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Jim Ross Recalls Heat Between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart Over Playgirl Promo, Michaels’ Personal Issues At the Time

June 7, 2019 | Posted by Jeremy Thomas
Bret Hart Shawn Michaels 1997

– Jim Ross looked back at the well-documented heat between Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart in mid-1997 and Michaels being livid over Bret Hart’s infamous ‘Playgirl’ promo on the latest Grilling JR podcast. This was just a few months before the legendary Montreal Screwjob, and the incident was a big escalation in the heat between the two leading up to the Screwjob.

Michaels and Hart were feuding at the time in the build to King of the Ring, and Hart cut a promo while in a wheelchair on the May 12th, 1997 episode where he called Michaels a “gutless little poser” and called Michaels down to the ring. Hart ran Michaels down, referencing mocking Michaels’ for his appearance in Playgirl and “putting an earring in your navel, and your noses and your ears,” and saying he was too much of a coward to face Bret. Michaels was supposed to superkick Bret to end the segment, but Bret’s promo continued until the end of the show and the superkick had to be shown the next week on Raw. Hart claimed he missed his cue to end the segment, while Michaels believed Hart did it on purpose, and that exacerbated their issues even further than they already were.

Highlights from Ross’ comments on the incident are below, as well as the full podcast:

On how much of the Playgirl promo was scripted: “I would say based on my experience there, especially during that tumultuous era, Bret was gonna say what Bret wanted to say and Vince was gonna let him by and large. Not that that’s an indictment on either side. My point is that Bret created the interview. He knew what he wanted to say, he was gonna take it in a direction that would make him and his boys, the Hart Foundation, heels in America and massive, massive babyfaces in Canada and the UK. We find out, Conrad, when you travel, Americans are not loved by everybody. Sorry to mention that folks, but because we are somewhat arrogant, conceited bastards sometimes, no doubt. So Americans aren’t loved. You can tell that by how Trump was treated in England [on the recent trip]. Big protests — people surely got better things to do than protest Donald Trump being in their city, but it seemed like they didn’t. So Bret, they were smart. In the lower 48 so to speak, they were gonna be heels. Didn’t have a problem with that … Outside the US, they’re gonna be babyfaces, because they’re saying the truth about what many Americans are. So it worked out pretty well. But that was a Bret interview there all the way around, and it certainly was not written. He certainly did not memorize it. Now I’m sure that as any good performer would do, he’ll have bullet points. He’ll either write them down himself as most would do, just to have some sort of rule of thumb or direction, or he’ll just make mental notes if you’re that good. You gotta have some structure. But I don’t think it was written at all, I don’t think he memorized it. I think it went from his heart. It followed the direction of where they were going in their story, and where he was going with the Hart Foundation. But it was a riveting promo, way ahead of its time, I thought.”

On Bret continuing the promo until the show ended, meaning Michaels didn’t get to superkick him: “I was out front, so I didn’t lay my eyes on it [Shawn’s reaction backstage]. I heard enough about it. Again, wrestlers and agents and guys, those guys in the talent relations side or my world couldn’t wait to come tell me everything, you know, and embellish of course. Shawn thought it was a screwjob, he’d been set up. But I am a firm believer to this very day that was not the case. I know it was noisy. Bret was very believable on the mic, and did some great promos from time to time without a doubt. But to say promos were the strength of his came was not accurate. Because the strength of his game was wrestling bell-to-bell in my opinion. So he missed his cue, and he didn’t his last line in apparently that he wanted to get in. They always have to have a cue, ‘Tell me when you’re gonna to this,’ or ‘Tell me when you’re gonna to that, what’s your last line.’ So he worked that out with the truck or through the gorilla position. He didn’t get there and we went off the air. But you know, it aired the next week so it wasn’t like, ‘Oh my god, we lost it forever.’ But I never believed that Bret would sabotage the angle. It’s just not his style, it really isn’t. But of course he was made to look like the bad guy, and Shawn had a lot of people, I’m sure, in his ear chirping that ‘Bret just screwed you.’ Are you guys that stupid? Camera’s rolling, we got this kick — you kicked him right out of the wheelchair. It was a great move, it was a great heel move. Or babyface move in the States, I guess, but it certainly made Shawn a heel everywhere else. So I never thought it was a conspiracy, I just thought it was oversight, human error quite frankly. It’s not as exotic a story to tell, but I think that’s what happened.”

On Shawn’s ‘Sunny Daze’ promo: “[I started to realize it was a problem] when he started talking. He sounded like he was slurring. So he either was extremely fatigued, or he was medicated. I sensed the latter. But that was part of his issues, you know. Shawn was in a very dark place at that point in time in his life for whatever reason. And there’s probably plenty of good reasons. But the bottom line was, he was not conducting himself as he does today. And he needed to change to something. Obviously a better lifestyle would have been one thing. But I don’t know, I just — I felt bad for him. You know, I loved this kid. I went down to San Antonio to talk him into coming back to the business after he’d been gone for four years. It took him four years to get over his issues, basically. His bad back, medicines, maybe some booze, attitude — big time attitude issues. Personal life … but you know, it was just sad to see where he was headed.”
On Vince McMahon continuing to pay Michaels: And you’ve gotta give McMahon credit, too. Shawn is making $750,000 a year. Now you divide that by 52, you get how much we’s making a week. Pretty good money. He got that check every week of every year that he was under contract, and while he was sitting home in San Antonio. Didn’t have to happen, but that’s how Vince did it, and Vince always had a soft spot for Shawn because he saw Shawn’s rebellious, anti-establishment attitude as reminiscent of a young Vince. And now he had to navigate the waters of the old WWWF when his old dad owned it. So I think there’s something to be said about that. So Shawn was going down a real bad road, and luckily changed his direction before it got too late.”

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Grilling JR with a h/t to 411mania.com for the transcription.