterson, as planned, and as planned, Hart and McMahon had an argument almost teasing the idea of a spot later in the match where Hart would deck McMahon. But it was also clear that everything going on was 100% professional and the only curiosity left at that point was how good the match was going to be (it appeared to be very good) and how would they get "out" of the match (with something nobody will ever forget). But one thing was strange.

Why were so many agents circling the ring, and why was McMahon right there, and acting so intense? About eight minutes before the show was "supposed" to end, Bruce Prichard, in the "Gorilla" position (kind of the on-deck circle for the wrestlers) was screaming in his headset that we need more security at the ring. Why? They had already done the brawl in the crowd. The finish was going to be a DQ and it was still several minutes away.

The Double Cross

Hart climbed the top rope for a double sledge on Michaels. Michaels pulled Hebner in the way and Hart crashed on him. Just as planned. Michaels for a split second, looked at McMahon and put Hart in the sharpshooter, just as planned. The next split seconds were the story. Ciota, listening to his headpiece for his cue to run-in, heard the backstage director scream to Hebner that it was time to get up. Hebner, listening himself, immediately got up. Ciota started screaming that he wasn't supposed to get up. Owen Hart and Smith, readying their run in, were equally perplexed seeing him get up.

Prichard was freaking out backstage saying that wasn't supposed to happen. Bret, still not realizing anything was wrong, laid in the hold for a only a few seconds to build up some heat before doing the reversal. Michaels cinched down hard on the hold, glanced at Hebner and then looked away, which more than one wrestler in the promotion upon viewing the tape saw as the proof he was in on it, but then fed Bret his leg for the reversal. Hebner quickly looked at the timekeeper and screamed "ring the bell." At the same moment, McMahon, sitting next to the timekeeper, elbowed him hard and screamed "ring the f***in bell." The bell rang at about the same moment Bret grabbed the leg for the reversal and Michaels fell down on his face on the mat.

Michaels' music played immediately and was immediately announced as the winner and new champion. Hebner sprinted out of the ring on the other side, into the dressing room, through the dressing room, and into an awaiting car in the parking lot that already had the motor running and was going to take him to the hotel, where he'd be rushed out of town with his ticket home, instead of staying to work the two Raw tapings. Michaels and Hart both leaped to their feet looking equally mad, cursing in McMahon's direction and glaring at him. Hart spit right in McMahon's face. The cameras immediately pulled away from Hart and to Michaels. Vince screamed at Michaels to "pick the f***in belt up and get the f*** out of there." Michaels, still looking mad, was ordered to the back by Jerry Brisco who told him to hold the belt up high and get to the back. The show abruptly went off the air about four minutes early.

The Aftermath:

The officials left the ring immediately. McMahon went into his private office in the building with Patterson and a few others, and locked the door behind him. Hart, in the ring, flipped out on the realization of what happened, and began smashing the television monitors left behind until Owen, Smith and Neidhart hit the ring to calm him down. The four had an animated discussion in the ring, all looking perturbed. Finally, Hart thanked the fans, who for the most part left with the air let out of their sails, gave the "I love you" sign to the fans, and finger painted "WCW" to all four corners of the ring, which got a surprisingly big pop, and went back to the dressing room. He first confronted Michaels, who swore that he had nothing to do with it. Michaels, obviously afraid Hart would punch him out right there, told Hart that he gets heat for everything that happens but this time it wasn't his fault and he was as mad as Hart about the finish.

He said he didn't want to win the belt that way, was disgusted by what happened, and to prove it, would refuse to bring the belt out or say anything bad about Hart on Raw the next night. Hart said that Michaels could prove whether he was in on it or not by his actions on television the next night. The entire dressing room was furious at McMahon by this point. The feeling was that if Hart, having worked for the company for 14 years and not missing shots due to injuries the entire time, and having made McMahon millions of dollars throughout the years, could get double-crossed this bad, then how could any of them trust anything he would say or do? People were saying that how could anyone trust anyone ever again, and that it was an unsafe working environment.

For three years, after the steroid trial and all the bad publicity, McMahon had worked feverishly to change his legacy in the industry as not the man who ran all the other promoters out of business, not the man who marketed pro wrestling to young children while pushing steroid freaks, not the man who tried to destroy wrestling history and create his own, not his worked Harvard MBA, worked billion dollar company, a man who was so vain as to give himself a huge award in Madison Square Garden as "the genius who created Wrestlemania," not the man who at one time tried to monopolize every aspect of the business for himself, but instead as a working man's hero, coming from humble beginnings, fighting those ruthless rich regional promoters and through nothing but guts, guile and vision, became the dominant force in the industry and taking it to a new level. 

