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PODCAST RECAP AND REVIEW: Talk Is Jericho with Dave Meltzer on The Montreal Screwjob 20 years later, what caused the initial tension between Bret Hart and Vince McMahon, who knew it was going to happen and why it changed the business forever

Talk Is Jericho

Release Date: January 25, 2018

Recap by: Joe Aguinaldo

DIRECT LINK TO LISTEN/DOWNLOAD

0:00 – Intro

Coming up on today’s show, Chris will be talking about the Montreal Screwjob 20 years later with Dave Meltzer from the Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

4:14The Montreal Screwjob with Dave Meltzer

Chris welcomes Dave to the show and starts off by saying the Montreal Screwjob changed the course of the business. Dave initially hadn’t thought of it in that way but as he went through the different ramifications, he felt that it was the second biggest story he had covered in pro wrestling (the first being Chris Benoit). It changed the ways people talked about wrestling on TV.

Even though there were dirt sheets, on TV, the presentation was always that wrestling was real and you never admit that matches are predetermined. After the screwjob, Vince and Bret, who normally would not talk about this in public, admitted matches were predetermined. The screwjob inadvertently created the Mr. McMahon character which led to a rise in popularity of the WWE. The heel authority figures that were based on Mr. McMahon changed the template of how wrestling is presented. This also helped Steve Austin rise to prominence. He doesn’t think it led to the fall of WCW but it certainly helped. He says there were unbelievable changes because of the screwjob and the weeks leading up to it.

Chris says that Vince became an evil owner/authority figure and asks if this was the first time this had been done. Dave says Eric Bischoff did it first in WCW and Tom Renesto (one of the Assassins tag team members from back in the territory days) did this back in the late ’80s in the Memphis territory. He says the initial idea came from Roller Derby back in the early 1970s.

Chris talks about how he came in with one foot in the old school and one foot in the new school. Old school thinking was all about kayfabe and everything was real. He says this was one of the last vestiges of when finishes really mattered. Dave says there was a WWE guy who came to his house in 2004/2005 and they watched Wrestling With Shadows. After watching it back then, he thought it was ridiculous.

Today you wouldn’t fight over the finish of a wrestling match or a title but in the past, this was pretty common where people lived and died by the finish of their matches and creative control. Chris talks brings up Flair and Bret Hart ribbing Bill Apter from Pro Wrestling Illustrated asking why one was ranked over the other in the PWI ratings. This showed how important titles and championships were back then.

Dave says Flair and Hart took a lot of pride in the idea that they were the best. Bret even told Dave that he was mad at Dave in the ’90s because Bret felt he had surpassed Flair as the best but Dave never wrote about it. Chris adds that because Dave was the ‘insider of insiders’ his opinion meant more than others. Chris continues saying that Vince has more power now and there would be no debate over the title. Today, maybe Brock might be able to argue a finish but in the end he would still do what Vince would say. Chris agrees and says you do what you’re told and that’s the way it is.

Chris asks what were the circumstances around Bret deciding to leave for WCW (13:14 into the podcast). Dave starts with WrestleMania 12 (The Iron Man match for the WWF Title). Bret’s contract was expiring shortly after the match and he left to go film a TV series called Lonesome Dove. Bret also teased that he may retire from wrestling but deep down he wasn’t going to retire. He was going to take a few months off then come back and get the title back at the next WrestleMania. The ending of the match at WM 12 was to start building for the rematch at WM 13. While he was off, Bret’s contract expired and WCW got wind of that. This was a time when the wrestling wars were at its peak and Bret was one of the most valuable guys in the business and arguably Vince’s most valuable guy.

