The Montreal Screwjob was the real life double-crossing of defending WWF Champion Bret Hart by Vince McMahon, the owner of the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), during the main event match of the professional wrestling pay-per-view event Survivor Series held on November 9, 1997 at the Molson Centre in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. A secret change of the match's pre-determined finish (known as a "shoot screwjob" in professional wrestling parlance) 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 (Hart's signature finishing move), even though Hart had not submitted. Michaels was declared the victor by submission and crowned as the new WWF Champion.
The reason for this screwjob was rooted in Hart's decision to leave McMahon's company for its chief competitor, World Championship Wrestling (WCW), after McMahon told Hart that financial problems would not allow him to keep Hart on under his recently signed 20 year contract. Hart cited a clause in his contract that granted him "reasonable creative control" and was steadfast in his refusal to lose a match hosted in his home country of 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. 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. The relationship between Hart and McMahon later healed, however, culminating in Hart's induction on April 1, 2006 into the company's Hall of Fame.
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 Michaels had publicly accused Hart of carrying on an affair with Tammy Lynn Sytch AKA Sunny). After a show in San Jose, California on October 12, 1997, Hart claimed he spoke to Michaels about being professional and trusting one another in the ring. Hart allegedly said he would have no problem losing to Michaels if McMahon requested. Hart also claimed that 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. However, in his own autobiography, Shawn Michaels refuted Hart's claim, saying that he would have cleanly lost to Hart had storylines demanded so. Michaels also pointed out that he had lost cleanly to Hart several times in the past, most notably in a Ladder match in the summer of 1992, and in the main event of Survivor Series 1992. Michaels also lost to Hart in their only steel cage match in November 1993.
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, especially after WWF Women's champion Alundra Blayze defected to WCW and threw her title belt in a trashcan on WCW primetime live TV. 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. As seen in the documentary, Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows, Hart acknowledged around this time that his career had been sabotaged by his nationalist character, invented by McMahon. Throughout 1997, "The Hitman" regularly criticized America and deemed it inferior to Canada, drawing the ire of American audiences and yet winning him the respect of WWF's sizable Canadian fan base; this rendered Hart neither a definite hero or villain, and left him unable to properly enter into feuds with other wrestlers. 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 per annum 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's offering of a $3 million contract to Hart in 1996 had reportedly also upset Michaels.
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 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.
On the Wednesday before the Survivor Series (which was to be held on Sunday), McMahon met with Michaels, Paul Levesque (Triple H), 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 thus: 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 Owen and Davey Boy 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 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. Hart, however, 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.
Once the match began, Hart and Michaels brought their performance 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. As planned, 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 performed a rake on Hart's eye, sending Hart back to the mat. Michaels then proceeded to grab Hart's legs to execute the sharpshooter maneuver. 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 went down, 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. 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 damn belt and get the hell 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 finger trace "W-C-W" and "I love you" to the cheering fans before returning backstage.
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. 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. To top off the night, McMahon responded to the audience's shock through mimicking a quote from his interview with JR; he stated, "Vince McMahon didn't screw the people, the people screwed the people!"
At the 2003 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 to bash Hogan with. The web site's home page the next day had it rightfully titled "Montreal Screw Job 2" even though it wasn't a "Montreal Screwjob" in the true sense of a referee calling for the bell when despite a wrestler not actually submitting to the hold they're in.
During a 2006 feud between Michaels and the McMahons, Vince knocked out referee Mike Chioda just as Shane McMahon trapped Michaels in the sharpshooter during a match on the March 18 edition of Saturday Night's Main Event. McMahon screamed at the timekeeper to ring the bell and awarded the match "by submission" to Shane. WCW invoked the screwjob at Starrcade 1997, as Hart prevented Hollywood 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. 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.
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, Quebec, Canada. The Undertaker forced C.M. Punk to submit using a hold called Hell's Gate. After Undertaker was declared the winner, WWE SmackDown General Manager, Theodore Long, ordered the match to continue as the hold was banned by former Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero. This set up the audience for a Dusty Finish. It was then followed with with the Montreal Screwjob's 2nd (or first if No Way Out 2003 which was not a true "Montreal" Screwjob" is not counted) sequel, with C.M. 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. C.M. Punk was awarded the victory and retained his title. Theodore Long arrived on the entrance stage to stand alongside C.M. Punk, imitating the actions of the original Montreal Screwjob instigator Vince McMahon. Even though it was more of a Failjob, this ending was widely labelled "Montreal Screwjob #2", not counting No Way Out 2003 as this was not a true "Montreal Screwjob". It was the second time that the Montreal Screwjob happened, but the first time it was scripted, in Montreal and the third time a screwjob has been labelled "The Montreal Screwjob".
At this same event, when D-Generation X, the tag team of Triple H and Shawn Michaels, was performing their entrance, the crowd chanted "You screwed Bret!" During the match though, DX was the fan favorites, and there were many signs fans made to support DX.