With World Championship Wrestling emerging as a legitimate threat to the World Wrestling Federation in 1997…the WWF began making changes to how they did business. Fewer squash matches were used to enhance top stars and in its place were more meaningful confrontations. The WWF was slowly getting a bit more edgier with its content. We were seeing less and less cartoonish gimmicks and were being given more characters with relateability. This was a time where Vince McMahon and company were testing the waters for a product with a bit more…attitude.
Of course, the official launch of the WWF’s ‘Attitude Era’ didn’t take place until December 15th, 1997. That was when Vince came out of his straight man broadcaster character and announced that drastic changes to the product were being instituted. What we would get out of that was a whole lot of scantiliy clad women, foul language, blood, guts and characters who were pimps, porn stars and vampires. While the Attitude Era gave us all of that and more…to me…it all really started with a shove.
Bret ‘the Hitman’ Hart was one of the company’s top stars. What he may have lacked in charisma, he made up for in technical skills inside the ring. Hart was a relatively wholesome character as both a face and a heel. He was more about the quality of matches in the squared circle than flashy outfits and all the pomp and circumstance outside of it. Bret Hart was given the WWF ball (being the WWF title) and allowed to be the face of the company in the early to mid 1990’s.
By 1997, however, the tides were changing and the overall WWF landscape was seemingly going in a brand new direction. Hart was still a top guy, but he was wrestling in a different type of WWF. Rulebreakers were getting cheered a bit more and stars with a lot more flash were getting opportunities to shine. Guys like Stone Cold Steve Austin, who was portrayed as a heel…was getting cheered more than booed. Meanwhile, Hart who was plating by all the rules started hearing more and more boos.
Behind the scenes, Hart was becoming more and more frustrated by the change of attitude from fans, the backstage politics and certain wrestlers like Shawn Michaels get protected by the company. According to Bret, McMahon made him a lot of promises which involved Bret remaining one of the top stars which eased his ever growing dissension. Some of those promises about how his character would be handled and how long he would be made WWF champion never came to fruition.
The fact of the matter was, the company needed a change and the way the direction Vince wanted to take the company saw Shawn Michaels more in line with that way. Of course, Michaels would put a wrench in all of WWF’s plans earlier in February of 1997 with the infamous “Lost My Smile” promo in which he relinquished the WWF title. That moment certainly irked many wrestlers in the back including Hart. The inmates were running the asylum with McMahon doing nothing more than watching it all take place.
After HBK vacated the title, Hart would win it…only to lose it the very next day to Sycho Sid. A rematch was set up in Syracuse, New York on March 17th, where Hart would challenge Sid in a “15 foot high steel cage” which was a rarity n Monday Night Raw telecasts during this period of time. The match happened live on TV with Wrestlemania 13 just six days away. If Hart won the title, he would go to Wrestlemania and defend it against Steve Austin. During the match, Austin came out to interfere on behalf of Hart to ensure he be champion for Wrestlemania. That led the Undertaker to come out and interfere on behalf of Sid making sure he remained champion so he got the title shot at ‘Mania. The end result saw Sid climb out of the cage and retain his title.
After the match, lead broadcaster Vince McMahon got in the ring to interview the loser Bret and ask how frustrated he felt. What happened next was so shocking and so different than what we as fans were accustomed to seeing on a normal WWF broadcast. Hart violently shoved McMahon to the mat and began voicing his true frustrations with the company. In his pofanity laced tirade, Bret said this…
Frustrated isn’t the goddamn word for it! This is bullshit! You screwed me, everybody screwed me and nobody does a goddamn thing about it! Nobody in the building cares, nobody in the dressing room cares, so much goddamn injustice around here, I’ve had it up to here! Everybody knows it! I know it! EVERYBODY knows it, I should be the World Wrestling Federation Champion! Everybody just keeps turning a blind eye, you keep turning a blind eye to it, I’ve got that Gorilla Monsoon, he turns a blind eye to it, everybody in that goddamn dressing room knows that I’m the best there is, the best there was and the best there ever will be!
Bret then turns to the fans and said: And if you don’t like it, tough shit!
While it was all planned, it came off as realistic and in a lot of ways it was. Bret was really frustrated with backstage nonsense and that anger came out perfectly in this promo. It also alluded to McMahon as being a lot more than just the everyday play by play man (even though many already knew that fact) it was never really acknowledged on screen before. This all happened during a time when “worked shoots” weren’t that common, so it had a very profound impact.
Bret Hart was never really known for delivering the greatest promos, but during this period of time….Hart did his best work on the microphone. It was in many ways, the first WWF “pipe bomb” promo. The entire segment was powerful and left many fans both shocked and entertained. The USA network executives, on the other hand, weren’t very pleased with the unannounced vulgarity. This segment led to the network placing a seven second delay on WWF broadcasts….something that is still used to this day.
It was the beginning of a natural heel turn for the Hitman and perhaps a small spark that started to ignite the WWF into the Attitude Era which happened just a few months later.