The WCW offered Bret $2.8 million a year to come to WCW, which at that time was huge money. Bret did not really want to go and Vince heard about the offer which started a bidding war for Bret. Dave mentions some people thought it was bad that Bret was causing a bidding war but Dave and Chris say that as an athlete, you have a limited shelf life and that you should get as much money as you can (similar to an NFL or NHL player would). Vince was scared because he had lost Hall, Nash and Hogan and WCW was beating him in the ratings. He ended up offering a 20 year contract at $1.5 million a year and Bret took it. Dave thinks Bret took the offer from Vince because he didn’t have confidence the WCW would be there for the long run. Chris adds that Bret also felt a sense of loyalty to Vince.

Over the next year, the WWF is faltering and losing money to the point Vince had to take out some loans. It got so bad, they had to re-possess the water coolers at the office and a lot of the upper management staff got cut. While this is happening, Bret is getting $1.5 million, which was a lot and Vince asked if Bret would restructure their deal. Bret said no and Dave thinks this is where tensions started building. Dave continues that Vince told Bret they couldn’t afford his deal and suggested Bret talk to WCW and see if he could get a deal.

Dave says Vince did one thing that helped the WWF. During that period (1997), Vince would charge $29.95 for the big four PPVs (Wrestlemania, Royal Rumble, Survivor Series and SummerSlam) but would charge less for the smaller PPVs such as In Your House. Vince decided to follow the WCWs lead of charging $29.95 for all PPVs throughout the year and because of that the WWF was back in the black and making money. They weren’t making big money but they were doing OK and could have afforded Bret’s deal. However, there was already tension between Bret and Vince and Bret had once again started talking to the WCW.

Dave says looking back in hindsight, the tension caused trust issues between Vince and Bret and had those tensions not been there, Bret probably would have wanted to stay. Chris adds that Vince asking Bret to restructure pissed Bret off, Bret saying no pissed Vince off which is where the unrest started. Additionally, Shawn was on the rise and Shawn and Bret not liking each other didn’t help the situation.

Dave says what also didn’t help was Austin was going to surpass both Shawn and Bret and he was going to be the guy. Someone in WWF told Dave at the time that Bret was making $1.5 million, Shawn and Taker were making $750K and Austin was making less. Bret was not so far ahead of those guys and could potentially question why Bret was making so much more than them. Vince may have been worried this could have upset his salary structure with all the top guys wanting the same type of money. If Bret left, the top salary number at the time would drop down to around 750K.

Chris asks about Bret talking to WCW about a new contract (22:20 into the podcast). Dave says what shocked him was that Vince encouraged Bret to talk to Eric Bischoff and the WCW. Dave says he didn’t know that until Bret told him. In the last week of October, Vince and Bret are still talking and Vince is telling him he wants to keep him. Bret asked about the creative and Vince told him they wanted to get the belt to Austin and make him the top guy. Dave doesn’t think Bret had any animosity towards Austin and also thinks Bret felt Vince wasn’t wooing him (Bret) as hard as he expected. Additionally, WCW offered Bret a new $2.5 million/year for three years, which was less than the initial deal of $2.8 million/year but still huge money for that time. On October 30th or 31st, Bret finally accepted WCWs deal. A lot of people, including Dave, thought losing Bret would be a huge blow to the WWF but as it turned out, everything turned around in the next year.

Chris asks if Bret had creative control for during his time at WWE (25:15 into the podcast). Dave says when Bret negotiated his contract in 1996 he would get creative control at the end of the contract because he did not want to get buried at the end of the contract, which meant he had creative control during this period. Hogan had it for his career, Hart had it for a term. Chris says these days no one would be given creative control ever. Dave says Hogan would probably be the last guy who had creative control. He talks about how Hogan put over Brock expecting to get the win back but never did which led to Hogan walking out of the WWE in the 2000s.

Chris asks when does Vince know that Bret is going to WCW and why not take the title off him earlier (27:49 into the podcast). Dave says he doesn’t know why Vince didn’t take the title from Bret earlier but thinks it was because Bret and Shawn was a big match they had all year (and that PPV did the most buyrates that year even more than Wrestlemania). He further speculates that in Vince’s mind, wrestling was still a month to month business where there was an emphasis on every PPV and every dollar so they didn’t want to throw this match away.

