One Last (Screw)Job: Vince, HBK, Bret & The Final Act of Kayfabe

Ocean’s Eleven is one of the best action/heist movies of the 2000’s. With George Clooney and Brad Pitt in their prime, it was funny, fast-paced and entertaining all the way through. The scene where George Clooney explains to Brad Pitt why they should rob 3 casinos for $150 million is one of my favorite film exchanges of the past 20 years:

Pitt: “Why do this? And don’t say money. Why do it? Why take the risk?”

Clooney: “Because the house always wins. You always play the same stakes, you never change them, and the house will take you. Except when that one, perfect hand comes along, and you bet big. And then you take the house.”

The film was about a group of old school criminals who all banded together and played their roles to pull off the one last epic heist that would be the best of their lives.

This is what I believe Vince McMahon, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels did with The Montreal Screwjob.

The Story They Are Going With

This story changes slightly depending on who tells it (more evidence that it’s as fake as Sasha Banks’ weave). But the basic gist is this:

Bret “The Hitman” Hart was the WWE champion in 1997. He signed an enormous contract with Vince McMahon. Vince then realized he couldn’t afford him anymore, and told him he should probably take money and go to WCW.

This is where I believe the truth in this entire saga ends.

The story then goes that Bret Hart started having problems with Shawn Michaels in real life. Apparently he told Shawn he would be happy to put him over on his way out, and Shawn said “Thanks, but I want you to know that I wouldn’t do the same for you.”

This insulted Bret so deeply that Bret, who has creative control in his contract, refuses to put over Shawn on the way out.

This escalated all the way right up to the final few days of Bret on the WWE payroll. The final pay-per-view before Brett’s exit would be Survivor Series 1997. Apparently Bret was told that it would be a DQ finish, and he would vacate the belt on Raw the next night and leave the company.

However, the decision was made to actively screw over Bret Hart in the ring and steal the title from him live on pay-per-view.

Some say it was Triple H’s idea, which rings the most fucking false to me. Remember, this isn’t “The Game” Triple H. This isn’t Mr. Stephanie McMahon. This is fucking random Degeneration X lackey HHH. I’m sure he had major pull backstage.

Some say Bruce Pritchard. Some Vince Russo.

Personally, my money is on Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels…and Bret Hart.

If this was a “Screwjob”, everybody sure made out really fucking well in the end.

Think about it.

Vince McMahon, overnight, is the top heel in all of professional wrestling.

Shawn Michaels is the new WWE champion, as a hatable heel with a title he “stole”. Epic heat on him.

Bret Hart is the most sympathetic babyface in all of wrestling, and gets to move on to his new home without ever losing a match to drop the belt.

Literally everybody involved benefits from this. Why wouldn’t Bret go along with this? It benefits him 100 times more than laying down for a clean Sweet Chin Music on his way out.

Why would Vince agree to screw Bret under these conditions? If the idea is to “screw” Bret, shouldn’t Bret look badly here on the way out? There’s no way to pull it off. It’s blatantly obvious what’s happened, and even if it wasn’t – even if the ref rang the bell and the commentators screamed “BRET SUBMITTED TO THE SHARPSHOOTER, THAT’S ALL FOLKS, GOODNIGHT!” – the story would still be leaked.

I understand this isn’t the internet era of getting constant news pumped into your bloodstream with an IV, but they still had means of communication invented then. People would have obviously found out what happened, and Bret would be more popular than ever.

The only reason to have a “result” that helps Bret as well is if it was a mutually agreed upon resolution. If the screwjob was indeed real, they couldn’t have possibly shook hands and come up with a better alternative that would help all parties involved more.

This is the perfect compromise to lead all of these men on better paths than they were originally on.

Why does good Ol’ “Cowboy” Bob think it’s so hard to believe?

I personally feel that 99.9% of what you see in a wrestling ring is meant to have been seen in a wrestling ring. Injuries and mistakes aside, of course.

This is a carnie act. It originated with carnival barkers in the 1930’s and the roots are still there. It’s why people get so sensitive when you point out how Shane McMahon is working them to high heaven. People don’t like feeling fooled. And that’s what carnies do to marks. Fool them.

