A secret change of the match’s pre-determined finish (known as a “screwjob”) was devised by McMahon and discussed with Hart’s match opponent, Shawn Michaels. The plan was executed when the match referee, Earl Hebner, under orders from McMahon, called for the bell to ring and ended the match as Michaels held Hart in the Sharpshooter submission hold, even though Hart had not submitted. Michaels was declared the vinner by submission and crowned as the new WWF Champion, even as Hart and the audience demonstrated their outrage.
The reason for the screwjob was rooted in Hart’s decision to leave McMahon’s company for its chief competitor, World Championship Wrestling (WCW). Hart, who cited a clause in his contract that granted him “reasonable creative control”, was steadfast in his refusal to lose a match hosted in his home country, Canada, especially against Shawn Michaels, with whom he did not get along. McMahon remained insistent that Hart should lose to Michaels in Montreal, fearing that his company’s business would suffer if WCW announced Hart as its latest signing while he still held the WWF World title. Although Hart and McMahon agreed to a compromise on the match ending that allowed Hart to retain the title, McMahon was determined to remove the title from Hart.
The screwjob has garnered a notorious legacy both on-screen and off, and was partly chronicled in the documentary film “Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows” (see below). The far-reaching impact of the incident led to its adoption as a theme in matches and storylines of the WWF’s Attitude Era and the creation of the character, “Mr. McMahon”, the evil boss. Hart was ostracized from the WWF, while McMahon and Michaels continued to receive angry responses from audiences for many years. However, the relationship between Hart and McMahon later healed, culminating in Hart’s induction on April 1 2006 into the company’s Hall of Fame.
Hart’s departure from the WWF
At the time of the screwjob, Bret Hart was a 14-year veteran of the WWF, having started his career in the 1980s as one-half of the popular Hart Foundation tag team. Hart achieved tremendous success as a singles performer in the 1990s, twice taking the Intercontinental Title, and then winning the WWF Championship five times. Hart’s prominence as a main event wrestler was increasingly challenged by The Kliq, a group consisting of Kevin Nash, Shawn Michaels, Scott Hall, Paul Levesque, and Sean Waltman, who had gained extensive booking influence in the company, at a level similar to Hart’s. In the face of declining public exposure, Hart took a seven-month leave of absence from the company after WrestleMania XII, during which he negotiated both a new contract with the WWF and an offer from its rival, World Championship Wrestling. In October 1996, Hart declined a $9 million offer from WCW, opting to sign an unprecedented 20-year deal that he had been offered by McMahon, which promised to make him the highest-paid wrestler in the company and secure him a major role with the company management following his retirement. Both Hart and the WWF saw the contract as an expression of mutual loyalty.
By mid-1997, the WWF was facing financial difficulties due to stiff competition from WCW, which had become the largest professional wrestling promotion in the United States. At the same time, McMahon’s plans to take the WWF public required him to minimize any long-term financial commitments.
For several months prior to Survivor Series, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels had several backstage arguments including a fight before a house show in Hartford, Connecticut. After a show in San Jose, California on October 12, 1997, Hart spoke to Michaels about being professional and trusting one another in the ring. Hart said he would have no problem losing to Michaels if McMahon requested. When Michaels replied that he would never lose to Hart, Bret was shocked and became angry. This led to Hart’s outright refusal to lose the WWF Championship to Michaels at the pay-per-view event in Montreal.
Regretting his decision to offer Hart a long and expensive contract, McMahon began to defer payments to Hart while letting him know of the WWF’s “financial peril”. McMahon also began encouraging Hart to seek employment with WCW. McMahon had no issue with Hart taking his character of “The Hitman” to WCW, but he was worried about the possibility of him entering WCW as the WWF Champion. Hesitating out of feelings of loyalty, Hart entered into negotiations with WCW after McMahon informed him that he would have to defer Hart’s pay indefinitely. While Hart considered an offer from then-WCW President Eric Bischoff, McMahon informed Hart that the WWF would honor his contract if he chose to stay. However, when Hart talked to McMahon about future plans and storylines, he was disappointed by McMahon’s response and what he considered lackluster suggestions. Hart had also been unhappy about the WWF’s move towards more controversial subject matter, which the Federation would later call the “Attitude Era”. Convinced that McMahon’s future plans did not include him, Hart gave notice to the WWF and signed an agreement with WCW which had just offered him a large $3 million contract on November 1, 1997. When Hart asked McMahon if he would be mocked after leaving for WCW, as had occurred with other wrestlers who had transferred to WCW from the WWF, McMahon assured him that nothing of the sort would happen.
