EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Monday, November 30, 1998
The verdict: Bret-McMahon was a work
Have you seen Bret Hart's documentary special, yet - Wrestling With Shadows? I missed its initial broadcast in my area, two weekends ago, but a friend of mine taped it and just today did I watch it. I now have exactly one thing to say, to share with you all. It's a theory of mine, one from long ago, which I now realize may be completely true.
Bret Hart's departure from the WWF was a complete and total work.
Before I elaborate, the first thing I'd like to make clear is that this is just a theory. I don't know anything for certain, only the evidence presented before me, which is circumstantial at best. Secondly, that even if this is true, I don't consider it to be a dark stain on Bret's career, not at all. In fact, I think of it as a major complement: this would make Bret the ultimate professional. I'll explain why later.
Why don't you help my sift through the evidence, and draw your own conclusions?
Exhibit A. The situation before, the situation after.
Before this incident occurred, Bret Hart was earning a huge salary from one Vince McMahon. The WWF was not earning great ratings and their pay-per-views were receiving sub-par buy rates. McMahon could not afford to pay Bret.
After the incident in Montreal at the Survivor Series, in fact before, Bret Hart was slated to earn an even fatter pay-cheque from Eric Bischoff, saving McMahon some money and making Bret some more. As far as ratings went, the WWF won and WCW lost. People were tuning in to Raw to see what had happened to Bret, to hear McMahon say that "Bret screwed Bret." In all senses, this was a victory for the WWF.
Exhibit B. The cooperation.
Maybe Vince McMahon knew what he was going to do and just felt badly about it, but before he "screwed" Bret out of the title, he also helped him with his contract with WCW. As he is known to sometimes do, McMahon didn't let it out that Bret was going to be out of a contract - this gave Bret a lot more leverage to work with in signing his new deal with Bischoff, who thought he was stealing the WWF's biggest star. If McMahon and his champion were cooperating before the incident, why not during?
Exhibit C. How it went down.
Bret was grappling with Shawn Michaels in the main event at Survivor Series, a match for the WWF title. The match was a back-and-forth brawl, ending in Shawn's putting Bret in the sharpshooter, which Bret apparently never submitted to. Firstly, Bret wrote in his column in later weeks that Vader had given him a few pieces of advice. One, not to trust anyone, and two, not to let his shoulders be pinned to the mat or to get himself into any kind of submission maneuver - if it looks like you could be pinned, you could be screwed. Somehow, Bret allowed this to happen anyway. He's a smart guy. Why would he do that unless it he knew what was coming? Secondly, after the match, everyone was in just the right spot. Vince McMahon, despite his "running out" with the stooges, was just where he had to be to get spit on by Bret.
Exhibit D. The conspiracy theory.
Bret would also later admit that he suspected a work, and he addressed not only McMahon about it, but also Michaels and referee Earl Hebner. This isn't a huge point, but if he suspected it enough to ask everybody about it, he should have had the sense to do something about it. Or go along with it.
Exhibit E. Survivor Series '98.
This isn't an excellent argument, I can see that, but the same thing happened this year as last. That's not to suggest that it's impossible for one to be fake and the other to be real; in fact, it would make sense for McMahon to play off the real one by creating a work out of it the following year. However, the WWF has a history of playing down anything real that happens. Why? Because they can't control that stuff. They can't end an injury that's real, they can't stop real problems like they can worked ones. If the first problem were real, I think they might have avoided referring to it later. This brings me to my next and final point:
Exhibit F. After the fact.
On the episodes of Raw following the Survivor Series, there was a heavy emphasis on "who got screwed?" and such. McMahon had an interview with Jim Ross in which he uttered those famous words, "I didn't screw Bret Hart. Bret screwed Bret." Degeneration-X's part of the angle was played up, with Max Mini's imitation of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart's faux joining of the stable, only to get beat down.
Well, truth be told, I do have one more point. I just watched Bret Hart's documentary. Having just watched Wrestling With Shadows, a few things occur to me. One, the WWF is all over that video, and there's no reference to WCW at all. It appears to me that Titan had a heavy hand in the making of the special. Second, none of the key elements are verifiably real. Why didn't McMahon sue Bret for allegedly punching him in the fact and breaking his jaw? He certainly carries his lawsuits to fruition, as anyone who pays attention to them has seen. Why not? Because it was a work to begin with.
I would like to re-iterate my words from the beginning of this column. This, in my opinion, in no way reflects Bret Hart in a bad light, whether it be true or false. Always the professional, he was wearing his wrestling gear even as he left Titan Towers to head for Turnerland.
Finally, the first mail-bag in awhile. Keep them letters coming! I read 'em all!
Orangina, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
*I'd like to see more of your rants and raves. But I still like the fake wrestling stuff.*
Jesse, from email@example.com, writes:
*Man, I used to read your stuff over at Wrestlemaniacs and I liked it more when you had a harder edge. Bring back the Lunatic!*
Jesse, Orangina, I've been getting a lot of email like yours over the past little while. I'm happy to say that I'll be bringing back some of the old stuff from my bag of tricks, and I'm sure you'll dig it. First, the return of the editographies, those biographies I used to write about some of the lesser known wrestlers or well-known wrestlers with dark secrets. It's factual, but the facts are hopelessly intertwined with my own commentary. Secondly, I've been given the go-ahead to bring back some of that edge, meaning more of my real rants columns, too. I'm getting comfortable writing at SLAM!, so you may see a lot more of what you liked before, as well as a lot of what you like now, all wrapped in a neat little package with one of those Christmas bow-things.
Oh yeah, one more thing. I got a lot of mail with your Blue Blazer predictions. The three most popular ones were Bruce Hart, Dr. Tom Pritchard, and the Ultimo Dragon. Well, the Dragon has been shelved for quite some time, now, and Bruce Hart isn't under the mask. Dr. Tom may have been doing some of the Blazer work, but mark my words: when the Blazer is de-masked, he'll be Owen's former tag-team partner, former tag-team champion, former European champion, former WCW jobber, Davey Boy Smith, the British Bulldog - or my name ain't Judge Eric.
Have a great week, see you in seven. Keep on writin'.
Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.