For most people, thinking about professional wrestling conjures up mental images of muscled behemoths beating each other in colorful spandex. Aside from the youngest of fans or those who are hopelessly naïve, the majority of the human race knows that wrestling is fake. And not in ways you may necessarily think. The physical punishment is real. The canvas of a wrestling ring is not a trampoline and being slammed onto it for over 200 days per year ends up taking its toll. Just ask the numerous wrestlers who’ve had knee replacements (Rey Mysterio), hip surgeries (Hulk Hogan), or a broken neck (Edge).
The only thing genuinely fake about wrestling is the outcome of the matches. Whomever wins or loses is predetermined. For most of its century plus of existence in America, wrestling has always been a tightly controlled spectacle. The promoters (owners), bookers (matchmakers), and talent (wrestlers) all work together to present a grand illusion that has captivated generations of fans.
However, there have been a few instances where things haven’t gone exactly as planned. There was a time when the goal of any wrestling promotion was to keep the illusion as much as possible for their audience. Fans were never supposed to know that the heroes and villains were really close friends and travel partners away from the ring. In the 80s and early 90s, fans weren’t supposed to know that the man on commentary in the canary-yellow blazer, Vince McMahon, was the one who signed the checks and literally controlled the fate of every wrestler that came through the doors of his company, World Wrestling Federation (now World Wrestling Entertainment).
That all changed on Sunday, November 9, 1997. On that day the lid was ripped off of pro wrestling when Bret Hart was publicly double-crossed by Vince during his Survivor Series pay-per-view main event with Shawn Michaels in a moment that will forever be known as the Montreal Screwjob.
Basically, Hart was scheduled to win the match. During the midway portion, Michaels put Hart in his signature sharpshooter submission hold. The referee immediately rung the bell and declared Michaels as the new champion to the bewilderment of Hart, fans worldwide, and even the majority of those working in WWE at the time. In the ensuing weeks it was revealed that Vince and Michaels (and others) had secretly concocted a plan to make sure Hart didn’t leave the building as champion that night. At the time Hart was leaving the WWE for World Championship Wrestling and there was a legitimate fear that he would appear on their television with Vince’s championship belt.
What happened that evening 14 years ago was a turning point in many ways. For the first time in modern history the fans saw real backstage tensions explode before their eyes. It was the beginning of an era where fans stopped viewing things in black and white. Suddenly everything was presented in shades of gray. The lasting impact of Montreal was that it automatically turned Vince into the biggest heel (villain) in the business. Fans across the world were united in their universal hatred of the man who humiliated Hart, one of the true legends of the business and a five-time WWE champion. The aftermath is largely credited for giving birth to the company’s Attitude Era, which was spearheaded by Steve Austin’s long running feud with Vince. Largely because of that feud, WWE experienced its highest level of mainstream popularity and catapulted itself ahead of WCW as the dominant wrestling promotion on earth.
On October 25, WWE will release what is perhaps its most anticipated home video ever, Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart.
Ever since Hart returned to WWE television in 2010 and buried the hatchet with Michaels, it was inevitable this kind of production would occur. For years, both have given their accounts of the events surrounding that evening (and leading up to it) in various media and in their respective autobiographies. Before 2010, it was a forgone conclusion that both would likely go to their grave with the same level of animosity they shared for over a decade.
This release is more of a discussion between two of the most decorated performers to ever compete in a WWE ring. It covers their entire careers from when they started in WWE up to everything that lead to the infamous evening that defined both of their legacies. This is the first time in history both men have been side-by-side to discuss the event from their perspective. For the first time there will be no room for misinterpretation.
A key element of what makes this so great is the fact it’s moderated by WWE Hall of Famer and commentator Jim Ross. Ross is an authority on anything related to wrestling history and he was someone in the thick of things during the late 90s period when both men began to have their falling out. It also helps that Ross is personally close with both and will show total objectivity while striving to get to the truth.
Fans should be rejoicing that Ross was selected to instead of someone such as Michael Cole or Matt Striker. The entire project would’ve actually been hurt without the inclusion of Ross. His perspective and understanding are just as vital to this project as having Hart and Michaels in the same room.
It’s a well known fact that many in the company are expecting this to be one of the highest-grossing video releases in company history. While this may not sell the number of units as the Rise and Fall of ECW (arguably the best release in company history) did from 2004-2005, this is the most important story in wrestling history told by the two who lived through it.