In Defense Of… Jeff Hardy
A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
It all started a year prior when Ron Morris said:
You know what bugs me lately? The bad rap that Jeff Hardy gets. Especially right here on 411 where he is often referred to as “Hardly” or “Enema”. I realize that his heart isn’t totally in wrestling recently, but damn, the guy started his own [feud] with his brother when they were teenagers! The guy did [a lot] in a very short amount of time for the tag scene, often risking his body for the entertainment of others (ala Mick Foley). So I’m interested to hear you speak on that topic.
And then there was… wait, where are the rest of them? Well, Jim Moore said:
GOOD LUCK with defending Jeff Hardy. You have your work cut out for you on that one.
Rob Hughes had some interesting feedback:
Now Jeff Hardy I think You may have a more difficult time with.
Love the wrestler!
Can’t stand the jackass!
And Manor Admin had a similar thought:
You’ll struggle with Jeff Hardy though; when he went singles on Raw and had the same match for months; same moves, same order… He just didn’t care about putting on a good match. But you may be able to change my mind.
Of course, the man who challenges the challenges Feroz Nazir said:
Jeff Hardy might be an interesting case, you may have to convince me, depending what the charges are.
No, seriously, I’m confused. I could have sworn I had heard this case from like five or ten other people. It’s been on my docket for a year! Maybe I just talked about it a lot with other people. There was talk forever about defending Edge and Lita and firing Matt Hardy, and I was going to do a mixed case where it would be Edge/Lita, firing Matt Hardy, and then Jeff Hardy. But I nixed that idea once Hardy got a job and decided to wait to see his epic.
Jeff Hardy is a man who has fallen from grace in the eyes of the IWC. He is unrealized potential shaped in human form. Or so many would have us believe.
Here was a man who started his own wrestling promotion, was the independent star that did high flying tricks and made it to the grandest stage of them all. And unlike many indie stars, his timing allowed him to keep most of his style in the ring in the WWF/E.
Yet, because he did not reach World Heavyweight Championship level, because he let other interests take over his life, because he has tastes outside the mainstream, he has somehow become a failure. Everything he did was for nothing, and has all been swept away.
For whatever reason, Jeff is considered the “Marty Jannetty” of the Hardy Boyz (that’s a case for another day), as if his path has led to some terrible self-destruction and his wrestling career was meaningless.
Well I am here to put all that to rest. We’ll show just what type of career Jeff Hardy has had, who is really the most successful Hardy Boy, and what it all means in context.
Jeff Hardy is the charismatic enigma, but we are about to peel back some layers.
On a little tobacco farm…
On August 31, 1977, out in Cameron, NC, three-year-old Matt Hardy was given his future tag team partner in Jeffery Nero Hardy, better known to the world as Jeff Hardy. The two grew up together on their father’s farm, but life was not easy. From Tim Baines’ article in the Ottawa Sun in April 2003:
Rising up through the ranks was a school of hard knocks for Jeff and his older brother Matt, whose mother died of cancer in 1986. Their father, Gilbert, was a tobacco farmer and part-time mailman, so the boys had to get domesticated in a hurry.
“I was nine and Matt was 12 (when their mother died), so that became a very big influence for us,” said Jeff. “It might have been meant to be. When we’re in the ring, we know her spirit is with us.”
And from the WWE’s Cookbook (you have to appreciate the deep dive to get this source):
North Carolina natives Matt and Jeff Hardy lost their mom when they were boys, so these two highflyers learned to cook and sew as youngsters.
Wrestling became an outlet for the boys, and they felt a real passion for it. In Brandon Truitt’s review of the Jeff Hardy shoot interview he noted this exchange:
Other gimmicks he used? They’d sit around the house thinking up gimmicks ever since they were about 10.
Though earlier in the interview Hardy gave this exchange:
How he got into the wrestling business- He and his brother, Matt Hardy Version One, watched Randy Savage win the WWF title at WrestleMania 4 then decided to start doing backyard wrestling.
WrestleMania IV was in March of 1988, but it was probably the first big event the two saw. But let’s not think that the WWE big man style of the 80’s was the only influence on the Hardyz. Back to the shoot:
What promotions did they watch? They mainly watched WCW because they lived in the South and, as a result, saw a LOT of Ric Flair. One of the few times the WWF ran their area, they went and saw Andre the Giant, which was worth it because of how impressive it was to see Andre live.
The bottom line is, Jeff and his brother Matt were really into wrestling, and because Matt was older, Jeff got introduced to it at a much younger age. They started working out together, fighting in the backyard (or tobacco field, it would seem) together, and then started to try to make a living out of it.
And so, the two followed their passion and tried to make it a career. From John Milner’s Jeff Hardy compilation for Slam! Sports:
Jeff made his debut in 1994, in North Carolina independents. Wrestling as the Willow the Wisp, Hardy wrestled his brother Matt (as Voltage) in Robbins, NC, on March 25, 1995 and won the NFWA Championship, only to lose it back to Matt a month later.
Pause. That means Jeff was just sixteen years old when he started wrestling professionally. Hulk Hogan didn’t start until he was in his twenties. And it’s not like they were making a ton of money at the beginning, or that it mattered to Jeff. From the shoot:
What was TWF? Originally, it was Trampoline Wrestling Federation. It was later Teen Wrestling Federation, but it was all a bunch of backyard wrestling. They used to do a lot of moves on the trampoline, which he feels is responsible for their high-flying moves today.
