Monday, 10 September 2012

The Scene of the Crime

Tonight's RAW will emanate from Montreal, Quebec and will feature an appearance by Bret 'The Hitman' Hart. Anyone wrestling fan familiar with the Montreal Screwjob will be able to tell you how significant this appearance is. Most people reading this will likely already know what the Montreal Screwjob is but for those that don't I'll attempt a brief summary.

Bret Hart was recognised as the WWF champion heading into Survivor Series '97. It was relatively common knowledge that he was due to leave the promotion within weeks and join WCW, due mainly to Vince McMahon and the WWF being unable to pay Hart's contracted salary.
Hart was adamant that he would not lose the WWF championship to Shawn Michaels, his scheduled opponent at the pay-per-view. Some have said he was willing to lose the title to Steve Austin or Mick 'Mankind' Foley, while some have stated the problem wasn't just losing to 'The Heartbreak Kid' but losing in Canada in general. Hart took (and takes) his public perception in his home nation very seriously and the general consensus is that he didn't want to lose to a man he personally disliked in front of his countrymen.
The Hart versus Michaels match ended up going ahead, with a planned finish agreed between the opponents and company owner and chief creative director Vince McMahon that would see Hart retain the championship. Reports vary on when Hart believed he would lose the title but it’s generally felt he was under the impression he would retain the belt on pay-per-view and then drop it on Monday Night RAW sometime in the following weeks.
The planned finish didn't occur. What happened instead was that Michaels placed 'The Hitman' in his own finishing hold, the Sharpshooter, and Vince McMahon ordered the bell to be rung and the match ruled in HBK's favour.
The combatants looked confused in the ring as a new WWF champion was announced. This was a ruse on Michaels' part, he had been in on the deception along with Vince McMahon and other key names. Hart spat on Vince and drew the WCW initials in the air for the hard camera as the show went off the air.
Hart wouldn't appear on RAW again until January 4 2010. He moved to WCW for a disappointingly forgettable run that saw his career reach a premature end in a match with Bill Goldberg.
The Montreal Screwjob left a sour taste in the mouths of Hart's family and friends for years to come. It tarnished the legacy of one of wrestling's most important figures and offended many members of the WWF locker room (Davey Boy Smith, Owen Hart, Mick Foley and the Undertaker, among others).
It also did a great deal of good for the WWF. It allowed for the creation of the hated Mr McMahon character, who proved the perfect foil for breakout star 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin. It also set the tone for the Attitude Era, which is what eventually allowed the WWF to triumph over WCW.
It may not have been Vinnie Mac's finest hour but it's hard to argue that he didn't make the right decision for his company in the long run.
As I noted above Bret returned to the (now renamed) WWE in 2010. He publicly buried the hatchet with Shawn Michaels and embarked on a feud with McMahon that climaxed at WrestleMania XXVI. He has made sporadic appearances over the last two and a half years and remains a popular nostalgia-fuelled act.
The company are going to want to make Hart's televised return to Montreal memorable. It's likely he will be given time to talk about what appearing there means to him and (hopefully) acknowledge that it (finally) signals an end to the fallout of the Screwjob.

Tonight is a big night for this guy
I cannot see his appearance being limited to a speech though. It is too perfect an opportunity to get some heat on a heel act. Any wrestler interrupting Hart's address (or diatribe, call it what you will) will meet with an intensely frosty reception from the Montreal audience.
Theoretically any bad guy on the roster could be scripted to interrupt Hart's monologue. The Miz, Alberto Del Rio, Cody Rhodes and Dolph Ziggler would be particularly good fits. All would benefit from the spot and are established enough to pull it off believably. None of them seem likely though.
To my mind there are only two men who can realistically be expected to confront 'The Hitman'. The first is Damien Sandow. In truth it's not that likely that he'll interact with Hart, but he's been booked so strongly and management are so high on him that it's just about imaginable enough to be a realistic possibility.
The other name, and the man I think will confront the former five time WWE champion, is CM Punk.
The current WWE champion is now the promotion's top heel and is becoming more arrogant and condescending with each passing week. Having him lay into Hart for whining would cast Punk in an incredibly negative light and make the fans in attendance loathe him. It's all too easy to imagine a situation in which 'The Voice of the Voiceless' lays into Hart for "disrespecting" him by wasting time and talking about something that happened fifteen years ago.

Placing Punk in this spot would also open up the possibility of having Paul Heyman interact with the Canadian hero. The alliance that appeared to be revealed in the closing moments of last week’s RAW is expected to be addressed tonight and there would be no better way of giving the pairing something memorable to do than having (to my knowledge) the first televised interaction between Heyman and Hart.
Whatever happens tonight I expect it to be a memorable segment and something that will looked back at again and again for years to come. There is no better use for Bret Hart in 2012.

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