Rewriting the Book
By C.G. Scum
“What if Bret Hart left the WWF on “agreeable” terms in November of 1997 as he headed off to WCW?”
Without question, one of the most talked about and debated incidents in the history of professional wrestling is the now infamous “Montreal Screwjob,” which took place during the WWF Title match between Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels at the Survivor Series in 1997. It has often been said by many that following the finish that cost the “Hitman” the title in which he never actually submitted on what would be his last night with the company was something that he never quite got over as he headed on to World Championship Wrestling and for even years after he was forced to retirement due to a concussion suffered in late 1999. It has been said that Bret was not only never the same in ring performer after this incident, but also some feel he was never the same person in any aspect of his life after “being screwed” in Montreal. In the prequel to this edition of “Rewriting the Book,” which was titled, “What if Shawn Michaels never “lost his smile” or forfeited the WWF Title in February of 1997,” we visited the world of the WWF between the months of February and November of 1997 and our path followed fairly closely to the way things really played out as that company picked up steam and continued upward in their quest to once again topple WCW as the top wrestling company in America. There was one glaring difference however and that was that Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, while remaining on screen enemies, were able to get along and respect on another throughout that time period, resulting in there being no need for the Montreal incident. As a matter of fact, not only did they coexist to treat audiences to numerous classic bouts, but when the “Hitman” was set to leave the company, Michaels, Vince McMahon, and a few other key figures helped to put a game plan of sorts in place, aiding Bret as he prepared to head to his new place of employment. Unbeknownst to anyone other than these select few people on the “inside,” on the final Raw broadcast of Bret’s WWF tenure, they played out an epic tale that left not only the fans, but also the others in the locker room, and those pesky “industry insiders” scratching their heads and wondering if what they had just seen was just a part of the show, or if it was as real as it actually seemed. As they parted ways, neither Bret nor any of the people in the know that remained with the WWF tipped their hand in any way as to make people believe that the incident was anything but completely real, which left the “Hitman” red hot as he headed to his new job and also helped open the door for a new, more realistic and edgier show to unfold in the WWF. So, without any further delay, we begin a new journey here that will follow “The Excellence of Execution” as he heads to the waters of World Championship Wrestling, which at the time was setting all sorts of television ratings records with their flagship television show, Monday Nitro, which the fans could seemingly not get enough of. Remember, this is a different Bret than the one who left bitter and full of spite to go on to a disappointing run in his time in WCW, this is not only a “Hitman” who is on top of his game, but is a “Hitman” who is focused and has a game plan. It is also a “Hitman” that by the time we have reached the conclusion will help us to answer, “What if Bret Hart left the WWF on “agreeable” terms in November of 1997 as he headed off to WCW?”
(Note- To begin this edition of “Rewriting the Book,” I would like to begin by reminding those of you who are familiar with my debut piece on this site, “What if Shawn Michaels never “lost his smile” or forfeited the WWF Title in February of 1997,” that this story is a sequel to that work. The reason I stress this point is that in keeping as close to within the boundaries and rules we set forth in creating the “Rewriting” pieces, one must keep in mind during this story that some of the occurrences will be a direct result of the “Hitman’s” final weeks and months leading up to his departure for World Championship Wrestling according to that story. So while the time frame and the players involved will be historically accurate, some of the actions as this tale plays out will come on the heels of what happened in my previous story. That being said, if you have not read that piece, it may serve you well to do so before jumping into this one. For those of you who do not have the extra time to skim through the eleven chapters of the “Shawn never losing his smile” story and to refresh the memory of those of you who did read it when its final chapter posted about six weeks ago as well, this story will begin with the final match from the “Hitman’s” last night with the WWF (which he was the referee during) on “Bret Hart Appreciation Night” on Monday Night Raw, as well as the backstage conversations from that day and the following as Bret prepared to head down south. (Again, just to be clear, these were originally part of the final chapter of the prequel to this story.)
Backstage at Raw- November 10, 1997- Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Several hours prior to the show, all nine men that are to be involved in the main event storyline tonight meet in Vince McMahon’s office to make sure one last time all players are on the same page. Vince addresses all, as there is a nervous excitement in the air over how these events will play out and be received.
McMahon: “Ok, are we all ready to make this happen tonight? (All quietly nod in agreement.) I assume all of you know your roles here and each is ready to pull of what I feel may be the most realistic and elaborate rouse in WWF history. Now to my knowledge, outside of us right here in this room no one knows a thing about this, correct? (Again, all nod in agreement) Perfect, well let’s make this happen, Bret, tonight is your night my friend, let’s send you off with a bang and shake up this business as we know it.”
Bret: “Let’s do this guys. I can’t say again how much I will miss this company and all of you. I cannot thank you enough for giving me my chance to say good bye and especially to do it here in front of my home town fans. It is bittersweet and will be emotional for me, but one last time, I am ready to give it one hundred and ten percent and like you said Vince, I am ready to shock the world.” (Handshakes and hugs are exchanged by all with Bret as each man goes their separate ways until the show is about to go live. Just before they leave, McMahon and Russo remain in the office and they call Bret and Owen to stay for just a minute longer.)
Bret: “Yeah, what is up guys?”
McMahon: “Well Bret, in order to make this real, I mean really make this real, I wanted there to be something to make even the boys be unsure about what goes down here tonight. I mean, with the chair shot, and masked man angle, I know the boys will all think it is just a work, but I had asked Vince here if he could think of a way to pull a quick one past them, too, to even further blur the lines.”
Bret: “Um, ok, so what do you got?”
McMahon: (Turns to Russo) “Well, Vince, lay it on him.”
Russo: “Okay, we are looking for real here so again, it has got to be totally under wraps. That’s why I wanted Owen here to, because after the finish tonight, you guys will be leaving the ring together. You are pissed and embarrassed, right, and you are leaving seething mad. So, I asked Vince and he said it was a go, so here is what happens. After you walk to the backstage area, you are so pissed; you storm right up and find Vince. When you get there, he pleads your case and you floor him.”