Now, I was in a backyard wrestling federation in high school, as well. We used to wrestle in gym class (because we were told to just do SOMETHING). I was the high flying luchadore known as “Contablemente” (Accounting) and my finishing move was “El Queso Malo” (The Bad Cheese), a top rope guillotine leg drop. Though I was known on occasion to use the submission move “Paraguas de Tabla Hawaiana” (Surfboard Umbrella), a reverse sharpshooter/surfboard/crossface type maneuver. Anyway, despite eventually expanding into backyards, at no point did our little federation ever make money nor train any of us to do any actual wrestling. OK, one kid went on to have three matches in the same indie that started out Triple H in New Hampshire, but that doesn’t count. The point is, while we were just goofing off, the Hardy brothers were serious. Back to John Milner’s article:
Jeff and Matt started their own wrestling organization called OMEGA, a North Carolina promotion that [w]ould also boast future WWE stars such as Shane Helms (aka the Hurricane), Shannon Moore and Joey Matthews (now known as Mercury). As the Willow, Jeff defeated Jason Ahmdt (later Joey Abs) on August 2, 1997 to become the first OMEGA New Frontier Champion.
That article fails to also mention former WWE Women’s Champion Lita. Anyway, OMEGA became a breeding ground for a whole generation of performers, and many more who didn’t make the big time. But a lot of those guys (and gals) are young, so there is still the possibility of adding more names to that list.
The problem is, people claim that Matt did everything and Jeff was just along for the ride. That is not true at all. From the shoot:
OMEGA- Matt came up with a lot of that stuff and, while it was strange, it really took off. “Matt did most of the work” and kept the promotion afloat through sponsorships while Jeff was still working as a landscaper part-time.
What did he learn when he was booking back then? That he didn’t want to book, he just wanted to wrestle. His big part in OMEGA was playing two different characters and keeping them separate, such as selling differently depending on which one he was at the time.
Jeff did not like booking, he just wanted to perform. What is wrong with that? So instead he pulled his weight in a different way and played two characters at once. Also, it wasn’t a way they were making money back then, and Jeff had to work another job. In the ring as two different characters, Jeff taught himself a great deal of psychology and wrestling styles (I was also a different character in another back yard fed where I was “The Incredible Edible Egg” and had won the tag-team championships by myself when my partner turned on me and left me alone in the ring. I digress.). Still, because he wanted to be a performer, Jeff sought out ideas beyond Matt and OMEGA. From John Milner’s article:
But Jeff wasn’t content to stay within the safety of OMEGA, the Willow would win the NEW Junior title, the NDW Light Heavyweight title and even traveled to Iwate, Japan in June 1998, defeating Ikuto Hidaka for the UWA Middleweight Championship.
However, Jeff and Matt didn’t remain apart for too long. The Hardy Boyz defeated C.W. and Pat Anderson for the NWA 2000 Tag Team titles on March 7, 1998 in Hope Mills, N.C. and then, on July 24, 1998 returned to OMEGA to defeat Mike Maverick and Kid Vicious and capture the OMEGA Tag titles.
It was Jeff Hardy who was pushing his limits and trying to learn the industry. He was the one trying to expand his horizons beyond just North Carolina and the local wrestling circuit. His efforts overseas and beyond probably did more to get the Hardy Boyz attention than anything Matt ever booked in OMEGA. And look, at seventeen and eighteen, Jeff Hardy was already traveling around the world for work.
Of course, the two did get noticed elsewhere, and actually had some experience with the WWF. From the shoot:
When did they finally get trained? They were trained by working shows for Stallion and George South, although they got ripped off on booking fees. As an example, they’d drive from North Carolina to New York to work tapings for three Monday Night RAWs and would get paid $150 each, but had to give up $100 each in booking fees. They didn’t really care too much at the time, as Jeff was still a junior in high school and it was an experience to be on national TV while still in school.
Matches they had at WWF tapings- Jeff’s first match was against Scott Hall while Matt’s first match was against Nikita. “He beat the living shit out of me” and was about to cry afterwards. Apparently, Hall was having a bad day and decided to take it out on him. The next night, he faced 1–2–3 Kid (Sean Waltman, X-Pac) and had a good time.
A junior in high school and Jeff Hardy had already worked in the WWF, albeit as a jobber. Still, there are wrestlers who go their whole lives without ever getting to be a jobber for one night in the WWF/E. But here he was, just sixteen years old and already getting beaten up on a regular basis.
Eventually, all of this jobbing, traveling abroad, and OMEGA work got them the chance they were waiting for. From Milner’s piece:
That summer, Matt and Jeff were invited to participate in the WWE’s “Funkin’ Dojo” and trained under the tutelage of Dory Funk, Jr.
At the age of twenty, things were looking up for Jeff Hardy.
A career begins, like a willow in the wisp
In was the summer of 1998, and the Hardy Boyz had developmental contracts and were sent down to the Funkin’ Dojo (no OVW or even HWA or UWF yet). From the shoot:
Did the WWF send him anywhere after they got signed? They were sent to Dory Funk’s Funkin’ Dojo training camps along with Edge, Kurt Angle, and others. He remembers trying to do a reverse 450 one night and knocking himself out.
Did anyone try to work very stiff with him because he was small? He feels that it was a common thing in his career but, since he could take it, he was able to get some respect.
When were they actually signed to contracts? He thinks it was June of 1999 or 2000. The developmental deal was for only about two years but their contracts when they made the main roster about a year and a half after that were for five years.
The developmental program worked for Jeff, and he and his brother found themselves with five years contracts. Jeff, just twenty-one, was living out his dream in the top promotion in the world (well, just about to become top again. It was still another six months away, but still). After spending some time as jobbers on Shotgun Saturday Night, the duo started to find their way to TV. From the Jeff Nero Hardy fan-site:
Their first gimmick, or persona, didn’t go over well with the fans. They wore brightly colored attire, and usually could not compete with the larger tag-teams. Soon, they joined Michael Hayes, who became their manager. He not only gave them different attitudes, he changed their look into a darker, edgier style. His alliance with the brothers [definitely] brought about a positive change when they won the WWF tag-team titles, but soon after they became annoyed of Haye’s eagerness to control them… and joined Gangrel in the formation of the New Brood.
