The off-camera feud between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart was one of the most fierce and well documented feuds of all time. Their rivalry slowly percolated over time and eventually reached a point where it finally erupted.
Having read both their autobiographies, there are some commonalities in terms of the incidents that set them off, but there are discrepancies in regards to how and why these incidents occurred. They each spend a good portion of their respective books throwing the other person completely under the bus. As Hart so eloquently put on Off The Record: “Shawn was a two-faced, lying chicken s***, and I’m probably being nice”.
One thing they did agree on however, is that the lucrative contract Hart signed a year before he left the company provided even more intense division between the two. Hart’s contract was up and WCW was offering him $3 million a year for three years and Vince McMahon was in a bind. He could not afford to let Hart go as WCW was consistently beating them in the ratings, but could not afford to match WCW’s offer because WWE was hemorrhaging money at the time. As per Hart’s book, McMahon told him that he simply could not match the offer but would: “make him an offer he couldn’t refuse”. The contract McMahon offered Hart was a doozy. It was a 20 year deal, worth $1.5 million for three years, followed by stints as an executive and company spokesman. McMahon told Hart that he would be like the “Babe Ruth of wrestling.” There was also a clause in writing that said, if the contract was breached, Hart would have creative control of the Bret “The Hitman” Hart character (the contract was ultimately breached). Hart decided to leave WCW’s money on the table and stick with the WWE. This incensed Michaels because he was earning exactly half as much. His logic was; Bret Hart is not twice as good as me, so why should he make twice as much? Regardless, this debacle made for an even more hostile relationship between the two and lead to numerous incidents…which we will of course take a look at!
5. The Wheelchair Sweet Chin Music
All the way back in May 1997, there was already bad blood between the two of them as they were slandering each other back and forth in the locker room. Hart was mad because after their epic Iron Man match at WrestleMania XII, where he dropped the title, Michaels proceeded to tell Hart to “get the f*** out of the ring” and that it was his moment. That’s not exactly what you should tell someone after they’ve “put you over” as they say in wrestling. Hart was also upset that Michaels wasn’t a team player once he had the belt, as he only wanted to work with his friends and get them rich. On Michaels side, he was simply tired of Hart acting like he was above him, and was sick of him maneuvering behind his back rather than saying it to his face.
This particular promo was supposed to build heat for another match between them. Hart was in a wheelchair due to a real life knee surgery. What was slated to happen was Hart was supposed to verbally tear apart Michaels and the American audience and at the end, Michaels would Super Kick Hart off his wheel chair, as RAW would go off the air. Hart got really personal in his promo and made reference to the friction between them in regards to his contract, which is a bit of a “faux pas” in wrestling. He then rant and raved so long that they went off the air and the show ended with Hart verbally undressing Michaels, rather than getting kicked off the wheelchair as planned. Michaels was absolutely livid and maintained to this day that Hart knew what he was doing all along and botched the promo on purpose to make him look stupid. Hart pleads ignorance claiming he had no idea when the show would cut.
4. “Sunny Days” Comment
This was another wrestling promo gone personal and deemed as the tipping point by many wrestling observers. Hart was slated to come to the ring along with the Hart Foundation and halfway through, Michaels was supposed to appear on the Titan Tron and rebuttal. Everything was going according to plan until Michaels began slurring his speech and appeared to be drunk (Hart maintains in his book that Michaels was indeed under the influence). Rather than rebuttal, he went on a tirade and got way too personal: “Because Bret, believe me, you couldn’t go 10 minutes in any situation, if you know what I mean.” His next comment is what triggered this feud to reach new levels: “Even though lately you’ve had some “Sunny days” my friend, you still can’t get the job done”. This comment inferred that Hart was having an affair with WWE Diva, Sunny (Tammy Sytch). Hart was married at the time and it caused tension in his household. The irony is that it was actually Michaels that had the affair with Sunny as she’s since admitted to it.