I also believe that 99.9% of what these guys say, in interviews or in-ring, is with a purpose. When Jon Moxley left WWE and had his final bullshit WWE “exclusive” interview on the network, he said “I have my reasons, but this is the one time the million dollar man didn’t get his prize.” Obvious shot at Vince McMahon on his way to his new home at AEW. He knew exactly what he was doing.

The CM Punk “pipebomb”? Completely planned. Everything that CM Punk said was expected. Even if he made it up on the spot, WWE knew that he would be speaking off the cuff.

Even the past few shows, Dolph Ziggler was taking shots at how “embarrassing” Goldberg was in the ring, referencing his embarrassingly shitty Undertaker match from Saudia Arabia. Turns out it’s to set up Ziggler vs Goldberg at Summerslam.

This is a television show, meticulously crafted to get attention and shape characters. The idea that the main event of one of the most important pay-per-views of the year would be placed in this type of wild, unpredictable jeopardy is completely laughable.

Bret Hart had “creative control” in his contract. So why the fuck would he not sue Vince McMahon to high heaven after this? Why would Vince risk that?

What if Bret Hart realized what was happening mid-match and tried to legitimately beat the living shit out of Shawn in the ring? What if it caused a police presence to jump in the ring? Not only would it expose the business and destroy immersion, but what if your top star got knocked out by a legitimate punch by your rival organization’s newest superstar?

What if Bret realized what was happening, and yelled “GO WATCH WCW” and wiped his ass with the belt and left?

There’s just too much to risk on live television in a cockamamie scheme where the reactions and outcome is impossible to predict. Also, people do not use the word “cockamamie” nearly enough.

Even in 1997, kayfabe was slowly dying. Degeneration X was holding up “WHO BOOKED THIS SHIT?” signs and the “Kliq” incident certainly didn’t help any. The idea that wrestlers are real was long gone.

Except, in “Cowboy’s” opinion, in the minds of 3 of the most old-school guys we have ever had. Vince McMahon, Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart.

“Cowboy” Bob Notes As He Re-Watches The Final 3 Minutes of the 1997 Survivor Series

I’m also curious just how authentic this comes off years later. I promise to be brutally honest on my thoughts.

  • Bret’s punches really are a work of art.
  • We don’t get any good ol’ fashioned rake of the eyes anymore. Sometimes we get an eyepoke, but no rake.
  • So Shawn puts on the Sharpshooter, and Earl yells RING THE BELL really loudly. Along with the international “RING THE BELL” hand signal for all to see.
  • Vince McMahon is INSTANTLY right in front of the hard camera.
  • I always thought that Bret’s spit, and Vince’s reaction, are the only suspicious portions of this.
  • Wrestling, as I mention often in my “Cowboy” round-ups, often use silent movie style cheesy acting. Remember, you’re playing to the dude in the top row. So that’s why you always see the ref throw out the heel’s buddies at ringside by saying “YOU” [exaggerated point] and YOU [exaggerated point] are OUT OF HERE!” [exaggerated point to the back].
  • The way Bret LEANS BACK, and then spits in his face, followed by the Vince “I’M DRAMATICALLY WIPING SPIT OFF MY FACE” pantomime seems very hammy.
  • It looks like they WANT you to know that Bret spit on Vince’s face.
  • Shawn basically takes the title and storms off . Not until the end does he raise the belt quickly as he exits.
  • Jim Ross says “Wow talk about controversy!”

I must say if this is fake, and I believe it is, that it is masterfully performed by all parties.

So if I believe it is fake, then why do it?

One Last (Screw)Job

On WWE Network there is also a documentary on this where Jim Ross sits down with both Bret and Shawn and they talk about this thing for 2 fucking hours. Bret sells it as if Vince snuck into his house and choked out his dog.

At one point Bret talks about Earl Hebner. “He looked me in the eye. He said I would never do it. I would never screw you, Bret.” And he breaks down crying.

Crying. Over being “screwed” out of the WWF title.

At one point he says he “wanted to come back to WWE with a machine gun and kill everyone”. I’m not even kidding.

Watching Bret get emotional, and then Shawn get emotional, I had to smile. I just simply don’t buy it.

