TJR: Retro Review of WWE Survivor Series 1997 (Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels)
This Monday night on Raw, Bret Hart returns to WWE TV in Montreal for the first time since Nov. 9, 1997 at Survivor Series. I’ll cover it all in my weekly Raw Deal column on Tuesday.
Today I’m here to review that historic event with a detailed breakdown of every match on the show.
This was originally written in 2009, so there’s nothing about the Hart/Michaels DVD on here although I absolutely recommend you checking it out if you’ve never seen it. I figured within the last three years there are a lot of you that never read this, so I decided to re-post this since Bret Hart is making his return to WWE TV in Montreal. I hope you enjoy it.
It’s hard to properly cover all the history involved in this show in a few paragraphs, but I guess the starting point would be WrestleMania XII in the spring of 1996. Bret Hart lost the WWF World Title to Shawn Michaels in a very memorable Ironman match.
Hart took the next six months off (he was going to film a TV show that was cancelled) to rest his body after years of being on the road while Michaels had a difficult title reign due to WWF business being down during much of 1996. When Hart came back in late 1996, Michaels was still the top babyface in the company. Shawn had the title again in February 1997 when he suffered a knee injury. He forfeited the title, saying the injury was career threatening and that he had “lost his smile.” In Hart’s view, Michaels didn’t want to put Hart over at WrestleMania 13, as had been rumored. That created a lot of animosity between the two.
Even though there was genuine hate between the two, they worked together at Summerslam ’97 with Michaels as the ref for Hart’s title win against The Undertaker. That led to Michaels turning heel just like Hart was. Michaels would go on wrestling The Undertaker for the next two PPV main events while Hart had a meaningless feud with a midcarder like The Patriot. Michaels also went on to win the European Title from Hart’s brother in law the British Bulldog in a match in England. This infuriated Hart as well as his entire family.
In Hart’s fantastic autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, he wrote about how he talked with Michaels in October 1997 about putting Michaels over if that’s what McMahon wanted. Hart claims that Michaels told him he would never put Hart over even if Vince wanted it, which led Hart to say he would not lose the title to Michaels in Montreal at Survivor Series.
On November 1, 1997, just eight days before Survivor Series, Hart ended up signing with rival promotion WCW for $3 million per year although he wanted to stay with the WWE out of loyalty. It was McMahon that told him to sign with WCW because he feared for his own company. What he also feared was that Hart might show up on WCW TV with the WWE title, which is why there were so many questions heading into the show.
Could Vince trust Bret? Could Bret trust Vince or Shawn? What exactly was going to happen? The issue was very real. Smart fans and marks alike had no idea what was going to happen. Little did we know that we were about to see what is arguably the most famous professional wrestling match ever.
I will write a lot about the entire scenario after the match review because there is so much to say on the subject.
The other story heading into this show had to do with Steve Austin’s health. Austin was the biggest rising star in the company with the brightest future. Three months earlier at Summerslam, Owen Hart botched a Tombstone Piledriver by dropping to his ass to deliver the move instead of on his knees like the Undertaker does it.
Austin’s neck got compressed and he was out of action for three months. His career was obviously cut short by the move. By the time Survivor Series ’97 rolled around there were a lot of questions about Austin’s future. Could he continue his rise to the top of the WWF or would his neck injury bring him so much pain that his career would end?
Now let’s go back to Nov. 9, 1997 and re-live the historic WWE Survivor Series 1997 event.
WWE Survivor Series
November 9, 1997
To open the show, we get a nice two-minute video package highlighting the feud between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels that obviously ended up very personal.
The announcers are Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler. No sign of Vince McMahon at the desk. He would never return to that position. I know that personally I’ll miss the “one, two, he got him…no he didn’t get him” calls that he was so great at making. By great, I mean unintentionally hilarious.
Elimination Tag: The Headbangers (Mosh and Thrasher) and the New Blackjacks (Bradshaw and Barry Windham) vs. The Godwinns (Henry and Phinneas), Road Dogg and Bad Ass Billy Gunn
A few weeks earlier on Raw, Gunn smashed a boombox over the head of Thrasher. There are two refs involved, one on the inside and one on the outside. Windham with some shoulder tackles on Phinneas to start. Windham with a punch to the jaw, then a bodyslam. Bradshaw comes in, hits a powerslam. A charge in the corner is countered by a big boot by Phinneas. Gunn and Dogg don’t want in, so here comes Henry. Bradshaw gets a Russian leg sweep, but his suplex is countered by Henry into one of his own. He whips Bradshaw into the corner, then hits a big clothesline for two. Bradshaw with an abdominal stretch into the pin for the three. That was pretty surprising. Windham works over Phinneas with a suplex. Not exactly the craziest of moves in this match. Gutwrench slam for Windham gets two followed by a clothesline. Phinneas gets a clothesline and that eliminates Windham. Really? I guess so. Mosh comes in, drops an elbow and then hits a dropkick.
