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EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.

Friday, October 12, 2001

Montreal will welcome WWF TV cameras

Eric Benner
Special to SLAM! Sports

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This Tuesday, October 16, 2001, the WWF returns to Montreal's Molson Centre for a TV taping following a four-year hiatus. Their televised last event here, in November of 1997, was the Survivor Series pay-per-view. In case you somehow had never heard of that notorious event, then-champion Bret Hart lost his title to Shawn Michaels under very questionable circumstances. Montreal fans were sent home confused and largely unsatisfied, and the WWF kept their cameras away from the city for years afterward.

Don't get me wrong, it was a great event. But present was a strongly pro-Hart Foundation crowd that was eager to see some of the Canadian domination that had been offered on RAW for months leading up to the event. What we got was a brutal squash victory for Steve Austin over Owen Hart and one of the strangest show finales in sports entertainment history.

Wrestling matches have a certain pace and tone to them. Fans can usually tell when they're winding down, and are rarely taken completely aback by a pin or submission. When Shawn Michaels wrapped Bret in his own Sharpshooter finisher, it seemed like a fairly commonplace mid-match ploy. After all, they had just brawled in the crowd, and they hadn't even started their match-ending big move sequence.

Then a funny thing happened. The referee signalled that the match was over, and the bell-ringer rung the bell. Vince McMahon himself, then not exactly a part of the storylines, had come out to watch the proceedings. Shawn Michaels was declared the winner. Triple H celebrated with him for about ten seconds before they ran to the back. Bret just stood there.

After awhile, he was joined by Hart Foundation co-horts Jim Neidhart and the British Bulldog. Together, they stood together in the ring, as if to demonstrate their solidarity. They also fingered the WCW logo to the crowd and attempted to destroy some video equipment. The show almost seemed to still be in progress, but the announcers and officials all left. After awhile, fans started to leave, but there was no closure to the show.

Later, it would turn out to those fans who didn't already know (via the Internet) that Bret had actually signed with WCW. There was a struggle over how he would leave, and how he would surrender the title, and he was effectively tricked. At least, that's the consensus right now. Some folks believe to this day that it was all a hoax. That night was in part the basis for the heel owner Vince McMahon persona, which helped to propel the WWF back to number one. Ironically, Bret's heralded debut in WCW was received with little fanfare, and for various reasons, he proved a non-factor.

The WWF returned several times since then to Montreal to put on house shows, but never for television productions. Their official line is that there are legal issues that make doing shows in Canada a big hassle. That's reasonable. At the same time, there are apparently some obligations involved in airing their show on TSN, so they have to come here from time to time. Usually, they head to Toronto, where they rarely have difficulty filling the Air Canada Centre or for big events, the SkyDome.

Their latest trip to Montreal, though, is the first of its kind in a long time. I'm not sure what's changed their mind, but with recent house show attendance falling, my bet is that they are less able to be picky about where they want to put on their big shows if they want to wrestle in front of sold-out venues.

As Montrealers, that's our opportunity to get out there, fill the Molson Centre, cheer loudly, and make the WWF want to come back, despite the legal issues. I hope they haven't come back just to sacrifice another Canadian.

Here's the mailbag.

Robert, from, writes:
"I was happy to see the subject of your column this week, because lately I've been just tired of the McMahons, too. Specifically, Shane. This is going to be a rant, so brace yourself. Shane McMahon infuriates me. He constantly books himself higher on the card than anyone else in the Alliance, with the exception of Steve Austin. He obviously doesn't care about any of the wrestlers, he just wants to pretend he's a big star. But he wouldn't even have a job if he had a different last name. Someone needs to intervene and make a business decision. Not a political decision, not a personal decision, a BUSINESS decision. And what's right for business is to get Shane McMahon out of the main events, off the microphone, and put his ego in check."

I don't mind Shane doing certain things, because I think he's earned a certain amount of respect. But he hasn't earned main event heat. He's never been that popular, or that hated. He's good for the odd pay-per-view special attraction match, but he's done more harm than good to Booker T and the last few wrestlers he's been associated with. I empathize with your feelings on this issue and hope that the subject of McMahon participation won't be huge source of aggravation for wrestling fans in the years to come. I can sure imagine that, though.

That's all for this week. You can blame my flu for the tardiness of this column. Flu, begone! Have a great weekend.

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