With Gangrel by their side, Matt and Jeff entered into a feud with Edge and Christian. With their aerial-like moves and ability in the ring, the Hardyz became an instant hit with the fans, always breath-taking to watch. Come mid-1999, Terri Runnels offered both teams a chance at $100,000, as well as her management services. In what was def. one of the “match of the year” candidates in ’99, the two teams clashed at the No Mercy PPV in a tag ladder match. The Hardyz won the ‘bout, taking the money as well as Terri, and leaving Gangrel behind. However, her need for constant attention was too much for the Hardyz to suffice. As a result, she cost the Hardyz a shot at possibly becoming tag team champs after a number one contendership shot at No Way Out. After that incident, the Hardyz went without a manager for a while.
There is an important piece missing in the middle of that. From Milner’s compilation:
Jeff would take some time off from the WWE to compete in ECWAS’s 3rd Annual Super Eight tournament in February 1999, losing in the first round to Devon Storm and, in May, lost to Super Crazy in the first round of the IWA Junior Heavyweight title tournament.
Jeff returned to WWE and teamed with his brother, Matt. After working their way through the tag team rankings, Hayes led the Hardys to a victory over the Acolytes (Bradshaw and Farooq) on June 29, 1999 to win the WWE Tag Team titles. The Acolytes regained the titles at Fully Loaded and soon after, the Hardys left Hayes behind, aligning themselves with Gangrel to form the New Brood.
Once again, it was Jeff who was out there trying to expand his horizons. Although Matt also competed in the same Super Eight (thanks to reader Thomas Clinch for pointing this out), he was more content to just be in the WWF and wrestle in tag team division. Jeff was the one who was always trying to expand beyond his basic setting. While Matt was happy to be a “sports entertainer”, Jeff wanted to be a wrestler, and was more interested in expanding his abilities and reputation than in just making money.
Matt, too, it would seem recognized the money in his brother. From Wikipedia:
Matt recently said that if they were compared to the Rockers, Jeff would be Shawn Michaels and Matt would be Marty Jannetty.
Being Shawn Michaels would be money enough. So Matt kept himself attached to Jeff for the longest time. From the shoot:
Why did Matt ask for the original Hardyz split? He doesn’t know, as Matt’s the one that kept them together for so long. They never fully broke up until the WWF draft in mid-2002 which put himself, Matt, and Lita on RAW for the time being. The original split failed because they were fighting each other and no one wanted to see that instead of them teaming.
Does he think anyone ever tried to hold him back? No, although tag wrestling held him back because he wanted to do more singles work.
Through his own experience, he wanted to get involved in more singles wrestling and push that career ahead. But he stayed behind in tag team wrestling FOR his brother. This helped give Matt more time to start to develop an individual persona that would eventually become Mattitude. But at the time, all he had was Jeff’s daredevil notoriety.
Despite this, it was Jeff who was first given the ball to try to run with it.
I’m single, baby!
From Milner’s article:
In addition to continuing to team with his brother, Matt, Jeff would begin competing in singles competition and wasted little time in adding many titles to his resume. On April 10th, Hardy defeated Triple H to win the Intercontinental Championship. He defeated Jerry Lynn to win the WWE Light Heavyweight Championship on June 5th, 2001. On July 10, 2001, he defeated Mike Awesome to win the Hardcore Championship. Rob Van Dam would defeat Hardy for the Hardcore title during the July Invasion pay-per-view, but Jeff interfered in a RVD/Kurt Angle match on August 13, 2001 to regain the title, only to lose it back to Van Dam at SummerSlam.
But Jeff would return to the tag team ranks with brother Matt and in the course of just over a month would defeat Booker T and Test to win two different tag titles. On October 8th, the Hardys won the WCW Tag Team titles, and then on November 12, they won the WWE Tag titles.
Near the end of 2001, dissention arose in the ranks of the Hardys and, at the Vengeance pay-per-view, Jeff defeated Matt in a bout in which Lita served as the special referee. However, the bitterness between brothers was soon forgotten.
After teaming again with his brother Matt, Jeff began to strike out on his own (again), but made the mistake of angering the Undertaker who vowed revenge and, for the most part, had his way with Jeff. But Jeff earned a great deal of respect by nearly defeating ‘Taker in a ladder match for the WWE Championship on the July 1st edition of Raw.
Undaunted, a week later Jeff defeated William Regal and captured the European Championship. On July 22nd, Hardy lost a title unification match to Intercontinental Championship Rob Van Dam. A week later, a brief reign as Hardcore Champion began with a victory over Bradshaw and ended at the hands of Johnny the Bull.
So by the time he was twenty five, Jeff Hardy had won the Tag Team, IC, European, Hardcore, and Light Heavyweight championships. Not too bad of an accomplishment! As you can imagine, this type of toll can take a significant impact on your dreams and ambitions. Even a couple of years earlier before much single’s success Jeff was talking about the trials and tribulations of the road. From Greg Oliver’s article for Slam! Wrestling in November of 2000:
He’s only 23, but already the wear and tear on his body has forced Jeff Hardy to re-think his future in pro wrestling.
Hardy knows that fans love his death-defying, high-flying moves but knows there’s a change in his wrestling in the near future.
