Updated: May 3, 2020
November 9th, 1997. A day that changed the landscape of wrestling forever. A night that caused a domino effect not only in the war between WWF and WCW but one that also changed the lives of those involved as well as some not directly involved.
We all know the story of the Montreal Screwjob. Whether you choose to believe it was a work or a shoot, this is not to go back and rehash the events that transpired that night. This article asks the question, what if Bret never left? Eight months before that fateful night in Canada, we saw the infancy of what would become the Mr. McMahon character.
After a cage match with Sycho Sid, Bret would cut a scathing promo on McMahon and the company, later shoving Vince down in the middle of the ring. Fast forward to Survivor Series, after the screwjob occured, Bret would spit in the face of McMahon, and later signal the lettering WCW while standing in the middle of the ring. This of course is where he was headed after contract negotiations had fallen through with the WWF, when Vince explained he would not be able to afford the contract terms that he and Bret had agreed to. The infamous “Bret screwed Bret” promo would subsequently air the next night on Raw as Vince explained the time honored tradition that he felt Bret did not fulfill. He was sporting that famous shiner from the night before when Bret legitimately knocked Vince out in the locker room.
From there, we would get one of the greatest heels in wrestling history, at least in my opinion. Mr. McMahon was hated by many wrestling fans who felt that he truly screwed Bret Hart. The company would capitalize on the legitimate heat McMahon was garnering and he would go on to engage in a long-lasting, money printing feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Could that spot have been Bret’s if he didn’t leave? What would’ve happened to Stone Cold in that scenario?
He went on to become the company’s highest grossing superstar of all time and played the key role in shifting the momentum in the Monday Night Wars, mostly due to his feud with Vince. Another key piece in this story that I have always pondered is what may have happened with Owen Hart? After Bret left, the British Bulldog and Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart were granted releases from their contracts leaving Owen as the only remaining Hart Foundation member employed by WWF.
There were many story lines pitched to Owen that others have gone on record to say he was not comfortable participating in because he did not want his wife and kids watching at home to see him doing the things they had planned for him. Owen would have short stints as “The Black Hart”, he would become a member of the Nation of Domination, team with Jeff Jarrett, and of course finally return to the Blue Blazer gimmick that he debuted in the WWF with in the late 80’s. As we know, we tragically lost Owen in a terrible accident in May of 1999 at the Over the Edge pay per view. What if Bret never left? Would Owen’s career go down a different path and would he still be with us today?
Finally, where would Bret end up in all of this? After years of being a top guy in the World Wrestling Federation, The Hitman was grossly misused by WCW, as they did not have any idea how to properly use someone of his caliber. He would win the US, Tag Team, and World Heavyweight titles during his three year run in the company, but there was never the feel of Bret in WCW being anywhere close to where he was during his tenure with WWF.
Then of course at Starrcade 1999 Bret would face Goldberg. He has said numerous times that all he told Bill before the match was not to hurt him. Hart prided himself on working a very real and believable style and had never injured a wrestler during his career. During the match, Goldberg hit Bret with a kick to the head, causing a severe concussion and also cutting The Hitman’s career short. He would go on to wrestle a handful of matches in the remaining months of his WCW career but one can only imagine how many years Bret would have left had the injury never occurred.
It is always a game of what if in the world of professional wrestling, but there is no denying that Bret Hart will go down as one of the greatest in ring technicians of all time. There was so much more that he could’ve provided to the business whether it be as a performer, an agent or producer, or as a coach for young talent looking to find their way. One thing that can never be questioned is that Bret will always be the best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.
Drew Vencill is a lifelong wrestling fan and proud member of the Ohio Players. Follow him on Twitter @DrewVencill