And now, against all odds, the generous friend trying to help all the small regional promoters, acknowledging the past history of the business, fighting against Billionaire Ted, the man who was stealing all his self-made creations while wasting his stockholders money because of some alleged petty vendetta because the WWF would never be for sale, stealing his patented idea of Monday night wrestling, was hanging in there and would outlast his enemy again and somehow in the end come out on top. Three years of a facade, that was largely working to a new generation of wrestling fans who saw him as their underdog hero. 

The man who to a generation that didn't know better, created pro wrestling, Hulk Hogan and localized interviews and rose this grimy little industry from carnival tents to major non-smoking arenas and who was the friendly face in the Father Flanagan collar who every Monday night epitomized the world of pro wrestling, was flushed down the commode. Even though he was so good at hiding who the old Vince McMahon was to the point only those who had dealt with him for many years remembered about not letting your guard down, when the pressure was on, the old Vince returned. Only this time, it was in a situation where those who didn't "know" him were truly "introduced" to him for the first time.

Undertaker was furious, pounding on his locked door, and when he came out to talk with him, Undertaker told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to apologize to Hart. He went to Hart's dressing room, where Hart had just come out of the shower. Smith answered the door and Hart said he didn't want to see him. Vince and son Shane McMahon came in with Sgt. Slaughter and Brisco anyway. Vince started to apologize, saying that he had to do it because he couldn't take the chance of Hart going to WCW without giving back the belt and he couldn't let Bischoff go on television the next night and announce Hart was coming while he was still his champion and said how it would kill his business.

Hart shot back that he had no problem losing the belt and told McMahon that he was going to dry off and get his clothes on and told McMahon, "If you're still here, I'm going to punch you out." Hart called McMahon a liar and a piece of shit, and talked about having worked for him for 14 years, only missing two shots the entire time, and being a role model for the company and the industry and this was his payback. McMahon tried to say that in 14 years, this was the first time he'd ever lied to him and Hart rattled off 15 lies over the last year alone without even thinking about it. Those in the dressing room watching were stunned listening to Hart rattle them off, and McMahon not offering a comeback. Hart got dressed and twice told McMahon to get out. 

Hart got up, and a scuffle started, with them locking up like in a wrestling match, Hart breaking free, and throwing a punch to the jaw that would have knocked down a rhino. One punch KO in 40 seconds. McMahon growled like he was going to get up, but he had no legs. Shane McMahon jumped on Hart's back, and Smith jumped on Shane's back pulling him off. Not realizing there would be trouble, Smith had already taken off his knee brace, and hyperextended his knee in the process of pulling Shane off. Hart nearly broke his hand from the punch. McMahon's jaw was thought to be fractured or broken. Hart asked Vince if he was now going to screw him on all the money he owes him and a groggy Vince said "No." He told Shane and Brisco to get that "piece of shit" out of here and glaring at both of them, told them if they tried anything, they'd suffer the same result. In dragging McMahon out, someone accidentally stepped on his ankle injuring it as well.

And Later: 

Hebner, at the hotel and on his way out of town, was confronted by one of the wrestlers who asked how he could do that to one of his best friends. Hebner claimed ignorance and swore that he knew nothing about it and was so mad about it he was going to quit. Jack Lanza, likely as part of another facade, was begging him not to. Patterson, Michaels and Prichard all denied any knowledge to the boys.

Everyone denied it, but it was clear everyone had to know, from the production truck to go off the air several minutes early, to the director to get the shot perfect of the sharpshooter where you couldn't see Bret's face not quit, to Hebner in particular, to the ring announcer to get the announcement so quickly, so the man handling the music to have Michaels music all cued up, to all the agents, who were surrounding the ring knowing the possibility of something unpredictable happening. When Hart got back to his hotel room in a total daze, he was furious at McMahon because he knew he was screaming at the timekeeper to ring the bell but almost recognizing it as a reality of a business that he should have known better than anyone. But when he had a tape of the finish played to him, he clearly heard that it was Hebner's voice screaming "ring the bell" and at that point was personally crushed. Phone lines were ringing off the hook around wrestling-land that night. People closest to the inside of the business were thinking double-cross, although the big question was whether Michaels, since he looked so pissed at the finish, was in on it. 

Some more skeptical types, remembering Brian Pillman and Kevin Sullivan, thought it because of the prominence of the match and the interest, that it had to be a very well acted work. Virtually all the wrestlers backstage thought it was a double-cross, but a few, not wanting to be marks, were wary of fully committing to the idea. Some people who were close to inside thought it was the greatest worked finish in the history of wrestling, because it got everyone talking. Others, particularly people who had casual fans watching with them, or those attending the show live, saw how the finish to a casual fan came off looking so badly, thought it was either a poorly conceived angle that was well acted by a company trying too hard to fool smart fans; or maybe a double-cross. But by the morning the true story had become obvious.

