As is the case every month, I allowed YOU, via my awesome World Wrestling Insanity message board sub-forum, to decide the subject for this month's TWS. And a majority of you voted for... Kermit The Frog.
I mean, you people DO realize that Kermit never actually, you know, wrestled, right? You realize he never once strapped on a pair of wrestling boots (or flippers)? You know that his romance with Miss Piggy was never destroyed by a torrid affair with Edge? That the only five-star frog splash he ever executed was on the set of The Muppet Show?
Kermit The Frog? REALLY?
But, hey -- I'm willing to do anything for you stupid marks. Hell, I even posted this cryptic photo on the message boards last week which, in my defense, was so vague it could have meant anything:
Then I decided to write about a completely different subject.
And speaking of swerves, why don't we talk about the biggest swerve in wrestling history? Of course, I could only be talking about...
The True Wrestling Story Of The
In one corner of this story (assuming stories have corners, I guess), we have Bret "Hitman" Hart. Ten years ago to the week, Bret was riding high as champion of the World Wrestling Federation (motto: " days since last defection").
Hart, the epitome of a company man, was doing things only a year earlier like talking to competitor World Championship Wrestling (motto: "What could possibly go wrong?") about jumping ship . Still, Bret signed a 20-year contract with the WWF in 1996, the likes of which have only been granted since to Val Venis, Mark Henry and Hardcore Holly. So he wasn't going anywhere...
... OR WAS HE???
At least, not yet.
Hart was also riding high in the WWF with a clique of family friends and Canadian sympathizers, a/k/a The Hart Foundation (Version 1.0, e.g. the one that doesn’t include Ted DiBiase’s Punk-Ass Kid among its ranks). While the faction was booed elsewhere (the
Iraq), they were fan favorites throughout
Canada, to the point where they briefly ran the country. Hey, given the choice between the leadership of the Harts or, say, Alex Trebek, I think we chose wisely.
In the other corner, we have Shawn Michaels, better known back then as The Showstopper, The Icon, The Main Event, and occasionally, The Douchebag In The Mirrored Chaps.
Michaels was one of the company’s most valuable performers. He also traveled with a clique, one that included his buddies Hunter Hearst "Wocka Wocka" Helmsley and "Hi-yyyah" Chyna. The group was known as D-Generation X (Version 1.0, e.g. the one that was actually occasionally funny).
In addition, Michaels signified -- more than anyone else on the company's roster -- the WWF's attitude, later to be known as "WWF Attitude".
While both Bret and Michaels (not to be confused with Bret Michaels) were characterized as "heels" in 1997, their rivalry was a natural, given their real-life hatred for each other.
Who would win? That question would ultimately be answered by one man: Bret Michaels.
Also this guy:
(No, not Jesse Ventura, smartass. The other guy.)
Vince McMahon had a major problem on his hands: he couldn't figure out how in the blue hell he’d sired a bearded leprechaun. Another concern: Bret Hart, while a solid champion, wasn't paying for himself.
Simple mathematics state that the company's highest-paid performer has to also be its biggest draw. Hart wasn't. So McMahon made the only logical business decision he could, based not on emotion, but purely on number-crunching: he'd humiliate him.
But first, McMahon allowed Hart out of his WWF contract so that he could enter talks with WCW. That right there should have been humiliation enough.
Hart signed a lucrative deal with WCW and prepared to leave the company he'd worked at for a decade. There was only one small glitch: he had to first lose the WWF title, cleanly in the middle of the ring. Because if the belt didn't change hands by pinfall or submission, in the center of the ring, the integrity of McMahon's company would forever be damaged.
Just ask Batista.
Or Bobby Lashley.
Or John Cena.
As Hart’s WWF contract drew to a close, storylines focused on Bret whining and complaining loudly about anything and everything. Kanyon later used the same gimmick, only in real life.
The difference between Hart and Kanyon being (besides talent, natch) was that the Hitman actually had some supporters. I don’t think you can underestimate (well, you could underestimate, I guess... but that would just be mean) his popularity in
Canada at the time.
Hart’s popularity, that is; not Kanyon’s.