3. The Backstage Brawl
At this point, the tension was palpable backstage and a real-life fist fight between them was imminent. Hart went right up to Michaels as he was tying his boots in the locker room and got in his face. Michaels stood up and they both threw punches that missed, Hart then went for a double leg take down and they were on the floor and had each other in front-face locks. As they were being pulled apart, Hart ripped out a chunk of Michaels hair. This scrap was actually one of the few instances that was described by them pretty much the same in their respective books. McMahon being the ruthless, business savvy genius that he is, promptly offered details of the altercation on WWE’s 1-900 number. For some insight from an actual wrestler, there’s an attached an interview with The Honky Tonk Man’s take on the altercation! For some comedic relief , I strongly suggest going on “Youtube” and looking up Jim Cornette’s thoughts on the fight. Warning: there are curse words!
2. The Meeting
This meeting occurred a month before the infamous November 9th, 1997 Survivor Series at the Molson Centre in Montreal. At this point in time, Vince McMahon had fully breached the contract he had recently signed Hart to, citing that he did not have sufficient funds to pay him. McMahon had told Hart that if WCW’s offer was still on the table, he’d be doing all parties a favor if he took it, which is precisely what he did. At the time, Hart was champion and his last match was scheduled for Survivor Series against Michaels. Obviously with all that had gone on, there was still bad blood between the two. McMahon called a meeting with both of them to discuss the match. Days before the meeting, Hart attempted to bury the hatchet and told Michaels that if McMahon wanted him to “put him over”, he’d have no problem doing so and that he wanted to leave on good terms. Michaels responded by saying he appreciated the sentiment, but would not be willing to do the same for him.
When the three of them finally sat down, McMahon informed them that Michaels would be winning the upcoming match at Survivor Series and that he would be champion for the foreseeable future. Based on the fact that he had been already shafted out of money that was owed to him, and that Michaels thwarted his attempt to make peace, Hart decided to put his foot down and exercise the creative control clause and not drop the belt. This led to a certain incident you may have heard about…
#1 The Survivor Series “Screw Job”
McMahon relentlessly persisted for Hart to “do the right thing” and put Michaels over, but Hart was having none of it. Considering he was legally in his rights to do so, and that Michaels did not accept his peace offering, it’s tough to blame Hart for sticking to his guns, especially with the match on Canadian soil. Regardless, McMahon, Triple H, Jerry Brisco and of course, Shawn Michaels conspired a plan to serve Hart out of the title. Hart was under the impression that the match would end in a brawl, involving interference from Degeneration-X and The Hart Foundation, but in reality the most controversial fix in wrestling history was already in. Halfway through the match, Michaels would get Hart in the Sharpshooter, and referee Earl Hebner would call for the bell, signalling the end of the match.
There were so many things that could have gone wrong with this scheme, it’s unbelievable they actually pulled it off. For one, if anyone else in the company had caught wind of the swerve (notably Pat Patterson), they would have immediately told Hart as he was far more popular with the boys than Michaels, who was generally disliked. Secondly, referee Earl Hebner was only informed of the swerve literally moments before the match, and he could have easily said “no”. Thirdly, Hebner had assured Hart the day of the match that he would never allow any type of swerve to happen as long as he was the ref. In Hart’s book, he maintains that Hebner “swore on his kid’s head” that he wouldn’t be in on any type of schemes.
Once the screw job was executed, the sold out Molson Center crowd stood there stunned (including yours truly) and fully aware that something was not quite right, as Hart launched a loogie right in McMahons face, then proceeded to destroy thousands of dollars worth of equipment at ringside. Absolute mayhem ensued backstage when McMahon went to the locker room to talk to Hart. As per Hart’s autobiography, he maintains that he told McMahon that he was going to go take a shower, and if he was still in the locker room when he was done showering, he would knock him out. Incredibly, that’s exactly what happened next. The two grappled briefly and Hart landed an uppercut that sent the chairman of the WWE to the floor.
Over the past 16 years, there’s been countless debates over who was in the right and who was in the wrong in this whole debacle. On one hand, Hart was legally within his rights as his contract was breached, and Michaels did not accept his olive branch. But on the other hand, this is a show after all, and wrestlers are expected to “do business” when asked. It should be noted that Hart returned to the company in 2010 and makes periodic appearances to this day. He and Michaels have since made up and are cordial with each other.
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