Hart’s imminent move to WCW created a tense situation, as he had won the WWF Championship at SummerSlam 1997 from The Undertaker. Hart’s WCW contract was scheduled to begin on December 5, one month after the WWF’s annual Survivor Series event, which was to be held in Montreal. Shawn Michaels, the leader of the emerging stable D-Generation X had been booked into a main event title match with Hart. McMahon, anxious for Hart to give up the title, sought Hart’s consent to job to Michaels. Hart refused to do so, citing his popular standing in Canada, where he felt he was widely regarded as a national hero. Hart, who had been leading an anti-U.S., pro-Canadian stable called the Hart Foundation did not want to lose the title in Canada. As part of their rivalry storyline, Michaels had repeatedly performed acts insulting the Canadian flag and Canadian fans, which had also upset Hart. Hart believed that a loss to his arch rival in his home country would be humiliating to him and conceivably affect his career in WCW. Wrestling fans also knew of Hart’s long-standing personal difficulty with Michaels—Hart had been angered at Michaels’s forfeiture of the WWF Championship on Monday Night RAW, which ruined plans for a Hart-Michaels rematch at WrestleMania 13, where Hart claims that Michaels was expected to lose the title to him. Hart also believed that Michaels had faked a knee injury and talked about major surgery just to get out of their planned match. While Michaels denied rumors that he did not want to lose to Hart, Hart felt certain that Michaels would not have offered a loss in return if he had been staying with the WWF. The two had been involved in a real fight after Michaels implied that Hart was having an affair with WWF valet Sunny. The recent storyline rivalry had also seen Michaels make insulting remarks about Hart’s father Stu Hart, which had left Bret and others in the Hart family upset.
McMahon remained insistent about Hart dropping the title. The WWF owner was anxious over a possible reenactment of then-reigning WWF Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze’s defection to WCW in 1995, which resulted in her dropping the WWF Women’s Championship belt in a trash can before a live audience on WCW Monday Nitro, despite claims from Bischoff (according to Hart’s DVD biography) that legal issues between the WWF and WCW would prevent such a thing, and that he would rather have Hart join WCW with a “clean slate”. Hart continued to refuse to drop the title to Michaels, offering to lose the title anywhere in the U.S. prior to Survivor Series or to surrender the title to McMahon on the episode of Monday Night RAW the day after Survivor Series, in Ottawa. After several disagreements, McMahon, Michaels and Hart agreed to a proposal of a disqualification finish, which would be the result of a brawl between Hart’s allies Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith with Michaels’s allies Triple H, Rick Rude and Chyna, who would interfere in the match to aid Michaels. Hart would then hand over the title to McMahon the next day on RAW or lose it to Ken Shamrock. Hart also asked for and obtained McMahon’s permission for an opportunity to explain his actions, his heel character, praise McMahon and the WWF and thus leave on good terms with the company and the fans.
Setup and execution
On the Wednesday before the Survivor Series (which was to be held on Sunday), McMahaon met with Michaels, Levesque, and a close coterie of advisors in a hotel room in Montreal and planned the screwjob. It is unclear how many people knew of the impending screwjob, but McMahon’s close aides Gerald Brisco and Robert Remus had been involved in the planning. In addition, McMahon and Michaels contrived to keep Pat Patterson in the dark, owing to his close relationship with Hart. Hart and Michaels had met with Patterson to discuss the match setup and plan, during which Hart agreed to allow Michaels to put him into the sharpshooter hold at a time when the referee would be unconscious. The rest of the match was planned to proceed as follows: Hart would grab Michaels’ foot and reverse the hold, putting him in the sharpshooter. Michaels would submit to the hold, but the referee would still be unconscious. Hart would let go of the hold to try to revive the referee, but Michaels would hit Hart with his finisher, the Sweet Chin Music, and make the pin. A second referee would then run to the ring with Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart, and Davey Boy Smith following close behind. The second referee would start the count, but Hart and Smith would break the pin. The original referee would then recover and start to make the count, but Hart would kick out, setting up about five more minutes of brawling that would result in a disqualification.