November 10, 1997

When the wrestlers fully realized what had happened, Hart turned into almost a cult hero, and McMahon's image took an incredible tumble. Hart himself remarked that while he had his problems with McMahon in the late 80s, that when Phil Mushnick wrote all those scathing articles about him during the 90s, he defended McMahon, even though he deep down knew most of what was written about him to be true. According to two WWF wrestlers, roughly 95 percent of the wrestlers in the company were planning on boycotting the Raw taping later that night over what happened. But as the day went on, the talk simmered down, Hart told those who asked him that since they had children and mortgages, that they shouldn't risk breaching their contract and should go. However, Owen Hart, Smith, Neidhart and Mick Foley were so upset they all flew home, missing the tapings both this night and also in Cornwall, ONT the next night. 

Many were saying they could no longer work for someone who would do something like that. While rumors abound about Hart, Smith and Foley all quitting, at press time it appeared none of the three truly knew their future but that they all had a bitter taste in their mouth for the company. They weren't the only ones. Most of the wrestlers were there and with none of the Hart family around, McMahon gave his side of the story. He portrayed it as if Hart had agreed to drop the title in Montreal, but when he got to the building, he said he was a Canadian hero and an ICON and refused to drop the title and said Hart said he would give the belt to McMahon on Raw the next night and refused to ever drop it. Reports were that by this time few if anyone in the dressing room believed a word of it. Most of the wrestlers by this time knew Hart was more forced out than voluntarily leaving over money, although knowing he had signed a great money deal. Most of the heat was on Michaels, with the belief that Michaels was younger and more in Vince's ear and there was a lot of bitterness because it wasn't a secret by this point that Michaels had told people on several occasions that he would never do a job in the territory.

The show went on in Ottawa, but not before Bischoff had already announced on Nitro one hour earlier, in what was the same angle he's done so many times to tease and deliver the opposite, that Bret Hart had signed with the NWO. Bischoff opened the show with the entire NWO holding Canadian flags, and badly mockingly singing "Oh Canada." WCW announcers Tony Schiavone, Mike Tenay and Larry Zbyszko talked for most of the first hour about the announcement, with Schiavone and Tenay, likely on orders from Bischoff, acting stunned, describing Hart as a second generation wrestler who stands for tradition, in other words positioning him as another Curt Hennig or Jeff Jarrett, rather than the level of a Hulk Hogan to justify a nearly $3 million per year salary. Zbyszko was the one who acted as if he didn't believe it. In the first commercial break, Gene Okerlund did a 900 line tease saying how Bret Hart punched out a prominent official and he'd have the story on his hotline, which did huge business. 

During the hotline, because of fear of legal repercussions, the story wasn't told until late in the report, only a sketchy version told, and McMahon's name was never mentioned. With more curiosity than anything in recent memory, the WWF drew its strongest Raw rating since the early days of the Monday Night War--a 3.39 rating and 5.16 share--largely due to curiosity stemming from the publicity, the match, and from the announcement about Hart earlier in the event on WCW--and amidst all the chaos and confusion, presented one of its all-time worst shows. Nitro did a phenomenal 4.33 rating and 6.39 share. Michaels opened the show. Yes, he was carrying the belt. And what did he say about Hart? He said he beat the man in his own country with his own hold and that he ran him out of the WWF to be with all the other dinosaurs down South. And said that the few down there who weren't dinosaurs are his good friends and some day they'd kick his ass too. Those who were on the fence on the Michaels issue waiting for his interview to prove himself were given their final answer. McMahon never showed his face on camera. 

The fight with Hart was never acknowledged in the commentary, although Michaels couldn't resist in his interview saying how Hart beat up a 52-year-old man after the show. In the commentary, nobody tried to bury Hart, but Ross, who had never used this figure before, on both Sunday and Monday used the phrase 21-year-veteran, perhaps as subtle acknowledgement of Hart's age, and Lawler did bring up the $3 million per year figure, as a way to encourage the mindless "You sold out" chants. It was acknowledged that it was Hart's final match in the WWF although the reasons for it being the case were never even hinted at. The replay was pushed harder than ever, and why not, since it was the most bizarre finish in modern wrestling history, complete with a commercial clearly showing Hart spitting in McMahon's face, and destroying the monitors which took place after the show itself had gone off the air. The show dragged on, and the efforts to push the new stars, Mero as a heel, Goldust back as a heel, Interrogator, Blackjack Bradshaw and Road Dog & Billy Gunn, all came off lame. You could almost hear the crowd groan when it was Rocky Maivia positioned as the next challenger for Steve Austin's IC title.