Bret (and Owen at same time): “Floor him?”
Russo: “Yeah, you knock his ass out. One punch. You do it in plain sight of the boys or at least some of them, you get your bags, say your farewells, and everyone is confused. Don’t even talk about it after, belt him, goodbyes, and cruise.”
Bret: “Wait, Vince (McMahon), this is what you want?”
McMahon: “Hell yes, really whale me one good. Black my eye, leave a mark for sure. You pop me good, and I go down in front of everyone. Backstage, everyone will be buzzing about it. I am always willing to take one for the team, especially in this case.”
Bret: (Looks at Owen in disbelief) “Um, ok, if that is what you want, I will do it.”
McMahon: “Great, oh and Bret, before you go, I wanted to invite you over tomorrow to my room for lunch, before we head our separate ways, I have some other big news that I’d like to share with you. Let’s call it a parting gift, ha ha ha.”
Bret: “Sounds good, I just hope it is a better parting gift that I am going to give you upside your head later, boss.” (McMahon, Russo, Bret, and Owen all share a chuckle before wishing each other luck and heading in different ways.)
The Main Event from “Bret Hart Appreciation Night”-Raw is War- November 10, 1997- Ottawa, Ontario, Canada- Match- WWF Championship Match- Champion, Owen Hart vs. Shawn Michaels (with Rick Rude)- (Bret Hart is the special guest referee)- The match begins and all parties shake hands. Jim Ross and Jerry Lawler both express their feelings that it is an absolute honor to be a part of this special night for Bret and to call this bout which is his official send off. The match as expected does not disappoint. Owen and Michaels put on an absolute clinic, trading the upper hand back and forth for the majority of the bout. Great scientific mat skills are showcased by both men, as are dazzling high flying, high risk moves that see Bret, the official, at times even applauding the two superstars. Adding to the drama, the red hot Ottawa crowd hangs off every move and counts rabidly with each of the numerous near falls and false finishes. After almost thirty minutes at a break neck pace between Owen and HBK, suddenly, a wrench is thrown into the action, as unexpectedly, especially on such a “feel good” night, from the back two masked men, dressed in the same garb as the “men in green,” but in the original color we saw, all black, stride slowly toward the ring. Owen, Michaels, and Bret all seem confused at this appearance, and as they stalk toward ringside, Bret questions HBK, who assures him that this has absolutely nothing to do with him. The two walk to ringside and simply stand with their arms folded as after the brief distraction, Michaels and Owen continue with their match, seeing HBK take the upper hand. He hits a flying forearm smash off the ropes and floors the champion, kicking up immediately and “warming up the band” as he readies fore “Sweet Chin Music.” As he does though, the two “Men in Black” jump to the apron, causing Bret to walk their way and turn his back. HBK also begins arguing with the two unknown men, when from the other side of the crowd, a “man in green” sneaks into the ring with a chair in hand. In a flash, the crowd is brought to a hushed and confused silence, as the “man in green” waits and when Bret and Shawn both turn around; he knocks the “Hitman” out cold with a sickening chairshot as Michaels hustles over and grabs each leg of Owen. The “Man in Green” then removes his green sweatshirt to reveal a black and white striped referee’s shirt underneath, just as HBK twists Owen into the sharpshooter. The two “men in black” enter the ring, as the green-masked official immediately calls for the bell despite it appearing that Owen had never given up. He screams at the timekeeper and even leaves the ring standing over him hollering, “I said ring the damn bell.” The bell rings and the two “men in black” put the boots to a confused and arguing Owen before holding a semi-conscious “Hitman” up by each arm. Meanwhile, from the back, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Chyna, Jesse James, and Billy Gunn, come to the ring and celebrate as Michaels is announced the winner and handed the title belt. On the contrary, a completely disgusted Rick Rude, realizing what has happened passes the group on his way by as he leaves ringside and walks away alone, obviously wanting nothing to do with what had just occurred. The “Man in Green” returns to the ring and gets directly in Bret’s face before pulling the hood off to reveal himself as Vince McMahon to the complete disbelief of everyone. Handing Bret over to James and Gunn, who now hold a confused and angered Bret up, Michaels takes center stage and unmasks the two ‘men in black” right in Bret’s face and one can almost see his heart break as they are revealed to be the British Bulldog and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. McMahon does not join in the DX celebration, as he simply struts from the ring after taking the microphone and announcing Michaels once again as the new WWF Champion. DX welcomes Bulldog and Neidhart, as they all throw a few crotch chops and have some laughs as they are pelted with garbage from the Canadian crowd. Michaels, Neidhart, and Bulldog each throw a crotch chop in the face of Stu, Helen, and Julie Hart, as they leave the ringside area, as Raw goes off the air to the image of a heart broken “Hitman” laying over his fallen brother as Jim Ross breaks the stunned silence from the commentary table expressing his confusion and disgust with a simple questioning statement, “Oh, man, you want to talk about controversy,” before the rest of his statement was cut off and the screen simply went to black.
After Raw went off the air and off camera the entire DX faction, minus Rude, sprinted to the back, grabbed their bags and zoomed off. Bulldog and Neidhart left with the group as well. Steaming mad and storming around backstage, Bret, with Owen in tow sought out McMahon. Many of the “boys” were confused, as they figured with the masked men, etc. this had to be part of the show, but when Bret found the owner of the company, the two traded heated words until he laid out his boss with one punch, a solid right that connected and blackened the eye of his long time boss. Vince was helped up and to his office by several nearby agents, while Bret changed, kept mostly to himself other that saying his goodbyes and left the arena in a huff.
“The Day After”- November 11, 1997- Vince McMahon’s Hotel Room, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada-
Having pulled off everything perfectly and leaving the crowd, the boys in the back, and the entire wrestling world a buzz with the on goings both on and off screen last night at Raw, just as planned, Bret meets Vince in his hotel room for lunch and prepares to say his goodbyes. When he arrives, Shawn Michaels opens the door and Bret says hello, before walking in.