Michaels later suggested to McMahon that the screwjob be executed when he was holding Hart in the sharpshooter, with the referee getting up and calling for the bell, making it appear as if Hart had submitted to the hold. According to Michaels’s account of the events in his 2005 autobiography, Heartbreak and Triumph: The Shawn Michaels Story, match referee Earl Hebner had been informed (by Michaels) of the plan only on Sunday evening, just as Survivor Series was about to commence.
Tensions and excitement were high as the wrestlers and officials congregated for Survivor Series. Hart was anxious over the match finish and had been warned of the prospect of a screwjob by his brother-in-law and Hart Foundation member Jim Neidhart as well as Vader, who had experienced similar situations while wrestling in Japan. They advised Hart to be alert, not lie on his back for too long, kick out from pinfall counts immediately so as to avoid a fast count, and not allow himself to be placed in submission holds. In his 1998 documentary film Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, Hart said that his fears were largely assuaged because he was close friends with referee Earl Hebner and trusted him implicitly. Asked by Hart, Hebner reportedly swore by his children that he would never double-cross Hart and that he would rather quit his job than participate in a screwjob.
The Molson Centre in Montreal was sold out, with more than 20,000 fans in attendance. Rumors of Hart’s imminent departure from WWF had leaked and consequently heightened the fan interest in the match. The mixed signals and a war of words between Hart, McMahon, Michaels and WCW further heightened anticipation. Emotions were also running high due to the Hart-Michaels rivalry and the “U.S. vs. Canada” storyline. While both men had been cordial with each other backstage, WWF officials ordered the deployment of a large number of company agents around the ring as a precaution if Hart decided to attack Michaels or McMahon in reaction to the double-cross. Highly unusual for any wrestling match, the deployment was explained on television as a necessary precaution in wake of the intense animosity between Hart’s and Michaels’ characters. There was also some legitimate concern that Michaels could be attacked during the planned in-crowd brawl, by fans angered at his actions of demeaning the Canadian flag. Michaels’ entrance was greeted by loud booing and upon entering the ring, he proceeded to rub the Canadian flag against his crotch, picked his nose with it and later humped it—Michaels maintains that this flag desecration was actually suggested by Hart as an effective way to draw heat and emotion. The palpable anger of the fans was converted into raucous cheering as Hart entered the ring carrying the Canadian flag and wearing the championship belt. However, Hart was visibly disturbed when segments of the crowd that were aware of his move to WCW jeered him with chants of “You sold out!” as the match progressed.
As the match began, Hart and Michaels fought outside the ring and into the crowd, while being followed by McMahon and WWF officials. As the climax of the match approached, the two wrestlers returned to the ring while WWF officials continued to order more personnel to ringside. Michaels pushed Hebner in front of him as Hart jumped from the top turnbuckle, sending all three men to the canvas. Michaels and Hart both got up, but Michaels raked Hart’s eye, sending Hart back to the mat. Michaels then proceeded to grab Hart’s legs to put on the sharpshooter. At this point, the match director was heard shouting instructions into his headset for Hebner to get up, but Hart did not notice anything amiss. Mike Chioda, the referee who was supposed to run in after Hebner was unconscious, began yelling back that Hebner was not supposed to be up yet. Pat Patterson reacted in a similar way, and Owen Hart and Davey Boy Smith, who were waiting for their cues to run in, remained backstage in a state of confusion. Michaels was then seen by many viewers as having glanced at Hebner as he put Hart in the sharpshooter, which some saw as proof that he was in on the scheme. Contrary to their agreed plan, Michaels tightened the hold and refused to offer his own leg to Hart for the latter to break out of the hold. At that moment, Hebner got to his feet, looked toward the timekeeper, and shouted, “Ring the bell!” McMahon then elbowed the timekeeper hard and yelled, “Ring the fucking bell!” The timekeeper rang the bell just as Hart reached forward and grabbed Michaels’s leg, which broke the hold and caused Michaels to fall. Michaels’s theme music then began playing and the ring announcer declared him the winner and the new WWF Champion. Hebner had already exited the ring and the arena for the hotel, from where he left for the airport to fly home. After an initial moment of shock, Hart immediately turned and spat directly in McMahon’s face, while Michaels feigned confusion. Michaels was ordered by McMahon to ‘”pick up the fucking belt and get the fuck out of here!” Acting as if he were angered, Michaels left the arena with Brisco and Triple H. McMahon and most other WWF officials also quickly made their way backstage as an angry Hart smashed cameras, monitors and ringside equipment. Fans in attendance also began to vent their fury on McMahon and WWF officials; a few even heaped garbage on them and some who were close enough pushed Michaels as he hurried backstage. Owen Hart, Jim Neidhart and Davey Boy Smith came out to the ring and had a conversation with Hart after calming him down. Hart proceeded to sign “W-C-W” and “I love you” to the cheering fans before returning backstage.
While much of the live Montreal audience immediately understood what had happened and responded angrily, television viewers had been left largely confused as Survivor Series went off the air four minutes ahead of schedule with the parting image of Michaels holding the belt aloft as he disappeared backstage. Rumors and expressions of surprise and shock pervaded the Internet almost immediately after the match ended. Many fans and observers considered it a creative and all-time great “worked” match finish. Subsequent WWF shows saw large numbers of fans loudly chanting “We want Bret”, holding up pro-Hart signs and booing Michaels, McMahon and others believed to be responsible for the screwjob. Observers of professional wrestling speculated whether the entire episode would result in WCW becoming the dominant brand in Canada, where a large majority of fans had remained loyal to WWF, especially as the Hart family was working with the company.
As seen on Hart’s documentary, Hart proceeded to the dressing rooms and confronted Michaels, who pleaded that he knew nothing about what had taken place and was equally outraged. As recounted in Michaels’s autobiography, he offered his assurance that he would not carry the title out the next day on RAW and would refuse to say anything derogatory about Hart. Hart proceeded to the dressing room to shower and change after discovering that McMahon, Brisco, and Remus had locked themselves in McMahon’s office. When McMahon went to Hart’s dressing room and tried to explain himself, Hart angrily rebuffed him and warned him to leave immediately or risk being punched. An altercation ensued, with Hart punching McMahon in his face and dropping him to the floor. Although Vince’s son Shane McMahon and Brisco struggled briefly with Hart and Davey Boy Smith, Hart told them to take McMahon and leave or risk similar consequences. Hart angrily asked McMahon if he was going to screw him on the pay he was still owed, to which a groggy McMahon replied in the negative. In the hallway outside the dressing rooms, Hart’s then-wife Julie angrily confronted Levesque and others about the finish. McMahon had a black eye and a broken ankle, which had resulted when Gerald Brisco accidentally stepped on his ankle during the scuffle. Michaels and Levesque were later confronted and assailed by angry fans outside the Molson Centre and in the lobby of their hotel. While Jim Neidhart, Davey Boy Smith, and Owen Hart had flown out of Montreal with Bret Hart, McMahon faced a major revolt in the WWF locker room. Mick Foley, as were most wrestlers, were outraged at him and threatened to boycott RAW or leave the company altogether. Foley actually would sit out the next night, before discussions with writer Vince Russo and support from both Bret for his actions and the WWE made him return. In addition, while most WWF wrestlers targeted Shawn, Mark Calloway (the Undertaker) went after Vince, demanding he apologize and suggesting there might not be much of a company if he didn’t. McMahon addressed a meeting in an effort to mollify the wrestlers who had been outraged that a WWF veteran had been double-crossed by McMahon—many feared for their own future and were suspicious of McMahon. McMahon sought to explain that Hart had been disregarding the company’s interests. By refusing to drop the title in Montreal, McMahon claimed Hart was jeopardizing the company’s future by creating a potentially embarrassing situation that could affect its fortunes. The potential revolt was also quelled by Bret Hart’s counsel to wrestlers who asked him about boycotting RAW or leaving the company altogether. Hart advised them to fulfill their contractual obligations and not risk their own future over the episode. Mick Foley did not attend the next night’s RAW show, but he returned to work after that due to his contract stipulations. Of the Hart family, only Owen Hart continued to work with the company, being unable to terminate his contract.
At the RAW taping in Ottawa, Michaels appeared carrying the WWF title and performing a segment where he boasted before the audience of how he beat Hart with his own trademark move in his own country. McMahon gave a televised interview to commentator Jim Ross, explaining his version of events and making the now-famous statement “Vince McMahon didn’t screw Bret Hart. Bret screwed Bret.” On another RAW show, Michaels performed a skit badgering a midget dressed up as Hart. On WCW Nitro, Vince McMahon and Shawn Michaels were criticized by commentators Mike Tenay and Tony Schiavone. Eric Bischoff announced on the show that Hart’s character had signed with the New World Order stable while Hollywood Hogan, Kevin Nash and Scott Hall stood with Canadian flags and sang the Canadian national anthem. Appearing on WCW Nitro, former Michaels ally Rick Rude also criticized Michaels by name. Despite the television shows and considerable antagonism from the fans, both Michaels and Triple H continued to deny any knowledge or involvement in the screwjob for several years when discussing the episode in real-life interviews.