The crowd reacts to the Headbangers at least, unlike the Blackjacks or Godwinns. Here comes Gunn with an elbow. Crowd hates him, which was a good example of the new characters for Dog and Gunn working well. He gets some offense in, then Mosh hits a clothesline. Whip into the corner by Mosh, he goes for a splash, then his bulldog attempt is countered into a faceplant for Gunn. That gets three by Gunn. Cool spot there. We continue with Thrasher against Phinneas. Lawler asks where McMahon is. JR says he knows while Lawler complains that he doesn’t get told these things. He literally has him in an armbar for two minutes that goes nowhere. Rollup gets two. Shoulder tackle for Thrasher, then an arm drag and another one leading to another armbar. Faceplant by Thrasher on Phinneas, he goes up top and hits a splash with his butt right in the face of Phinneas for the pinfall.
We’re down to four with Thrasher & Bradshaw against Gunn and Dogg. Bradshaw beats up Dogg, who plays the chicken well, trying to run away at all times. Short arm clothesline for Bradshaw, then a gutwrench powerbomb for him. Gunn slaps him in the back, he pounds on him, Dogg sneaks up from behind and rolls him up for the fluke three count. Thrasher takes a knee to the back by Gunn that the ref never sees. Dogg’s pumphandle slam attempt is countered into a hip toss. Gunn gets the blind tag, Road Dogg’s pumphandle slam attempt is countered into a pin attempt by Thrasher. While he’s covering, Gunn comes off the top with a legdrop that misses by about 18 inches, but I guess it was supposed to hit because Thrasher goes on his back to take the pinfall.
Survivors: Billy Gunn and Road Dogg @ 15:27
Analysis: 1/2* An awful match to start the show. The crowd was dead for anything involving the Godwinns or Blackjacks, but you could tell that Gunn and Road Dogg were really catching on. Other than that, this was pretty brutal.
The Truth Commission (The Interrogator, Jackal, Sniper and Recon) vs. Disciples of Apocalypse (Crush, Chainz, 8-Ball and Skull)
The ring announcing is in French, by the way. The Truth Commission were fairly new here while DOA had been stinking up the ring with terrible matches all year, so they got a nice reaction. The Truth Commission’s theme music? Stomping feet. You think I’m kidding. I’m not.
Chainz and The Interrogator start us off. Interrogator’s the biggest guy in the match, and he’s somebody that we would later know as Kurrgan. He hits a sidewalk slam on Chainz for the first pinfall about a minute into the match. Recon (later known as Bull Buchanan) gets his turn in there. He tags in Jackal, the smallest member of the team that was basically the manager of the group. He hits a knee drop off the top, then gets beat up by 8-ball with a spinning sidewalk slam of his own to eliminate Jackal. Jackal joins commentary soon after.
Crush works on Recon with a back elbow, then a couple of legdrops. Belly to belly suplex gets him two. I’m actually surprised Crush hit an actual move. Recon and Skull collide, then the other bald twin just walks in there without a tag. He gets a clothesline for two. They had two refs and they are still blind. Sniper takes a swinging neckbreaker by one bald brother, who then tags in his brother and they hit the double chokeslam for the long two because The Interrogator kept the ref busy. So what’s the point of two refs? That’s actually a good tag team finishing move. They used it when they were in WCW a few years after this as the Harris Brothers.
Interrogator gets a cheap shot in, then a bulldog by Sniper gets the pinfall on 8-Ball or Skull, JR still doesn’t know which one it is. Even the announcers are mentioning how bad the refs are. Crush slows down an already slow match with leg scissors. In comes Skull (I guess), Interrogator gets a blind tag as Skull gets the DDT on Sniper. The Interrogator comes in, barely lifts Skull up two feet on the ground and drops him with a sidewalk slam that I guess is supposed to look devastating. It looked terrible. Of course it pins him.
Crush goes for a suplex, but that’s blocked. Interrogator tags in Sniper, who quickly gets pinned with a move that was supposed to be a tilt a whirl slam. It just didn’t look very much like it. Interrogator comes in right way, hits another sidewalk slam. Hey, at least he picked him up high enough to where it actually looked okay. Of course that pins him.
