Re: 20 years Ago: Wrestling Observer
September 20th, 1997
About one hour before the beginning of the PPV show in Birmingham, England, McMahon approached Davey Boy Smith and asked him to put over Shawn Michaels that night for the European title. Smith was apparently shocked, having been told all along in the build-up of the show, that Michaels was going to do a job for him, since Europe was promised to be his territory. The explanation, which made and still makes logical business sense, is that they wanted to build for a bigger show - a second PPV show from Manchester, England, Smith's former home town, where Smith would regain the title - the same scenario the WWF did to draw 60,000 fans in San Antonio with Michaels in the other role working a program with Sycho Sid. So while it all made sense, it was rather strange he wasn't approached with this idea until just before the start of the show. At around this same time period, McMahon approached Hart about working with Michaels. Hart said that he had a problem with that since Michaels had still never really apologized to him for the Sunny days comment and said it would be hard to trust somebody like that in the ring and due to their past, and told McMahon that he would figure that Michaels would have the same concerns, since a few weeks earlier, after first making it clear he would never work with anyone in the Hart Foundation, Michaels had finally agreed to work with only Smith, saying he still couldn't trust Bret or Owen.
September 22, 1997: On the day of the Raw taping at Madison Square Garden, McMahon told Bret Hart flat out that they were going to intentionally breach his contract because they couldn't afford the deal. He told a shocked Hart that he should go to World Championship Wrestling and make whatever deal he could with that group. I didn't feel comfortable doing it," Hart said of the suggestion. I feel like an old prisoner in a prison where I know all the guards and all the inmates and I have the best cell. Why would I want to move to a new prison where I don't know the guards and the inmates and I no longer have the best cell? I felt really bad after all the years of working for the WWF. Hart had an escape clause in his contract since he had so much negotiating leverage when making his WWF deal 11 months earlier, in that he could leave the company giving 30 days notice and that he would have what the contract called reasonable creative control of his character during that lame duck period so that he couldn't be unreasonably buried on the way out. There was a window period for giving that notice and negotiating elsewhere that hadn't begun yet, so McMahon, showing he was serious, gave Hart written permission to begin negotiating with WCW and Hart contacted Eric Bischoff.
The same day, during a meeting with Hart, Michaels and McMahon - Michaels told both of them point blank that he wouldn't do any jobs for anyone in the territory, word that when it got out made most of the other top wrestlers feel even more warmly than usual toward Michaels. Michaels later reiterated that statement to Hart on 10/4, in St. Paul, when the two agreed that for the good of the business that they'd work together. At a meeting, McMahon proposed a scenario where the two would have their first singles match in Montreal, where Undertaker would interfere causing a non-finish. This would lead to Hart wrestling Undertaker on the 12/7 PPV in Springfield, Ma., where Michaels would interfere causing Bret to win the title, which was poetic justice since it was his interference that caused Bret to win the title in the first place, and that Royal Rumble on 1/8, in San Jose, would be headlined by Undertaker vs. Michaels. During the meeting, Hart told Michaels that he'd be happy to put him over at the end of the run, but Michaels told Hart flat out that he wouldn't return the favor to him. Michaels and Hart spoke again on the subject on 10/12 in San Jose, when once again Michaels told Hart that he wasn't going to do a job for him.