McMahon: “There he is, what a right hand on this guy, huh. Damn, Bret, you could’ve taken it a little easier on me. Ha ha ha.”
Bret: “Hey, it is not often you get a free pass to punch your boss in the mouth, if it arises, I guess you got to take it, right? So, what is going on guys?”
McMahon: “Well, I just wanted to say that all is a go.”
Bret: “What is a go?”
McMahon: “Well, I got my guys down there in place. We got some friends that will be slowly coming down to join you and again, you can take all the credit for getting them there. What a team player that “Hitman” will be down in “Dubya Cee Dubya,’ huh, Shawn.”
Michaels: “Oh yeah, they are so stupid, they won’t know what hit ‘em.’
Bret: “Okay, sounds good. Damn, I am gonna miss this place, but like you said Vince, when all the pieces fall, I guess we all come full circle and ride off into the sunset, right?”
McMahon: “That’s right, Bret, I we will miss you, too. So, I just wanted to again thank you for everything, and given what is going on, I think until we need the pieces to start falling, this is probably in our best interest that we say goodbye for at least a month or so here and now.”
Bret: “That sounds like a good idea. By the way, my guys are all in; too, so all systems are a go. Man, I guess this is goodbye, then?”
McMahon: “Let’s call it goodbye for now, Bret. Goodbye, for now.”
Bret: “All right, well, I like the sounds of that. Take care, Vince, and Shawn, good bye my friend, I will miss you too. There won’t be anyone like you to get the best out of me down there, that is for sure.”
Michaels: “No kidding, and there sure won’t be another “Hitman” around here either. Good bye and best of luck to you down there, too. Watch yourself, man. Oh, jeez, I almost forgot. Those final “big” pieces of this big plan that you were waiting on down south? I just got off the phone with them this morning. They are all in and told me to say tell you that they can’t wait to see you, buddy…..”
The following Monday night was the first time ever that Bret Hart sat in his living room in Calgary and watched Raw when he was not actually under contact with the WWF. Always a traditionalist when it comes to wrestling, Bret was taken aback for sure at what he watched unfold as despite not being employed by the company, he was the focal point of several segments on the show. One saw DeGeneration X (Shawn Michaels, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, Chyna, Rick Rude, Jesse James, and Billy Gunn) publically humiliate and fire his brothers-in-law, the British Bulldog and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart. The next got even more personal, as the crowd was momentarily teased into believing Bret was coming out to the ring after his theme music blared through the arena only to see a midget dressed as “The Hitman” come out and be made a fool of by DX. The other instance on that program, that despite him knowing it was said that the WWF would utilize the events from a week earlier to head in an “edgier” direction; still caught Bret off guard was a two part interview on the program conducted by Jim Ross with Vince McMahon. As the owner of the WWF bluntly opened the segment stating, “Some would say I screwed Bret Hart. Bret Hart would definitely tell you I screwed him. I look at it from a different standpoint. I look at it from the standpoint of the WWF fans didn’t 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, and he can look in the mirror and know that,” there was immediately a nervous feeling that came over Bret that only got worse as during the interview McMahon spoke of the secret meetings between the two leading up to Bret’s departure. Bret began feeling that he was possibly used and tricked as he watched on nervously as McMahon spoke of these meetings , breaking what Bret felt was the “code of the boys” as Vince disclosed Bret wanting to put the title on his brother, Owen at Survivor Series rather than Shawn Michaels, making Bret come across as self-serving and petty. Vinnie Mac continued bending what Bret knew to be the truth as Hart sat on his couch cringing as McMahon claimed Bret wanted him to help him to work out his deal with WCW. With these unsuspected segments on Raw, Bret also was flipping channels between Raw and the program that he will soon be calling home, WCW Monday Nitro, only to find out that much like WWF’s programming this night and despite the fact that he was sitting in his living room, the name Bret Hart was all over the TNT network as well. There were numerous segments on the show where current WCW stars including Diamond Dallas Page, Lex Luger, and the Giant amongst others told their opinion of the soon to be arriving “Hitman” and what impact they felt his jump would have on the company. Just like on Raw, the main segment focused at Bret on this evening featured the company’s main faction addressing his situation. This was not DX however; it was the hottest faction going in all of wrestling at the time, a group whose formation singlehandedly changed the pro wrestling business, the New World Order. Bret watched as many familiar faces from his WWF years such as , the current United States Champion, Curt Hennig, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Randy “Macho Man” Savage, and WCW World Champion “Hollywood” Hogan strode to the ring with his new boss, Eric Bischoff as they arrogantly claimed the Bret was already a lock to join the nWo when he finally arrived. Bischoff called him a “knockout kind of guy,” hinting at the off screen punch he floored his former boss with, prompting Hogan to add, “he already passed the initiation,” as Hall, Nash, and Savage yukked it up laughing over the shoulder the World Champ. Bret’s old pal, Hennig even led the group through a spotty rendition of “Oh, Canada” which Hart couldn’t help to chuckle at. It was at this point that Bret was flipping between both channels after hearing the first part of the McMahon interview that had him a bit unnerved and then back to the nWo segment on Nitro that some of that uneasiness went away as he saw a man being handed a microphone that he didn’t notice with the group before, “Ravishing” Rick Rude. Rude proceeded to punch holes in the words that McMahon had spoken on the rival show just moments after they occurred. “That genius,” Bret thought, realizing that he had just seen Rude on the WWF’s taped programming earlier in the night and thinking back to the conversations with McMahon when his former employer spoke of “others” that would be coming. Although he was still not fully comfortable with his portrayal on that night’s Raw, Bret became more and more excited about where he was heading as he watched Rude go on to tell the wrongs and evils that that been done by his previous employer.
