By Mike Mooneyham
Jan. 29, 2006
Part 1 of a two-part series
Shawn Michaels doesn’t know what it will take to bury the hatchet with Bret Hart.
Their on-screen and off-screen feud reached a crescendo at the 1997 Survivor Series pay-per-view when Hart was “double-crossed” in an elaborate plot that included, among others, Michaels, WWE owner Vince McMahon and referee Earl Hebner.
The now infamous Montreal show in which Hart unwittingly dropped his world title to Michaels has become part of wrestling folklore, yet the memory of what happened that fateful night still lingers and has taken on a life of its own.
In the wrestling business, says Michaels, it was the equivalent of a Mafia hit, and he was Jack Ruby pulling the trigger.
Concerned that he was going to leave to then-rival World Championship Wrestling while still holding the WWE title, McMahon had orchestrated the secret plan to recapture the belt.
Hart, who retired from the business in 2000, later said his only regret was that he didn’t “knock all of his (Michaels’) teeth, smash his skull into little tiny pieces, and toss his arms and legs out into the audience,” and that he had put faith in a “false friend” (Hebner). As for McMahon, Hart got his pound of flesh, punching out the promoter backstage after the match.
Michaels, once considered one of the most controversial figures in the industry but now a devout Christian,, says he has apologized countless times for his part in the affair.
“I don’t know what to say at this point,” Michaels said last week. “Not just Bret, but a lot of people, including Hulk Hogan, have given me a hard time about my faith. What I can say is this. I am extremely flattered that after four-and-a-half years of being a born-again Christian, that everyone expects more out of me and my walk with the Lord than they expect from themselves. But I, too, do the best I can. I’m not Jesus, but I’m doing my best on a daily basis in a secular environment.”
Hart, who has worn the betrayal on his sleeve for the past seven years, said in a recent interview that Michaels was “one Christian they should have fed to the lions.”
To which, Michaels half-jokingly noted, “They don’t do that anymore.”
Michaels says he feels sorry that Hart has “painted himself into a corner all alone.”
“When I talk about Bret, I can only talk about what has helped me get over this thing. You have to take responsibility for yourself and you have to look at yourself and confess your sins. He needs to confess his part. Vince is at peace with it because he confessed his part. I’m at peace because I’ve confessed and taken responsibility for my part. Bret will never have peace with this until he has the guts to look at me and the wrestling public and do his part. There’s no disgrace in that.”
Michaels adds that he would do it again under similar conditions. He wouldn’t, however, lie to Hart.
“Under the same circumstances, if we were fighting for our lives again, I would. I’ve told everybody. I don’t claim to know everything, but I’ve searched the Scriptures. I would be deemed righteous to do it with the exception of lying to Bret afterwards about it. The only change would be I’d tell him I knew about it.”
Although he believed in his heart that he did the right thing, says Michaels, the incident still troubled him. But at the time he was told by McMahon: “Don’t you say anything. I want to take the heat for this.”
“I’ve been listening to my authority,” says Michaels. “Until it contradicts the word of God … I just wouldn’t lie about it.”
Door open for Hart
With Michaels apparently headed toward a showdown with McMahon leading up to this year’s Wrestlemania, rumors have been flying that Hart might be part of the angle. Michaels, though, doubts that Hart will agree.
“I know that every Survivor Series we try to get a hold of him. I don’t know if they do at every Wrestlemania. I have to admit I don’t have the correspondence with them that I once did. Come Tuesday morning, I’m usually done with them until the next Monday. So I don’t know. I don’t know from a Hall of Fame aspect to actually being at Wrestlemania.”
Michaels says he’d gladly skip the Hall of Fame ceremony if that would motivate Hart to show up.
“Honestly I wish he would. Whatever it is that’s keeping him from coming back – it’s hard to believe it’s still gotta be me – but if it is then I won’t go. He ought to come back and end his career on a different note. Right now he’s single-handedly made himself famous by being the Survivor Series guy and the bitter guy. I would want him to close his career differently. So if took me not going to the banquet to make that happen, I’m fine with that.”
In his recently released autobiography, “Heartbreak and Triumph,” Michaels downplays Hart’s ability, saying he was “very good but not great,” and that he lacked the versatility needed to reach that elusive level.
“I did say that, but in the context of that word (great) getting thrown around so much,” says Michaels. “If Michael Jordan is great, then you expect a different level than everybody else. You don’t get to call Kobe Bryant great. He may get there someday. But it’s consistency over a long period of time. And that’s all I meant about it. Bret couldn’t adjust to everybody.
“And he can say what he wants to about Ric (Flair), but Ric did that later on when he had nothing but stiffs to work with and had to use a formula that he knew would work. And again, greatness to me is defined over a period of time, being able to do it with anybody and bringing other people up to your level.”
Michaels can’t help but smile when talking about the 16-time world champ. He’s a unique example, says Michaels, of a performer who doesn’t need a title to draw.
“I don’t think Ric needs a (world) title. They like him to perform and do what he does. Ric Flair stands on his own. I think he certainly deserves time in the spotlight, and he’s getting that. He deserves it because he can still go out there and do it. It’s a testament to him. Some guys in this industry need to look at him and step up their game. The thing about Ric is that he still loves going out there and doing it. And you can’t teach that.”
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