Photo credit: TNA Wrestling
During the 90’s, the world of professional wrestling experienced what has become affectionately known as a “boom period”. A “boom period”, that shook the foundations of the business and, in essence, pop culture as we know it. We had the “Hulkamania” era. We had the “Rock ‘n’ Wrestling” era. It was now time for something completely new: The Attitude Era.
Now, whether you contribute the Attitude Era to the influence of Triple H & Shawn Michaels or you settle for the fact that, at the time at least, the WWE was very much set in its ways as a product by hashing out some absurd storylines and ridiculous characters. On a personal level, I never got to see the original part of the Attitude Era with the likes of Ahmed Johnson, The Rock as a bitter, racially influenced Intercontinental champion or the brawls between the Nation of Domination and D-Generation X.
However, I did first switch on to wrestling in what I believe to be the single greatest part of the Attitude Era and the reason why it was just so good. I discovered tag team wrestling at its finest. In particular, two natives of Cameron, North Carolina struck my attention and made this era of wrestling exactly what it was: exciting, unpredictable and oftentimes, left me with my eyes wide and my jaw on the floor. In fact, one of the first matches that I ever saw on TV was the Tag Team Ladder Match at WWF No Mercy 1999 for the managerial services of Terri Runnels, pitting Edge & Christian against Matt and Jeff Hardy, The Hardy Boyz.
Yes, my two favourite wrestlers of that period and throughout their careers in other promotions are Matt and Jeff Hardy. Interestingly though, I always favoured Jeff Hardy over Matt as I felt he was a naturally exciting person to watch which, not withstanding just how good Matt was during his time as a young upstart in pro-wrestling.
As a tag team, The Hardy’s are arguably one of the greatest tag teams in the world but as singles stars, you have to question just what either brought to the dance.
The Hardy Boyz as a team, both brought a significant amount to tag team wrestling with a style that had never been seen before on the screens of the World Wrestling Federation. They had an arsenal of moves that nobody had ever seen such as, the Poetry in Motion, the “Event Omega” and many more.
It wasn’t until the latter stages of the Attitude Era and the beginning of the “Ruthless Aggression” Era, did we see either of the brothers Hardy as singles stars. At this point we got to witness the rise of Jeff Hardy who, aside from reigns as Intercontinental, European, Hardcore and a WCW tag team champion; had never had the chance to earn “the big one” until the latter stages of his career.
With an expansive roster of WWE veterans and hungry stars from the recently acquired WCW, famously bought out by WWE Chairman Vince McMahon; we fans got to witness a wide range of matches that we thought we’d never see. However, with such a heavy roster of talent, this meant that alot of talents we were used to seeing had to take a backseat role to showcase the newer talents.
It wasn’t until the June 24th & July 2nd 2002 editions of Monday Night Raw that we got to witness the very, very early beginnings of a Jeff Hardy that we see now, which lead to himself receiving a WWE Undisputed Championship shot, against The Undertaker in Hardy’s staple, a ladder match.
For me, this match truly was a testament to the professionalism of both Hardy and The Undertaker and although, Hardy lost; the end resulted in him gaining the respect of the standard bearer in the locker room; as well as fans around the world.
Unfortunately, behind the character, the man had his own battles to deal with and it was during that time, that I believe was the beginning of a large mountain for the Charismatic Enigma to begin climbing and as a result, years and years of substance abuse resulted in his untimely arrest.
Fast forward to April 2003 and on WWE.com, it’s announced that Jeff Hardy had been released due to erratic behaviour, no showing events and drug use. Hardy himself suggested that burn out and the need for time off, lead to this particular release.
In 2004, Hardy joined Total Nonstop Action and quickly established himself as a top star in the company but again, could never quite reach the gold that eluded him for his entire career. It was during this time that Hardy experimented with the paint that we see him with now, again another prelude into the future. Sadly, things with TNA didn’t work out as he was, merely 2 years later, suspended; with his reason being travel issues.
To use a poetic device, Hardy experienced another “twist of fate” when the WWE rehired him and with what seemed restoring of faith, thrust him straight into the Intercontinental Championship picture with a young, hungry, exciting superstar by the name of Johnny Nitro (Morrison).
