Bret Hart returns to Montreal, 15 years later
Live on Raw, WWE Hall of Famer Bret “Hit Man” Hart returns to Montreal, Canada, the setting of Survivor Series 1997. This marks the first time in 15 years that The Excellence of Execution will stand inside a WWE ring in the very same locale that put a startling exclamation point not only on his fifth WWE Championship reign, but on his legendary career as a WWE Superstar.
Bret’s opponent that fateful night on Nov. 9, 1997, was Shawn Michaels, a competitor with whom The Excellence of Execution had a variety of issues with both inside and outside the ring. The pair had memorably clashed in the first-ever 60-Minute Iron Man Match at WrestleMania XII, which resulted in a WWE Title victory for “The Heartbreak Kid” after the bout went into overtime. That match was, and still is, regarded as one of the most thrilling in WWE history, and the WWE Universe eagerly anticipated yet another classic WWE Championship clash between these heated rivals at Survivor Series, waged in front of The “Hit Man’s” countrymen at Montreal’s Molson Centre (since renamed the Bell Centre). As talked about as this encounter was, there was even more chatter about the future of Hart’s in-ring career and his impending departure from WWE for the seemingly greener pastures of Ted Turner’s WCW. ( VIDEO PLAYLIST: BRET HART VS. SHAWN MICHAELS)
Wary of the reigning WWE Champion potentially exiting the organization with its most coveted prize around his waist, Mr. McMahon concocted a plan to ensure that Hart would not leave Montreal with the title. In a plot worthy of Machiavelli, The Chairman ordered the referee to call for the bell while HBK had Hart locked in the defending titleholder’s signature Sharpshooter – despite the fact that The “Hit Man” never tapped out. ( WATCH | PHOTOS)
As the new WWE Champion fled up the entrance ramp, a furious Hart spit in Mr. McMahon’s face, destroyed television equipment at ringside and, later on in the locker room area, punched The Chairman in the face. Years after the fact, Hart admits to having difficulty describing what was going through his mind in the tumultuous moments following the incident.
“When that happened, I felt they might as well have just cut my heart out in the middle of the ring and just thrown it out into the crowd,” The “Hit Man” explained in the DVD, “Greatest Rivalries: Shawn Michaels vs. Bret Hart.” “There was so much surrealism to it.”
But the surreality didn’t end that night in Montreal ...
In a rare interview on Raw after Survivor Series 1997, Mr. McMahon was candid about what transpired that evening and made no apologies about the Montreal incident.
“Some would say I screwed Bret Hart,” Mr. McMahon told interviewer and WWE Hall of Fame commentator Jim Ross. “Bret Hart would definitely tell you I screwed him. I look at it from a different standpoint. I look at it from a standpoint of the referee did not screw Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels certainly did not screw Bret Hart, nor did Vince McMahon screw Bret Hart. I truly believe that Bret Hart screwed Bret Hart. He can look in the mirror and know that.”
For his part, The “Hit Man” was vocal about his bad blood with both Michaels and Mr. McMahon for 12 years, but on the Jan. 4, 2010, edition of Monday Night Raw, Hart returned to WWE with a singular mission to, in his words, “bury the hatchet.” First came reconciliation with HBK who, like Hart, was finally ready to move on.
A respectful handshake turned into a brotherly embrace as 12 years of animosity and mixed emotions melted away right in the middle of the ring. The “Hit Man’s” encounter with Mr. McMahon was far less amicable, culminating when The Chairman deviously kicked Hart in the groin. Tensions continued to escalate until WrestleMania XXVI, when The Excellence of Execution –surrounded by members of the Hart family – made Mr. McMahon tap out in the center of the ring. Hart had finally found closure more than a decade after Survivor Series 1997. ( WATCH | PHOTOS)
“When I think of Bret Hart, I don’t think of Montreal. I think of Anaheim, Calif.,” HBK said in reference to their battle at WrestleMania XII. “ I think of a 60-minute Iron Man Match that everybody said nobody would wanna see – and they certainly wouldn’t want to see on pay-per-view. They said nobody could do it. But Bret ‘Hit Man’ Hart and ‘The Heartbreak Kid’ Shawn Michaels went out there and they did do it. And they redefined everything that this industry ever stood for.”
Perhaps the ultimate conclusion to Hart’s Survivor Series journey will play out on Raw, when “the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be” arrives at the very same arena as the infamous incident that remains a contentious subject of debate to this day. Witness Hart’s historic Montreal return by tuning in to Monday Night Raw at 8/7 CT on USA Network.