Sunday, December 14th, 2008 marks a crucial day in the career of one Jeff Hardy. Finally, after so much controversy – such a hard, long, tiring trip to the top of the mountain, Jeff Hardy has finally become WWE Champion. First and foremost, congratulations Jeff, on this accomplishment – to say the least, you’ve earned it. But is WWE really doing the right thing by putting the strap on the Rainbow-Haired Warrior?
Hardy’s initial WWE days ended in his release on April 23, 2003 due to erratic behaviour, drug use, refusal to go to rehab, deteriorating ring performance, and finally, constant tardiness and no-showing events. But Hardy had another option – WWE’s competition.
After working with the WWE for a number of years, Jeff had signed with TNA Wrestling from 2004-2006. There, Hardy was suspended for no-showing a match at Hard Justice, allegedly due to “travel difficulties.” Forgiven a week later, Hardy resume wrestling. Then, at the December 2005 PPV Turning Point, Jeff once again no-showed, citing “travel difficulties” once again. Hardy was subsequently suspended, and never appeared on TNA television again.
August 4th, 2006 was the day that Jeff had signed on with WWE – his second stint with the company – and made a much anticipated return to the major leagues. Not everything, however, was fine and dandy. Jeff was suspended for 30 days in 2007 – during this suspension, he missed SummerSlam, a PPV that was expected to see Hardy defeat Umaga for the WWE Intercontinental Championship. Hardy was suspended for a second Substance Abuse and Drug Testing Policy violation – a suspension that saw not only drop the Intercontinental Championship to Chris Jericho, but him sit on the sidelines for 60 days – and ultimately cost him a Money in the Bank ladder match – one that he was expected to win – at WrestleMania 24, as well as the six-figure salary that would have come with it.
Now for the record, I think Jeff Hardy is absolutely amazing. He’s not only one of the few remaining Attitude Era wrestlers, but his style is unique, he’s unbelieveably innovative, he’s a ton of fun to watch (especially live), his matches not only make him look good, but they also make his opponent (regardless of their skill in the ring) look good as well, and his popularity is unparalleled. In fact, some of my fondest memories of the WWE/F in the 1990′s have Jeff Hardy jumping off stuff and nearly killing himself – all for the roar of the fans.
But was this really the best decision for the WWE to make?
One of WWE’s biggest kayfabe promos on television is the “Don’t Try This at Home” campaign. This campaign stresses that the WWE Superstars are professionally trained athletes, and that what they do in the ring takes hard work, skill, practice, and training to do right and safely. For years, the company has been against backyard wrestling, and there have been countless news features on how backyard wrestling is a “direct” result of the WWE having a negative influence on children. In fact, there was a news report on a child who died because he and his brother were wrestling in the house, and the child died after receiving a piledriver. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find the article online as a reference, but it’s there.
After all this, the WWE has hired three known home-schooled wrestlers – brothers Jeff and Matt Hardy, as well as best friend Shannon Moore (as well as Mick Foley). These three, as the story goes from the Hardys’ DVD, notoriously got into wrestling by having dangerous homemade backyard wrestling matches with trampolines.
Now, prior to Survivor Series on November 23, 2008, WWE.com reported that Jeff Hardy was found unconscious at the bottom of a stairwell in his hotel at 3am. Immediately, I thought the following; death, drug overdose, fired. Photographs of Kurt Cobain being found dead in his room flashed before my eyes, and like everyone else who follows professional wrestling, I thought the worst. Fortunately, but pathetically, the WWE decided to do this as an angle for Jeff to feud with Edge once Survivor Series was finished. Aware of the decision were just a few – Jeff, Vince, Shane and Stephanie McMahon, Edge, Matt Hardy, and Triple H. Now, “personal” angles are good – they add a sense of “close-to-home” to the storyline. WWE did an angle with Matt Hardy, Edge and Lita, where at the time, Matt and Lita were dating, but Lita had an affair with Edge, and she and Matt split. WWE immediately turned this into a storyline, and thus, the birth of the Rated ‘R’ Superstar. A little much, no? Well, like with this angle, the Jeff Hardy one crossed the line. Knowing Jeff has a history of drug addictions, and that he already has two strikes against him, is it logical or fair for the fans, or for is family, to pull such a repulsive stunt? I think not. There are some angles that are good to joke about, but a drug addiction isn’t under any circumstance. No if’s, and’s, or but’s.
That aside, although Jeff Hardy has paid his dues, and he has earned the chance to be WWE Champion, just because a wrestler is totally over with the crowd does not deem it acceptable for him to be the champion. As the WWE, you cannot simply make a superstar a champion based on their popularity or merchandise sales. Take, for example, Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Roberts was huge with the crowd when he wrestledin the late 1980′s and early-to-mid 1990′s with the WWF. Roberts, much like Jeff, was an irresponsible, unpredictable talent, and could not be trusted. Roberts never received a title run as the WWF’s top guy for these reasons.
Jeff has a history of no-showing events. He is booked, and does not show up. This is the same problem that TNA had with him, as well as with Scott Hall (aka Razor Ramon). The fact that him showing up is a coin flip is already a huge gamble for any company to take on a single superstar. Jeff also has a history of drug problems. Hardy holding the strap means that he is now the WWE Champion – the head of the pack, the company’s flag-bearer, the face of the WWE. What happens if he violates the Wellness Policy one more time? He’s fired, according to the rules of the Policy. Three strikes, and you’re out. Prior to Armageddon, when they decided to put Hardy over at the PPV, they acknowledged this issue, and decided that one more violation will see him stripped of the WWE Championship, and he will immediately be fired forever from the company. Could TNA Wrestling even think about signing him again, after seeing what he’s done with the WWE, and what he’s done to TNA first-hand?
What happens if Jeff has the belt until WrestleMania? What happens if he no-shows in front of 80,000 fans at the Superbowl of wrestling? What happens if it’s the week before WrestleMania, and Jeff Hardy violates the Wellness Policy? How can you write someone out of the storylines that quickly? Not only do you have to write out a main-event superstar, but he’s also the WWE Champion – you can’t hide it like you can with someone like Chris Masters or Joey Mercury who can easily slide under the limelight and no one would know the difference. This is Jeff Hardy, WWE Champion, feuding with the likes of Edge, Vladimir Kozlov, and Triple H. You can’t really be more in the spotlight than Jeff is right now. So how would they get around this?
WWE has put themselves between a rock and a hard place. If Jeff remains clean, and continues to work like he has since his 60-day suspension, WWE is clear sailing. He’s over with the crowd, the fans are happy that he’s the WWE Champion, and he brings a new dynamic to the main event that WWE hasn’t experienced in years. But can we ever say “Jeff Hardy” and “clear sailing” in the same sentence? Let’s hope for the WWE – and for Jeff Hardy’s sake – the he keeps his head on his shoulders, and makes the right decisions. He’s finally grabbed that brass ring that he’s been oh-so close to for so long. It’s now up to him whether or not he holds onto that brass ring.