With all the special effects, the Kane gimmick still came across as a sure winner. And Ken Shamrock was thrust into the spotlight as Michaels' first challenger on 12/7 after all. However, there was another screw up. Shamrock's main event with Helmsley was supposed to end with Michaels interfering and then Shamrock pinning him and the ref counting to three, perhaps to take heat off Michaels rep for not doing jobs, and perhaps as a way to convince Shamrock to return the favor for such an unpopular wrestler on PPV. However, the show went off the air with Shamrock down apparently being pinned after Michaels nailed him with the briefcase, however he kicked out just as the show went off the air.

The crowd in Ottawa, largely pro-Hart, finally figured out about 15 minutes before the show was going off the air, that none of the Hart Foundation was there, and that the Bret Hart situation was no angle. The Shamrock-Helmsley main event heat was non-existent, drowned out by vehement chants of "We Want Bret." Ross went on his hotline and did nothing but praise Hart for all his work, even to the point of saying that he himself, being right there, never heard a submission but that the referee claimed that he heard it.

November 11, 1997

The Calgary Sun ran an article about the double-cross, reporting that Hart's leaving for WCW was actually requested by the WWF due to the WWF claiming financial hardships.

And where does it go from here: It's hard to make sense out of all that happened. While Hart's contract with the WWF was much higher than anyone else's, to dismiss him as being paid above market value is missing a potential valuable point. What is the Canadian wresting market worth? Far more than $1.5 million per year. At the Calgary Stampede PPV show alone, the market was worth about $400,000 on PPV and another $200,000 in live gate, granted those are Canadian money and he was being paid in American money, but you get the drift. While WWF had lost its foothold in the United States to WCW, it owned Canada. WCW, with TBS getting moved from premium cable to basic cable nationwide, and with TSN picking up Nitro every week, was for the first time getting strong television exposure in the country. 

No matter what he did or didn't mean elsewhere, and there is no denying he was a major draw in the United States, and probably more so in Europe, Germany in particular, he was the wrestling star in Canada. Handing him to the opposition will mean from a Canadian standpoint, every bit as much as Hulk Hogan joining with WCW, and we've all seen what the long-term effects of that turned out to be. It's hard to ascertain fan reaction. Fans are more loyal these days to brand names than ever before, more than to wrestlers themselves. When, in a similar situation only he didn't get into the ring and was fired before "not" doing the job, Ric Flair came out of a situation with Jim Herd in 1991 recognized by most fans as the real world champion, the WCW belt became largely meaningless, Flair went to WWF and did big business in what were never called unification matches but many thought of them as such against Hulk Hogan. 

For nearly two years, before Flair returned as the cult hero, the small crowds attending WCW matches never stopped the "We Want Flair" chants. There are similarities here, and if anything, times being different mean more people than ever will be aware of it, making similar chants perhaps more likely. But a lot of the newer fans also for the most part have less respect for the wrestlers as people and more as animals to perform stunts to entertain them, like in other sports, have more loyalties to the "home team" than its players who come and go for the biggest buck. And while everyone will put their different spin on what happened, and like with Hogan, and Bruno, and nearly every other superstar of the WWF beforehand, Bret Hart failed one of the things he wanted most out of his career, and that was to walk away from the company without the bitterness and with mainly good memories. Both Bret Hart and Vince McMahon wanted their legacies to be tied together and represent all that can be good about pro wrestling. 

But the fact it is, no matter how great the match with Smith at Wembley Stadium or at the In Your House in Hershey were, or the Wrestlemania match and SummerSlam matches with Owen were, or the SummerSlam match with Hennig, or the Survivor Series match with Michaels, or any of the rest, his legacy, and Vince McMahon's legacy will forever be tied together in wrestling history. The defining moment of both a Hall of Fame wrestler and the man who for a decade was the dominant promoter in the industry will be the moment that the world realized, right in front of their eyes, with no apologies, and with no turning back to rewrite history, just how truly deceitful, to the core this business can be, and just how much 14 years of being one of the great performers in the history of the industry truly meant on the inside to the company that benefited from it. 