“I just kind of take it day by day because I know that I’m not going to be able to do this until the day I retire,” Hardy told SLAM! Wrestling before the WWF show at Toronto’s Air Canada Centre on October 28. “I’ll eventually [slow down]. My body’s going to [slow down]. It’s in the process of slowing down now. I’m 23 and I hurt sometimes when I get up in the morning.”
The pain becomes a regular part of life. “You adapt to this, but when you wake up you’re going to hurt because we do this every night. It takes a toll on your body. I just hope that I can kind of ride it slow and not slow down as much.”
Retirement isn’t thirty years away, like most 23 year olds. Instead, Hardy is thinking already of retiring at “somewhat of an early age”, while hopefully still being able to get around without a crutch or a wheelchair.
Which of course brings us the end of his WWE career.
Why don’t you care anymore?
Towards the end of Jeff’s time in the WWE, the complaint was that he was not into his matches, that he was going through the motions. His style had become lethargic and sloppy, and he was not putting on the best matches in the world.
And you know what? That’s absolutely true.
When he was twenty-three, he could more than deal with the pressures. From Greg Oliver’s article:
Besides the constant pain that results from his chosen profession, Hardy is not a big fan of the travelling.
“It really gets to you sometimes. You get home, and sometimes you’re home for an evening and have to leave the next day. It’s pretty consistent though. We leave on Saturdays, and come home on Wednesdays, where we have Thursdays and Fridays off. But right now, being the champions, the appearances are crazy.”
Yet, it’s all still worth it for Jeff Hardy. He’s finally getting a real tag team title run, and the respect of the older, more established teams as well. What’s the best thing in his life right now?
“Just the vibe of everybody loving you for what you do and just knowing that so many people around the world can see you, look at you in a superhuman-like aspect,” he said with a big grin on his face.
Jeff was in good spirits then, but time has a way of tearing someone down. From the shoot:
Travel schedule- He was leaving on Friday and getting home on Tuesday. He’d either travel with Matt, Justin Credible, or just by himself. He and Credible used to sit around playing the guitar all the time.
His burnout- It was a combination of the travel and the matches, as he would be leaving home as fast as he got back. He asked for time off at one point and Jim Ross gave him some weekends off here and there.
Did he start losing his passion from being on the road so much? No, it was from being beaten up so bad. When they first made it in the WWF, they would go all out every night but he almost screwed up his shoulder doing the Whispers in the Wind one night and had to change it up.
Also, his career was stagnant. As a person who wants to grow and change, this was beyond frustrating. Back to the shoot:
Feuding with Steve Austin and Triple H- It was awesome but it sucked that it never went anywhere. He wonders what Austin and Trips were thinking since the crowds loved it. “Come on, Triple H.”
Was he ever able to talk to Vince or an agent why it never went anywhere? No, although he thinks Matt wanted to. If he ever goes back, that’s one thing he’s going to do because it pissed both him and Matt off intensely.
Were dropped programs like him and Matt vs. Steve Austin and Triple H a big part of why he lost his passion? Yes, he feels they played a big part in it.
That didn’t mean he did not appreciate his feud with the Undertaker. From the shoot:
Memories of his ladder match with Undertaker- It built his confidence as a singles wrestler because of the comeback he made in that match before losing. For a long time afterwards, the road agents would tell him that he did a good job in a match but that he needed to have a comeback like in the match with Undertaker. He says that it’s hard to do that when you’re facing someone like Stevie Richards who isn’t as legendary as Undertaker but that he still appreciates how highly they thought of that match.
Working with Undertaker- Awesome. He isn’t sure how he stayed on top for so long as Jeff attributes his own success to luck more than anything.
Did he think he’d get a push after the Undertaker match? Yes, but he wasn’t sure if he even still wanted to be wrestling at that point. He feels that match could have been even better if he’d been able to put his heart into it.
But like he said, Hardy was aware that he was not at his best. But what was taking his attention? From John Powell’s article for Slam! Wrestling just after Jeff was fired:
In a recent interview with Orlando radio host and SLAM! Wrestling writer Brian Fritz, Jeff explained where his focus is these days. “Music is a big thing. It’s probably my #1 (hobby) now and that’s what is drafting me away from wrestling,” he told Fritz. “But my passion is still there. I still love it. I still get just as nervous as always before I go out for a match. I can’t say that I love it more than I love life like Matt has said because he is 100% dedicated to pro wrestling. I give it my heart and soul but I give other things my heart and soul as well and I still try to follow my heart and go wherever it takes me. I can’t give up things I really enjoy. I don’t plan to stop wrestling at all. If anything, I’ll just take a break within the next few years just to see what happens with the music but I don’t plan to quit wrestling at all.”
So Hardy had other interests, much like Warrior, Hogan, and many others before him. Wrestling was dream, a passion, and something he was good at, but it was not his entire life. Although he had been wrestling professionally since he was sixteen, Hardy still wanted to see what else he could do. Put it this way, Jeff had been wrestling for nearly a decade and had already completed 95% of his dreams in professional wrestling. He wanted to do more! He wanted to follow and try something else! What is wrong with that?
Ten years is a long time to be at any job, especially one as mentally and physically draining as professional wrestling. And here was a man who had never gone to college, never got the chance to explore himself or his other interests, never got the chance to enjoy most of his childhood because he had been working since he was nine. All he wanted and needed was a chance to explore other interests.
So sure, he writes poetry, paints, and builds aluminum statues. We’ll get more into Jeff’s “art” shortly; the point is he is just now having the chance to actually find these things and is training himself. There is no guidance, no education, no help; just him trying to live out many dreams.
With so many different ideas pulling him away from wrestling, Hardy knew his time was up. He just was not committed in a way he needed to be. From the shoot:
How would he rate himself as a wrestler? On a scale of ten, he’d give himself a five right now but he feels he has potential to become a ten if he gets his passion back.
And it must be commended that he was able to recognize his own lacking. And instead of just going through the motions, he decided to walk away from the WWE.
Yes, we’ll get more into why and how Jeff and the WWE split ways momentarily.
With that split, Hardy was given time to follow other dreams.
Back to the small venue
While pursuing his other interests, Hardy stayed involved in pro-wrestling. Shortly after being release, Jeff found his way back to OMEGA. From Obsessed with Wrestling:
May 24, 2003 — OMEGA WRESTLING: Jeff Hardy wrestled his first match since being released by WWE using old gimmick.
~~~Krazy K defeated Willow the Whisp (masked Jeff Hardy) to retain the OMEGA Cruiserweight title.
It was after this that Jeff decided to try Ring of Honor. Why Ring of Honor? From the shoot:
How come he decided to work for Ring of Honor? He had decided after watching that tape that he wanted to go to ROH if he ever got fired.
So Hardy thought he could step up his game and show his wrestling ability again. Unfortunately, the ROH crowd had seen enough of the “five out of ten” Jeff Hardy and would not give him a chance. Back to the shoot:
Did the fans have it in for him from the start? They weren’t fair. He feels he deserved more respect for having wrestled some of those TLC matches he’s done.
Jeff Hardy’s wrestling ability has a rarely been questioned (his style, on the other hand, has — and we’ll discuss it soon), but because he was not at his full passion level before the match, the fans dumped on him before he made it anywhere. This reaction most definitely affected the match (and people’s perception of it) and did throw Hardy off his game. Even still, Jeff did not react to it as negatively as people claim. This part of the shoot interview was taped right after the match:
He was interested to see the combination of ECW fans on one side and all the young girls cheering for him on the other. He jokes about how he was chanting “I fucked up” along with them at one point.
Does he think he’d make a great heel in Ring Of Honor? Yes, and he loves how the business has changed to the point that you won’t know how people will react to anything anymore.
Did he always want to have a run as a heel? Yes, but Vince McMahon shot it down because he didn’t think they could pull it off.
Hardy had an even, understanding response to the situation and thought he could have turned it into more money as a heel in ROH. This was not to be, as Hardy instead concentrated completely on his music and stayed away from wrestling for a year.
Total Nonstop Jeff
John Milner finishes off Jeff Hardy’s career up to this point in 2006:
With a contract that included a promised World Title shot, Jeff Hardy didn’t waste time earning the attention of Jeff Jarrett, who, along with Monty Brown, attacked Hardy on his first official night in TNA. Besides brawling with Jarrett and Brown, Hardy began teaming with A.J. Styles and Ron Killings before finally getting his title shot against Jarrett in September 2004.
Jarrett retained the title but Hardy rebounded to win a #1 contender tournament and faced off with Jarrett, once again, at Victory Road, only to have his chances at victory spoiled by the interference of Kevin Nash and Scott Hall. Hardy would team with Styles and Randy Savage against Jarrett, Hall and Nash at Turning Point.
After defeating Hall at Final Resolution, Hardy found himself under attack from Abyss. After further attacks from Abyss, Hardy took on (but lost to) Abyss in a #1 contender’s match at Against All Odds but got the win at Destination X. The feud with Abyss widened to include Raven and the two men met in a Tables Cage Match at TNA Lockdown.
Hardy was to have met Raven at Hard Justice but could not make the show due to transportation problems. Hardy was suspended from TNA over the incident but returned to attack Jeff Jarrett during the main event at Sacrifice and lost to Bobby Roode at Unbreakable.
Hardy found himself battling Rhino, Sabu and Abyss in a Monster’s Ball match at Bound for Glory. Hardy lost that match but still impressed TNA officials enough to be pitted against Monty Brown in a contender’s match at Genesis.
Hardy lost to Brown, and his problems were just beginning. He no-showed the Turning Point pay-per-view, claiming to have overslept. Hardy remains on the active NWA-TNA roster, however.
At times, though, it seemed like Hardy was not fully with it for TNA, either. Especially with twice being suspended, Hardy does not seem to care either way. That might be because he does not. From the shoot:
Is there any interest in him going to NWA TNA? He’s kind of interested in it as he loved their Genesis show, but he would rather go back to the WWE.
If he was given a prime spot in a top [indie] and been guaranteed a huge push, would that get his passion back? It’s a thought and he’s impressed with the production values of NWA TNA but he doesn’t think that he has the effort to put into trying to make a company compete with the WWE.
TNA, you were given fair warning right there. Hardy was not the person to try to build a major program around and help grow the company, and he told you so. He was only a part-time personality with interests elsewhere.
Yet despite this, and being suspended for months, Jeff still had three of the top eight (yeah, I don’t know why the list ended at eight either) selling items on ShopTNA.com. They were:
#2 — Enigma: The Best of Jeff Hardy DVD
#3 — Jeff Hardy Glowing T-shirt
#4 — Victory Road 2004 PPV DVD (Jeff Hardy challenged Jeff Jarrett for the NWA Heavyweight Title in the main event)
Isn’t it amazing that a PPV two years old is TNA’s bestselling item? Oh, and what’s this? The only other single PPV on the list is (#6) Final Resolution 2005 which has the Jeff Hardy vs. Scott Hall match with Roddy Piper as special guest referee. Coincidence? Not at all.