Once Bret had signed with WCW, Vince started bombarding him with ideas to get the belt off him. At this point, Bret has creative control and due to circumstances leading into the match, feels that he should go into Survivor Series as champ. Bret said he would lose the title but not in Canada.

Dave brings up a number of incidents that happened a few months prior that played into this situation (30:09 into the podcast). The first incident was the backstage fight between Shawn and Bret in Hartford. Shawn and Bret were supposed to wrestle at WrestleMania that year but Shawn quit the promotion and Bret felt that Shawn was trying to get out of losing to Bret (I believe this was due to a knee injury which led to the ‘I lost my smile’ promo). Shawn came back after WrestleMania and performs at an amazing level.

Dave doesn’t doubt Shawn had a knee injury but based on his performance that night it was hard to believe he was that hurt. They were supposed to have another match where Bret would beat Shawn in under 15 minutes or he couldn’t wrestle in the US again. Bret was supposed to go over but he got hurt so that match never happened. There was also an incident where Bret was supposed to wrestle The Rock and beat him with a Sharpshooter but Bret refused to beat him because he thought the Rock had potential. Triple H and Shawn were furious and Bret thought Triple H and Shawn saw Rock as competition and wanted to knock him off. There was also a TV match where Triple H was supposed to beat Bret. Bret said no because he would only lose a non-title match to the person who he was facing in a big match.

During this time, Shawn wasn’t losing to anyone which is not endearing him to anyone. There was also a match between Shawn and Davey Boy Smith where Davey Boy was supposed to win. However, the day of the match, they came to Davey and said Shawn’s going over. At the same time, Vince told Bret he wanted to put the belt on Shawn at Survivor Series. Bret went to Shawn and said despite their differences he was willing to put Shawn over. Shawn said if the roles had been reversed, he wouldn’t have said the same thing. Chris says this is a missing detail that people don’t know and who say Bret is a mark for himself. Chris says that if someone said that to him before a title match, there is no way he would put that person over.

Now we get to November and Vince is trying to figure out how to get the belt off him. Bret says he wants to lose to Austin. The Wednesday before Montreal, Vince comes up with a compromise (39:07 into the podcast). Bret beats Shawn in Montreal and puts Shawn over clean at the next show. Vince told Shawn however, Triple H who was also there said Bret was leaving the company and there’s no way he should put Bret over. At this point, Vince can’t go back to Bret as he’s scared Bret may shoot on Shawn during the match.

From Vince’s perspective, he has two guys that are being completely unreasonable but says because Shawn is staying, he has to go over. Dave says Vince was in a meeting at his house and because of all the factors (Bret leaving, the wrestling war) he says they should do the Moolah/Richter finish. In 1985, Wendi Richter was the women’s champion and there was a contract dispute. Vince wanted her to lose the title and fire her immediately so during the match, Moolah double-crossed Richter by holding and pinning her. This was a bad idea because Bret would know that Shawn was involved and there was a risk that Bret may knockout Shawn during the match which would make Shawn look weak. They had to do it in a way that made it look like Shawn wasn’t in on the double cross.

Chris says this was a critical mass of all these things coming together at the same time. Dave says there were a bunch of things that ld to the screwjob and if you pull one of them away, maybe this doesn’t happen. But if this hadn’t happen, what would have happened to wrestling? Would wrestling be as big as it became?

Speaking of The Rock, part of their issues date back to when Rock was 14 or 15 years old. Shawn was working for the Rock’s grandmother and there was an incident in the dressing room. Dave goes on to say the issues really started with the issues outlined earlier in this recap. Rock told Dave that he wouldn’t work with Shawn but after he retired he said he would have worked with Shawn and they have since made amends.

