The legendary Sgt Slaughter has given his account of the infamous ‘Montreal Screwjob’ from the unique vantage point of witnessing the whole incident from ringside. The WWE Hall of Famer had an incredible seat that night right beside WWE’s Chairman Vince McMahon.
By the time of the 1997 Survivor Series, WWE, then known as the WWF, knew that the WWF Champion at the time, Bret Hart, would be leaving the company for WCW shortly after the event. Before Hart left, Vince McMahon wanted him to lose his championship to Shawn Michaels at Survivor Series, which was to be held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Hart refused the request on the grounds that he didn’t want to lose the title to Michaels, with whom he had real-life animosity, and not in his home country of Canada, where he was a fan favourite.
McMahon led Hart to believe that he would get his wish and lose or forfeit the title at some point after Survivor Series, with the idea being that the title match at the event would end in a disqualification so Hart would retain the belt. However, when the match happened, Vince McMahon, called for the bell when Michaels reversed Hart’s Sharpshooter into a submission of his own, and Michaels was awarded the WWF Championship to the shock of both Hart and much of the WWF roster of the time.
Speaking exclusively to Inside The Ropes’ own Kenny McIntosh for Issue 7 of Inside The Ropes magazine, Sgt. Slaughter has revealed how the events played out from his own experience of the night in question.
“We were all planning for Bret Hart to leave. It was time for him to drop the title and Vince wanted Shawn Michaels to have it. Bret said, ‘No way. I’m not giving it to him. I’ll drop it to Shamrock on RAW.’ Vince said, ‘No, I want you to drop it to Shawn, it’s my company.’ I was thinking, ‘Here’s a guy, Vince just made him $3 million and he won’t drop the title to Shawn—is there that much hatred for the guy that he won’t do that?’ When we got to the production meeting in Montreal, as far as I knew Shawn and Bret were going to do a match where there was no winner or somebody won by disqualification. I can’t remember what the thing was, but Bret was keeping the title. We were five minutes from the match and Vince was standing there with his cup of coffee and he said to me, ‘Sarge, you’re the commissioner—you come with me to ringside.’ I strolled down there with my chest sticking out, standing right next to Vince, and we sat down and started watching the match.”
The WWE Hall of Famer went on to recount the moment the ‘screwjob’ itself took place, saying he had no idea what was happening.
“All of a sudden Shawn went to put Bret in the Sharpshooter, and referee Earl Hebner yelled, ‘Ring the bell, ring the bell, ring the bell.’ I thought, ‘What the hell is going on?’ The bell started ringing, and Vince walked over, grabbed the title and shoved it up to Shawn. Shawn was looking down at us and he yelled, ‘Not like this, not like this.’ Vince said, ‘Shut the f–k up. Take that title and get the f–k out of here.’ Bret was standing up now, he knew he got screwed, and he just had this look on his face. Bret looked at Vince and said, ‘You no-good motherf—-r.’ Vince put his arms out, like, ‘Hey, you gave me no choice,’ type of thing and Bret took that big hocker and spat right in Vince’s face and hit him right in his eye. I remember Vince wiping it off and telling me, ‘Come on, Sarge, let’s go. Let’s go.’ I said, ‘I’m going to wait, I’m going to hang out here and see what happens.’ “
Slaughter opted not to stay long, however, as Hart became increasingly irate in the arena.
“Vince took off and I was watching Bret, and he was just going crazy—taking the monitors and busting them all up. That’s when I thought, ‘Well, it’s time for me to get the hell out of here before I get killed.’ As soon as I got backstage I started to wonder where Vince was, and whether he had managed to get out of the building. I walked out of the Gorilla position and I saw all the signs that said ‘Vince’s office,’ and I started ripping them down. I went everywhere I could in that backstage area and I tore those signs off the wall and threw them in the garbage.”
Backstage, ‘The Hitman’ confronted Slaughter in the Gorilla position, hitting him before he could explain that he didn’t know what was going to happen. Hart accepted that Slaughter had no idea, then went off in search of McMahon.
“He looked at me and he said, ‘I believe you, Sarge. I believe you. Where is that motherf—-r?’ I said, ‘I don’t know where he is. Probably in his office.’ So Bret and his entourage—The Hart Foundation and everybody who was involved with that—went off to find the office. Finally, someone pointed out Vince’s office and he started pounding on the door, then he tried to beat down the door with chairs. ‘Come out here, you son-of-a-bitch. You no-good motherf—-r. Come on out of there.’ But the door was not opening, so Bret gave up and headed back to the locker room. I was watching it all and thought, ‘Maybe I better follow Bret, see what’s going on.’”
Slaughter then walked in on a potentially explosive situation as Hart was facing off with Michaels, who was unexpectedly in the dressing room as well.
“Bret got up and he walked over to Shawn. I thought, ‘What in the hell is Shawn doing in here? Why would he even be in here?’ I didn’t realise he was dressing in there too. Shawn was taking his stuff off and Bret walked over to him and he asked, ‘Did you know what was going on? Did you know about this?’ Shawn was crying and he said, ‘I didn’t know. I’m sorry, I don’t know . . .’ He was crying like a little baby. And Bret said, ‘If I find out you knew about this, I’m going to kill you,’ then he walked back to his seat and started taking more stuff off. I turned to Bret and said, ‘Bret, are you okay? Are you all right with all this?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m all right, I’ll get over it.’ Then I said, ‘Okay. Is it okay for me to leave you and Shawn alone – you won’t do anything to him? Bret said, ‘No, he’s not worth it. But if I find out he knew about it, I’m going to kill him.’ I said, ‘Okay, I’m going to leave and see what’s going on with Vince and where he’s at.’”
