The SmarK Rant for Dark Side of the Ring – S01E02
“The Montreal Screwjob”
Probably opening up a can of worms with this one. Whatever, I guarantee this one will at least generate some numbers for the blog.
We meet Bret Hart to start, who has a shitload of magazines on his wall. Along with Jim Cornette and Bruce Prichard, as they introduce the Hart Family. They had a wrestling bear living under their porch! Made ‘em tougher that way!
So in 1984, Vince buys Stampede Wrestling and brings in the Hart Foundation and the British Bulldogs. So Bruce jumps ahead to 1992, with Bret getting over on the international scene, which prompts Vince to put the belt on him. Bruce makes sure to point out that Bret didn’t ACTUALLY beat anyone for the title, and in fact it was a scripted honor as a part of a storyline and Vince made all the decisions.
This brings us to WCW, as we meet Eric Bischoff, who talks about not wanting to be as cartoony as the WWF and wanting to use “real names”. Like Glacier and Wrath and Mortis? Syxx? Vincent? Anyway, Jim Cornette explains the Curtain Call and what “kayfabe” is. Thanks, Jim.
This leads to a discussion of the long-term feud between Bret and Shawn Michaels, with Cornette breaking down how Bret was the technical one and Shawn was the flashy one. Bret explains the contract situation with WCW and Vince, as he takes a 20 year deal for less money in order to stay with the WWF. Shawn sees an opportunity to make some money and be on top, while Bret isn’t impressed with Shawn’s degenerate ways. Scott Hall: “No one breaks into the business to work their way to the middle.” Well now you do. But at the time, definitely not. The talking heads run down the various catty remarks between Bret and Shawn, with the “Sunny Days” and Shawn in the “girlie magazine”. This leads to a fistfight in Hartford, as Shawn comes into the dressing room to talk shit at Bret and gets taken down immediately. “We were like two prostitutes fighting downtown or something” notes Bret. Shawn throws a snit and declares it an “unsafe work environment”. Bret: “If anyone was sleeping with Sunny it was probably Shawn.”
And then, as we know, Vince told Bret that he could no longer afford the contract that he had originally given him and he’d be breaching it. So Bruce and Jim explain the so-called “TIME HONORED TRADITION” of dropping the title on the way out (which is actually horseshit given the numerous examples of guys leaving the belt at the door on the way out or just disappearing). So they make the Bret-Shawn match, which Vince somehow thinks will “magically go as he planned” according to Cornette. So they had to get the belt off Bret before he leaves, apparently. They explain “reasonable creative control” and how Bret decided what happened in his last 60 days. So why would he put Shawn over on the way out, he wonders?
Let’s meet Earl Hebner! Bret talks with Earl on the plane and Earl promises on his kids not to “count Bret out” during the match. And of course the Wrestling With Shadows film crew is following them around on top of all of this, creating a bigger pressure cooker. Also, Bret was wearing a wire when he discussed the finish with Vince, as they decided on a DQ finish and that was Bruce Prichard’s understanding. According to him. And then Gerry Brisco goes to Earl and threatens to fire him if he doesn’t ring the bell when Shawn gets Bret in the Sharpshooter.
This leads to a discussion of the actual match, as they brawl for 10 minutes before the bell and then go into the body of the match, until Shawn gets the hold and Vince RINGS THE FUCKING BELL. Earl sprints for the car, Bret hocks an epic loogie on Vince, and people haven’t shut up about it for more than 2 decades.
Now we meet Vince Russo, who was at Vince McMahon’s house when they were planning out the finish with Bret over the phone, while Russo and Cornette argue over EVERYTHING. “Bro, who’s coming out of boxes, bro?” Indeed. Finally, with Cornette at a loss for any way out of the title match, he tells Vince to double cross Bret because it’s his belt. Then he explains the original Montreal screwjob between Stranger Lewis and Henri DeGlane in the 30s and how he told Vince about it. And then Russo says that unless he was in the bathroom when Cornette made the pitch, he’s pretty sure it didn’t happen. Oh, and he’s the one who pitched the screwjob. Cornette’s counterpoint: “Vince Russo is the biggest liar in the history of professional wrestling”. To be fair, he’s really not. There’s way bigger ones. Regardless, these two are like listening to an AEW v. NXT debate on the blog, but slightly more elegant.
And then Cornette was watching the match backstage and saw Vince on the monitor and thought “HOLY FUCK HE’S ACTUALLY GONNA DO THIS!” and this first reaction was to flee the building as fast as possible. Bruce claims not to be involved in the plan, despite everyone thinking he was involved at the time. Shawn SWEARS TO GOD that he wasn’t in on it, although of course he admitted many times later that he was just as involved as anyone and now it might even have been his idea. So Bret tells Vince to get out or get punched out when he finishes showering, and Vince was still there when Bret got out of the shower. Vince claims that it’s the first time he’s ever lied to one of his talent, which is itself a huge lie, and Bret punches his lights out. Shawn is crying his eyes out, and Bret just thanks him for the match and leaves. Vince Russo says it was never about screwing Bret, it was about protecting his business because he didn’t trust Eric Bischoff.
Bruce’s opinion is that everyone thought Vince was going to be able to talk Bret into dropping the title, which is why it went south. Cornette didn’t think that Bret would ever expose the business in retribution because he was raised in the business, but then he went on TV and talked about getting screwed. And then that gave us the famous BRET SCREWED BRET response from Vince, as he transforms himself into the evil Mr. McMahon.
And then WCW dropped the ball.
Bret immediately regrets going there, debuting as the referee at Starrcade. Bischoff blames Bret for being so detached and over it all, thus ruining their plans. And then we cut to Scott Hall, who calls Montreal a work and thinks everyone was collaborating based on how Bret acted in the ring afterwards. Cornette: “He’s not one of them too, is he?” Cornette also clarifies that anyone who thinks it’s a work is a “dumb stupid fucker”. Also Scott Hall talked with his Kliq buddies about everything all the time, so the chances of him not being in the loop are zero. Bruce thinks that if both guys just could have gotten over themselves, then we wouldn’t be here.
And then Cornette and Russo get their last shots at each other (Russo: “It’s only wrestling, bro”) with Cornette vowing to piss on Russo’s grave should he live longer. “Hate is a hell of a motivator” he notes to finish off the show. Well, if this episode has taught us anything, it’s certainly that.
Well, even though we already know the story and have heard it many times at this point, this was still a fascinating and dramatic episode that managed to make it seem important all over again. And I’ll leave it at that because GOD KNOWS I have said more about the Montreal Screwjob already than I ever wanted to for one lifetime.
Next time: The murder of Bruiser Brody!