So you wonder why TNA will not fire him? Because Hardy sells. He makes TNA a lot of money. And recently, Hardy has been working for TNA, just not on TV. From Obsessed with Wrestling:
March 31, 2006 — TNA House Show (UWF): Jeff Hardy & Kip James defeated Jeff Jarrett & Maven Huffman
April 1, 2006 — TNA House Show (UWF): Jeff Hardy & Amber O’Neal defeated Matt Bentley & Tracy Brooks
April 14, 2006 — TNA House Show (UWF): Maven & Jacqueline Moore defeated Jeff Hardy & Amber O’Neal in a Mixed Tag match
April 15, 2006 — TNA House Show (UWF): “Phenomenal” A.J. Styles defeated “Charismatic Enigma” Jeff Hardy
Even now, Hardy is helping TNA sell tickets to their infant house show market, and also losing just as much as he’s winning. Jeff proves his worth week in and week out, and here he is doing it again.
Yet despite this amazing career and strong drawing ability at just twenty-nine, Hardy faces sharper criticism every day. That, though, is coming up.
Oh these little pills
Here it is from Brandon Truitt’s review of the Jeff Hardy Shoot Interview:
Drugs in the business- You don’t have to have them to make it in the business but the road schedule will raise the chances that you’ll use them. He admits experimenting with drugs but denies being heavily addicted like many fans think he is. He talks about how addiction can completely change a person and brings up how Eddy Guerrero was sent to rehab in 2001. He talks about how he got surprised with a drug test, which he came up positive for and got released as a result. He says that it was a good thing for him because he needed to leave the WWE for a while. “They acted like I was going to die” and tried to send him to rehab, but he refused. He says he’s changed his drug use and that he doesn’t have a problem now. He refuses to name his drug of choice but says it was the one thing he kept testing positive for. Jeff also bitches about how everyone claims he was on drugs, plural, while he was only on one type of drug.
You see, Jeff Hardy was taking some kind of recreational drug. I’m not going to say I agree with his choice, but the WWE made the wrong correlation. They thought that because he was late to shows and not putting on his best performances that he was completely out of control with drugs. The thing was, Jeff was just restless. He wanted to focus on his music but could not do that while under contract. The WWE wanted him to go to rehab, but he knew that was unnecessary. This interview was done just two months after his release. If Jeff Hardy had a major problem, he would not have been able to just stop using the drug. It was a choice then for him.
I hate to make excuses for anyone, especially when it comes to drug abuse, but the environment of the WWE locker room does have an effect on people. From earlier in the interview:
Was he ribbed a lot for being so young in the WWE? Yes, partially because they didn’t drink. One of their assignments after their appearance in wrestler’s court was to drink beers on the way home that night.
So the Hardy Boyz came into the then WWF mostly innocent and picked up these habits from being on the road with the boys, some of it coerced onto them. We are still talking about a kid who grew up on a farm with very little parental supervision and never got to go to college. He never had time to experiment and discover who he was. There was no childhood and adolescence. Sure, he got to make a career out of play fighting, but it was still work from the time he was 16 onwards.
In the WWE he got introduced to something, and probably used the drug more because he felt stymied and locked out from being creative. Leaving the WWE gave him the opportunity to find creativity again and lessened his need to find other outlets. In this case, the WWE was the enabler for his drug use. This quote from the shoot helps sum up the environment at the time:
Is he still a wrestling fan? Yes, but politics make him sick. “I wish I’d had a couple of terms in the White House” before working in the WWE.
And again, there was no “abuse”, it was just the misconstruing of unrelated facts.
You are out of here!
Of course, this was not the first time Jeff had been pushed aside by the WWE. Back in 2001/2002, the Hardyz and Lita got taken off TV for a while. From Obsessed with Wrestling:
Matt & Jeff Hardy (and Lita) are written out of WWF storylines when the Undertaker injuries all of them.
But why? Team Extreme had just gotten back together, so it seemed like a rather inappropriate time. This question from the shoot may shed some light:
Why were they taken off of TV in late 2001 and early 2002? That was when they were given the plan of him kissing Lita in a pre-taped segment. He went up to Stephanie McMahon and refused to do it and believes that it was a part of the office testing him because he’d never shot anything down before. Michael Hayes got the job of telling them that they were still expected to be at TV but that they were now off [TV and only performed on] the house show circuit.
Also from the other end and the Matt Hardy shoot interview review by Derek Burgan:
Neither Hardy was a fan of their proposed “feud,” but Matt said their one match at Vengeance wasn’t that bad considering Matt was sick as a dog and Jeff clearly didn’t give a damn. The “office” expected more from the Hardys though, and were still pissed that Jeff outright refused to an angle where he would kiss Lita and steal her away from Matt. Jeff told Vince McMahon himself, “I will not kiss her. I won’t do it. I’ll quit.” Both the Hardys and Lita were then punished by being taken off TV till “creative” could figure out what to do with them. All three were still made to go to house shows though as the fans still couldn’t get enough.
Well, you have to give Jeff props for standing by his convictions despite the consequences. Many others in his same situation have crumbled in order to keep their jobs, but Jeff has his own moral code that he kept. Because of that, he would not kiss Matt’s girlfriend, even in a pretend world. It was not something he wanted to do (though judging by Matt’s later reaction with Edge, he probably knew his brother’s jealous streak).
Yet, much like what is happening in 2006 with TNA, Jeff and his brother were still a draw and were selling house show tickets. It was the story in 2001, and it was still the story in 2006.