Only the future can determine whether this was a defining moment in the balance of business when it comes to pro wrestling. Did McMahon really hand over the keys to Canada to WCW? Will fans really hate McMahon four weeks later when Michaels headlines a PPV show with a four star match? Will Hart be a huge success keeping WCW at its current level, or even taking them to an even higher level by having main events on PPV shows that can live up to the quality of the preliminary matches? Or are his best years really behind him and McMahon will have the last laugh at how much Bischoff paid for him? How long will Hart remain a cult hero to the wrestlers for doing what none of them had the guts to do and all at one time want to do? Will McMahon file criminal charges for assault? And will, someday, and stranger things have happened although in this case it would be hard today to believe it as possible, will the two get back together in a few years for a final triumphant run?

Epilogue:

One of the first major moves when Vince McMahon Jr. took over the World Wrestling Federation from his father was on December 26, 1983, when the Iron Sheik captured the WWF title from Bob Backlund. The title switch was basically a prelude for Hulk Hogan winning the title a few weeks later. The finish of the match saw Sheik have Backlund in a camel clutch, and Arnold Skaaland, a former part-owner of the company who worked as Backlund's manager, threw in the towel signifying submission. Backlund remained with the company for the next eight months, largely buried in the middle of the card despite being the face of the company for six years.

After all the big gates he'd headlined, just a few months later, in August, McMahon, who was starting on the road to changing the entire face of wrestling and Backlund represented the old, asked him to die his hair and turn heel. He refused and was fired. Backlund spent the next several years claiming that he didn't know the finish of the match and was double-crossed on it when Skaaland threw in the towel. Everyone in wrestling heard the story but really very few took it seriously, figuring Backlund was just clinging onto a worked story to protect his image claiming he never really submitted and was robbed of the title. On November 25, 1985, before a match in Madison Square Garden, Victoria "Wendi" Richter, literally minutes before going into the ring for a match with Spider Lady in Madison Square Garden, was given a contract by McMahon and asked to sign off on all her merchandising rights. She actually didn't refuse to sign the contract, but said she wanted to read it before signing it because she was literally on her way to the ring.

McMahon told her, actually she has claimed, demanded to her, to sign the deal. She told him to wait until after the match so she could read the contract and then maybe sign it. As it turns out, Spider Lady wasn't the wrestler who had been Spider Lady in the past, but was instead Lillian Ellison, better known as Fabulous Moolah. Although Lillian was probably closing in on 60 by that point, she maneuvered Richter into a position, and the unsuspecting Richter was held in position and had her shoulders counted out for the pin, and never worked in the WWF again. 

After the match and to this day, Moolah had always maintained to Richter, like Michaels to Hart, that she wasn't aware of the set-up either and the three count came as just as big a surprise to her. It brings to mind a few old sayings. History repeats itself. Leopards don't change their spots. Perhaps as much as we would all like to believe otherwise, deep down to its core, the wrestling industry really doesn't change either."

**********

A week later in the November 24th edition of the WON (sub only), Dave wrote another 9800 words about the aftermath from that night which included the following:

"McMahon, on the 11/17 Raw, without actually using the words, tried to imply that Hart was unprofessional because he had refused to drop the title in the ring. The wording McMahon used is that Hart failed to honor a time-honored tradition of the business (you do jobs on the way out of a territory). For those with memories longer than two or three years, the realization is that any discussion of McMahon and time-honored traditions of the wrestling industry is worthy of not a chapter, but an entire book. The only true time honored tradition of this business is that everyone in power lies and manipulates to get people to do things that are often against their best interest, or top talent with leverage agrees to do jobs, then holds up promoters at the last minute to squeeze money or promises out on that end. And then everyone pretends to like each other, and that's not a digression from the actual issue.

Indeed, one could argue the core of the wrestling industry more than anything else was epitomized by this double-crossing on a finish that everyone involved had supposedly agreed upon. How many jobs did Hulk Hogan, Junkyard Dog, Jesse Ventura and all the rest do on the way out when they were leaving their territories in 1983-84? Zero. They cut interviews for one promotion and showed up the next day with the WWF, with the promoter lucky if he got a telegram of resignation after the fact. Just as people like Lex Luger, Curt Hennig and Rick Rude when they got the leverage, couldn't wait to screw Vince McMahon, so did the wrestlers of the past feel about people like Verne Gagne and Bill Watts."

Videos:

The topic of Montreal has come up repeatedly on our airwaves through the years with several of those conversations now available for free on our YouTube channel in addition to a must-hear chat Dave did with Jack Encarnacao on The Lapsed Fan:

Dave talked with Bryan recently about the 25th anniversary edition of Wrestling With Shadows that he did commentary on with Bret Hart:

When the Vice Dark Side of the Ring episode focusing on Montreal came out three years ago, Dave and Bryan discussed the episode on WOR: