In 1997, Bret Hart was preparing to leave the WWF for WCW, but he still held the title. So Vince McMahon, opponent Shawn Michaels, and referee Earl Hebner conspired to call a their Survivor Series match early and get the belt off Hart, the titular "screwjob." In a long interview with SI.com, Hart recalls the match, and knocking McMahon unconscious with a single punch in the locker room.
Hart has spoken about the screwjob before—pretty much everyone has, at this point, with WWE even producing its own doc—but this is a great, lengthy, and revealing account, written by Justin Barrasso. If you're not familiar, Michaels put Hart in a submission hold, and the plan was for Hart to force his way out. But the real plan was for the referee to declare that Hart had submitted. Here's the moment—you can hear Vince McMahon, at ringside, demand that the timekeeper "ring the fucking bell."
Earl Hebner has given conflicting accounts of what he knew and when. In his SI interview, Hart believes that Hebner had been intimidated by McMahon, Michaels, and Triple H, and with being fired if he tipped off Hart. And if he had spilled the beans?
"I would have choked Shawn out in the middle of the ring," Hart said. "I would have front-face locked him and ended the match."
"I always felt bad for Earl," said Hart. "I think in his heart he would have told me, but when they cornered him, he rolled over. It's hard to watch the match because of the spot they put Earl in – he's terrified."
When he returned to the locker room, Hart was greeted by Shawn Michaels who swore to God—these days, Michaels is notoriously devout—that he was just as surprised as anyone:
Hart says he didn't believe Michaels, but was calm enough that he just wanted to shower, dress, and leave. But when he was in the shower, he was told that McMahon was waiting for him. So in the visitor's dressing room of the Bell Centre, Bret Hart squared off against Vince McMahon:
"The first time I walked past Vince," he said, "there was a part of me that wanted to take him out right then and there. But the thought of me getting into a scrap with him while naked seemed ridiculous."
Hart found a clean towel and then voiced his complaints to McMahon.
"Vince said straight to me, 'This is the first time I ever had to lie to one of my talent.' I said, 'Are you kidding me?'" said Hart. "Then I rattled off on every finger about ten different lies he'd told me in the last week. Vince told me, 'What I did to you today won't hurt you. You'll still get all the money you're supposed to get from WCW.'
Somewhere in that conversation, I said, 'If you're still here after I get dressed, I'm going to punch you out.'"
Vince was still there.
When we walked towards each other, it was a lot like a wrestling match," explained Hart. "On one side of the room was Vince, and he had Sgt. Slaughter, Shane McMahon, and Jerry Brisco with their arms crossed behind him. On my side of the room was Owen, Davey, Rick Rude, and Neidhart all in the corner to my left.
"I got a good grip in with my left hand," said Hart. "I think everyone in the room – including Vince – was expecting me to throw an overhand punch. That would be my one shot, but then a bunch of guys would grab my arm, they'd grab Vince, and then we'd have a little pull-apart like they do in wrestling. It would end with me yelling at Vince, calling him a bunch of names, and Vince would have left having backed me down. I knew as we grabbed each other that this was not going to be a long scuffle. Everyone in the room was ready to pounce on us. No one in the room wanted to see us fight.
Hart's father, the legendary Stu Hart, taught his son an amazing array of submission maneuvers. But "The Hitman" delivered an uppercut in the defining moment of his wrestling career.
"It was the most beautiful uppercut punch you could ever imagine," said Hart. "I actually thought it would miss and go right up the side of his head, but I popped him right up like a cork was under his jaw and lifted him right off the hand. I broke my right hand just beneath the knuckle, and knocked Vince out cold.
"He thought he would come out of that OK, but he didn't plan on an upper cut. They dragged Vince out of the room and it was pretty much done."
You really want to read the entire SI piece. In addition to reliving that famous Survivor Series, Hart goes on to discuss his WCW experience, and has some harsh words for Eric Bischoff:
"He was as much of a liar as Vince ever was, but Vince was a very smart liar. Bischoff was just a clueless guy with no backbone and no brains."
Bret Hart opens up about the infamous 'Montreal Screwjob' [Sports Illustrated]