It should be noted that in an interview on the first episode of WWE Confidential in 2002, Michaels conceded that both he and Paul Levesque (Triple H) were aware of what was going to happen at Montreal as they had been involved in the discussion with Vince McMahon and Gerald Brisco prior to the event.
The “Montreal Screwjob” remains one of the most high-profile double-crosses in the history of the business and the first heavily publicized professional wrestling double-cross since Wendi Richter lost the WWF Women’s Championship to a masked Fabulous Moolah following a money dispute on November 25, 1985. It is undoubtedly the most controversial match in the history of the WWF, as the effects of its outcome are still felt today with all the notoriety surrounding it and the infamous legacy it has left. Hart was ostracized by McMahon and refused offers of induction to the WWF Hall of Fame. The Hart family expressed outrage with McMahon and WWF for their neglect and the lack of safety precautions that could have prevented Owen Hart’s later accident and eventual death. The documentary Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows included footage of McMahon’s conversations with Hart in which he affirmed the planned disqualification finish and expressed determination for Hart to exit “the right way” and as amicably as possible—McMahon did not know that the conversation was being filmed. In the recordings, Hart refused to drop the title to Michaels.
The Montreal Screwjob’s impact defined later storylines and rivalries. WWF successfully tapped fan outrage at Vince McMahon by creating the persona of “Mr. McMahon” — an authoritarian, arrogant heel boss who imposed his own will and authority on rebellious characters such as “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Within the storylines, McMahon “screwed” such wrestlers in order to hand the title to the performer of his choice. The “Bret screwed Bret” line inspired promos that Vince McMahon made during his feud with Austin. At Unforgiven: In Your House, McMahon sat at ringside during Austin’s title defense, which caused Austin to allude to the Montreal Screwjob during a promotional interview. At Survivor Series 1998, the first anniversary of the screwjob, McMahon’s son Shane, a match referee, abandoned his on-screen rebellion against his father and allowed his father to screw Austin, by refusing to count Austin’s pinfall against Mankind. The McMahons then double-crossed Mankind in his main event title match against The Rock. Just as The Rock put the Sharpshooter hold on Mankind, McMahon called for the bell to be rung. The Rock was declared the winner by submission and the new WWF Champion, fully re-enacting the Hart double-cross, this time with a switch between the respective face and heel characters. To top off the night, McMahon responded to the audience’s shock concerning The Rock’s heel turn through mimicking a quote from his interview with JR; he stated, “Vince McMahon didn’t screw the people, the people screwed the people!”
WCW invoked the Screwjob at Starrcade 1997, as Hart prevented Hollywood Hulk Hogan from leaving with the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He claimed that the referee Nick Patrick gave a fast count and that he would not allow Sting to be screwed. The result was what critics called an anti-climax. At Starrcade 1999, the finish of the match between Goldberg and Bret Hart was for guest referee Roddy Piper to “ring the bell” once Hart placed Goldberg in the Sharpshooter despite Goldberg not submitting.
At the rechristened WWE’s No Way Out pay-per-view in Montreal, there was a similar (but scripted) action that occurred during the Hulk Hogan vs. The Rock match. Hogan had The Rock laid out on the mat and was about to go for the cover when the lights went out and Vince came out to “screw” Hogan by giving the Rock a chair with which to bash Hogan. The titular website’s home page promptly titled it “Montreal Screwjob 2”, despite its not being a true rendition of the 1997 screwjob, which consists only of the referee calling for the bell in spite of the submitted not actually confirming this decision (by tapping, or in some cases more subtle betrayals). Earlier in the show, the match between reigning World Heavyweight Champion Triple H and Scott Steiner was marked by loud, angry chants of “You screwed Bret!” against Earl Hebner, who was the match referee, even though the Screwjob was not replayed.
