The idea that the wrestling world and the real world are separate entities has generally been urinated on in recent times. With wrestlers and companies using social media to forward storylines and feuds, as well as the “dirt sheets” moving into their own industry with fans gobbling up whatever backstage gossip they can get (I’m no different), what is “real” and what is real is pretty foggy. And that’s in the world of wrestling, where the whole thing is built on that kind of fogginess. We know they’re characters, but we know they’re people, and where one ends, and the other begins is less identifiable than ever. It’s part of the fun, as wrestling dances over the line of “show” and “competition.” You can watch CM Punk’s possible (likely?) return and any future feud with The Elite after what happened in real life as the perfect example.
But that line can get uncomfortable for everyone depending on what the actual real-life issues are being dealt with, or not dealt with as the case may be. AEW was certainly toying with the bad side of all of this last night on Dynamite, with both the return of Jeff Hardy, and Darby Allin’s promo-off with MJF.
Hardy first. He made his return to the company after his latest DUI arrest just about a year ago. It is hardly new for Hardy, who has been fired or released from multiple wrestling companies for his alcohol, and drug addictions, as well as multiple arrests. Hardy came to the rescue of his brother Matt in story last night, and AEW is probably ramping up for one last Hardy Boyz run before they both retire.
Which is something fans have wanted. Everyone loves Jeff Hardy and the Hardyz. And yet at the same time, the reaction to Jeff’s return was slightly muted, because there was a feeling from fans both at home and in the arena that we’d all been here before. Because we have. And deep down, Jeff’s return is kind of making every fan ask if they aren’t contributing to his problems.
We see addiction in a different light now, not a personal failing but a frailty. But it was hard to watch Jeff hit yet another Swanton bomb last night, see him gingerly get up from it, and limp around, and wonder how this kind of physical pain could possibly help him in his recovery. Whether it was an actual injury or reaction or not, it’s hitting those notes. Lots of addiction springs from physical pain, and we all know that Hardy’s body after two decades plus in the ring is hardly in tip-top shape. Watching Hardy do it still brings us back to the first time we saw him and his brother Matt do things we didn’t think any human could, or should, do, and that is the joy that they provide. But we’re all too well aware of the toll it’s taken as well. It’s harder, if not impossible, for fans to separate those two emotions.
Every wrestling fan just wants Jeff Hardy to get better and make it stick this time. It’s fair to question whether wrestling fits into that. Sure, it’s all he’s ever known, and perhaps he needs that center and activity to keep busy, or feel in a place to continue to work on himself. Sitting idly somewhere with nothing to do wouldn’t be the best path to sobriety either. But perhaps the answer is to find something new for him, something that doesn’t take a physical toll and also isn’t the path that has led him astray so many times.
Whatever Hardy’s path to wellness is, and that’s the most important thing, inviting fans to come along for the ride again is a tough ask. It’s one thing when it’s just the character “Jeff Hardy” once again throwing himself from a height he probably shouldn’t through a table and an opponent. But fans know that the person Jeff Hardy hasn’t really been able to handle what the character Jeff Hardy does in a healthy way. We can’t see them as two separate things anymore, and not only has the person Jeff Hardy had a very hard time, he’s put other people in danger in the most reckless way possible. His last arrest saw him three times over the limit on a breathalyzer at noon while driving a car he had somehow bypassed the ignition lock on as he swerved in and out of traffic. If this goes south again, the consequences could be so much worse than the loss of an already decorated career, and another rehab stint.
Hardy wants to leap off and onto things to entertain us, because that’s his world. But it’s a little hard to be as entertained when we’ve all seen where it goes. We have our memories, and most if not all fans would rather trade any new ones for Jeff’s health and happiness instead of selfishly soaking it up and ignoring the price that could be paid.
Darby Allin goes after MJF on the mic again
As for Allin, after his show-opening match with Swerve Strickland, he got on the mic after MJF and did a promo about how he used to be like MJF and only focused on himself, and his accomplishments, but he was never happy. And how therapy had shown him all that was around him and made him a happier and more complete person than MJF.
Except there’s one problem: AEW has consistently asked us to ignore Allin’s real life and the multiple accusations of domestic abuse and sexual assault because he was at the top of the card. They had no problem firing Jimmy Havoc after Speaking Out and the accusations against him, but he wasn’t a main event player. Allin’s skated (I know, I know) on all of it. It’s been off-limits as far as they were concerned.
And now we have Allin opening up a window into his personal life, but you don’t get to cherry-pick once you open that door of what people see inside. Allin can’t reference his mistakes and demons and past and then figuratively say, “Yeah but not that.” If his actual personal life is going to be part of his on-screen story, and most of us know what has been accused of going on in his personal life, then we can’t simply accept that going to therapy makes that all ok now. If AEW and Allin want to walk down this road, they have to walk the whole road.
Again, the lines of kayfabe are often just a theory these days. But perhaps AEW should be a little more careful in how they blur them.