The Montreal Screwjob - The Most Controversial Match in Wrestling History

Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 25.
Shawn Michaels enters the ring. Bob Levey/WireImage/Getty Images

Introduction

Unlike most of the on-screen feuds in wrestling, the feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels was very personal.  In addition to great matches, it also had legitimate backstage fights, legitimate insults hurled at each other and their families in the ring, and the most controversial match ever.

Hart Foundation vs Rockers

These two men first faced each other as tag team opponents. In November 1990, the Hart Foundation (Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart) lost the tag team titles to the Rockers (Shawn Michaels and Marty Jannetty) in a match taped for .

During the match, the top rope broke. The Rockers defended the belt for a week before Vince McMahon made the decision not to air the match due to the ring problems. Since the match was never aired, the Rockers title reign was never mentioned on television and is not officially recognized as a title reign.

The Kliq

When the Rockers first entered WWE, they were fired after a few days. Shawn felt they were set up to look bad outside the ring.  When Shawn became a singles wrestler, he started friendships with the new superstars of the era. They became known as the Kliq. The members of this backstage group were Shawn, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Sean Waltman, and Triple H. This group had the reputation for for hurting other careers and not losing or putting their best efforts forward in matches against those not a part of the group.  When Kevin and Scott left for WCW, Shawn became the WWE Champion.

The best example of the hatred this group garnered for their backstage actions took place when Scott Hall entered ECW in 2000.  He was thrown out of the locker room by the wrestlers because many of them blamed the Kliq for ruining their WWE careers many years earlier.

WrestleMania 12

Even though they had fought in the past, WrestleMania XII is where the issues between Bret and Shawn men became personal.

This match was a 60-minute Iron Man Match. Bret had just won the title a few months earlier and spent the months prior to the match traveling and wrestling.  Shawn was given a very light schedule so he could train for this match.  In videos promoting the match, Shawn looked like Rocky about to gain glory yet Bret was shown being beaten up by his elderly father. Shawn won the match and Bret took some time off.

WCW Calls and I Lost My Smile

When Bret was gone, WCW offered him a major deal.  Bret was loyal to WWE and signed a 20-year deal to stay with the company. It has long been rumored that Shawn was scheduled to lose the title to Bret at WrestleMania 13. A few months before the match, Shawn vacated the title in the infamous "I lost my smile speech".  He claims a doctor told him that his knee injury would be career ending. It is worth noting that Shawn lost all the three major titles of the era (World, Tag Team, and Intercontinental) by vacating them and not doing the job in the ring.

The Feud is Personal

Shawn returned from his career ending injury a few months later.  Inside the ring, both men were making very bad comments about each other even though they never fought each other.  Bret made several comments questioning Shawn's sexual preference because he appeared in Playgirl.

  Shawn made a comment about Bret having Sunny Days. This was in reference to a possible relationship between Bret and Sunny.  Shortly after that comment, Bret and Shawn had a major fight in the locker room.

The Montreal Screwjob

The two men fought at Survivor Series '97. Bret was the WWE Champion and this was going to be his last match before leaving for WCW.  Shortly before this match, Vince informed Bret he would no longer honor their 20-year contract.  He used the excuse that he could no longer afford him because they were losing the Monday Night Wars to WCW.  Others have said that since the company was going public, Vince needed to get long-term liabilities (ex: a 20 year contract) off his balance sheet. Bret had worked out a deal with Vince where he would not lose the title to Shawn that night.

  He offered to lose the belt to anyone else, but he refused to lose to Shawn in his home country of Canada.  The match ended with Vince McMahon calling for the bell even though Bret was in the process of reversing the sharpshooter.  After the match, Shawn ran to the back with the title. On television Bret proceeded to spit on Vince, break some television equipment, and wrote out WCW with his fingers to the audience.  Backstage he gave Vince McMahon a black eye.

The Aftermath

Shawn would suffer an injury at a few months later that would keep him out of wrestling for five years. Bret's career would end in early 2000 due to a concussion he received from a kick from Goldberg. A year earlier, his brother Owen died in a tragic accident during a WWE PPV. Vince would use the Montreal Screwjob as a launching pad to become the hated Mr. McMahon character. His feud with Steve Austin turned the tide in the battle with WCW. He would go onto become a billionaire when WWE went public and in 2001 he purchased WCW from AOL-Time Warner.

What really happened in Montreal?

Through the years many things have come out about that night. In 1998, the movie Wrestling with Shadows was released. This movie featured a camera crew following Bret around during 1997. They had backstage access to some of the events. At the time, Shawn said he didn't know what was going to happen. In 2002, Shawn revealed he knew beforehand. In his 2005 autobiography, Shawn admits that the screw job ending was Triple H's idea.

Forgiveness

Bret Hart returned to the WWE in 2010 and publicly embraced Shawn Michaels on his first night back with the company. In 2011, the WWE released Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart. The DVD featured an interview with both Bret and Shawn about their past issues.