On a recent episode of Grilling JR, Jim Ross covered the career of Bret Hart in 1996 leading into 1997 and the Montreal Screwjob. Ross mentioned how Hart was one of the best in the history of wrestling and gave his opinion on him as a man.
“One of my favorite talents I ever worked with,” Ross said. “One of the favorite men I have ever known. One of the most respected guys in all of pro wrestling who always stood for his principles and had good character. He let his work speak for itself.”
Throughout his years with WWE, Bret Hart was one of the greatest in-ring performers. During his run, he had some classic matches with stars like Stone Cold Steve Austin, The British Bulldog and his own brother, Owen Hart. One of his most notable and memorable feuds though came against Shawn Michaels and their first major match came at WrestleMania 12. Jim Ross talked about when Vince McMahon decided the goal was to make and create Shawn Michaels as the next big time babyface in the company at the event.
“At that time, the plans for major events like WrestleMania were made farther out than I feel like they are nowadays,” J.R. said. “Shawn kept having great match after great match and he had the one thing Vince loved, sizzle, charisma. Shawn had an abundance of that, Vince has always been a fan of sizzle at times more than steak. Bret always delivered steak, I thought he had plenty of sizzle, but Shawn was the flavor of the week.
“I’m not knocking Shawn. I’ve always said Ric Flair and Shawn Michaels are the two best all around in ring performers I could remember calling matches for. It wasn’t something that was just a spur of the moment decision.”
Michaels had his detractors in the WWE locker room during the 90s. One of the knocks from some talent was that he only wanted to work with his buddies when he was the champion. This included matches with Razor Ramon, Diesel, Triple H and the 1-2-3 Kid [X-Pac].
“If Shawn as the champion was going to work with Triple H, that ain’t going to be a bad match either,” Ross said. “The 1-2-3 kid was obviously to help Sean Waltman get a boost up so I had no problem with that in theory. Shawn finally got in that position where he was going to be the champ and the champ has a lot of clout as to who they want to work with because as a promoter you want to get the best match that you can put in the ring, the constant was going to be Shawn.”
“That’s not unusual. [Stone Cold Steve] Austin, The Rock, all these guys they had guys they liked to work with and Vince would understand who they liked to work with and who could produce a better match for the fans and that’s generally the way he went.”
Bret and Shawn clearly had their issues during the late 90s. Shawn was the hand picked successor to Bret and certain things about that rubbed Hart the wrong way. Ross talked about Bret and Shawn’s relationship changing as WrestleMania 12 became closer and said it was noticeable to see them distance themselves from each other.
“Bret was more cautious, Bret at that time probably didn’t fully trust Shawns motivation,” Ross said. “They weren’t hanging around at T.V. together, you didn’t see them at catering together. There wasn’t hate or animosity, it was just cautiousness on Brets part because Shawn knew his course. Shawn had been told where we were going, so he had great confidence in where the destination was ahead.”
While J.R. has called some of the greatest matches of all time, one that he didn’t call was the Michaels vs. Hart WrestleMania 12 60 minute Iron Man match. On that night, Vince McMahon called the match instead of Ross. JR talked about the matches he wished he called over his career and what he thought about the match between Shawn and Bret.
“It was a hell of a match,” JR said. “I enjoy watching guys wrestle and not try to cram 3 pounds of sh** into a 2 pound bag. Of all the matches that I did not call, the two matches that come to mind are Mick Foley’s title win and I would’ve loved to call this match. I think it fits my skill set better than it fits Vince’s skill set quite frankly.”
After Michaels defeated Hart to become the champion, Michaels told the referee to get Hart out of the ring so that he could experience his WrestleMania moment. Hart was clearly upset by it, and Ross discussed what he thought about it at the time.
“Nobody was happy that Bret was so distressed,” he said. “Certainly Shawn saying what he said to Earl Hebner was uncalled for, it was immature. It didn’t show respect to the guy who just put the title on you. Bret took great pride in being the top guy. To be disrespected at his most sensitive moment was very very ill timed on Shawn’s part.”
If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.