In the mid-90s, the rivalry between The Heart Break Kid Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart produced some of the best matches in the company’s history. The said rivalry wasn’t only on-screen because the two men couldn’t stand each other backstage either.
The feud between the two men ended with the Montreal Screwjob, after which Hart left the company for WCW and ultimately ended his career there.
On the Grilling JR podcast, WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross talked about the rivalry between the two men and why WWE decided to go with Shawn Michaels over Bret Hart.
JR said that the company had decided on making Shawn Michaels into the next big babyface of the company. The reason why this decision was made was because Vince McMahon preferred “sizzle over steak” and Michaels brought a lot of sizzle to the table, according to JR.
At that time, the plans for major events like WrestleMania were made farther out than I feel like they are nowadays. Shawn kept having great match after great match and he had the one thing Vince loved, sizzle, charisma. Shawn had an abundance of that, Vince has always been a fan of sizzle at times more than steak. Bret always delivered steak, I thought he had plenty of sizzle, but Shawn was the flavor of the week.
The fact that Michaels was supposed to succeed Bret Hart didn’t sit too well with the Hitman. He kept his reservations around the Heart Break Kid because the latter had great confidence about the company’s mindset about him.
Bret was more cautious, Bret at that time probably didn’t fully trust Shawn’s motivation. They weren’t hanging around at T.V. together, you didn’t see them at catering together. There wasn’t hate or animosity, it was just cautiousness on Bret’s part because Shawn knew his course. Shawn had been told where we were going, so he had great confidence in where the destination was ahead.
Shawn Michaels defeated Bret Hart for the WWF Championship at WrestleMania 12 in a classic 60-minute Iron Man Match and his Boyhood Dream came true.
However, Shawn Michaels had asked referee Earl Hebner to get Bret Hart out of the ring so that he could properly celebrate his WrestleMania moment. This didn’t sit well with Hart at all and even JR called it disrespectful and immature.
Nobody was happy that Bret was so distressed. Certainly, Shawn saying what he said to Earl Hebner was uncalled for, it was immature. It didn’t show respect to the guy who just put the title on you. Bret took great pride in being the top guy. To be disrespected at his most sensitive moment was very very ill-timed on Shawn’s part.
Today the two men have buried the hatchet but the tales of their legendary and controversial rivalry are still told to this day.
You can watch the full episode of Grilling JR here:
Thank you to Wrestling Inc for the quotes.