Just as he finished up watching The Giant beat Scott Hall by disqualification in Nitro’s main event, after the entire nWo came to the ring and attacked the company’s largest athlete and then fended off seemingly the entire WCW roster as they ran out to unsuccessfully “make the save” while a silent Sting watched on from the darkness of the rafters above, Bret thought he would give his former boss a call just to air out his thoughts on what he felt to be a shot to his personal character and integrity. He also figured they would discuss Rude’s appearance and some further details. Waiting almost an hour, Bret was unable to reach McMahon in two separate attempts, simply leaving him a message to call back. After setting the phone down following his second try, it immediately rang, but it wasn’t Vince on the other end, on the contrary, it was his new employer, Eric Bischoff. “Easy-E” gushed at how excited everyone is for Bret to be coming there, and the “Hitman” complimented Eric, telling him he enjoyed the segments aimed toward him and assuring him that he cannot wait until his contracted 30 day no compete window is up. Just as they were about to hang up, Bischoff cut Bret’s goodbye off, telling him he had someone he had to speak with as he handed the receiver to Rude. “Were you surprised?” chuckled the “Ravishing One,” adding, “oh yeah, when you get here, you and me, we got a lot of catching up to do.” Bret agreed, “Yep, I’d say we have got a lot to chat about, my old friend.” The two exchanged goodbyes and after the exchange Bret had already forgotten about his earlier insecurities about the McMahon interview on Raw.
Over the course of the next few weeks, even though he could not appear on WCW TV, Bret would visit WCW headquarters on several occasions, being greeted by many familiar faces that seemed to want to make him feel at home. On the airwaves, Bret’s name was slowly phased out on WWF programming, while on Nitro the commentators continued to hype his impending arrival and the short pieces showing members of the roster weighing in on his decision to join the company continued to air. The nWo also continued to plug his arrival, continuing to claim week after week that he had already joined the renegade outfit. In his first visit to the Atlanta headquarters, Hart was met by both Ric Flair and Hulk Hogan, both of which had at one point or another had publically voiced a less than flattering opinion of Bret, to which he had publically returned the favor. Flair shook his hand and sincerely told Bret that all the bad words were a thing of the past and that he couldn’t wait to work with him again. Hogan was also very welcoming and accommodating, saying much as Flair had that he was greatly anticipating a long overdue Hogan vs. Hart dream match. Even though he could not actually appear on television for his new employer contractually due to the 30 day no compete clause, Bret did show up backstage at the December 1 edition of Nitro in Knoxville, Tennessee to get reacquainted with some old friends as well as meet some of his new “teammates.” Upon his arrival he shared a few laughs with his old buddies Hennig, Savage, Piper, and Rude and immediately after that visit, he was flagged down in the locker room area by Scott Hall. “Yo, Bret, great to see you, bro. We’ve been waiting for you, come on in, we have got a lot of talking and a lot of catching up to do, man.” Hall added as he led the “Hitman” into the personal locker room the Outsiders. “Big Kev can’t wait to see you.” After a brief chat, Bret left their locker room and headed out in search of some of the competitors that he had watched from afar and looked forward to working with, including Sting, the Giant, and Dallas Page amongst others. . Once he found each of them, Bret professed his respect for the work of each and likewise was made to feel very welcome by his new co-workers. The “Hitman” was also thrilled to see his fellow countrymen who had trained with his family in Calgary years earlier, as he traded war stories with Chris Jericho and Chris Benoit backstage, too. All of the younger talent told Bret they were honored to meet him, and one huge specimen in particular that caught Bret’s eye, a newcomer, ex-football player named Bill Goldberg told Bret he had looked up to him and admired his work from afar for many years. In actuality, it would seem that all was good in the world of Bret Hart under his new surroundings and he had not even given much thought to the items that had gotten somewhat under his skin several weeks prior on WWF TV.
Yes, all was good in the world of Bret Hart as he prepared to make his Monday Nitro debut in just two weeks on the December 15 edition set to emanate from Charlotte, North Carolina. It seemed there was just one thing that had been slowly beginning to worry him more and more and that was the fact that he had placed several calls over the course of the past few weeks to his former employer, Vince McMahon and had no luck contacting him. Even stranger he felt was the fact that these calls were not acknowledged with a return call from Vince, making Bret wonder if the plan they had set forth was actually just Vince’s way of showing him to the door. Later that night though, as Bret headed back to his hotel room, his worries were put to rest when the phone rang and it was a familiar voice on the other end. “Hey there, “Hitman.” Did you start to miss me yet,” quipped McMahon on the other end, following with his trademark “yuk, yuk, yuk” laughter. Bret shared a relieved chuckle with Vince before he was cut off and asked, “So, are we still good with everything that we had set in place?” Hart responded and assured him that he was still on board adding, “I think I have already talked a few things out with some of the guys, actually.” The two went on to discuss Rude’s surprise appearance on Nitro and Vince effectively dodged Bret’s questioning on how he felt his character was somewhat attacked during the sit down segment with Jim Ross on the November 17 Raw. McMahon actually joked his way around it, before again referring back to their conversations in his final days with the WWF. “Now Bret, due to the craziness and the heated rivalry between the two companies, I have given it a lot of thought and I think it is best if when moving forward, the conversations you have from time to time are not with me personally. Hell, I’m not talking the TV ratings rivalry, I am talking about all the stuff going on in the court room and I just can’t afford to be even remotely considered to be trying to tamper with any WCW talent.” Bret responded, asking, “Well, what do you suggest?” Not completely sure yet, McMahon went on to explain, “I am not totally sure who I will get to be our liaison, it has to be someone that isn’t afraid to get right down on their belly and slither through the grass like a snake with no conscience about it. I have a few guys in mind, as it has to be someone who I work with in a closed capacity, too. Either way, when you get the next call, you will know who it is and what they are calling about. Plus, like I said before, you will be seeing some old friends heading your way, and they can come bearing messages as well.” “Ok, very good,” Bret replied before Vince began wrapping up the call. “Hey, Bret, I did want to say that we miss you here and that I sincerely wish you all the best down there. I wanted to remind you about that whole “creative control card” that you had that schmuck Bischoff put in your deal. Be sure to use it, because I am sure that all those ‘rasslin guys down in “dubya cee dubya” will not have a clue of what to do with a Bret Hart.” Bret thanked Vince and told him he would stay on top of everything before they hung up and he headed in to catch some much needed and deserved sleep.
With Monday Nitro not airing on December 8 due to a scheduling conflict on the TNT network, Bret was all set to make his World Championship Wrestling debut on December 15, arriving to the arena in Charlotte very early, so he could sit in on the booking meeting just to see where he would fit in on that night’s program. Prior to the meeting, he had a brief chat with Bischoff, who vaguely filled him in on the initial plans for him. Bret answered back with a few ideas of his own which Bischoff liked very much and the two went into the gathering. Hart was shocked to see many of the big names in the company in the session, seeming to be there strictly for the benefit of themselves. He gave a shrug and a sarcastic smile to Kevin Nash who met him with a toothy grin and wink when he entered the room. Once all plans were laid out, despite being taken off guard by the complete disarray and lack of organization he saw for such a successful company, Bret went off to prepare himself for his first day on the new job.
WCW Monday Nitro- December 15, 1997- Charlotte, NC
Right at the top of the broadcast, the announcing trio of Mike Tenay, Tony Schivone, and Larry Zybysko inform us the Bret Hart will indeed be at Nitro to make his World Championship Wrestling debut tonight. The three speculate as to whether or not he will join the New World Order as the group has been claiming and they also talk about what a huge addition he would be for WCW as they continue in their war with the nWo. Before the first match, Tenay and Schivone also grill their broadcast partner, Zybysko, as he will be taking part in a match with huge ramifications depending on the outcome for the company at the upcoming Starrcade pay per view when he takes on Eric Bischoff with the nWo gaining control of Monday Nitro if Bischoff wins and Zybysko earning a match with Scott Hall at January’s “Souled Out” event if he has his hand raised . After Larry assures them that he will mop the floor with Bischoff, we are informed that WCW official, James J. Dillon will come out to the ring later in the show for the main purpose of discussing the specifics of that very contest with Bischoff.
Several segments in to the program, “Mean” Gene Okerlund stands in wait on the entrance ramp for a brief moment before introducing Dillon. J.J. strides out to a somewhat mixed reaction and he asks for Bischoff to join the two for the interview. After flashing his cheesy, fake smile on his way out, Bischoff, in an nWo shirt, jeans, and a backwards ball cap begins laying demands on Dillon. “I want punches legal, I want kicks legal, I don’t want that washed up dinosaur Zybysko to have any excuses when he lets all his buddies down and I beat him to take over control of the show that I made so very great to begin with and rechristen it nWo Monday Nitro. God I love the sound of that, isn’t that just too sweet, J.J.?” Unamused, Dillon tells Bischoff “that is fine that kicks and punches are legal.” He goes on to remind Eric that many other things are legal too, including the vast array of martial arts kicks that Zybysko was known to throw in his younger years, as well as submission holds. Bischoff mocks Dillon after he brings these points up, noting sarcastically, “Wow, really, J.J., submission holds are legal? Oh boy, there is a new development. How much are they paying you anyway? Whatever it is, it’s way too much.” Again, Dillon responds with a confident smirk on his face, clueing Bischoff in that the reason he is discussing the rules is that later in the night he will head to the ring, with Bischoff joining him, and that he will be introducing the “man who will be enforcing these rules for your match with Larry Zybysko at Starrcade as the special guest referee.” Bischoff becomes irate and demands to know who the official will be right now, but Dillon continues to smirk as he walks away while Bischoff’s rage turns to cockiness as the segment ends as he tells Okerlund that “it doesn’t matter who the referee for the match is, because I can beat that old man no matter who they run out there. So, J.J., you think your clever, you think you are so smart, I just have one thing to say my friend, and that is ‘bite me.’” Bischoff again smiles arrogantly at the camera as he backs away up the ramp to a resounding chorus of boos from the live crowd on hand as the ever familiar groove of the nWo’s theme music blares over the house system.
Several segments later, Okerlund now stands in the ring and he once again introduces Dillon. Handing the microphone over to the former manager of the Four Horseman, J.J. then calls for Bischoff to come out and join him. Immediately upon entering the ring, Eric swipes the microphone out of Dillon’s hand and demands answers. “Ok, come on old timer, so who is it gonna be? Just remember J.J., I was the one who brought you in here and I still have got quite a bit of stroke around here, so I would make your decisions very carefully my friend.” Dillon attempts to respond, but Bischoff interrupts, “You know what, I have got an idea. To heck with all this fighting, J.J., we go way back right? You and me, we are old pals, wouldn’t you say?” Tenay and Schivone both cry foul at the insincerity of Bischoff now trying to schmooze Dillon, while Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, who has taken over for Zybysko at the announce station, chimes in, saying, “Hey, come on guys, give him a chance here. Maybe he means it, I mean who knows, Dillon doesn’t have any friends, maybe this is the chance the guy has been looking for.” J.J. smugly looks on, not buying Bischoff’s phony act for a second, but allowing him to continue. “Yeah, I got a great idea. An idea that both of us can claim as our own, ok. See, that’s how much I love you J.J., you can even have part of the credit for my ingenious idea,” Bischoff offers. “Well, spit it out,” demands Dillon. Eric replies immediately, offering up several names including Vincent, Scott Norton, and Konnan from within the nWo as his suggested official. Dillon shoots each suggestion down without batting an eye and Bischoff starts to get uneasy, offering up a final suggestion of Nick Patrick, the controversial official that had made some less than savory calls over the course of recent history in the favor of the New World Order. Dillon actually mulls over this offer for a few seconds before shooting it down and responding to “Easy E.” “Actually, Eric, I appreciate your input, but I already have my man. He is the perfect man to officiate such a high profile match with such huge consequences that will result from the outcome.” Bischoff butts in again, this time he appears to be getting nervous. “Well enough already, who the hell is it. Out with it Dillon.” Obliging the request, Dillon fires back, “Like I was saying, this is a man who knows oh too well how painful it can be to have lousy or controversial officiating cost those