Survivor: The Interrogator @ 9:59
Analysis: -* That -* means a negative rating for a match on the five star scale. That’s not a good thing. If you want to watch a match where the most acrobatic move is a bulldog then this is the match for you. The story of this match is that a sidewalk slam is a devastating move. I wonder why that didn’t catch on.
We hear some fans talking about who they think are going to win with most of them rooting for Bret Hart, but some of them pick Shawn Michaels. Lawler making fun of the fans’ looks was the best thing on this show so far.
Back in the AOL Online room, there’s Kevin Kelly with Steve Austin answering questions by talking to some nerd that’s typing his answers in. Austin says he doesn’t want anybody to feel sorry for him due to his neck injury because that’s just something that happens in wrestling.
Prior to the next match, we see that on Raw the previous Monday the guys from Team Canada were beating up Vader when a “fan” named Steve Blackman attacked them. Amazingly that “fan” was a martial artist, so of course he’s a part of this match.
The story is Blackman was jailed for going in the ring, Vader bailed him out and asked him to be in this match. Vader said they don’t like big-mouth Canadians, which of course the Montreal crowd boos.
Team Canada (British Bulldog, Jim Neidhart, Doug Furnas and Phil Lafon) vs. Team USA (Vader, Goldust, Steve Blackman and Marc Mero with Sable)
Team USA comes out first, the crowd hates them all except for Sable. Can’t say I blame them because she looks tremendous. I loved those leather outfits of hers. Huge pop for Team Canada even though only LaFon was born there while Neidhart and Bulldog married Hart sisters, so they did live there and were basically adopted Canadians.
Mero starts off against Bulldog. Bulldog with a shoulderblock, then a hiptoss and bulldog sends Mero to the floor. Crowd cants for Sable. Vader comes in, he hits a clothesline and then his chest splash thing. Bulldog slams him off the top, then hits the delayed suplex on Vader, which is pretty impressive. LaFon gets the tag, he gets splashed by Vader and Mero gets a high knee after getting tagged in. LaFon with a spinning heel kick, then a clothesline gets two. Damn, Sable looks tremendous. Blackman comes in getting his kicks in as Ross tries telling us that he’s not a trained wrestler even though he does all the usual wrestling moves we’ve seen for years. LaFon gets a DDT on him for two. Crowd cheers for Sable again while Blackman gets a chop. He beats the crap out of the Canadian guys. Hey, the two refs actually did something by breaking up a fight. Blackman got counted out while he was getting attacked by the Canucks. In ring, Neidhart misses a charge on Mero, but then hits a clothesline. His attempt at the worst splash ever misses, so Mero brings in Vader. Neidhart with a couple of shoulder blocks, then Vader gets one of his own and the splash. That gets three to eliminate Neidhart.
LaFon knocks Vader to the floor with a spinning heel kick, and then he whips him in the steps. Back in ring, Vader gets a belly to belly suplex. He hits a splash off the middle ropes for three. Doug Furnas comes in against Vader. He tags Mero. Punches send down Furnas. He hits a moonsault, but while he was landing it Furnas moved into it and it looked like his neck got hurt pretty bad there. Spinebuster by Furnas, then a tag to Bulldog. He dominates Mero, but the running powerslam is countered with a punch by Mero, who then hits a back elbow. Tag to Furnas. Whip in, Mero gets a nice rollup with his legs, kick out at two, then Furnas counters into a pin attempt of his own that gives him the three count to eliminate Mero. Goodbye, Sable.
Vader comes in because the story is Goldust left his wife and he’s not in the mood to wrestle. Vader gets a suplex while JR rips Goldust for leaving his wife. He’s got a cast on his left hand that says “Freedom” on it. Furnas is brought in, Vader hits a back suplex sending Furnas on his neck. Ouch, second bad bump for him on this night. Furnas hit Vader low, but the two refs apparently didn’t see it. Bulldog comes in, but Vader gets him with a boot and then a clothesline. Vader wants to tag in Goldust, but the Golden one drops to the floor. Wow, Furnas just hit an overhead belly to belly on Vader. That’s why Vader’s great. He took bumps like that despite being huge. He gets a huracanrana on Vader for two. That was impressive, too. Vader says screw this and decks him with a punch. Vader slaps Goldust in the face, then whips him into the ring.
