Bret Screwed Bret

Ten years ago today, the course of wrestling changed forever in an arena up in Montreal.

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Vince McMahon, owner of the (then) near-bankrupt WWF let one of his star wrestlers, Bret Hart, out of his contract to sign with rival WCW. Hart was the federation champion, with a month left to wrestle for the fed, and was willing to lose the belt to anyone but Shawn Michaels in anyplace but Canada. But McMahon feared WCW announcing that it signed away its champion.

With an injured future savior (Stone Cold Steve Austin) sidelined due to a broken neck, transitioning the title to Michaels was the only way that McMahon saw he could keep his company creatively afloat until Austin’s coronation. So McMahon had Hart lose a scripted match that was supposed to be a draw, effectively kicking Hart to the curb.

Even more genius, McMahon used the negative karma to make himself into an evil foil for the blue-collar Austin when Austin won the belt.

Hart’s time in WCW was forgettable, and he was out of the business within a few years. Austin, who was already one of the industry’s biggest stars, became even bigger and the near-bankrupt WWF bounced back to dominate American wrestling.

While Hart was the center of an excellent storyline earlier that summer, he was slowly losing relevance. By his own admission, he didn’t agree with the direction in which the company was headed. Because Austin was injured, it wasn’t the right time to transition the title to him. And regardless of how McMahon handled the Survivor Series, the WWF needed a credible champion, not some joker like Ken Shamrock.

The ‘Montreal Screwjob’ might not have had a happy ending for Bret Hart, but for Vince McMahon and the WWF, the result was more than worth it.

For an extremely detailed look at what went down in the weeks leading up to the 1997 Survivor Series, check out Dave Meltzer’s recap.

For an excellent look at the big historical picture, check out Scott Keith’s essays King Lear and Lazarus.

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