During the main event for the World Heavyweight Championship at Backlash in Edmonton, Alberta, Shawn Michaels put on the Sharpshooter on the hometown hero and reigning champion Chris Benoit, while Earl Hebner rushed into the ring to replace the unconscious referee. The audience booed Michaels and Hebner and chanted “You screwed Bret!” repeatedly even after the hold was broken.
A truer rendition of the incident, though not in Montreal, occurred during a 2006 feud between Michaels and Team McMahon over Vince’s inability to move on from Montreal. In a match between Michaels and Shane McMahon on the 32nd edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event, Vince knocked out referee Mike Chioda just as Shane trapped Michaels in the Sharpshooter, then screamed at the timekeeper to ring the bell and awarded the match “by submission” to Shane.
The Montreal Screwjob was again imitated in a scripted situation on September 13, 2009 at the WWE Breaking Point pay-per-view, which also occurred in Montreal. The Undertaker forced CM Punk to submit using a hold called Hell’s Gate. After Undertaker was declared the winner, SmackDown General Manager Theodore Long ordered the match to continue as the hold was banned by former SmackDown GM Vickie Guererro. This set up the audience for a “Dusty Finish”. It was then followed with the Montreal Screwjob’s second (or first if No Way Out 2003 which was not a true “Montreal” Screwjob” is not counted) sequel, with CM Punk jumping The Undertaker in the ring and then applying his submission finisher – the “Anaconda Vice”. The submission hold was only just applied before the referee called for the bell, even though The Undertaker had never submitted to the maneuver. The referee promptly removed himself from the ring after making the call. CM Punk was awarded the victory and retained his title. Theodore Long arrived on the entrance stage to stand alongside CM Punk, imitating the actions of the original Montreal Screwjob instigator Vince McMahon.
Even though this ending was more logistically disparaged and became a moot event when The Undertaker beat Punk a month later to take the championship, this ending was widely labeled “Montreal Screwjob #2”, as it was the first time the Montreal Screwjob had actually been revisited by script in that city since the original shoot event in 1997. However, counting the No Way Out 2003 event, which while labeled similarly was an entirely different finish altogether, it was actually the third event labeled “Montreal Screwjob”.
On July 17, 2011 at the Money in the Bank pay-per-view, the Montreal Screwjob was once again scripted in a match involving Punk and John Cena though the screwjob itself failed. Punk, whose contract expired that night, faced Cena where he claimed that he would walk out of Chicago, Punk’s home town and the location of the event, as the WWE champion after giving a speech criticizing the way the company was run several weeks before. During their match, Vince McMahon, along with John Laurinaitis, attempted to perform the screwjob by sending Laurinaitis to call off the match while Cena applied the STF submission move on Punk. However, this attempt failed as, when Cena saw Laurinaitis going for the bell, he released his hold on Punk to stop Laurinaitis saying he doesn’t want to win that way. Ultimately, Punk went on to win the title as McMahon attempted to use Alberto Del Rio, who had won the Raw Money in the Bank contract earlier, to defeat Punk but was unable to start the match after Punk kicked him unconscious and Punk escaped through the Chicago crowd taking the belt with him.
TNA has also imitated the Montreal Screwjob scenario. On the January 21, 2010 episode of TNA Impact!, TNA World Heavyweight Champion A.J. Styles defeated Kurt Angle when Styles put Angle in the Ankle Lock submission hold and referee Earl Hebner called for the bell. Kurt Angle then spat at Hulk Hogan, who was positioned at ringside, in the same way that Bret Hart spat at Vince McMahon. Because TNA tape their shows and PPVs in Orlando, Florida, this match has been dubbed the “Orlando Screwjob” by fans. A week later, Earl Hebner told Hogan in regards to both the Montreal Screwjob and this latest screwjob that Bret didn’t screw Bret, Vince didn’t screw Bret, Shawn Michaels didn’t screw Bret, but Hebner screwed Bret, as well as Kurt Angle, all for the money. Hulk Hogan was at a loss for words and suspended Hebner until March 8, when he was put off suspension and given a second chance. The finish of the 2006 Slammiversary pay-per-view, in which Montreal Screwjob referee Earl Hebner helped Jeff Jarrett win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship was also referred to as the “Orlando Screwjob”. Unlike the original Montreal Screwjob, both finishes were scripted.
