At the Armageddon ppv last weekend, perennial also-ran Jeff Hardy finally won the big one and walked away as the new top dog on SmackDown!, capturing the WWE Championship in a triple-threat match against defending champion, Edge, and Vince McMahon’s favorite son(-in-law), Triple H.
TODAY’S ISSUE: Jeff Hardy, WWE Champion.
Upon learning that Jeff Hardy was finally given his time to shine at the top of one of the three WWE brands, the knee-jerk reaction for most fans was probably, “it’s about time WWE pulled the trigger and gave Jeff a world title” and I can see how they might feel that way. After all, this guy has given almost everything to the wrestling business. He’s sacrificed health, comfort, sanity, and at times personal relationships to the gods of wrestling during his chaotic career. He’s taken insane risk after insane risk, put his body on the line week after week, and has endeared himself to his fans via an outside-the-box approach to both wrestling and his physical appearance, not to mention incredible bravery (or extreme stupidity). Either way, he’s been a huge hit for a long time and many WWE fans were no doubt ecstatic last Sunday night.
With Jeff’s title victory, it seems now is the time for both Hardy Boyz. Jeff’s brother Matt is currently enjoying a run as ECW Champion and the fans love it. Matt has evolved from tag-team specialist, to solid singles worker, to crazy, out-of-work blogger and victim of an unfaithful girlfriend, to top dog on WWE’s Tuesday night show. Jeff’s evolution in the industry has been much more complicated, but if Matt can do it, why can’t Jeff?
Well for one thing, Matt has always been the calmer, more stable, more thoughtful and mature brother. When the Hardy Boyz were a team Matt was the “wrestler” and thinker of the two, while Jeff was the high-flyer and loose cannon. Matt was the steak and Jeff was the sizzle, and it worked for them as long as Matt was the one driving the train while Jeff operated the pretty lights, bells and whistles. Other than his one rough patch after the Edge/Lita affair (in which Matt was an innocent victim – it was Edge who should have been released from WWE not Matt), the older Hardy brother is a model employee and has always been a reliable, capable hand in the mid-card wherever needed. He even took advantage of his time as a free agent to visit Ring of Honor for some very entertaining matches in the top independent federation of the day, showing that he had the heart to survive in the business without the mega-promotion behind him. Matt’s discipline and hard work allowed him to eventually earn his job back, a job which he should have never lost in the first place.
Jeff, on the other hand, has experienced many problems with substance abuse, unreliability, poor attitude, and loss of his passion for professional wrestling amongst other personal issues during his tumultuous years in the business. Given enough time and dedication, anyone with a track record for trouble can recover and get his life back on track, but Jeff’s most recent disciplinary issue occurred quite recently. He was prevented from boarding a commercial flight in Nashville last September due to his apparently inebriated condition, which isn’t a good way to impress one’s employers. Since then he’s remained out of the firing line, but you wouldn’t think a mere ninety days on the straight and narrow is enough time for a contractor with such a checkered past to prove he’s changed his ways and is now worthy of one of only a few of the company’s cherished top spots, but that’s what has apparently happened. Three short months after another glaring example of immaturity and lack of control, the “Rainbow-Haired Warrior” has been rewarded with one of the two most valuable prizes in World Wrestling Entertainment. Although Jeff’s title run has been years in the making, in this context it might actually be too early for him to ascend to the next level. He simply doesn’t seem emotionally ready.
On the other hand, one might believe it happened far too late. The time to really make something special out of Jeff Hardy was way back in 2002 during a ladder match against then-reigning WWE Champion, the Undertaker. Hardy came within an eyelash of dethroning the Deadman that night, but had to settle for “earning the respect of the ‘Taker in defeat” instead. That was at a time when WWE fans were clamoring for something different, and while watching that broadcast of RAW live I almost felt the winds of change blowing over the wrestling landscape. But sadly it was not to be, and after some fair-to-decent singles stuff following his near-miss, Hardy was released from WWE in April of 2003 for his erratic behavior, drug use, refusal to go to WWE-sponsored rehab, deteriorating ring performance, and consistently late arrivals and several no-shows to scheduled events. Hardy also claimed he was “burned out” and needed a break, but who knows what was really going on with him at that point? I wonder what his career would have been like if he had been allowed to defeat the Phenom for the title that night in 2002. Would he have self-destructed anyway, or become refocused and turned his life around? Unfortunately, that question will remain unanswered.