Goldust, with “Alive Again” written into the back of his head, just walks out of the match. JR rips him the entire time saying he quit on his country like he quit on his wife. Meanwhile, Vader beats the crap out of Furnas and Bulldog. Davey Boy grabs the ring bell while Vader hits the Vader Bomb on Furnas for the three. As soon as the pinfall is official, Bulldog smashes the ring bell into the back of Vader’s head. The in-ring ref didn’t see it. What about the ref on the floor? He was looking at the pinfall. Apparently you have two refs there so that both of them can look at the exact same thing. The crowd popped huge for the blatant cheating, by the way. We Canadians are cool like that. Bulldog covers him and he pins Vader for the win.
Survivor: The British Bulldog @ 17:47
Bulldog walked straight to the back after the match. You can tell on his face that he was probably worried about what would happen with his brother in law Bret Hart later on in the night. That was one of the fastest exits I’ve ever seen for somebody that won a match.
Analysis: **1/2 (out of 5) The match was much better than the first two Survivor Series matches because this one had a great big guy like Vader to carry it. His offense was good, plus he gave a lot to smaller guys like Furnas and Lafon. Obviously the right team won because of the home crowd and Smith being so popular. He probably didn’t know it at the time, but it would be his last match in the WWE for two years.
We get a video package on Kane. He debuted a month earlier at the Badd Blood PPV to destroy Undertaker in the first Hell in a Cell match against Shawn Michaels. After that he beat the crap out of everyone for a few weeks before being put into this match with Mankind.
Kane w/Paul Bearer vs. Mankind
Foley went from comedic Dude Love to serious Mankind to deal with the monster. The entire match is contested under the red spotlight of Kane. That’s not the best idea. Mankind attacks, but Kane chokes him and whips him into the steps. Kane sets the ringposts on fire, the red lights go off and then they come back on after the bell rings. JR explains the red light as “unexplained power” to tell us why it was on the entire match. Mankind hits the Cactus clothesline, which has no effect. Kane throws the steps into his face. Funniest part about this is Earl Hebner is arguing with Bearer, so he doesn’t see it and apparently is unable to hear the sound of a very loud object hitting a man in a face.
Back in the ring, Kane chokes him a lot. Outside, he whips Mankind into the steps. Mankind comes back, dropping Kane’s face into the steps, which the crowd likes because hadn’t been hurt much at all up to this point. Mankind grabs a chair and smacks him in the head with it. The ref? Hanging with Bearer again. Who knew that Earl Hebner was so attracted to Paul Bearer? And also deaf at the same time.
Mankind gets his pulling piledriver. He then gives Paul Bearer the mandible claw. Bearer has some of the best facial expressions ever. With Foley on the apron, Kane chokes him and tosses him through the Spanish announce table with Mankind crashing back first. Damn, Foley’s nuts. They fight on the floor some more, Foley gets a regular DDT instead of his usual double arm DDT. Then he gets his running elbow off the apron onto Kane on the floor. Kane pops right up. Mankind’s standing on the middle rope and Kane slams him off, back first onto the floor. I honestly don’t remember some of these crazy bumps by Mick, but they were pretty brutal. He literally crawls back in the ring, Kane scoops him up and then plants him in the middle with the Tombstone piledriver for the pin.
Winner: Kane @ 9:29
Analysis: *1/4 This was painfully slow. Foley took some of the crazy bumps that we were accustomed to seeing from him, but it was basically a glorified squash match. That’s what it should have been because they wanted Kane to get over huge and there’s no better person to help him do that than a crazy man like Foley.
Backstage, a nervous-looking Michael Cole (he was in his first year with WWE at this point) interviews Commissioner Slaughter and Vince McMahon. Slaughter says they’ve got extra security to deal with the tension backstage. Vince says the fans will get to see Michaels vs. Hart tonight. Cole asks Vince: “Who’s going to win?” Vince pauses: “I don’t know.” He has this very nervous look on his face as he said it. What did marks think when Cole was asking this? To them Vince was the play by play announcer for the past decade. To me, I was smartened up to this business as a 17-year-old by this point, but looking back it was very odd that they would even ask this question of Vince.
The announcers played up the backstage incidents that Hart and Michaels had. They did have a pull apart fight in the locker room in June of ’97, so there was legitimacy in saying they had real issues with each other.
The babyfaces cut a promo before the next match. Hawk was pretty incoherent like usual while Shamrock came off as nervous. LOD were the tag champs here. Those belts were passed around a lot in these days. Kind of like Sunny.
