In 1997, three organizations battled for sports entertainment supremacy. You had the juggernaut WWF (World Wrestling Federation), who despite a massively successful 1980s, had entered a cooling off period as it struggled to find its footing amid a steady stream of superstar exits. You had Ted Turner’s WCW (World Championship Wrestling), a company filled with those same stars who helped the WWF rise to prominence as they left for fat, guaranteed paychecks and a lighter work schedule. Finally, you had Paul Heyman’s revolutionary ECW (Extreme Championship Wrestling), a promotion built on not only original talent, but “misfits” from the WWF and WCW who came together to present a violent, reality-based style that thrived amongst an underground community of rabid fans.
Amid all the chaos on screen, backstage antics were just as compelling. There was the very real drama between Bret “The Hitman” Hart and his rival Shawn Michaels as they fought to be considered Vince McMahon’s “number one”, hoping to secure the spot at the top of the food chain. In WCW, there was Hulk Hogan’s dreaded “creative control” card built into his contract allowing him to nullify anything that was asked of him to perform on-screen. This effectively gave Hogan as secure a spot on top as possible leading to inner turmoil and contempt among “the boys”. In ECW, there was Heyman’s struggle to get onto pay-per-view, desperate to show his company was on equal footing with the “big boys”.
Given the wealth of information within, I would say where the book really shines is in detailing Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels’ journey to the 1997 Survivor Series – I would even go so far as to call it the definitive account of the “Montreal Screwjob”. While I’ve heard of the events that occurred that night over and over again, I still found myself riveted to the story, wondering if they really were going to “screw” Bret over, that’s how well paced it was. Learning more about Bret Hart’s contract negotiation with WCW, his refusal to drop the title to Michaels prior to leaving and reading about each person’s part in the double-cross led to me uncovering things I previously did not know.
Through documentaries, books, podcasts, Dave Meltzer’s Wrestling Observer and original interviews with Jim Cornette, Vince Russo, Ken Shamrock, Tom Pritchard and several others, co-authors Justin Henry and James Dixon paint a vivid picture of all that occurred during that volatile year. Not only is it impeccably researched, the writing is also strong and easily digestible. I would find myself consuming large chunks of the book in a single sitting. Like many of my favorite wrestling podcasts that focus on a specific timeline (The New Generation Project Podcast, The Attitude Era Podcast), I didn’t want it to end. I could easily have read another hundred pages. In speaking with co-author Justin Henry, he alluded to me that additional books are being considered for the series, so I can only hope they show up sooner than later.