Chris asks about that night in Montreal and the circumstances around the match (48:24 into the podcast). Dave says Gerry Brisco and Shawn knew but isn’t sure who else knew. Dave says Gerry (who was an old time amateur star) was trying to teach Shawn self defence moves against legit wrestling holds. During a production meeting, Vince told everyone it was going to be a DQ finish and do a Fatal Four Way elimination match at the next PPV where Bret would be eliminated early and Shawn would win. Chris clarifies that Vince had already decided he was going to swerve Bret. Dave says they were talking about it but he didn’t tell anyone until it happened.

Dave brings up the film crew that was filming the Wrestling With Shadows documentary (50:53 into the podcast). Dave did not buy the premise of the documentary which was about how wrestling had gone weird because fans were cheering the bad guys and booing the good guys. Dave says this isn’t new and has always been a part of wrestling. It was supposed to end at SummerSlam when Bret won the title from Undertaker. Bret said the Montreal match was huge and the crew needed to be there. Vince had given them access to film anything they wanted. Because of the documentary, Bret was wired when he went to speak to Vince about the Survivor Series match. Dave says the key to the story is that Vince has maintained he went to Bret and asked him to lose who refused which is why Vince had to do the double-cross. Bret says differently and had Bret not been wired, it would have been a ‘he said/she said’ situation.  He says this is probably only the time in history someone was wearing a wire during this type of discussion. In the audio, Vince never once asked him to lose.

The media coverage in Canada about Bret leaving the WWF to go to the WCW was huge and being reported by mainstream news and sports outlets. Dave had also covered it in his newsletter. This was one of the reasons why this match was so big in Montreal. Bret would never admit to leaving because he was still kayfabe and wanted to protect the match. Bret had offered to call Eric Bischoff to hold off on announcing that Bret was going to Nitro but Vince said not to worry about it.

Dave says the story of Bret going to Nitro the day after Survivor Series became ‘fact’ even though there was nothing to it (55:50 into the podcast). But, it became a great defence for Vince and he used that ‘fact’ to justify what he did in Montreal. Years later, when Bret went back to do a DVD with the WWE, Bret got word they were going to bury him (similar to what they did with Warrior) so Bret came back and said he would work with the WWE as long as he had creative control. Prior to work the DVD, Bret’s personal assistant flew to Stamford and met with Shane. Shane said it was too bad that things went the way they did but said they had no choice because Bret was going to go to Nitro the next day. Bret’s assistant couldn’t believe that even Shane believed that Bret was going to go to Nitro and that Vince had told Shane that.

Going back to the locker room conversation between Bret and Vince, Bret says he wants to go to Ottawa and relinquish the title because everyone knew he was leaving. Bret didn’t want to lose the title in the ring but because of the prestige of the title, from Vince’s standpoint, it was imperative that Bret had to lose on the way out. Dave feels that because Gerry and Shawn were working on moves in the hotel the night before, the wheels for the doublecross were already in motion. Dave also says in hindsight, based on the wired conversation, he thinks Vince was trying to lower Bret’s guard by being agreeable to what Bret wanted knowing he already had a plan in place.

Chris asks if Pat Patterson knew who claimed he never knew (59:32 into the podcast). Dave says he’s not sure about Pat however, Pat was the one who came up with the Sharpshooter spot. Dave isn’t know what Bret thinks today but when it happened, Bret thought Pat had to know. Pat has always denied that he knew but it was very important to Vince that the boys knew Pat didn’t know because Pat worked with everyone on their finishes. Chris thinks it’s plausible that Vince told Pat to put that spot in the match but to not tell anyone the spot came from Vince. Chris adds that at the time, everyone was using everyone else’s finishers.

Chris asks about whether Earl Hebner the referee knew what was going on (1:02:04 into the podcast). Dave says he’s heard different versions but Earl’s story is that they told Earl once the finish happens, he should run to the back and leave with his brother Dave Hebner so none of the boys see or talk to him. Dave said when the finish happened, a historian friend who was at the event called him and said they did the Gorgeous George/Don Eagle finish. Dave did not realize it was a double cross until Doug Furnas called him up a few minutes later. Bret’s son happened to be near Doug and was crying. Doug was livid and thought it was a horrible thing to do to Bret.