Nation of Domination (Faarooq, Rocky Maivia, Kama Mustafa and D-Lo Brown) vs. Legion of Doom, Ken Shamrock and Ahmed Johnson
Hawk starts against Brown, who hits a piledriver 30 seconds in. Weird. Hawk pops up right away and gets a neckbreaker. Good old Hawk, no-selling one of the most devastating moves in wrestling. Tag to Rocky, who is greeted with “Rocky Sucks” chants. The Nation knees Hawk in the back, then Rocky pins him with the yet to be named Rock Bottom in a matter of seconds. You could tell Hawk wasn’t a fan of it because he kicked out as soon as the ref hit three. Let’s just say Hawk didn’t like losing much.
Ahmed comes in, Rocky tags in Kama. He gets in a clothesline, then tags in Faarooq, who gets a backbreaker. The Nation beats on Ahmed by using a whip. Again, why have two refs if neither of them sees anything? Ahmed counters the Dominator into the Pearl River Plunge to eliminate Faarooq, who also kicks out right at three. D-Lo comes in, hits a frog splash and instead of covering decides to taunt the crowd. Johnson no sells the punches because he’s on team no-sell, then hits a suplex by dropping Brown on his face. Rock comes in and eats a spinebuster. Johnson goes for something else, Faarooq grabs his leg to trip him, Rocky covers and the ref counts even though the second ref is RIGHT THERE watching the guy hold his foot. Even JR rips the refs. Johnson and Faarooq brawl all the way to the back.
Hey, there’s a Greek flag in the background. Best fan in the arena right there. Animal comes in to work over Rocky. Shamrock gets the tag, he hits a clothesline and a pretty dropkick. Rocky manages to get Kama in there. Hard whip, Shamrock ducks and tags Animal. Papa Kama Godfather Shango does a double KO spot with Animal. Animal gets a back suplex for two. These two are really struggling together. Boot to the face by Kama, then a sidekick to the stomach. The crowd’s so bored that they chant “Rocky Sucks” even though he’s not in the ring. Weak bodyslam by Animal, D-Lo interrupts and Kama gets a kick. Kama showboats, Animal attacks him from behind and gets a rollup to eliminate him.
We’re down to Animal and Shamrock against D-Lo and Rocky. Shamrock hit a clothesline on Brown, who pokes the eye and gets a bodyslam. Rocky comes in behind the ref’s back and punches Shamrock right in the nuts. During this, both refs were admonishing Animal. Leg drop by Brown gets two on Shamrock and then he chokes him a bit. Backbreaker by Brown, then he goes up and misses a moonsault by about three feet. Animal and Rocky get tagged in. Animal beats on them, but then Billy Gunn and Road Dogg come down wearing LOD gear to taunt Animal. Rock clotheslines Animal out, Animal shoves the ref, Dogg and Gunn throw some powder into his face and that results in Animal getting counted out. Brown works Shamrock over, tags Rocky in, they miss a double clothesline and Shammy clotheslines them both down. He then gets a belly to belly on Brown followed by the ankle lock. Brown taps out even though Rocky was the legal man as of 30 seconds ago.
Both refs tend to Brown, who gets rolled out of the ring. Three feet behind them, Rocky drills Shamrock in the back with a steel chair. Both refs are apparently deaf. Shamrock kicks out of that. Whip in, Rock gets his floatover DDT for two. Bodyslam for Rocky, then he tosses the elbow pad and hits the yet to be named People’s Elbow to absolutely no response for two. Rock goes for another floatover, but Shamrock hits a suplex to break it. Shamrock hits a hurricanrana. There’s the yell. Armbar takedown by Shamrock, then ankle lock and Rocky taps.
Survivor: Ken Shamrock @ 20:34
Analysis: **1/2 It was a fine match, but it’s hard to avoid how bad the refereeing was. There were four different instances where the refs missing things were so obvious. That’s just sloppy. The point of the match was to put over Shamrock and Rocky, so in that sense they did a great job. Those two would end up having a very good feud a couple of months after this. I loved their chemistry. Shamrock was built up strongly as one of the top babyfaces in the company, so in that sense job well done in this match.
We get the long video package to set up Owen Hart vs. Steve Austin. It put over how tough Austin is by coming back from his severe neck injury from three months earlier at SummerSlam.
Intercontinental Title: Owen Hart vs. Steve Austin
The story is Owen injured Austin’s neck, Steve missed three months and Owen won the IC title back. In the tournament final at Badd Blood, Austin helped Owen win because he wanted to make sure that he’d face Owen for the title. Austin’s out first to a nice pop, but it’s not that huge since he’s in Canada.