Of course, this is probably what Vince McMahon saw in Jeff Hardy in 2002, just a year later. From Matt’s shoot:
By this time Jeff Hardy was starting to totally withdraw himself from the old cliques, to the point where even his relationship with Matt was strained as Jeff was “traveling with guys he shouldn’t have been traveling with.” I’m pretty sure that’s kayfabe for “Justin Credible.” Jeff had become disenfranchised with wrestling and started to look at it like just another job. Matt talked about the famous ladder match that Jeff had with Undertaker at Raw and how Vince McMahon, despite all the crap Jeff had pulled in the previous months, was all over Jeff after the match putting Jeff over. This was another example of Matt being frustrated as at the time he was training harder [than] ever, eating good, tanning and showing up for work on time while Jeff was blowing everything off. To be fair, I was at that Monday Night Raw (it took place in my hometown of Manchester, NH) and the fans there were ready to blow the roof off the building if Jeff would have won. It would have been just like when Foley won his first WWE title in Worcester, Mass.
And this goes back to our prior point. Jeff has a way of constantly finding a place for himself in wrestling, without even trying that hard. That is Jeff Hardy.
What Jeff Hardy is also known for is his daredevil style. The man did train on a trampoline, so that might have had some influence. But actually, Hardy had many diverse styles. From his shoot:
What style did he think the promotion would be? They’d just started breaking tables and stuff like they’d seen on Sabu’s tapes, so they started doing hardcore stuff. They began mixing it up with Lucha Libre after they saw tapes of Rey Misterio’s matches in ECW.
Working in Japan- He’d seen tapes and was somewhat prepared although it was unusual to have quiet crowds during the match. That’s changed, as the crowds were MUCH louder when he came back with the WWE during a recent tour. It wasn’t hard working the Japanese style because he’d worked out with the two guys he wrestled over there and had laid out both matches beforehand.
As we’ve noted earlier, Hardy traveled the world, worked as two different wrestlers at once, and tried to expand his abilities. In the WWE, he became the daredevil. He still wanted to see how far he could take it. Because of the timing, the WWE was much more lenient on what they would let wrestlers do (the big push of the Attitude Era trying to dismantle WCW by any means necessary). From the shoot:
Did the road agents tell them to tone their style down? A little bit, but that was mainly because they’d have to clear spots with them before matches. He says that the agents would usually come up to him and ask him if he wanted to do certain crazy spots.
Did the WWF ever encourage them to do crazier bumps? Only at PPVs, when they’d come up with crazy ideas for bumps that the agents thought no one else would do. The only thing he ever did shoot down was kissing Lita, as he and Matt had agreed that they wouldn’t do an angle between them playing off the Matt-Lita relationship.
Did he think he could do that style forever? He knew that he’d have to change it eventually and says that Matt has adjusted to the change in style much better than him, as proven by his recent match with Chris Benoit on Smackdown.
Strangely, Jeff has taken on a much more brawling style and less off-the-ropes type maneuvers. Since he is wrestling less he can do more bumps compared to doing them every night. As we saw earlier, Jeff knew that his style in the WWE was taking its toll on him and he would have to slow down eventually. Actually, here is another good reminder from Jim Varsallone’s article for the Wrestling Observer in December 2001:
“I’m 23 now, and some mornings when I wake up, I’m going, `Owww, man, my back, my shoulder, my knee. Oh my god,’ “, Jeff says. “Then, I’ll start the day, and I’ll begin to feel normal again because I’ve pretty much adapted to it. We’re used to being sore, but both of us have been really lucky as far as not suffering any really serious injuries. We’ve had all kinds of injuries, but nothing bad enough to really throw that huge stop sign in front of us. Then again, I don’t think about the future much. That’s what makes my crazy ass do what I do. I’m still growing up, and I’m still maturing as far as wrestling goes. I’m really starting to realize I am going to have to slow down. It all comes down to character and personality. In the WWF, you don’t have to do the crazy moves every night in the ring where you’re getting hurt. We hope [we’ll] be able to slow down a little bit and still excite crowds, so we can save some years on our career.”
He now has a reputation that takes him further than his spots can, and his TNA T-shirt sales prove that. Only a man like Jeff Hardy could not wrestle at all and still be a top seller. His style has justified his life. He has found his success, as was his plan. Nothing else there truly matters.
You know what I’m thinking?
Of course, the other side of wrestling style is psychology. Jeff has been accused of having none. But is that true? First, this from the shoot:
Who was his mentor early on, psychology-wise? Michael Hayes, because they met him around the time they began jobbing. “He was our wrestling daddy.”
So Hayes (and many others) trained Jeff in the idea of in-ring psychology. Your response would be, “Yeah, but he didn’t listen.” Or did he? Back to the shoot:
Michael Hayes- He and Matt are big Freebirds fans, although they mainly saw the Hayes and Jimmy Jam Garvin version of the team. Great guy and has a good mind for the business, as he taught them a lot about ring psychology. He then starts into a monologue about psychology and his views on it, which I’m not going to transcribe but can be boiled down to saying that he doesn’t believe in traditional psychology and, as a result, people think that he doesn’t know psychology at all.
You see, typical in-ring psychology consists of working on a body part that leads to a conclusion of using that body part to win the match. Or, in similar situations, trading moves that are trying to lead to the end of the match. Hardy sees psychology as building up the audience for the big finish, not building up the wrestlers. That is the main difference. We have been conditioned to think that there is only one type of psychology, or only one type good “workrate”. I’ll get into this at a later date, but for now let’s just note that there is more than one belief to how you can wrestle.
And how can you argue with Hardy’s choices? His in-ring style and thoughts on psychology got him over in the ring and kept the money flowing in. So he does not have a “traditional” view of psychology. You know who else didn’t have a “traditional” view? Freud. Just because it is “traditional” that does not mean it is best or the only. Slavery was traditional for thousands of years, that didn’t make it right. Hardy is nothing if not an explorer, and he decided to explore another facet of being a wrestler. He re-wrote what it means to work in the ring to a design that made sense to him. If he was unsuccessful at it, I would still defend him. Instead, he found a way to make it a part of his whole performance and turn it into a profitable and entertaining franchise.