Professional wrestling is a huge part of our culture, and for good reason. Ten of the most influential people ever in wrestling (Bret Hart, Owen Hart, Trish Stratus, Jack Tunney, Chris Jericho, Dino Bravo, Iron Mike Sharpe, Murdery Chris McWhathisface, ZAH and myself) have roots here.
Canadian children are actually taught how to take flat-back bumps in the public school system, long before they learn about mathematics or English. Some economists argue that the reason the Canadian dollar is now more valuable than its
U.S. counterpart is because we landed Saturday Night’s Main Event earlier this year. Okay, so the economists aren’t very good ones...
But I digress. Hart had become so popular, a film crew had been following him and his family around for some time, watching them prepare breakfast, drive around
North America in rental cars, arrive at arenas, and slowly change clothes in the locker room. The documentary had the working title of "Lamest Film Ever".
The documentary crew, taking a much-needed break to get some fresh air after getting a whiff of Big Van Vader’s trunks, also overheard Hart and McMahon going over the finish of Bret’s final pay-per-view match for the WWF.
Oops, wait -- did I mention that Hart was wrestling Michaels at the Survivor Series on November 9, 1997 in
Montreal? Sorry ‘bout that. JG, can you add that into an earlier chapter somewhere and pretend like it was always there? (Guttman’s Note: No can do. Don’t drag me down with you.)
Hart and Michaels eventually agreed to finish the match in a “schmozz”, a term that successful actor/Canadian Bulldog supporter Stu Stone thinks is absolutely hilarious. So much so, he used it repeatedly in an episode of his MTV program “Blowin’ Up”. If you ever see in Stu in real life, be sure to work the term “schmozz” into casual conversation. I’m sure he’ll appreciate it.
Anyhoo... The plan was for Hart to retain the WWF World Title and surrender it on television the next night. To get there, though, there would run-ins by The Hart Foundation and D-Generation X, as well as feuding factions Los Boriquas, The Nation Of Domination, The Disciples of Apocalypse and The Truth Commission. Ten years ago, prior to the debut of TNA iMPACT, that was considered excessive outside interference.
In the end, Hart and Michaels would wrestle to a double-disqualification, which would be reversed a record seven times over the course of 24 hours. But then referee Earl Hebner would give Hart the win because of a storyline revelation that Michaels was secretly a transvestite, and wrestling’s rigid rulebook doesn’t allow for women to win the top WWF title (though it certainly should - am I right, ladies?).
In completely unrelated news, Vince Russo was writing for the company at the time.
Even though there are fewer businesses in the world with more integrity than professional wrestling, Hart figured he should maybe just check with Hebner to see that everything for his match was kosher.
Hebner swore on his children’s lives that he wouldn’t screw Bret. And history shows that he never did. It was his twin brother, Dave Hebner! HOW MUCH DID THEY PAY FOR THE PLASTIC SURGERY, BROTHER???
Finally, it was time for the main event. Michaels came to ringside and humped the Canadian flag . That’s actually not such a big deal -- most Canadians do the exact same thing. Our Prime Minister (and don’t ask about him -- he’s another True Wrestling Story on his own) frequently does that before discussing the country’s most important issues, such as anti-bacon rations and legalizing pot.
Backstage, Hart was led through the arena hallways by brother-in-law Davey Boy Smith; longtime tag team partner and rumored (by me) life partner Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart; brother Owen Hart; and Bret’s son Blade.
Maybe it’s just me, but any time a young son is involved with their father in wrestling, it’s nothing but bad news. Look no further than The Sandman, Rey Mysterio or David Flair (and note I was classy enough to avoid the obvious Benoit joke) for examples.
The match itself was tense, with Michaels and Hart staying mostly outside of the ring. And yet... neither guy was counted out? Nice officiating, Hebner! They have a 10-count rule in place for a REASON!!!
Eventually, Vince McMahon himself showed up at ringside. Back then, the fans were curious to see what that meant. Ten years later, we can’t fucking stand it.
So how did the match end? Well, how about I just sing it instead?