Here comes Owen Hart with Team Canada at his side to a huge pop. As much as I loved Owen, I forgot how awful this theme music is. His t-shirt says “Owen 3:16″ on the front with “I just broke your neck” on the back. Neidhart sneaks in the ring; Austin sees him and hits the Stunner. That allows Owen to jump him. Austin comes back with punches, whip in and they tease a regular piledriver. Austin counters with a backdrop. Hart slides out and rams the knee against the post. Austin boots him, which leads Owen to bail out.
Austin chases him down. He beats on him all the way back into the ring. Owen bails out again and hits a low blow. Hart chokes him with a cable. He asks the ref to disqualify him because he wants to retain the title. Back in the ring, Hart beats on him with some punches. Austin turns it around stomping a mudhole, which gets a mixed reaction. Austin whips him, goes for some type of slam and Owen lands on his feet. Austin rakes the eyes, kicks him in the gut and hits the Stone Cold Stunner for the pinfall.
Winner: Steve Austin @ 4:04
Post match, Austin gave the Stunner to Furnas and LaFon just for the hell of it. Crowd is mostly cheering him now.
Analysis: 3/4* You can tell Austin was very limited in there. He didn’t take any bumps on his back, nor should he have. It was way too risky to even have him wrestle for four minutes. I remember at the time thinking how happy he was that he got out of it okay. We had no idea what kind of future he had at this point. Obviously, things got better.
We get the great video package highlighting the Hart/Michaels feud. Live shot backstage shows Shawn walking in the backstage area with Hunter, Chyna and Rick Rude. Incredible heel heat for Michaels, who walks out holding his European Title.
I should note that by this point I liked Shawn more than Bret although I genuinely liked both. If it weren’t for them keeping me watching in the ’90s, I doubt I’d be a wrestling fan today. I have some friends who, at the time, went crazy when Shawn did things like wipe his nose or hump the Canadian flag. Me? I thought it was a great heel move.
Then we see Bret walking backstage with Bulldog, Neidhart and his son holding the Canadian flag. The crowd goes wild for Bret, as expected. JR says it took 18 months to get Hart vs. Michaels in a rematch and the “smart money says you will never, ever see it again.” That’s absolutely right.
WWE Championship: Bret Hart vs. Shawn Michaels
Michaels charges him in the middle of the ring right away, but Bret comes back with punches. Clothesline sends Michaels to the floor. Face first into the post. They brawl into the crowd with Bret getting the upper hand. They fight around ringside where a bunch of referees show up, plus Commissioner Slaughter and Vince McMahon. JR mentions the speculation surrounding Bret’s future. It leaked on the Internet and in the dirt sheets that he had signed with WCW, but obviously on WWE TV they never said that. Michaels whips him into the steps. He chokes Hart with a US flag.
Michaels tosses him into the crowd. Hart backdrops him over the rail and onto the floor. They fight up the aisle, Hart gets another backdrop. JR says Vince is out there to try to get the match started. Suplex on the floor by Hart. The intensity in this match is about as real as any wrestling match you’ll ever see even though they worked snug as Hart said in his book. Most of the fight outside the ring is won by Hart. After about seven minutes of it, Hart tosses him in. Now the bell rings to officially start the match. Hart chokes Michaels with the Quebec flag to the approval of the crowd. Atomic drop for Hart. Michaels comes back with the flying forearm. He chokes Hart with the flag. Michaels is really jawing with fans in the front row. They go outside and he drops Hart with a face first suplex on the steps. He then beats on Bret with the pole of the Canadian flag.
Back in the ring, double axhandle for Shawn and then a front facelock to slow it down. Bret powers out of it and then works over the knee with elbow drops. Michaels fights back with a bodyslam and a crossbody is countered into a two count for Hart. Time for my favorite move in all of wrestling: the figure four around the ring post by Bret Hart. I love that spot. He works over the left knee of Michaels and then sets him up for a figure four leglock right in the middle of the ring. He turns it over after about a minute and Hart grabs the rope to break it. Michaels does his flip into the turnbuckle, Russian legsweep gets two for Hart.
Suplex gets two. Backbreaker for Hart. He goes up top, leaps off with a fist and Michaels pulls Hebner in front of it so that Hebner takes the blow. Cue ominous music…
Michaels rakes the eyes. Hebner miraculously gets to his feet faster than any ref in the history of wrestling. Michaels spreads Hart’s legs and steps through with his right leg. He hooks his arm. He turns Hart over into the Sharpshooter. Hart reaches back with his right hand. While he’s doing this, Hebner is telling the timekeeper to ring the bell.