After a brief stint in ROH and a long break from the business, Hardy debuted for rival promotion Total Nonstop Action Wrestling in June of 2004. But rather than use this new opportunity to change his ways, Jeff displayed reliability issues there as well, even though TNA pushed him to the top of the card almost immediately. Hardy fell victim to “travel problems” again (read: no-showing events) and was suspended twice by TNA before severing ties with them in the summer of 2006.
Amazingly, although it should come as no surprise considering WWE’s apparent policy of “we’ll hire anyone who might be able to make us money regardless of our past history with them”, McMahon welcomed Hardy back to the WWE fold in August of 2006 and put the Intercontinental title around his waist by early October. But less than one year after his return in July of 2007, Jeff was suddenly taken off WWE television, again proving that a leopard can’t change his spots. After yet another “second chance” Hardy lost the IC strap heading into a 60-day suspension for a second violation of WWE’s Wellness Policy for unauthorized substances found in his body during a mandatory screening. This suspension also cost Hardy his spot in the annual Money In The Bank ladder match at WrestleMania, which many fans and analysts thought he had a chance of winning to earn a guaranteed title match at a later date. Many fans predicted Hardy would win the MITB and the ensuing title match, finally achieving the pinnacle in WWE, a world championship. Instead he placed himself in the doghouse by earning his second strike; according to their own internal policy “strike three” would require WWE to release Hardy if and when another violation should occur. Although, as we all know, that would depend upon McMahon’s feelings about Jeff at that time.
While his character lives on the edge and proudly embraces his “extreme” nature, the performer behind the character also lives on thin ice. Clearly, Jeff Hardy hasn’t been willing to put his long-term career success ahead of his “personal demons”, known in non-carny speak as addictions. I’m not about to open the can of worms regarding just who’s to blame for this unfortunate situation (most will agree that it’s a combination of Jeff’s own weakness and the highly enabling environment found in the big league wrestling business today); I’m merely stating that he doesn’t seem the ideal choice to put on top of the promotion at this time. Hardy is a ticking time bomb, and I’d hate to see this run at the top cause him more pressure and stress than he can handle, as it once did to the late, great Eddie Guerrero. The last thing the industry needs is for Hardy’s feel-good victory to become the straw that breaks his back and leads to the next pro wrestling tragedy.
Unless Jeff’s WWE Championship reign goes the way I imagine it will (I envision a transitional run that’s more about warm holiday feelings than long-term booking plans) I’m frankly amazed that McMahon has chosen to go with Hardy on top, but let me be clear: I wish Jeff Hardy the best, and if this unexpected booking decision signals the end of his troubles and the beginning of a new phase in his life, I’ll be extremely happy for him. But somehow that doesn’t seem likely considering his past failures to control himself and keep his head straight while surrounded by screaming crowds, bright lights, fame, fortune, and glory. Good luck, Mr. Hardy. I sincerely hope you don’t need it.
Vin Sanity is not categorized as a psychological disorder… yet.
p.s. – “I count him braver who overcomes his desires than him who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is over self.” – Aristotle
The original version of this syndicated column, titled Alternate Reality by Vin Tastic, appears each Monday morning on Pulse Wrestling.
Elsewhere on Pulse Wrestling this week…
It’s Marshall-Mania! In addition to live coverage of RAW, Paul Marshall covers the WWE’s holiday tradition known as the Tribute to the Troops, and also brings you highlights from the Tribute to the Troops Conference Call with John Cena. Somehow Mr. Marshall found time to pen his regular Total Nonstop Weekly column as well. Way to go, Paul!
David Ditch discusses Pro Wrestling NOAH’s move from a major Japanese television network in his latest Puroresu Pulse.
John Wiswell looks at the dreaded disqualification finish and why Ring of Honor fans don’t necessarily dig it in this week’s Cult of ROH.
Mark Allen discusses Joey Styles’ knock-out blow to JBL’s mush (amongst other WWE stuff) in This Week in ‘E.
Ace Glazer goes through the news of the day in this week’s The Wrestling Analyst.
Norine “Cold as Ice” Stice covers the Friday night festivities for you in Pulse Wrestling’s Real-Time SmackDown! Report.