close to them a big match and he certainly has shown that he knows exactly how to deal with a corrupt and abusive head of a wrestling company like you, Eric. So, without further ado, I give you the special referee for the Larry Zybysko/Eric Bischoff match at Starrcade, I give you Bret “The Hitman” Hart.” Bischoff’s nervous look turns to one of sheer glee as some unfamiliar theme music hits and Bret strides out for the first time in his professional career on to a WCW produced television program. Hart hits the ring and Bischoff is practically hanging off him as the “Hitman” strides by and shakes the hand of Okerlund and Dillon before finally giving a smile and a handshake to the man who actually hired him. Before he can speak, Bischoff pipes up again. “Yes! Bret Hart, man am I glad to see you here my man. So, this is great, you are gonna be the referee in my match, you are gonna get a first-hand look at me beating the snot out of that fossil Zybysko, and in the end, I know (he gives a directed stare to Hart as he says this) that you are gonna do the right thing and raise my hand and bring Nitro to the nWo.” Bret again flashes a smile, which turns Bischoff giddy in celebration. Eric continues to celebrate for a few seconds, when Bret begins to speak. “Do the right thing? Well, Eric Bischoff, of course I am going to do the right thing.” (Bischoff wears an ear to ear smile as he looks at Bret after hearing these words.) Bret continues, “I have every intention of doing the right thing Eric, and the right thing is to call this match right down the middle and let whoever is the best man on that night get his hand raised in victory.” The joy on Bischoff’s face turns to a look of uncertainty and he tries to interrupt Hart. “Bret, now you know that I pulled an awful lot of strings to get you here, too.” “The Hitman” returns the favor and interrupts his new boss, “Yeah, Eric, I appreciate you bringing me in here. I am glad to finally be here ‘where the big boys play’ in WCW. But, I also know what it is like to have to be a puppet for a slime ball, egomaniac boss. (Bischoff backs up as Bret walks toward him and his voice gains in volume.) I also know what it is like to be screwed over by a thankless, self-serving employer that cares about nothing other than dollar signs even if it is at the expense of the hard working human beings that put that money in his big, fat wallet. I also know that where I came from a completely bogus decision by that same piece of crap boss cost my family member something he fought his whole life to earn and it cost me my dignity on the last day I worked there after busting my ass for fourteen years there.” Bret concluded as Bischoff was now stunned looking on, “So, yeah, Eric, my buddy, I will see you and Larry Zybysko at Starrcade. I will be the special referee, and you and Larry and all the great WCW fans out here can be sure of one thing and that is exactly what you told me to do earlier. That one thing is that Bret “The Hitman” Hart will definitely ‘do the right thing.’” Bret drops the microphone, again shakes Okerlund and Dillon’s hands on his way out of the ring and offers a shake to Bischoff who is pleading with him to listen to his reasoning as Bret looking cool and collected walks past him and heads back up the ramp to the dressing room area.
WCW Monday Nitro- December 22, 1997- Macon, GA
Monday Nitro comes on the air just six days out from WCW’s biggest event of the year, Starrcade. Anticipation is high not only for the Bischoff/Zybysko show down for the right’s to Nitro, but also for the long awaited World Championship match between Hollywood Hogan and Sting. The first shot we see is the entire New World Order arriving in a pair of limousines. Along with the usual horse play as they head toward the building, Eric Bischoff tells the group, “Tonight is the night guys. This is gonna be so sweet. Let’s all meet up in about thirty minutes in our locker room to make sure we have our ducks in a row. Oh yeah, and let’s keep an eye out for Bret, we have to get to him tonight before anyone else has the chance.” Scott Hall, as always with Kevin Nash at his side tries to comfort Bischoff. “Easy E, man. No worries, bro. We got this one and Bret is already a done deal, man.”
Starting at the beginning of the next segment, we see a series of humorous spots throughout the night, where Hall and Nash are waiting in the parking lot, readying to approach each vehicle as they pull up. Over the course of the night, the pair work their sarcastic comedic genius as one by one out of different cars that pull in, Disco Inferno and Alex Wright (riding together), The Steiner Brothers, and a vehicle containing luchadores La Parka, Silver King, Psychosis, Hector Garza, and Juventud Guerrera make their way into the building and each of their walks toward the door is accompanied by hysterical commentary on each of the groups by Hall and Nash. In another series of segments that air throughout the night, several of WCW’s biggest stars respond to the question, “What do they think Bret Hart meant when he said he would “do the right thing?” “Diamond” Dallas Page, Lex Luger, and the Giant were amongst those shown responding and each of three praised Bret’s character and all expressed the same feeling that Bret would be impartial and help in the company’s fight against the New World Order. Ric Flair was also shown in one of these segments and although he spoke highly of Bret and of his family being an “great example of tradition” in the wrestling business, the “Nature Boy did offered some doubt as to what side the “Hitman” was actually on. “He has worked with many of those guys in the black and white for years, but I truly hope that he will be fighting on our side,” offered up the thirteen time World Champion.
In the meantime, back in the arena, we get a backstage shot of Bischoff speaking before Vincent, nWo Sting, Buff Bagwell, Masahiro Chono, Scott Norton, Konnan, , Randy Savage, Curt Hennig, and Rick Rude. He appears to be giving them an inspirational speech, repeatedly telling them “this is our night, this is the night we have been working towards,” and once he finishes his speech, the fired up group storms out of the locker room. “Uh oh, where the heck are they heading? Hopefully not this way” questioned announcer Tony Schivone and following a commercial break, he got his answer as the entire group from the locker room scene stormed all areas of the set around the arena and began destroying it. Following the destruction, the now began replacing the usual Nitro set with pieces that they had brought, reading nWo Nitro, as it was now apparent that they group was taking over tonight’s broadcast. Savage and Rude bullied the announce team from their seats and took over the match calling duties for the remainder of the night which Bischoff pretty much turned into a tribute to World Champion, Hollywood Hogan.