It reminds me of a certain scene in The Prestige. After Hugh Jackman sees the Chinese guy do the nearly impossible trick, afterwards Jackman and Christian Bale see the guy walking to his carriage.

He is walking slowly, as a weak, feeble old man, being helped by his handlers.

It turned out the “old man” was actually in incredible shape and was secretly carrying a gigantic medicine ball between his legs to perform his act.

As the decrepit old man climbs into his carriage, Bale says to Jackman:

“There’s the trick.”

Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels must have acted that documentary out, then had a few beers and laughed their asses off at the dumbass fucking marks who believed this to be real.

Try telling somebody on the internet that you believe it’s a work. They dismiss you instantly and will trash you to the stone age. Because, again, marks don’t like to know they are marks. That’s why they are marks.

I stated earlier that I believe Bret, Shawn and Vince did this because it would help all involved. Not only for the reasons stated, but for the future as well.

I can imagine Vince saying “Bret, you go up there, and if we right the ship here at WWF, I’ll bring you back in 3 years and you and Shawn will have the most epic feud in wrestling history.”

If it wasn’t for Goldbotch breaking Bret’s neck, that is exactly what would have happened.

However, it’s not just business. You really don’t get more old school than Vince McMahon, Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels. Three men who LOVE this business, were born and bred in it, and respect it.

They lived the era of swearing wrestling was real and never giving any secrets. Of being your character, heel or face, inside and outside of the ring.

I believe these 3 men got together in 1997 and decided not only to help themselves, but to perform one last act of kayfabe that will not only live on forever, but that they will all take to their graves. I don’t believe any of them will ever spill the truth. Even right down to having Bret Hart punch Vince McMahon in the face, for real, because makeup just wouldn’t be convincing enough.

The fact that we are sitting here in 2019 still debating it means that it was a screwjob well done.

14 thoughts on “One Last (Screw)Job: Vince, HBK, Bret & The Final Act of Kayfabe

  1. Ya know, I actually agree with you! And this isn’t one where I went in agreeing, you actually convinced me that the Screwjob was meant to happen the way it did, Though I hope you understand why it cones off as so real

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    1. It comes off as real even to me, rewatching for this article with a fine-tooth comb trying to purposely pick out inauthentic moments. And even I am not 100% sure if it’s fake or not. It is a masterful job if they performed it.

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      1. As is going to be tradition with me, I’m gonna start trying to ask you an interesting question to gauge your thoughts! If they for some reason wanted or needed to perform another screwjob, who’s who and hows it happen

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      2. It would have to be used as a vehicle to get over somebody in a break-in-case-of-emergency situation, so essentially either Roman or an up-and-comer.

        Today it would be much, much more difficult to pull off due to everyone being so cynical and people analyzing it within seconds like the Zapruder film on Twitter.

        PS, check your Gmail!

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  2. The only “problem” I have with the above theory (and I put “problem” in quotation marks because I’m just being a smartass) is that ultimately, not everyone involved really benefited to a high degree. Sure, HBK got to become the kingshit heel champion until injuries forced him to retire for several years. Vince became the biggest heel in the damn business. Even guys who weren’t directly involved, like Austin, HHH, The Rock, and the company as a whole, benefited from the windfall. But Bret? His fate was to toil in WCW just as they were starting on a creative downswing (one they didn’t even know they were on), and who didn’t know what to do with him. Getting sent to WCW, THAT was the REAL screwjob! LOL

    All kidding aside though, I’m a firm believer that in almost all disputes over any given scenario, the truth tends to lie somewhere in between both conflicting viewpoints. In this case, whether what happened in the ring was planned or not, I believe that Bret probably DID still feel betrayed in his heart of Harts, because he really strikes me as a guy who takes himself and the business was too seriously. I also feel like most of the bitterness that came out of his account of the story, taken from his book written years after the fact, probably stemmed more from losing Owen to a bad stunt in a WWE ring than anything that happened in Montreal. The biggest point I agree with you on is the whole notion of “he could have just sued for breach of contract”. According to his book, he brought that up to Vince, who responded with something like “We could be tied up in courts over this for years.” Considering Bret would later go on to support Martha’s lawsuit over Owen’s death, to the point of all but cutting ties with several of his family members for their support of the WWF in the matter? Yeah, I don’t think that THAT Bret Hart would opt to NOT sue over breach of contract if he were truly wronged.