Chris says when he was watching he thought it was a flat finish until he saw what Bret did afterwards. Dave thought Bret was losing as that made sense and thought the ending was weird. He was told the day before the match that Bret wasn’t going to lose in Montreal but would lose after Montreal. When Bret lost, he thought it was a weird ending not realizing it was a double cross until he got the phone calls from his historian friend and Doug Furnas. (Quick note, the Gorgeous George/Don Eagle match was for the world title. During the match, Don Eagle got double crossed and the ref immediately left the ring after the three count which is the same thing Earl Hebner did during the Montreal match. That’s how his friend knew it was a doublecross).

Chris asks about what happened after the match (1:06:09 into the podcast). Dave says Vince locked himself in his office while Taker is pounding on the door. Vince talks to Taker then decides to go to the dressing room. Before the match, they had discussed a DQ scenario where Triple H and Chyna would run in followed by the Hart Foundation which obviously didn’t happen so tensions were high in the dressing room. Bret was in the shower and told Vince if Vince was in the dressing room when he finished, Bret would hit Vince (which he did). Shawn was also in there saying he had nothing to do with the finish. When Dave heard Bret had knocked out Vince, he thought it was a work until he talked to Bret. Bret also said that everything he had told Dave he could prove (due to the documentary). Chris said if you talked to Bret especially back then, you could tell it was not a work. Chris also thought Bret was hurt and devastated that Vince, who he considered a father figure, had betrayed him that way.

Chris asks about fallout from the match (1:12:00 into the podcast). He doesn’t think Vince missed a step with the wrestlers but missed a step with the fans. Vince came out to explain his position on TV and expected to come out as a babyface but came out as a heel instead. Dave had been told what Vince was going to say (this was the ‘Bret screwed Bret’ interview). Dave was shocked that Vince was going to tell people that pro wrestling was a work. Dave was also shocked that Vince was going to say had the locker room fight been a fair fight, the results would have been different. Dave did not want to hear that the 52 year old announcer/owner could beat up a world champion in a fair fight and felt any other fan did not want to hear that either. Vince’s intention was to justify his position and it backfired to where everyone hated Vince. Vince Russo said they had to go with this as this would make Vince McMahon the greatest heel character. This changed everything.

Chris lists out what happened with everyone after the match (1:15:15 into the podcast). Vince went on to become the biggest heel in company history, Bret goes on to making big money but never really doing anything there because the WCW completely mishandled him. Dave jumps in and remembers watching how badly the WCW fumbled Bret Hart. He is also shocked the WCW didn’t take advantage of Bret’s star power in Canada. Chris remembers a phone call he got from Bret before coming into WCW asking Chris what he thought. Chris told him to watch out for Nash and Hall who were ‘brats’ at the time. Chris recalls a story with Bret going over a match and no-one cared because it was a small town at a live event. Bret had never been in any situation where nobody cared about match quality which had him questioning how it was going to go for him in WCW.

Dave talks about people saying Bret took things too seriously or that he was a mark for himself. (1:18:50 into the podcast). Whether it was Bret, Jericho or Shawn Michaels who was a medium sized wrestler that made it to the top, it was because these guys were 100% committed to their careers. If they were not committed, they would have been mid-carders. Chris 100% agrees with this. Chris says Bret believed he was the best there ever is, was and ever will be is similar to Chris saying he was the best in the world. Chris said Bret coming off the screwjob and knowing people in WCW didn’t care about match quality killed Bret’s loved for the business and you could see his career crumbling from that. Owen’s death and the concussion Bret suffered from Goldberg also contributed.