Outside of the dressing room, Slaughter saw McMahon heading towards it with Bruce Prichard, Pat Patterson, Gerald Brisco, and his son Shane McMahon. This led to him deciding to go back in before they arrived at the door. He described what unfolded next.
“As Vince made his way about halfway into the dressing room, the Hart family was sitting there, waiting, and they were calling him every possible vulgar name that there is, and spitting on the whole entourage. They were running right up to Vince and spitting in his face. He was trying to guard it—Vince is germophobic, he can’t even stand people sneezing around him—and he was trying to stop all of this from hitting him in the face. They were kicking him and hitting him. Finally, they made it in, and Vince was just drenched with saliva. His sports coat was half on and half off. He straightened himself up and he stood right there, in the middle of the dressing room, and he looked over at Shawn and he looked over at Bret and he said, ‘Bret, I’m sorry, I did what I had to do. But you wouldn’t play ball, you wouldn’t do what I asked you to do.’ Bret snapped back, ‘I told you I would drop the title to Shamrock tomorrow night on RAW.’ And Vince said, ‘Well, I couldn’t take the chance.’”
The veteran explained that two years prior, former WWF Women’s Champion Alundra Blayze had joined WCW when she still held the title and proceeded to drop it in a trash can live on WCW TV, something McMahon didn’t want to happen to the WWF Championship.
“Vince didn’t want that to happen with his World Title. He was protecting it and, along with protecting it, he was protecting everybody in the business that worked for him in his company. I don’t think Bret had that in mind at all. I believe Bret was going to do what he was going to do. I really believe that he was going to drop the title to Shamrock. In my heart, that’s what I believed. Bret got up and he said, ‘Well, you’re a no good…’ You know, I will not use all this vulgarity on you—but everything that you could possibly say was said. And finally, Vince said, ‘Well, I had to do what I had to do for this company and everybody that works for it now. If you want to do something about it, I’m here. I’m standing in front of you, and here’s your chance if you want to get back at me for it. I’m sorry. This is the first time I ever had to lie in the business but you gave me no choice.’ And I was thinking, ‘Yeah, not only did he tell a lie, but he also made Bret $3 million. I mean, what more could he have done?’”
The confrontation between Hart and McMahon then got physical, when Hart punched the WWE CEO in the side of the head.
“So, Bret walked over to him, and was looking at him right in his face and he said, ‘I ought to kick your ass.’ Vince put his hands up to protect himself then Bret said, ‘You ain’t worth doing anything to, you piece of crap,’ so Vince dropped his hands to his side and said, ‘Well, I’m turning to leave and walk out of this dressing room. This is your last opportunity if you want to do something about it.’ He dropped his arms to his side and Bret started to laugh, and he took two steps back like he was going back to his seat then he turned around and hit Vince in the side of the head, right in the eye. It was the most horrible sound of bone hitting bone.”
“Vince just went to mashed potatoes. Like spaghetti. He went right down. Shane jumped up and stood right in front of Bret and put his fists up. Bret said, ‘You little motherf—-r, I’m going to kick your ass next,’ and went to punch him, but Shane ducked out of the way, got down by his dad and made sure his dad was okay. Then Brisco jumped in and said, ‘That’s enough, Bret,’ to which Bret said, ‘Brisco, I know you were in on it. You’re next.’ He was about to throw a fist at Brisco, and I jumped in between them and said, ‘That’s it, Bret. That’s it. You don’t need to do anymore. You’ve done enough damage with what you’ve done. Just go back, sit down, cool off.’ By this time they were getting Vince up to his feet and started to take him out of the locker room.”
Slaughter spoke to Hart one last time to make sure the ‘Excellence of Execution” had cooled down.
“I kind of walked Bret back to his seat and he sat down. I said, ‘Are you okay? Is this it? Do you want to punch me, or do you want to hit Shawn, or what do you want to do?’ He said, ‘I’m done. I’m done.’ I said, ‘Well, I believe you. So, that’s it?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ As I went out of the locker room, I looked down the hallway and they were dragging Vince back to his room, and the Hart family was standing there, waiting, giving him the same shower of abuse, verbal and physical, that they gave him on the way there.”
When asked who he believes knew about the double-cross in advance, Sgt Slaughter said it was a small group of people who would have been aware about what would transpire.
“Kevin Dunn was in the truck—he knew—and Brisco knew about it. That’s the only people I ever heard that knew about it. I’m not even sure if Pat Patterson or Bruce Prichard knew because Vince didn’t want anybody to know so it wouldn’t get out. Over the years, I have heard that Undertaker was the locker room general and he took care of everything. And Shawn said, ‘I knew everything. I knew all about it.’ What I saw didn’t show me that he knew anything about it because he was scared to death, and the way he reacted in the ring, going, ‘Not like this, not like this,’ and Vince saying, ‘Get that f–king belt’, and ‘Get the f–k out of here,’ led me to believe that Shawn had no idea. Hunter didn’t have any idea—he wasn’t even close to Vince at that time. I hear stories that Hunter knew about it and Bruce knew about it but I don’t believe a word of it. I saw it go down from ringside, in the dressing rooms, and after. A lot of the other stuff is a little bit fictitious. That’s my take on it, that’s what I saw and what I believe happened. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!”