As a result, both Hardy and Nitro went back and forth to claim the belt and for me, engaged in the rivalry of the year which culminated in their excellent 1 on 1 match on the November 13th edition of Raw, where Hardy beat Nitro and became a 3-time Intercontinental Champion.
Just over a week later, Matt and Jeff reformed on ECW and defeated the Full Blooded Italians. All seemed to be going well, and in hindsight it couldn’t have been any better as this reforming team, ended up winning the tag team titles again and being the “veterans” in rivalries with such teams as Lance Cade and Trevor Murdoch, MNM (a continuation of the Hardy/Nitro rivalry); that is until Jeff moved into a fud with the late, great Umaga which ended with Hardy capturing the Intercontinental gold for a 4th time.
During this time, Hardy was given the responsibility of a push and worked closely with the likes of Triple H, Randy Orton and Chris Jericho. These series of matches lead to a “personal feud” with Randy Orton that lead into, what I feel was another highlight of Hardy’s career and ultimately awarded him with a title shot, at the Royal Rumble 2008 and No Way Out, inside the Elimination Chamber.
Unfortunately, it was at this time that the Charismatic Enigma was suspended because of his second wellness policy and as such taken of screen for awhile. Upon his return, himself and Umaga reignited their feud with one another over the Intercontinental Championship, which finally settled at the Extreme Rules event, where Hardy regained the strap.
Hardy, still riding a wave of momentum, was eventually drafted over to the blue brand; Smackdown where he set his sights on the World Heavyweight Champion Edge and Triple H and the three had a series of matches, which eventually meant that they would once again collide in a Triple Threat Match and arguably Jeff Hardy’s career highlight would soon take place.
Weeks passed, with each man trying to get the upper-hand on the other with psychological warfare being the card that the hand dealt. The question that was often asked by Triple H was “Jeff, can you do it? Can you grab the brass ring?”. The answer was a defiant and resounding “Yes!”, along with a Swanton bomb in front of a raucous crowd that night.
So, you’d think that with this, Jeff now becoming a champion that he’s always wanted to be and the representative of the company, would result in him changing his ways and for awhile, that was the case as he defended the belt in spectacular fashion against the likes of Triple H, Edge, MVP and even his own brother, Matt, who’d turned his back on his brother at the Royal Rumble. Sadly, and as I will make mention of later; this wasn’t the case.
Upon losing the WWE Championship, Jeff set his sights on the World Heavyweight Championship which ended up being held by Edge, whom Hardy defeated to capture the strap at that years, Extreme Rules.
At this time, Jeff met a formidable opponent in the form of CM Punk and the two engaged in a bitter rivalry; a rivalry so well put together that I feel it brought out the best in both men. This rivalry was based off of CM Punk’s actual straight edge lifestyle compared to Jeff Hardy’s “Never say die”, daredevil and free spirited life and obviously, this became the fuel used to create, the best rivalry of that year.
Now, we wrestling fans are well aware of just how good CM Punk is on the microphone. The guy can walk the walk, and at least from a character’s point of view, can definitely talk the talk. However, we weren’t quite aware of just how personal this feud was until latter years when an inebriated Hardy ran his mouth on YouTube.
This rivalry ended in spectacular fashion and obviously, with Jeff’s third wellness policy would be his final match in WWE, at least for now. The Punk/Hardy saga ended in a well thought out, story filled steel cage match that ended with Hardy saying a goodbye to his “creatures” and the WWE, respectively. Sadly, a few years back; Jeff’s demons finally caught up with him and he was ultimately arrested for drug use again and as he worded it, “was on the brink of death”.
However, you have to wonder; had Jeff Hardy not gotten himself involved in drugs and other activities, just how big would he be as a wrestler? He was on the cusp of greatness, so would he have been the replacement for children and adults, of John Cena or would he been a cult hero, yet polar opposite of CM Punk?
The fact of the matter remains, that his irresponsibility and then perseverance to rehab himself has been both his downfall and his rise to fame and as such, the question still remains unanswered about just how popular and how much of attraction, Jeff Hardy would’ve become but now by cleaning up his act; is it too little, too late?