As the show continued on and saw Bischoff give Hogan a number of gifts and actually bow down to the man in the center of the ring, the final segment of the night was upon us and Bischoff wanted all of his guys there to pay tribute to
“Hollywood.” Bagwell and Norton were shown retrieving Hall and Nash from the parking lot, telling them Bischoff said, “Screw it, Bret is on board anyhow and I guess he isn’t going to make it tonight.” The Outsiders followed the two back in and as the group’s theme song bumped through the arena, they all came out to pay homage to the “Hulkster.” The members of the nWo took turns taking the microphone and thanking Hogan, as though he was ‘the godfather’ of their faction, and as they each finished and handed him their personal gifts, Bischoff sent them on their way until finally it was just he and Hogan left in the ring. While the members were moving through the line to “pay respect” to Hogan, we were shown on the screen a limo pulling up in the parking lot and the “Hitman” walked out and toward the arena. Back in the ring, Hogan now was thanking Bischoff and leaned over to pick up the last remaining present in the ring. Hogan shook it near his ear and thanked Eric for the prize and for the whole night, but a confused Bischoff told him that the gift was not from him. In unison, the two wondered out loud, “Well then who could it be from?” At this point, from the back, Larry Zybysko walks out on to the entrance way and heads toward the ring. Bischoff stands behind Hogan, hurling insults at him as Hogan warns him, “You better watch it Zybysko. You are barking up the wrong tree coming out here on nWo Nitro when Hollywood is in the house, brother. Is this gift some kind of joke from you, Zybysko, because if it is, you can take it right back and save your little pranks for after Starrcade when you are on the unemployment line when Easy E and Hollywood take this place over, brah.” The “Living Legend” responds, “If you are so fearless, open the package Hogan. Or are you the gutless coward that I think you are?” As Zybysko gets real close to the ring apron it appears that Hogan will attack him, but just then Bret’s music hits and he strides out to the top of the ramp, seeming to look on in interest while not giving any sign either way exactly what his agenda is for being there. As Bischoff and Hogan point out toward Bret, seemingly confused as to exactly what his business is coming out at this point, they play it off cool as though he is “on their team.” In the midst of this, the house lights go off. A few seconds later when they come back on, the package that Hogan had in the ring was now unwrapped and opened. Hollywood tip toed up to it and begrudgingly looked inside, as his face was washed over in fear as he realized the contents of the box was a souvenir plastic Sting mask. Confused and shaken, a desperate Hogan circles in the ring, looking to the sky and daring for Sting to “come and face him like a man.” Whether he actually wanted the Stinger to show up or not was debatable, but suddenly Hogan’s challenge was answered, as from the rafters, Sting repelled into the ring, black baseball bat in hand. He stood in front of Hogan and pointed the bat in his direction as Hulk begged his Starrcade opponent for mercy. Zybysko stepped into the ring as well and approached Bischoff, who like his friend, pleaded with the “Living Legend” to leave him unharmed. Nitro went off the air to both of these scenes, followed by a shot of Bret, now looking on from about half way down the ramp, arms folded with very little emotion on his face what so ever.
Starrcade- December 28, 1997, Washington, D.C.-
As the annual WCW pay per view, Starrcade, goes on the air, we immediately see a limo pull up and Bret Hart walks out of it and towards the door, just as he does though, we see Scott Hall and Konnan approach him and the three men have a brief conversation, Bret looks somewhat uninterested in what the two have to say, and he walks away and heads into the building by himself. Before we go in to the arena to kickoff the action, the camera pans out and sees that Ric Flair, getting out of his own limo had seen the entire conversation from a distance. Flair begins walking with a purpose toward the building as the show heads inside for the lead in from the announce team of Tony Schivone, Mike Tenay, and Bobby “The Brian” Heenan.
Following a spectacular Cruiserweight title bout that saw Eddie Guerrero successfully defend the strap against Dean Malenko, the New World Order started their evening out on a winning note when the team of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, Vincent, and Scott Norton got the victory over The Steiners and Ray Traylor. Rookie Bill Goldberg then steamrolled over Steve “Mongo” McMichael, before the cameras went backstage, where they caught up with the “Nature Boy” who had hunted down Bret for a word. “Look it,” Flair said, “I don’t like you, I don’t trust you, but I do respect you.” He continued, “I have put my blood, my sweat, and my tears into this company. All the great ones, Harley Race, Dory Funk, Jack Brisco, hell your old man, the great Stu Hart, they put their hearts and souls on the line for this business and they did it in the name of tradition. I may not like you or trust you, but I know deep down, you feel the same way I do about the tradition and the trailblazers in this business. All I ask, Bret, is not for you to be my friend, I just ask you to look me in the eye. Look me in the eye like a man and tell me that you ain’t throwing that all away for these punks like Hall and Hogan and Bischoff. That’s all I am asking of you here champ.” Bret stared at Flair and simply replied, “Ric, I’m not here in WCW to make friends and I sure don’t care if Ric Flair trusts me or likes me. But I can look you in the face and tell you that tonight, you and everyone else can count on me.” Flair responds, questioning Bret, “Count on you? Count on you for what?” “You can count on me to do the right thing,” answered Bret as he walked away as Flair, who was forced to not compete in his scheduled U.S. Title match with Curt Hennig due to an injury, stood by and repeated the same words, “Do the right thing.”
Back to ringside, Saturn scored a big win for the Flock, as the group’s leader, Raven accompanied him for his match with Chris Benoit. The nWo hot streak continued, as Buff Bagwell scored an upset win against Lex Luger, but in their most high profile bout of the night to the point, WCW came up big, as Flair’s last minute replacement, “Diamond” Dallas Page hit the Diamond Cutter and scored a pinfall over Curt Hennig to become the new United States Champion.