In pop culture, the term, “Montreal Screwjob,” has been used by people to describe a wide-array of situations, in which people feel slighted or betrayed by their close friends. One particular example of this in WWE, though in a way more subtle than applying the term itself, is that when the 2005 real-life love triangle between Matt Hardy, Amy “Lita” Dumas, and Adam “Edge” Copeland went on to cost Hardy his job, fans responded by dousing both Copeland and Dumas with chants of “We want Matt” and “You screwed Matt”, similar to the chants with Bret’s name that Michaels and McMahon have continued to face in Canada over the years. This only intensified for several months after WWE decided to pair Edge and Lita together on-screen as villains and then to bring back Hardy and acknowledge the situation in storylines. The intensity of the fans’ sudden spurning of Dumas, who had been extremely popular both in the ring and out of it, spread to her real life; she said shortly after her November 2006 in-ring retirement that at the height of the rivalry between Hardy and Edge she couldn’t even walk her dog without hearing “You screwed Matt!” yelled at her from out of people’s windows. Dumas also said that the sudden change in people’s attitudes toward her accelerated her retirement from wrestling.
With its “Attitude Era” programming and the popularity of its wrestlers such as Austin, The Rock and Mankind, WWF surpassed its arch rival WCW. With its business steadily declining, WCW was put up for sale and purchased by McMahon in 2001, making WWF the single-largest wrestling company in North America. Bret Hart’s entry into WCW had been hailed at the time as a major coup for the company, but it subsequently failed to utilize his popular appeal. Hart’s active wrestling career ended in 2000 after he suffered a serious concussion during a match with Goldberg. After dropping the WWF title to Austin at WrestleMania XIV in 1998, Michaels was forced into retirement for four years because of serious neck and back injuries. After a long period of rehabilitation, Michaels returned to the ring in 2002.
Many fans and wrestling observers believed WWE had been making overtures to Bret Hart since 2004. Canadian wrestler and long-time Hart family friend Chris Benoit’s victory over Triple H and Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania XX that won him the World Heavyweight Championship and again at Backlash 2004 in Edmonton, Alberta, were considered by several wrestling observers and fans as a symbolic apology to Hart and Canadian fans. In the later match in Edmonton, Shawn Michaels submitted to Benoit’s application of the sharpshooter hold. After weeks of speculation, WWE.com announced in late August 2005 that Hart and WWE had agreed to collaborate on a DVD project chronicling Hart’s wrestling career. In subsequent interviews, Hart attributed his decision to his desire to be remembered for his storied career that spanned two decades. The project, which had been given the working title of Screwed: The Bret Hart Story, was renamed Bret “Hit Man” Hart: The Best There Is, The Best There Was, The Best There Ever Will Be. In the 2006 DVD chronicling his career, both Hart and Bischoff denied that his holding the WWF title was a factor in WCW’s desire to sign him. While McMahon claimed that there was mutual regret, Hart defended his actions and asserted that he stood by what he did.
Bret Hart’s refusal to lose to Michaels in Montreal has been criticized by others such as Ric Flair, who asserted that it was Hart’s responsibility to drop the title belt of a company he was leaving. However, Hart maintains that he was prepared to lose the title anywhere and to anyone, except to Michaels in Canada given that, during 1997, his “Hitman” character had been built up as a great Canadian hero. As his contract with WWF did not expire for four more weeks, Hart asserts that there was plenty of time and several other opportunities for him to drop the title. Several accounts claim that McMahon had originally proposed that Hart drop the title at December’s In Your House pay-per-view in Springfield, Massachusetts, and at January’s Royal Rumble in San Jose, California. Although Shawn Michaels expressed happiness at Hart’s 2006 induction into the Hall of Fame, the Hart-Michaels relationship remains laced with antagonism. Michaels criticized Hart’s behavior and conduct during his days in WWF in his 2005 autobiography, comparing the screwjob to a “mafia hit”, and Hart has stated in his 2007 autobiography that he will “never forgive” Michaels, as well as Triple H. In interviews prior to the induction ceremony, Hart asserted that he would walk out from the ceremony if he saw Shawn Michaels anywhere on the WrestleMania 22 weekend. Michaels decided to leave the Hall of Fame ceremony early to avoid a possible scene. Hart did not appear at the WrestleMania show in a mini-ceremony with the other inductees, explaining in an interview that he had never intended to attend or appear at the show. Hart would later return to WWE television on the June 11 2007 edition of RAW, where he appeared in a taped promo spot mocking Mr. McMahon’s “appreciation night”.