Oh, I’m serious, all right. This is a Christmas Carol I wrote
in 2004, sung to the tune of “Jingle Bells”. Other carols I wrote that year included “I Saw Mommy Kissing Charlie Haas” and “Randy The Smug-Faced Orton”. Here goes:
Ring The Bell
Dashing through Montreal,
Bret called it a sin
All he had to do
Was give Michaels the win (ha ha ha)
But then Bret re-fused
Vince had to do some-thing
So when HBK trapped Bret
It was time for the bell to ring
Oh! Ring the bell,
Ring the bell,
Ring the fucking bell
Vince regrets, that 'Bret Screwed Bret'
Still, he was damned to hell
Oh! Ring the bell,
Ring the bell,
Ring the fucking bell
He'll get screwed, by Turner's brood
When Ted decides to sell.
Hart went ballistic upon realizing they the whole “double-DQ/multiple-reversal/Shawn-is-a-transvestite” thing hadn’t played out to perfection. He destroyed several television monitors (and trust me, you can’t get your deposits back on those things) and with his fingers, pantomimed the letters “MCM”.
Or at least that’s how it looked to me -- I was hanging upside-down at the time.
Backstage, Hart was thrilled that he’d been able to leave the company in such a non-controversial fashion, and thanked McMahon for treating him with such respect. McMahon in turn wished him the best in future endeavors, and that was the last we ever heard of it.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Actually, McMahon went into the locker room to explain his actions to the former champion. He’d even purchased a greeting card from Hallmark’s “Sorry about lying to you about the outcome of a pre-determined wrestling match” series (the card had a picture of Wendi Richter on the cover). Hart accepted McMahon’s apology and the two spent several minutes making out.
Or Hart punched him in the face. I forget.
Shocked that an actual fight had broken out backstage without Russo’s approval, the locker room turned into a scene of chaos. Michaels bolted for the nearest “Heartbreak Hotel” (actually a Days Inn), superkicking innocent passersby on his way out of the building. Owen clobbered onlookers with his twin Slammy Awards. Shane O’ Mac danced circles around his father for no apparent reason. Hunter-Hearst Helmsley destroyed upwards of 15 wrestlers, agents and security guards. Bret Hart’s then-wife Julie Hart -- and proof of this can be seen in the documentary -- looked kind of ugly.
The next night, McMahon appeared on syndicated television program “Nightline with Jim Ross” to publicly explain his actions from the previous night. As it turns out, Vince McMahon didn’t screw Bret Hart after all. Bret screwed Bret.
As WWF Champion, Michaels went on to headline several more pay-per-views, well at least until he was injured in a match against The Undertaker two months later. What can we say? Karma is a bitch.
And as for Hart, over the next two years, he turned from face to heel numerous times; was involved in a number of confusing storylines mainly because of locker room politics; played second-fiddle to wrestlers such as Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Hulk Hogan; and was kicked in the head by Bill Goldberg, effectively ending his active career. In other words, a pretty typical career in WCW.
Ten years later (and ten chapters later;how’s about THAT for continuity?), McMahon hasn’t quite let the events of 1997 go. Look no further than their animated television that airs every year around Hallowe’en (“It’s The Great Screwjob, Charlie Brown”).
There have been rumors circulating for over a year now that next month’s 10th anniversary of the Montreal screwjob would surface again at the Survivor Series, marking the first time that finish has been used in, what, six months now?
Ooh, that reminds me - why didn’t I hold this off until next month? Damn! JG, can you re-post this in November? (Guttman’s Note: Please just leave me out of this.)
Canadians haven’t exactly let the Screwjob go, either. For example, our national anthem was modified in 2002 to say the following (and here’s me singing for a second time in this TWS):
Our home and native land
True patriot love, though not that guy Del Wilkes
With glowing hearts, we see thee rise
True north strong and free
From far and wide, O Canada
We see how you screwed Bret
Bret keep our land
Glorious and free
O Canada we see how you screwed Bret
O Canada we see how you screwed Bret
And yes, after 10 years, it should be pointed out that Bret Hart has seemingly let it go. Last year, he appeared on a World Wrestling Entertainment DVD (“The Self-Destruction of the Ultimate Warrior”) and has since been inducted in the company’s Hall of Fame.
Many people, James Guttman included (Guttman’s note: FUCK OFF!), thought that Bret Hart and Vince McMahon would never be able to mend fences. While their relationship is hardly perfect, it’s still one that makes others in the business green with envy. And as you know, it’s not easy being green.
For True Wrestling Stories, I’m Canadian Bulldog.