If I told you I spent most of my freshman year of college doing The Hardy Boyz finger-guns entrance pose in the dorm hall with a couple buddies, A. you would hardly be shocked and B. I would only be one of several hundred thousand college freshmen in that year doing so. The main point of being a wrestling fan at 19 is basically doing all of that shit — the poses, the impressions, the celebrations, the PPVs drinking concoctions you wouldn’t dare dream of today — with your friends in the dorm halls or rooms. Bill Simmons may have become a pox on society, but the greatest thing he ever wrote was his eulogy of Macho Man, the main crux of which was how Randy Savage was the basis for a couple years of his college experience.
With the sad news today of Jeff Hardy being released by WWE, for what appears to be the same demons he’s been dealing with for most of his career, it’s hard for any wrestling fan to not think about the time, or times, he was their favorite wrestler. Because he was everyone’s, even for just a brief time.
When most people found The Hardy Boyz, it was around the turn of the century and right in the middle of WWE’s Attitude Era. While Vince McMahon was trying to steer the company a little younger with plenty of blue material and references to one’s junk (or someone else’s), the wrestlers still mostly looked the same as they did when we were kids. They were big and muscly and moved a little slowly. Triple H was on top of the card, and he even had the flowing blond locks. While The Rock was everyone’s hero, he still followed the same physical template.
And then the Hardyz would take the stage. First of all, they had that theme. It still fucking shreds, I don’t care what anyone says. And once you got to know the Hardyz, that opening drumbeat portended to something much more. It felt like an approaching storm, because generally it was.
And they looked different. They weren’t that big! I mean, they’re actually pretty big guys if you saw them on the street. But they weren’t puffed up or body builders. Given their JNCOs, it made them look...normal? Like, I hung out with these guys in high school. Well, actually, the kids who wore the JNCOs in high school would tell you I mocked them mercilessly, and they’d mostly be right. I was a miserable cuss, and did that to everyone. There was one though! He’s the guitarist for Filter now (#HUMBLEBRAG). But anyway, the Hardyz looked like guys you knew instead of guys who’d throw you off the bench at the gym. They looked like guys you would want to hang out with.
And then they’d get in the ring. Or above it, as they mostly did. I still don’t quite know how they ever slipped past Vince, because these were not WWE guys. There was nothing slow about them. They literally flew around the ring and the arena. There was nothing they wouldn’t do. If you were only aware of wrestling through WWE, the Hardyz were your only clue that there was something more ridiculous out there. The Hardyz made it seem like anyone could be a wrestler… as long as they were willing to throw themselves 30 feet off of something and through a table. Which none of us were. What was wrong with them? It was more Cirque du Soleil than it was wrestling, at least the wrestling we had grown up on. And yet, amongst the chaos and broken tables and sheer bedlam, there was beauty and grace.
We were all transfixed. My friends and I woke up most of my floor watching a tape of WrestleMania 16 at 1 a.m. (my roommate had the heaven-sent “black box” that hacked any pay-per-view event, and maybe other things, but I have no knowledge of that, and we just had to wait for him to bring it back from home), as the Hardyz and Edge and Christian and The Dudley Boyz jumped off and through everything in a ladder match. There were so many other matches we watched in the middle of the night where Jeff would leap and flip off some surface he really had no business doing so off of and turned our neighbors more and more against us. Worth it.
Ah, the ladder match. Perhaps the brothers’ greatest gift to the world of wrestling. Sure, there had been ladder matches before, but the Hardyz, along with Edge and Christian, turned it into its own art form. You watched every one through your fingers, terrified and yet pulsating with anticipation at the same time for what they might do, and then usually did. Lord knows they’ve paid the price for it.
It wouldn’t be too much longer before WWE released Hardy for, it seems, much the same reasons as today. He would return after that, and add singles gold to his tag team honors, but eventually the injuries took their toll and he had to leave again.
Hardy and his brother would go on to eventually be the talk of the wrestling world again years later with the “Broken” Matt Hardy and Brother Nero and Willow characters, showing their minds for the business had never slowed even if the bodies couldn’t quite hold up in the same way.
But that’s not really the important stuff. What is is the night they returned to WWE at Mania 33, and what everyone felt when they did (for full enjoyment of this video, make sure to watch The New Day dancing right along with them).
I launched my stool across the bar leaping out of it. The drums, the guns, the lights. I was 19 again. It was all involuntary. I know I was hardly alone. Still might be the hardest I’ve marked out since becoming a fan again. I was that same doofus in his dorm at 19 again. Isn’t that the point of all this? I haven’t spoken to most of those guys from that dorm in 20 years since. I can’t even remember some of their names. I think one was Tim. But if I ran into him randomly somewhere, you can believe we would both be doing the Hardy finger-guns at each other within an instant.
Look around wrestling today, and you’ll see a lot more wrestlers trying to be the Hardyz than Stone Cold or The Rock. Darby Allin and The Young Bucks leap immediately to mind. In a lot of ways, they were so far ahead of their time. We all want to be the guy who pushes it further than anyone else. They were.
Obviously, it doesn’t matter now if Jeff Hardy ever wrestles again. All that’s important is he finds and gets the help he needs and can live a healthy life as can be going forward. He’s already given everything to this, probably far more than he should have. But that was the Hardyz, doing more than what should have been. That’s why we couldn’t look away.