Earl Hebner refereed the controversial Survivor Series 1997 match between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart. Dubbed "The Montreal Screwjob" in the industry, the match ended with Michaels locking Hart in a Sharpshooter and Vince McMahon appearing at ringside, ordering Hebner to ring the bell, causing Hart to lose the match without any prior knowledge of the booking decision. Hebner recently opened up about the experience and whether he thought it was a storyline or not.
As quoted by Wrestling Inc, the former WWE referee appeared on VOC Nation's In the Room podcast and revealed that he thinks the match was a work between Michaels, Hart, and McMahon. At the time, however, he believed the incident was legitimate and it troubled him.
While Hebner believes it was an angle, he went on to say that he regrets calling for the bell to be rung. He also revealed that wrestling fans can learn all about his full thoughts on the matter when he finally releases a project he's currently working on.
"After it all panned out 20 some odd years later, I'm thinking, 'Why'd I do it? Why didn't I just say no?' You know what I mean? There's a lot behind the story and I'm working on a book right now and I'm going to put it all in there. There's a lot of things that I took in respect for the talent, and Bret, and everything, you know what I'm saying?"While Hebner clearly feels some guilt due to his involvement, he also said that he was doing his job. If he didn't call an end to the match, McMahon or another WWE official would have. The veteran referee is upset that he's synonymous with the controversial match, however, as it went against his policy of always trying to do right by the talent.
If the match was a work, it's arguably the greatest one in the history of the business. After the bout was over, Hart spit on McMahon from the ring and then punched him backstage afterward. There are plenty of first-hand accounts to back up these reports, and Hart, Michaels, and McMahon have all been vocal about it throughout the years.
The incident stemmed from Hart's decision to join World Championship Wrestling while he was WWE Champion. While "The Hitman" has always claimed that he'd have happily dropped the title before he left, McMahon didn't want to risk it. This was during the Monday Night Wars, and if Hart took the WWE Championship to the company's biggest rivals, it would have been disastrous for its reputation.