Chris was happy when Bret finally came back to the WWE because that’s where Bret belonged and he needed that closure (1:20:25 into the podcast). Chris continues to say he feels much better about Bret Hart’s legacy than he did in 1999 because he felt it was a bad ending for someone who gave a lot to the WWE and felt betrayed by them. Dave is happy and thinks if Bret hadn’t come back, the WWE may not have buried him but his legacy would have been tarnished.

Dave speculates about if Bret had stayed in the WWE (1:22:23 into the podcast). Could this have possibly prevented Owen’s death? Would his career have been better? What would his place have been during the Attitude Era? Chris says you can’t speculate like that and Bret deserves to be remembered more than being the victim of the Montreal Screwjob. Bret had a lot of great moments such as the double-turn from WrestleMania 13 or the match with Owen from WrestleMania 10. Dave and Chris think the closure was important to Bret. When Dave thinks back on Bret’s career, Bret was able to get Dave into a mood where matches felt more real and less performance which he didn’t get from Flair or Michaels.

Chris says it’s hard to say who the greatest of all time is and says it’s a trifecta of Bret, Flair and Michaels (1:25:57 into the podcast). You could make a case for all three of them being the greatest in different ways. Over the years, people have forgotten how good Bret was because everyone talks about Flair and Michaels but Bret’s careers was pretty much done after his WWE run. Chris likes to remind people that Bret was in the Mount Rushmore of the greatest technical performers.

As a final questions, Chris asks if this situation could ever happen again (1:26:52 into the podcast). Dave says this situation most likely would never happen again due to the current environment of sports entertainment however, he thinks a double cross could happen but the repercussions would be nowhere near what they were for the Montreal screwjob. Dave doesn’t see an in-wrestling story that would be as big as this. When it first happened, it was big but in hindsight it has had long term ramifications.

Chris thanks Dave for being on the podcast and the interview is done

1:29:51 – Show Wrap

Chris thanks Dave for being on the podcast. He plugs the Rock and Wrestling Rager. Coming up on the Wednesday podcast is James Ellsworth and that’s a wrap.

Rating – 8/10

This was a really interesting podcast. I remember watching this pay-per-view and like Dave, didn’t know the ending was a screwjob until hearing about it afterwards. It’s also fascinating to see how people in wrestling like Vince and Bret protected it in their way which also seems ridiculous when you look at it from the 2017 perspective. The Montreal Screwjob had a major impact on the world on the WWE and who knows if the WWE would have reached the heights it had if it weren’t for the screwjob. My one critique of this podcast was Dave Meltzer himself. Don’t get me wrong…I’m a huge Dave Meltzer fan however, when he was talking, he would jump around a lot and that made it difficult at times to recap this podcast. Otherwise, great podcast.

Timestamps

0:00 – Intro
4:41 – Dave Meltzer and the Montreal Screwjob
13:14 – Circumstances Leading Bret to go to WCW
22:20 – Bret talks to WCW
25:15 – Bret and Creative Control
27:49 – Why Vince Didn’t Take the Belt Off Bret sooner
30:09 – The Build Up
39:07 – Vince Comes Up With A Compromise
48:24 – Circumstances Around The Match
50:53 – Wrestling With Shadows Crew
55:50 – The Story of Bret going to Nitro the Night After Survivor Series
59:32 – Did Pat Patterson Know
1:02:04 – Did Earl Hebner Know
1:06:09 – What Happened After the Match                                                                                                                                          1:112:00 – Fallout From the Match
1:18:50 – Dave on Bret Being a ‘Mark For Himself’
1:20:25 – Bret Getting Closure
1:22:23 – What If Bret Had Stayed
1:25:57 – Where Bret Ranks As Greatest Of All Time
1:26:52 – Could This Happen Again
1:29:51 – Show Wrap

Writer Bio

Joe lives in Toronto, Canada with his wife and two boys. He’s been watching wrestling for about 40 years (give or take) but don’t consider himself any sort of expert. He just likes wrestling.  Check him out on twitter and instagram @ja113.  

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