For those that watched “Montreal Screwjob” on Viceland the other night, they saw another look at one of the most controversial moments in WWE and professional wrestling history, told from the perspective of many of the participants involved.
From Bret Hart to Bruce Prichard, Jim Cornette, Vince Russo, and others; all discussed what they knew, didn’t know and were witness to as Hart got “double-crossed” by Vince McMahon on a live pay-per-view where WWE ripped the belt away from one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE before he could bolt for WCW.
One of the participants in that film was the referee of that match, Earl Hebner. Hebner reluctantly discussed his role in the Montreal Screwjob during the documentary, calling it the hardest moment of his career in professional wrestling. Having sworn to Bret he wouldn’t do anything to lose his trust or betray their friendship, Hebner was forced to go along with the plan to steal the title off of Hart or he risked losing his job. Saying, Gerald Brisco forcefully grabbed his arm and ensured he was going along with the plan just minutes before he walked out from behind the curtain, it was a decision Hebner says he still lives with and since that moment, can’t go to a match or referee anywhere without hearing “You screwed Bret” chants.
At the time, he said he didn’t tell Brisco he would do it, but had enough sense about him to get his twin brother to pack his bags, get a car ready and dart out of the building the second everything went down.
After watching the documentary himself, Hebner spoke to Busted Open Radio about that night. Shockingly, he claimed that Hart knew what was about to happen.
In essence, Hebner tried to explain, the biggest screwjob in wrestling history wasn’t actually a screwjob at all, but the most elaborate work for a performer that needed a way to go to a rival wrestling promotion without losing the championship cleanly. Hebner said, “I think both of them knew, to be honest with you. Why would you let a man put you in your own finish?”
The answer Bret has always given was that he was leery of that happening, but trusted Earl wouldn’t betray him. He was wrong.
When asked outright by Bully Ray whether he believes Bret knew, Hebner said, “Yeah, I really do. I’m not going to lie about it anymore… Just the rumors for the last 18-19 years, it’s almost been questionable that both of them knew.”
Over the course of time, we’ve learned a number of things about that historic night. At first, Shawn Michaels claimed he had no role in the outcome, but it was later learned that he was aware. In fact, it was framed in such a way that Michaels took a bullet for WWE and that the only reason he wasn’t revealed as in on the plan was to spare him after doing the company such a massive favor. After all, this was really the first time real life and the storylines of wrestling had been so out there for the public to see.
Michaels has since been forgiven by Hart, but it took years for that to happen.
The documentary also shows Cornette and Russo going back and forth, both taking credit for the idea. Cornette cites reading old wrestling magazines and being a professional wrestling savant as his inspiration for the idea of a double-cross, whereas Russo simply said it was just a good idea to screw the guy over to make for good television and as a last-ditch idea when all other ideas had failed.
One of these men has to be lying.
But, what about Hebner? Was he lying too?
Is Hebner Telling the Truth?
If you listen to the interview closely, you’ll notice a few things. First, Hebner talks about it being 18 or 19 years ago, but it was actually 22 years ago. This isn’t a huge deal as it can be hard to remember dates, but considering the entire documentary is about reliving that memorable night, one would assume the dates were mentioned over and over again; especially for a guy like Hebner who has been caught in the eye of the storm for 22 years.
Second, if you also listen to his tone, he doesn’t sound all that confident in his responses, often like he’s second-guessing himself.
Hebner has a lot to gain by saying Bret knew. It takes the responsibility off of his decision to lie to Bret in the first place. And, why not? Of all the people involved, Hebner may be the only one who is still remembered for that night but considered the enemy in the fan’s eyes. Even 22 years later, it’s the thing Hebner is now most known for and it’s probably a gift to be able to shift blame in another direction.
Vince created a character that went on to become one of the biggest heels in WWE history thanks to that night. Bret is remembered as a hero because of that night. Michaels took full advantage as the company’s top bad guy for years because of that night, but has been forgiven as a man of faith and Hall of Famer. Hebner?… He’s still the guy who screwed Bret.
And, not to beat up on the guy, but this is the same man who was fired from the WWE in 2005, for selling WWE merchandise without the company’s permission.
Maybe he’s telling the truth and maybe he isn’t. What seems odd to me is the timing. Everyone has since talked about this incident to death, yet Hebner is just now saying he thinks Bret knew. If you had the chance to free yourself of this burden a long time ago, why not take it?