In 1998, Paul Jay’s fly-on-the-wall documentary, Wrestling with Shadows, blurred the line between fact and fiction. There isn’t much about WWE we don’t know anymore. We know every performer’s real name, we know they slap their legs or torsos to make their kicks sound more devastating, we know about the little razor blades hidden in wrist tape back when bleeding wasn’t taboo on WWE television. But there’s one incident which some fans are still not aware of, it’s The Montreal Screwjob. This incident involves the biggest names of WWE history, Shawn Michaels, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart and Vince McMahon.
The “Screwjob” has become a colloquial term for the 1997 edition of WWF’s Survivor Series, and the main event between its two biggest stars and best performers, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Bret’s contract with WWF was about to be over and he was going to join WWF’s rival, WCW. Bret didn’t want to lose to Shawn at his hometown, he asked Vince to let him leave with his head above. Vince agreed and then fans witnessed something shocking.
This is what happened, Hart (the real person) entered the ring with the understanding that he would not be losing the match, but midway through the contest, company owner Vince McMahon double-crossed him and had Michaels win the match. It might have looked like a part of a storyline, but the truth or several versions of it—would soon come out. McMahon had actually screwed Hart, who was leaving to join rival WCW. Vince altered the finish without his knowledge.
Though Hart has said he had suspicions about the company trying to screw him that night, he and Michaels met earlier in the day and had an emotional chat, seemingly burying the hatchet and putting to rest all of their prior issues.
Not surprisingly, the two began having a tremendous, high-tempo match that only they were capable of having at that time. The two had planned a sequence in which Michaels would put Hart in his own finishing maneuver, the Sharpshooter leg lock. The spot went off relatively well, though Hart had to covertly correct Michaels on how to apply the hold while laying on the mat. Moments after that, the bell rang. Michaels’ music played, he was declared the winner.
This isn’t a film about wrestling or the way the industry is run. It’s a document of the destruction of one man’s character and how he was powerless to stop his own assassination.