Winner: Shawn Michaels @ 12:11
We would learn later (although can’t see it on the broadcast) that Vince McMahon told the timekeeper to “ring the f**king bell” many times. This happened while Michaels was getting pushed onto his face with Hart trying to counter it. Hart was in the hold for maybe four seconds. The crowd’s response is utter shock. All JR can manage to say is “What happened?” a few times.
Bret leans over the ropes and spits right in Vince’s face. Shawn, acting as if he is angry, grabs the belt and walks off with Hunter right beside him, as well as Gerry Brisco pulling him along.
JR: “You talk about controversy. This crowd is livid. Michaels with a Sharpshooter has become champion. And Bret Hart is standing in disbelief.” I never realized it before, but Jerry Lawler never said anything after the surprise finish.
The show went off the air with Michaels holding the belt up in the air with Gerald Brisco ushering him through the backstage area while the fans boo him.
Analysis: ***3/4 (out of 5) Not many people will ever talk about the actual match, but it was very good. The brawling was great. The intensity felt as real as you will ever see in wrestling. The crowd was hot. They timed all the spots well and they were on their way to having a special match.
Extended Thoughts on the “Montreal Screwjob”
We found out later that Hart broke some TV monitors around ringside, motioned the letters “WCW” with his hands in the ring and then went backstage. Vince McMahon confronted him in the locker room. Bret decked him with a right hand. On the WWE Confidential piece on the subject, Vince claimed that Gerald Brisco stepped on his foot, broke his ankle and Bret nailed him in the temple. The people that perpetually kiss Vince’s ass will say that he took a dive, but the black eye on his face would suggest otherwise. Hart then asked Michaels if he was in on it. Shawn said, “as God as my witness, no.” At the same time as this, HHH was busy lying to Bret Hart’s wife by saying he knew nothing about it as we saw in the Wrestling With Shadows documentary. They covered the whole family with the lies on that night. Classy.
The finish, as told to Bret Hart, was for the match to continue another couple of minutes after the Sharpshooter spot. Things would disintegrate, DX would interfere and then the Hart Foundation would interfere. It would end as a “schmozz” as Bret called it and Vince agreed to (in Wrestling with Shadows). The next night on Raw in Ottawa, Hart said he would forfeit the title because he refused to lose it to Michaels. McMahon, on tape (again from Wrestling with Shadows), told him that was fine.
On his DVD, Bret said he agreed with Vince when McMahon said they had a lack of communication on the whole thing. He said he understood why Vince felt he had to do what was right, but he also said that he didn’t regret doing what he did after the match. We also found out that Hebner bailed quickly out of the ring and into a waiting car because he feared that Bret might beat the crap out of him. Earlier in the day Hebner swore on his children that he wouldn’t screw Bret. In Bret’s book he mentioned that he specifically asked for Hebner to ref the match because he trusted him more than anybody.
The screwjob came about like this according to Michaels in his autobiography. Michaels, along with HHH, talked to Vince about it a couple of days before the PPV. It was suggested by Hunter to screw Hart out of the title. Gerald Brisco, an agent with the WWE that put together the matches, went to Shawn to work out the finishes for the match. Michaels claims that Hart was the one to suggest the Sharpshooter spot, so as soon as he heard that idea from Bret he knew that would be the moment. They didn’t tell Pat Patterson, who was an agent that was close to Bret. He, much like Bret, thought it would be the double DQ ending. They felt like if Patterson knew, he’d tell Bret. They told Earl Hebner about it on the day of the show. The locker room didn’t know. The announcers didn’t know. Only a handful of people (Vince, Brisco, Hebner, Shawn and HHH plus some of Vince’s cronies) really knew what was going to happen.
To me, the key point is this: McMahon screwed Hart because he thought Hart was going to take the WWE Title to WCW. I don’t believe Hart would ever do that. He had too much loyalty to the WWE. He didn’t want to leave. Vince pushed him out because he knew the relationship with Hart and Michaels had deteriorated to the point that one of them had to go. Hart was 40, Michaels was in his early 30s and he was also influential on the booking of the shows. He was in Vince’s ear much more than Bret was. Vince said he didn’t have the money to keep him around, which was probably a fabricated story on McMahon’s part. Four months after this incident he was able to pay Mike Tyson $3 million to work for him for one month, but he couldn’t handle paying Hart $1 million for a year? He was clearly lying. It was his way of saying he’d rather have Shawn than Bret because he knew they couldn’t co-exist anymore.