Wipe that brush off
The other area that Hardy gets confused with is his “art”. Now, I personally believe that art should have a message or a meaning. If I am looking at a painting, I (or someone with a better critical eye), should be able to know the purpose of the painting. For most of history, most art was created out of necessity. People were painters and sculptors for their jobs, writers and poets were trying to change the times (or maintain them), and glass blowers needed to make windows, albeit pretty ones.
But for the past half century, there has been so much additional leisure (especially in the United States) that many people have given up on “Art for purpose” or “Art for recreation” (i.e., a hobby) and have started to create “Art for the sake of art”. Let me expand on this.
Back in college I knew a person that fancied herself as artist. I thought she was a hack. She used to do atrocious things like papier-mâché bottles. Yeah. So anyway, one day she painted something and asked me to look at it. The conversation went like this…
JP: So, what are you trying to say with this painting?
Artist: I’m trying to convey… emotion.
Artist: Yes… emotion.
JP: Any particular emotion?
Artist: No, just emotion.
Artist: Yes, emotion.
The point is, I — personally — do not believe that what she was doing was art. But there is a whole generation of people like her that do believe that is art. Jeff Hardy is one of those people. He feels that painting his body is like a form of expression. The conversation would go like this:
JP: So what are you trying to express by painting your body?
Jeff Hardy: I’m trying to express myself.
JP: But what in particular are you trying to express?
Jeff Hardy: I’m expressing the need for expression.
You can see the corollary.
Although most of the contemporary world would not consider Jeff’s body painting, poetry, and music to be the greatest form of artistic creation, it is the wave of this generation. Jeff has the connection with the audience in a way than cannot be replicated for he truly believes what they believe. It’s not like he’s pretending to be an “Art for art’s sake” type person; that is exactly who he is! Although you or I may not personally agree with that lifestyle, there is a large and vocal fanbase that stands behind Jeff Hardy, and all the expressions of expression he submits.
Whisper that into the wind
Jeff Hardy is a man who, at 28 at the time of this writing, already has spent twelve years in the industry. In that time, he has captured almost every major tag team and singles title available, and made a ton of money along the way. Because he is so young, we see the potential for a long future unfulfilled. What we miss is the long past filled with glorious accomplishments. Jeff knew long ago that his time wrestling in the spotlight would be limited, and he was OK with that. It is only us who have failed to understand what Jeff has.
As time went on, the dream of working for the WWE became a job. As a man who always wants to expand his horizons, the WWE of the twenty-first century must be incredibly stifling. Because of this, Hardy let his skills and talent go. He wanted to explore other worlds, other ideas. He gave the world notice that he was no longer the man to build a promotion around, yet others refused to listen. They wanted Jeff to be something he could not be anymore.
Sure, the possibilities are endless. Hardy still selflessly wrestles today. Without being on TV, he is still the highest grossing merchandising person in TNA. His very presence brings in fans, money, and interest. Truly, he is the charismatic enigma.
The defense rests.
After the Trial
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VS. Jeff Hardy, Jeff hardy HAS BEEN ACCUSEd of being a reckless and dangerous wrestler who is completely unreliable and should never be trusted to work in a wrestling ring. he was never as good as anyone believed, and only knows how to do crazy spots to get over.
And with a startlingly low 62.0% of the vote, Jeff Hardy was found:
I guess some people can never forgive someone for missing a show. My point was, TNA should not have put faith in him in the first place as he told them he wasn’t into it, but they decided they were going to spotlight him anyway. I’m not saying Jeff should have missed the shows, or that he doesn’t deserve his suspension, but that TNA should have known it was coming.
With such a close result, it is important to see where the detractors were coming from. The most common reasoning can be summed up here:
Jeff was a spot monkey who spent a year stinking up my TV with [awful] matches because he couldn’t be bothered. I can understand he had other interests, but if the question is whether he was as good as people said and/or reliable, then [I] have to say he is guilty.
As noted, it was difficult to defend someone for poor performances and no showing, but his outside interests actually brought up a different train of thought:
I’m not quite sure if he’s guilty on all counts but he is definitely been proven to be irresponsible in my book. And a waste of a great talent. He could have been one of the best pro wrestlers around and easily one of the biggest draws but instead he’s barely employed and has ruined more than one chance. Then again I’d say the same thing about the Rock when it comes to being a waste of talent.
That’s the thing: everyone who is good at something but chooses not to do it can be seen as “wasting” that talent. But people have to at least attempt to do what they enjoy or find interesting, not just stay in a gilded cage forever. Also, people change with time, especially between their teenage years and their 30’s. What you want to do then compared to how you view life can be drastically different. It certainly was for me; I would not even recognize nor like the person I was 20 years ago.
As far as [unfulfilled] potential, isn’t that the reason everybody is down on Marcus Bagwell and Sean [Waltman]? Both when I saw Bagwell tagging with 2 Cold Scorpio and 1–2–3-kid debuting, I thought I was looking at the future. Certainly they deserve some level of criticism, but it is the ‘hey, I expected so much of him’-thoughts, that drives the criticism into the Land of Unreason.
It’s actually a problem we see today in 2020 in so much media. A sequel to a movie or a second season of a show comes out and it does not meet expectations because the audience had not only built their own stories in their head, but they have listened to every YouTuber, theorist, and commentator coming up with how they think it can and should go. As such, the final product can never live up to the expectations that have been built up in our heads. And when we look at people like Jeff Hardy and we build their career in our minds, the letdown is even worse because they don’t want to do it.