The Reality of Wrestling: Jeff Hardy, WWE Champion

I guess The E can still shock us all

Despite the numerous and rampant arguments amongst wrestling insiders, supposed insiders, and just people who watch wrestling, one thing we all could agree on through almost all of 2008 was that Jeff Hardy wasn’t ever going to win a world title. All of that was put to rest for good when Jeff Hardy winning the WWE title from HHH and Edge in a triple threat match ended last month’s Armageddon pay-per-view. Since then, the obvious questions of what this title reign will mean long term for the promotion, for Jeff, and maybe even for Matt. There is also the notion of Jeff Hardy defending a world title at Wrestlemania, one that would’ve been ludicrous thinking even a year ago, now having to be considered as a legit option for the more depleted of star power brand known as SmackDown! Transitional or not, for a few weeks both Hardy Boyz were world champions and Matt’s recent ECW title loss coupled with the backstage countdown to Christian Cage’s E return makes Jeff’s title win and the countdown to Wrestlemania that much more interesting for the blue brand.

P.C. Says: Jeff Hardy could have a successful title reign if he’s not a transitional champion

I guess the first thing to look at with Hardy winning the title was whether he deserved a run or not. I would have to position myself with those who believe Hardy should have gotten the belt, not because it’s any kind of a great story, but because he’s earned it. I was done with Jeff Hardy when he came back to The E from TNA because of how Jeff allowed his unprofessional streak to get in the way of a hot streak he was having in the ring and believed that the indulgences Jeff has always enjoyed in The E would kill any chance of him being anything in the ring. I would be oh so wrong as Hardy has had probably the best collection of T.V. matches in this country through 2008 stepping up his game in this situation to put on great matches with a variety of people and styles. Such wrestlers who’ve had notably good T.V. matches with Jeff Hardy in 2008: Umaga, The Undertaker, Shelton Benjamin, MVP, Randy Orton, and Chris Jericho. Looking at those names there are several different styles of wrestling, several different ring personalities, but all were able to click with Hardy (a lot due to Hardy’s still unrealistically good bumping) and not only produce good matches, but in matches concerning a lot of above mentioned people, were able to produce a great build to the nearby PPV with Hardy or that other wrestler on it. The best example of this would be how great T.V. matches against Umaga and Randy Orton made the Orton/Hardy world title match at the ’08 Rumble seem like a really big match—something that was until then not believable with Hardy involved.

That’s why I think Jeff deserved the title. The reason I didn’t think he ever would and that he had missed his best shots was that for all the great T.V. matches he put on, Jeff—outside of HHH—couldn’t produce that same magic on PPV against these people. The Orton match at last year’s Rumble was notoriously disappointing, as was his hardcore match with Umaga in June. With HHH, Hardy had two near classics on PPV in December ’07 and this past October, but that’s it. And while the triple threat was well reviewed, it’s not as hard these days to put on a good triple threat if HHH is involved or there’s a bump machine like Hardy involved. But the fact that his track record in singles PPV matches isn’t that good does make me a bit nervous because no matter the build, it usually hasn’t ended well for Hardy in the past year when it’s in front of people who’ve paid around $40 upfront to watch. Having said that, this isn’t going to be Edge/Hardy from even two years ago and both men’s game in the ring has improved greatly since then with Hardy being the most improved wrestler in the business at this point and Edge seeming to be ready now for that final push to superstardom. Granted he’s been at the cusp of stardom before and the injury bug or in-ring sloppiness has killed it. This time feels different and hopefully is for both men, but that doesn’t take away this man’s uneasiness.

The main problem with Hardy’s reign so far—something that will begin to change after The Rumble—is that nobody seems to have a good idea for how to book Hardy as champion. Booking Jeff Hardy as an underdog is one of the easiest things for a writer in a wrestling promotion to do: he bumps like a madman for any guy above 6’2” and 250 pounds and is able to get the crowd behind him while doing it; it writes itself. But when the belt comes into play, it all changes. C.M. Punk is a great example as his title reign was plagued by the underdog effect he had on people during the title reign because he was never booked to look effective, he was booked to look like a survivalist. And because he was feuding with people so much bigger than him that was an ok strategy, but the inconclusiveness of his matches with Batista killed most of his momentum and having to carry JBL at a crossroads of your title reign was not good news for Punk. In Hardy’s case, it looks like the people behind SmackDown! took a step forward by not booking him as a lucky, underdog champion. However, it looks like they’ve taken two steps back with their first idea for Hardy as champion: playing on his out of the ring dumb luck.

Jeff Hardy’s turbulent backstage history has not been much of a secret. It’s no secret that no showing and drugs cost him his job in The E the first time and no showing and possibly drugs cost him in TNA. Failing a drug test cost him Money in the Bank and the title at SummerSlam this year and his uninsured home burning down killing his dog in the process was almost like something out of a movie, but was another episode in the long drama that has been Jeff Hardy’s life. The E has had to learn the hard way in the past on several occasions that creating a storyline based on real life rarely if ever works, working little tidbits of real life into a storyline on the other hand has a higher success rate. In The E’s case, they’ve apparently sent Jeff Hardy’s life into sports-entertainment land as the storyline has seen Hardy go through a series of setbacks—a hit & run car accident and his entrance pyro blasting him in the face—with Edge at the center of it.

If this is the way they’re going to bring Cage back (he’s behind all of this for his “brother” Edge) there are better ways. Having Cage simply do a run-in and/or cost Hardy the belt would be the most effective way without the need for all of this sabotaging a guy in over-the-top fashions. I’m expecting such a run-in from Captain Charisma if he is in fact going to debut back in The E on Sunday. If not, maybe something on T.V., just as long as The E doesn’t fuck up and give away the return thus ruining the moment the same way they did with Jericho. The E releasing a statement telling people when Jericho’s return was going to happen sent that moment down too many pegs to count, but with Cage—since he isn’t as well known as someone like Jericho—the reaction would be interesting if it’s unexpected and not known to all watching.

The Reality is…it could all end Sunday. It wouldn’t surprise many including myself if Edge walked out with the belt this Sunday. However, is there anything better SmackDown! could have for Mania this year? As of now, HHH/Edge in a singles match seems to me to be the biggest match out of SmackDown! that doesn’t involve Taker and that could very well be the plan on that side, but why not Hardy? First off, he wouldn’t have to go on last as Cena/Orton looks to be the likely plan there or Austin if he should be up for a match this year, Mania being in Houston and everything. I would book Hardy into Mania as the champion because that is where the underdog story and the story of perseverance and all of that works to The E and Hardy’s advantage and could be a real starmaker with Hardy getting a win as the underdog champion finally finding credibility amongst all the naysayers. On the flip side, Hardy bumping all over in Money in the Bank and all of the big stars The E has at the top is the more likely way to go as Hardy’s date with Wrestlemania greatness—if not this year—would surely be next year. The hidden theme of 2008 in The E was change. Despite many of the big names still being on top, the influx of new stars—Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase Jr., Kofi Kingston, C.M. Punk, Miz & Morrison—that have taken off quickly remains astounding considering that was exactly what TNA was just over two years ago. Those just named are slowly providing what RAW’s entire undercard will be within five years as some of the older wrestlers—Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, JBL—may not even be in the ring by that time. For now, the Hardy/Edge match doesn’t have quite the momentum that the Orton/Hardy match did at the same event last year, but the intrigue lies with the fact that Hardy has the belt (the tough part is over), now what are the powers that be going to do?

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