Next up was the battle for Nitro, as Bischoff and Zybysko were introduced, followed by Hart. The match saw Zybysko brutalize Easy E for the majority of the bout, until Scott Hall came from the back and drew the attention of the “Hitman.” As Hall occupied Bret’s time, he missed what would’ve been a sure three count and another instance of Bischoff tapping out directly in the center of the ring. Not liking what he had seen, Flair, despite his injury, then appeared from the back. As the “Nature Boy” argued and accused Bret of wrong doing, he actually opened up the window of opportunity for Hall to slink away and hand off a pair of brass knuckles to Bischoff. As Flair ranted and raved on the apron, Hall then headed back his way to wisely defer the “Nature Boy’s” attention momentarily, as Bischoff knocked Zybysko cold with the object. With Flair and Hall’s focus turned to each other, a confused Bret turned around and saw Bischoff covering his motionless opponent. Somewhat reluctantly, Hart got down and counted the one, two, three, calling for the bell as a wave of fear could be noticein the voices of the announce team’s call of the finish, as obviously the realization had sunk in quickly that with this win, the New World Order now would have complete control of Monday Nitro. Hall mocked a now beat red and irate Flair, as Bret simply walked back up the ramp and to the back, once again, showing very little if any signs of emotion. After Flair stomped off, the entire New World Order minus Hogan, who was readying for the next match, came out to celebrate the huge win for their organization. Before going back to the announcers who are wondering whether they will still be employed as of tomorrow night with the shift of power that just occurred, Bischoff, still in the ring, puts his face right in the camera and says, “Thanks, Bret. I owe you one, buddy. I knew you would do the right thing.”
In what is not really too much of a surprise giving the participants and the stakes, the Hollywood Hogan vs. Sting match turns out to be very controversial. The controversy begins even before the match starts, when we see James J. Dillon in the back talking with Nick Patrick, whom he informs has the chance to “re-prove” himself tonight as he will be calling the Hogan vs. Sting bout. However, as Dillon wishes him luck and walks away, while the camera still focuses on Patrick in his dressing room. Before heading back to ringside, we see the lights in the officials dressing room go to black and the some banging and rustling is heard. The backstage shot cuts to Dillon as he walks down the hallway and he sees this on a monitor. Confused he runs back to the dressing room and finds the lights back on and Patrick unconscious on the floor, dressed in his gear, but with one highly noticeable addition that we see as the camera scans up from his feet to his head and covering his face is a plastic, souvenir Sting mask. So, as the introductions are done, Dillon appears on the ramp and announces tha Patrick will be unable to call the match due to the attack. He then announces that much like he told Patrick, he was appointing another man who could “re-prove” himself after leaving many scratching their heads earlier in the night with his not so great officiating. He then calls “The itman” out to call the title match, and Bret promises him on his way out in what is beginning to be an often used phrase by Bret, “you can count on ne doing the right thing, J.J.,” he says as he walks by him on the ramp. The match starts and after Sting dominates early, Hogan makes a comeback and actually hits his big boot to the face and legdrop combo that has produced so many wins for the legend. Although close, Stimg kicked out just before Bret’s hand slapped the mat a third time. Hogan jumps up in celebration as the crowd sits in near stunned silence, as both the champion and the fans seem unsure of the count. Bret informs all that it was only a two count, prompting Hogan to jump in his face and argue. Hollywood then actually rears back and takes a swing at Bret, which he blocks and then fires back, jacking the jaw of Hogan, staggering him a few steps back. While this exchange went on, Sting had regained hi feet, and the reeling Hogan fell right into his grasp for a Scorpion Death Drop, before hooking his legs and spinning him over into the Scorpion Death Lock. Within seconds, Hogan taps out and Bret calls for the bell and hands Sting the World Heavyweight Championship, crowning him the new title holder. After handing the belt to the Stinger, the mysterious painted grappler extends a hand shake to Bret, but he takes one look at the hand, a second look at the WCW Title, and lastly looks Sting right in the eyes before walking away and refusing the new champions handshake. As Bret is walking up the ramp, first he is passed by the majority of the locker room, who head out to celebrate the huge win. Just before he gets to the back, Bischoff reappears and is not happy. Bret ignores Eric, who walks right along side, him, asking him “what is wrong with you, are you out of your mind?” The two then disappear into the backstage area as Starrcade goes off the air to the visual of Sting with the WCW Title slung over his shoulder while he is hoisted up on the shoulders of Lex Luger and Scott Steiner. While the celebration goes on in the ring, once Bischoff and Bret were through the curtain and are off camera, Bischoff’s face bursts into a huge smile. “I told you, Bret, I told you,” he gushed. “This is going to be a great thing. We loved your ideas, the second you told me where you saw this heading I knew this was gonna be gold. Terry thought the same thing,” he added. Just as Bischoff continued to shower Bret with compliments, Hogan walked through the curtain and offered much of the same. “ ‘Hitman,’ dude, it’s great to have you on board,” said the Hulkster. “Great work out there, brother , and I gotta say, I love where this thing is going, absolutely love it.” Bret offered a smile back and a few kind words, before he was cut off by Bischoff still wearing a huge grin that had now grown to look almost devilish. “This is it, guys. This is the final piece of the puzzle,” he said. Slapping both Hart and Hogan on their backs Bischoff continued, getting much more serious in the tone of his voice, “I am telling you both one thing right now. Bret Hart was the final piece that we needed here and it is all over now. With you on board, we are gonna run that son of a bitch McMahon right out of business.”
This marks the end of Part One of the story. Heading into the second part, many questions loom as “The Hitman” will head into the new year of 1998 with everyone still unclear as to “which side he is on.” What will Bret have to say in regards to his two huge decisions he was responsible for in the matches he officiated at Starrcade? What is the fate of WCW on the heels of Bischoff winning Monday Nitro for the nWo? When will Bret hear from whoever Vince finds to be his contact guy? Who will the contact be and how exactly will this interaction actually wind up playing out as Bret’s WCW run continues on? All of these situations and the progression of Bret Hart as he heads into the new year of 1998 at his new place of employment, World Championship Wrestling are items that will no doubt begin to be addressed moving along, as we explore the question, “What if Bret Hart left the WWF on “agreeable” terms in November of 1997 as he headed off to WCW?”