The art of professional wrestling changed entirely, on the night of November 9, 1997, when The Montreal Screwjob took place. The wrestling world was turned upside down, questioning whether or not what they witnessed was considered a work, or a real-life situation that just went too far.
After several documentaries were made on this issue including films like Hitman Hart: Wrestling with Shadows and on Vice TV's Dark Side Of The Ring series last year, Hart recounts what led to this ever-changing moment on "Stone Cold" Steve Austin's Broken Skull Sessions.
"There was a lot of dishonesty going on back then with the company, I think," Hart began. "Vince [McMahon] was not going to honor my contract that he signed with me. He was trying to find ways out of it. He told me 'We can't meet your contract anymore.' In fact, he was going to help me negotiate my deal with WCW. And I remember, Vince, I was pretty close with Vince, and like in a fatherly kind of way. For a period there, I actually had a lawyer, and I talked to my lawyer about it, and he said it was not a good idea to do it that way. I said Vince would negotiate for me with Eric Bischoff and work. He goes, let's not go near that.
"The real story was in San Jose. It was you [Steve Austin], me, Triple H and a bunch of guys in a triple threat match, and Shawn Michaels was the referee. I found out that day that we were wrestling in Montreal for Survivor Series. Shawn came up to shake my hand, which me and Shawn had a little fisticuff a few months before that, and he came into the dressing room to thank me for the match, which was customary. We shook hands and I said 'Hey Shawn, I just found out that we're wrestling in Montreal. I just want you to know I'm always going to be professional in the ring and you don't have to worry about me going off the rails or doing something to hurt you or anything.' We had some friction. I said 'I have no problem putting you over. I have no problem dropping the title to you or doing anything you want.'"
Hart noted that the main issue started there. While Hart offered to lose to Michaels, Michaels stated that he would not do the same.
"The big problem between me and Shawn started right there. He said 'I appreciate that, but I just want you to know that I'm not willing to do the same thing for you.' Then, he turned around and walked out of the dressing room. I don't know anybody who would ever say that to somebody that's offered to put them over. I reached out with, you know, like a peace sign, you know.
"So, it was the very next day, I saw Vince in Tulsa, Oklahoma for a Monday Night RAW show. He tells me that they are likely going to switch the belt and all that stuff. But, I didn't know whether I was going to stay in the company or leave. He also told me I could leave any way I wanted. Plus, it was in my contract that I had creative control over the last 60 days because, in WWE, they tend to screw you just before you leave all the time and try to bring your value down. So, I was kind of leery of that.
"When Vince asked me about dropping the belt to Shawn, I said 'I can't do it. I can't do that for somebody that's not willing to do the same thing for me...He couldn't believe it. He almost fell off his chair or pretended to. He said 'I want you to tell me the same story in front of Shawn.' He went to go get Shawn. As it turned out, he couldn't find Shawn. So, it was about two hours later, we ended up in Vince's office in the building there."
Hart said that when they all finally met up, McMahon said that he was proceeding with Michaels getting the belt. According to Hart, McMahon basically forced his hand into signing with WCW.
"I remember sitting there and it's like we're going to ask Shawn about this together. I was waiting for Vince to lead into it. Vince started off right away with Shawn, we're going to put the belt on you.' I was like 'I didn't agree to that.' I stood up and said 'Look, I'm not agreeing to anything. I'll wait to see what's happening to me and you in relation to my contract.' From that point on, I didn't see Shawn until Montreal. And basically, you know, Vince was going to break my contract and encouraged me to sign with WCW. I remember I even called Vince the night before I signed. I said 'I don't want to go. I'm happy with the contract I've got. I'm not asking for more money or anything else, but I just want to know what you have in mind for me over the next year.'
"He basically laid out to me in a short form that I was going to do jobs for the next year for Shawn. I was going to lose to Shawn in every conceivable kind of match you could think of. I remember the way he laid it out to me, that's pretty much telling me, I should get the heck out. So, I signed with WCW. Vince called me the next day, and gave me a friendly call like we were all buddy-buddy and everything, which to me was sad because I never ever wanted to go anywhere else. I was never a trouble maker or a guy that wasn't business."
You can view Hart's full interview on the WWE Network. If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Steve Austin's Broken Skull Sessions with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.