Thursday, April 13, 2017

Podcast Deep Dive: The New Generation Project Podcast, Ep. 80

This episode of the NGP details Hart losing a very different title in far less friendly circumstances
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Show: The New Generation Project Podcast
Episode: 80
Run Time: 3:49:39

Starting with the 1993 King of the Ring, The New Generation Project Podcast has been chronicling every major WWF show and building toward the major event of their own Act IV of V: the Montreal Screwjob. Stewart, Adam and Paul have always known that this moment was coming, and that it would be the turning point and ultimate payoff of their narrative, which was to show how the WWF transitioned from the lean years of the New Generation Era, ending with the beginning of the Attitude Era. Since it's arguably the most infamous thing to ever happen in a pro wrestling ring, the guys knew such a task required lots of work.

On the NGP Podcast, that means it's Stewart doing the work, and he estimates he put in nearly 20 hours of research. This episode tops out at just under four hours, probably almost half as long as an episode of Joe Rogan's podcast. Such a huge run time might put off some listeners, and maybe the Montreal Screwjob feels like the most beaten dead horse in wrestling, but the NGP Podcast has done a great service to fans by creating the definitive statement on nearly everything you can know about a situation in which competing viewpoints are jammed into a mind-boggling mess. They do this with as little bias as possible.

Well, maybe there's more than a little bias. As listeners of the show will know, Stewart has always colored his narratives with slightly more sympathy (or "simpy" if you're Scott Steiner) for Bret Hart, and a few more jabs at Shawn Michaels. During a segment in which Stewart is relying heavily on passages from Hart's autobiography, Hitman: My Real Life in the Cartoon World of Wrestling, Adam stops for a moment and asks, "Do we believe everything Bret says?" Stewart immediately replies, "I tend to, because I love him." It's good that Stewart doesn't hide the pink-colored sunglasses with which he has done his research, as our loyalties and fandom can easily influence how we view the rights and the wrongs of the Montreal Screwjob. If you love Hart, you can easily see how he was unjustly betrayed. But if you're lukewarm on him, you could just as easily put the pieces together that show him being petulant and overly sensitive.

You certainly would get the idea that Shawn Michaels is a "bellend" (British slang the hosts use for dickhead) from the back catalog of NGP Podcast episodes, as they have detailed the backstage shenanigans of Michaels that resulted in his forfeiting the WWF Championship (in all likelihood) because he didn't want to lose his title to Hart at WrestleMania 13. This is one of those pro wrestling "facts" that we'll never truly be able to confirm, but all parties who would be able to shoot it down (especially Bruce Prichard on his podcast) have refused to do so. Michaels has admitted that he was difficult to work with at this time, and in recent interviews he has basically said, "I'm sure that bad thing you're saying about me is true, but I don't remember any details about it." The guys make the connection that Michaels also says he was abusing alcohol and pills around this time, which might explain why he legitimately has little memory of the conversations in which he acted like the most important person in the locker room.

Stewart narrates his research and paints a picture that can't help but remain hazy, even 20 years later with insight and interviews to help us. It's still impossible to say who had the moral high ground in the decisions they made. Paul wants to agree with Stewart and say that Hart did the right thing in standing up for himself and deserves sympathy. But Paul admits that there's a tiny part of himself that thinks, Wouldn't life had just been easier for Hart if he had went along with Vince McMahon's plans?

Would it have truly damaged his career had he lost the title in Montreal, in front of his biggest fans? Would that really have been, as Hart says in Wrestling With Shadows, "blowing my own brains out, from a character standpoint?" The answers to both questions might be a flat No.

But from McMahon's point of view: did the plans really have to involve Hart losing in Montreal like that? And was there good reason to believe that Hart, a loyal employee of almost 15 years, would show up on Nitro with the WWF Title? The answers to those questions is also probably No.

It's all still a mess. And as Adam says, the Montreal Screwjob is exactly like a divorce: "Everyone loses." No one is the clear winner. But the boys of the New Generation Project Podcast tried their best to find those answers, and again, if you're needing to do some mental gymnastics for almost four hours, you can't do much better than this. (Also, if you need to hear someone do an average yet enthusiastic karaoke version of "November Rain," Paul has you covered for the final seven minutes of the show).