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    1. But Bret? His fate was to toil in WCW just as they were starting on a creative downswing (one they didn’t even know they were on), and who didn’t know what to do with him. Getting sent to WCW, THAT was the REAL screwjob! LOL

      While correct of course, this is a case of hindsight being 20/20 isn’t it? At the time, WCW was firmly on top and much more financially stable, and Bret is heading in there as the top babyface in the world. It’s impossible to know WCW could screw it up that badly.

      eah, I don’t think that THAT Bret Hart would opt to NOT sue over breach of contract if he were truly wronged.

      As you mentioned, Bret is a deeply bitter man who takes himself way too seriously. That’s why I can totally see him saying “No, eff you Vince, see you in court over the next 10 years.” Could’ve put Vince out of business over it if he really wanted to.

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      1. “While correct of course, this is a case of hindsight being 20/20 isn’t it? At the time, WCW was firmly on top and much more financially stable, and Bret is heading in there as the top babyface in the world. It’s impossible to know WCW could screw it up that badly.”

        This is very true, WCW was killing it in the ratings and overall business, and this was before they really started their downturn off in very WCW faction by botching the finish to the Hogan/Sting match, and relegating Bret’s entire role on Starrcade to being a special guest referee who doesn’t want to see anyone get screwed. But then again, that paragraph was me being comically facetious anyway, hahaha! The only indication that maybe WCW would screw it up that badly was an entirely guesswork statement by Vince (and again, presented in Bret’s book, so take it how you will) that “WCW wouldn’t know what to do with a Bret Hart.” Watching live at the time though, there was definitely no way of knowing how bad they’d drop the ball, especially when you consider how well other WWF stars who jumped over post-nWo got treated. Hell, even VIRGIL was pushed as a prominent member of the faction!

        And yeah, pretty much from the moment I read Bret’s book for the second time and really thought about things, the whole “why didn’t he sue?” has really been the biggest hole I could poke in his story. Even if he didn’t want money out of the lawsuit, even if he didn’t want to take Vince down, at the VERY least you’d think he’d press the issue for cash but then be willing to settle out of court over the rights to his footage. That’s another thing I got out of the book, getting the rights to his footage, his history, was huge to him, he was even willing to try to make peace with Vince at one point to make that happen. It all amounts to an issue where nothing adds up.

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      2. I need to read Bret’s book. Out of wrestling books, my favorite is “Life and Death In The Squared Circle” by David Shoemaker. And Jericho’s “I’m The Best In The World” in excellent.

        Bret not sueing and the Wrestling With Shadows documentary, that I wish I brought up, are the two biggest smoking guns to me.

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  3. Yeah, Wrestling With Shadows seems like the most convenient thing ever. “Oh hey, we just HAPPENED to catch this conversation regarding the planned finish, even though there’s no way in hell any self respecting promoter would actually allow media backstage for the discussion of wrestling matches”, sure, sounds legit to me! LOL

    Bret’s book is a fantastic read, though there are elements about it that make me roll my eyes. The big one is that it seems like it’s just a way for him to brag about all of the women he’s banged on the road, heh. The other being that he really comes off as the president, vice president, secretary AND treasurer of the Bret Hart fan club. Still, there are a lot of great stories in there, and for those with a mind for wrestling history, it offers a fascinating look at the Stampede Wrestling territory. I still haven’t read the Shoemaker book but it’s on my list of books I want to get. R.D. Reynolds and Bryan Alvarez’s Death Of WCW has always been a favorite of mine, whether one believes some of the fine details in the book or not (for what it’s worth, Bischoff says that a lot of what’s presented in the book is bullshit, even though he also admits to never having read it, figure that out), a lot of the 20/20 hindsight analysis of why a company that was so hot could slowly alienate its fanbase is a really damn good cautionary tale for anyone who is interested in the ins and outs of how a wrestling company is run.

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    1. Have you ever watched the 2 hour interview about it on WWE Network? With Jim Ross? The one I referenced in this blog? I’m telling you, Bret and Shawn had to have had beers afterwards and laughed their asses off. “You cried!” “You said you were so hurt you wanted to take out a machine gun!”

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