The most common question asked of this situation is whose fault was it? I think it was the fault of both Vince and Bret with some fault falling on Michaels’ shoulder. However, the issue was mainly a Vince/Bret one and it all came about because of trust. At the time of the incident I blamed Vince for it. Yes, I understood his paranoia with WCW overtaking his company and his champion signing with them. I understood the position Bret put him in by refusing to put Michaels over due to the personal relationship that those two had. I also understand why he says he doesn’t regret it.
This whole thing spawned the heel Mr. McMahon character that is arguably the most profitable heel character that McMahon has ever had. This one match made McMahon into a bigger star than anything else ever could. The next four years led to incredible business and profits for a company that was teetering on the edge for three years prior. Does Vince regret screwing Bret? Of course not. You can blame Bret for being stubborn about losing in Canada and losing to Shawn. If Vince asked him to put Undertaker or Austin over for the title would he have done it? I think so. Vince never proposed that because he knew Bret vs. Shawn was the money match. They wanted to save Austin’s title win for the next WrestleMania while Undertaker had the feud with Kane. He proposed dropping the title on Raw in Ottawa the next night via forfeit, but he refused to put Michaels over because of Shawn’s insistence that he would never put Hart over.
Fifteen years later, mention the “Montreal Screwjob” to a wrestling fan and you will get their opinion on it. Some people blame Vince. Some people blame Bret. Some people blame Shawn. Some people think the whole thing was a work even to this day. I never thought it was a work and I always sided with Bret more than Vince.
I think McMahon drove him away in a move that was unnecessary. He should have found ways to make Hart and Michaels work together as professionals for the betterment of the company. Both of them should have handled things differently, but if you look at the big picture, McMahon’s more at fault than Hart is. With that said, I absolutely agree with Vince when he says he has no regrets because he felt like it was something he had to do.
In a perfect world, Bret and Shawn should have been friends (as they were prior to the start of their feud in 1996), Bret should have been wrestling in the WWF for another 3 or 4 years after Montreal happened until he was in his mid 40s when he would have retired. He never should have spent a moment in WCW because he was always a WWF lifer to me. He also should have been in the WWF to prevent his brother Owen Hart from attempting the stupid stunt that cost him his life in May 1999. I’m glad that Hart was able to mend the fences with McMahon, glad that he was inducted into the Hall of Fame to say goodbye to his fans and glad that he has been able to close the chapter on his life with the excellent DVD they put out covering his amazing career.
On a personal note, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart are two of my five favorite wrestlers ever. I feel lucky that I got to see them perform throughout their primes. Michaels entertained me like nobody else has ever had in wrestling while Hart made me feel proud to be a Canadian like him. They kept me interested in a business that, at times in the 90s, was doing everything it could to drive me away with a weak talent roster. I hate that this rivalry existed between them. I can only imagine what kind of legendary matches we would have seen if they had a harmonious relationship.
I don’t think I’m overrating the incident when I say that aside from some of the tragedies that have happened in wrestling, and we know there have been plenty of those, this is one of the most famous moments in the history of the WWF/E.
This show is memorable for one match, but the weird thing is it’s not even the match that it is remembered. It was the aftermath and the questions that erupted as soon as it was over.
Three Stars of the Night
1. Bret Hart – He gets it because it was his last time in a WWE ring as an active competitor. An awful way to go out. He deserved better.
2. Steve Austin – His return to the ring was fun.
3. Ken Shamrock – I was a huge fan of his around this time. He was booked great here.
Score: 4 out of 10 – The first two matches were very bad. The third eight man tag was pretty good. Austin’s return was a fun moment. The main event, of course, is something you should watch. However, if you don’t watch the match it’s alright. I doubt even Hart, Michaels or McMahon remember the match that well.
I also highly recommend Bret Hart’s autobiography: Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling. To me, it’s the best autobiography by anybody in pro wrestling. Sorry, Mick Foley and Chris Jericho, but Bret’s book tops my list. I also like the Shawn Michaels Heartbreak & Triumph book a lot. However, it’s not at the same level as Bret’s book.
If you want more Michaels vs. Hart be sure to pick up the WWE produced Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart Greatest Rivalries DVD because it’s loaded with a lot of great content including an interview with the two men at the same time.
What’s your take on Survivor Series 1997? Who do you blame most for the “Montreal Screwjob” incident? Does it even matter today now that Hart is on good terms with McMahon?
I’ll post some retro PPV recaps occasionally. I think it’s important to look at these older shows and appreciate them for their significance.
John Canton – firstname.lastname@example.org
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