1997. Montreal, Quebec.
Bret Hart is set to defend the WWF World Championship against Shawn Michaels in the Main Event of Survivor Series. In the weeks leading up to the Screwjob, WWF chairman Vince McMahon has decided to break Bret’s contract and release him. As a result, Bret inked a deal with the WWF’s number one rival: World Championship Wrestling. Worried that Bret wouldn’t drop the Championship before he left the WWF, and would appear in WCW with the WWF’s top title, Vince cooked up a plan to take the title off of Bret before he left. A sneaky, supervillain-worthy plan.
Several minutes into the World Championship match at Survivor Series, Shawn Michaels locks Bret Hart in Bret’s signature submission hold, the Sharpshooter. As Bret is escaping the hold, Vince orders the referee to ring bell, ending the match prematurely. Shawn is awarded the Championship. Vince is exposed a conniving no-good-nick. Bret is sent packing stripped of his Championship.
The accepted story is that Vince, Shawn, Triple H, the referee, and possibly a few others were the only people in on the Screwjob. That Bret refused to drop the title and left the WWF no choice. That they had to execute the Screwjob to preserve the integrity of the WWF World Championship.
I’m not buying it. I think everything went down exactly as planned.
Thinking through what could have happened logically, the Screwjob was the best-case-scenario for everyone involved.
Vince McMahon: The Screwjob launched Vince as a villainous character that has endured even to this day, and (in an era of non-stop jumps between companies) ensured that the WWF’s number-one antagonist would never leave for WCW. If the screwjob had not gone down the way it did, Vince would still be the same blowhard “Anything can happen in the World Wrestling Federation!” ringside announcer that he was leading up Montreal – and completely irrelevant in the filth, violence and vulgarity that characterized the WWF in the late 90’s.
Shawn Michaels: Had Shawn won the title on the up-and-up, his position within the WWF would have remained static. He was already a World Champion, and already proved that he could beat Bret Hart in a straight-up match. He came out of the Screwjob as WWF’s number-one dirtbag. A filthy stinking cheat that would do anything to win. A lewd, foul-mouthed scum-bucket that had no respect for anyone or anything. A true degenerate in every sense of the word.
Bret Hart: Protrayed as the primary victim of the Screwjob, Bret came out of Montreal better than anyone. From a storyline perspective, he joined WCW as such a dangerous, dominant competitor that the WWF had no choice but to ‘screw’ him out of the World Championship. Bret’s stock could not have been higher after Montreal, positioned as a sympathetic victim of the evil WWF Chairman and an immediate main-eventer in WCW.
Now, much can be said of WCW’s inability to capitalize on the shiny pink and black gift the WWF gave them, but the truth is that the Screwjob was the best-case-scenario for everyone involved. None more so than the fans, who got two decades worth of stories out the WWF’s infamous betrayal.