EDITOR'S NOTE: Eric Benner is SLAM! Wrestling's regular Friday columnist.
Friday, September 1, 2000
Save The Hardy Boyz
They looked awful.
They limped their way to the ring, clearly very sore from the previous evening. It doesn't take a degree from detective school to link said soreness to the ironically titled TLC match from SummerSlam. I don't immediately recall which of the dozen or so death-defying stunts were inflicted on the Hardys. I do remember that Jeff was one of two (D'Von being the other) who were left stranded, holding onto the tag team titles up in the air, eventually and inevitably falling to the ground below. Ouch.
Sure, there have been more dangerous stunts in wrestling history. Heck, there was a more dangerous stunt that very night, as Shane McMahon hurled himself some thirty or more feet off the TitanTron construct to a gimmick air mat below, only to be followed by Steve Blackman, who landed right on top of him. You've got to admire Shane if that's what it takes to pin the man, but it was a little over the top.
As unique and exciting as the TLC match may have been, it's not the first time we've seen one. The same three teams put on a very similar match at Wrestlemania, and Edge and Christian fought the Hardys in a double ladder match last year at No Mercy. The latter was regarded by many as the North American match of the year, and the two subsequent matches may well win such honours this year. That doesn't make it right, though.
Granted, even these matches are not the first of their kind. We've certainly seen ladder matches before, including the famous Scott Hall-Shawn Michaels match from several years ago in the WWF. But they're becoming increasingly common.
Jeff Hardy is not an aging veteran. He's not an established veteran. He's not even a veteran. He's a young, hungry, very talented wrestler with a bright future in the World Wrestling Federation. Just not an incredible long future.
These are not haggard, old men limping out from the locker room for a brief confrontation with Edge and Christian. They're two guys who had given their all the night before in a match that was as unique as The Rock and Triple H's eleventeenth encounter later that evening.
Sure, people remember the Razor Ramon/Heartbreak Kid ladder match to this day, but five or ten years from now, we won't have one classic ladder match to remember, but about six. They can't all go down in history.
Every time wrestlers as athletic, talented, and high-risk as these step into the ring, they raise the bar. Not only for themselves, and their future matches, but for everyone else. Despite the recent semi-ban, no one cares about piledrivers anymore. Tazz kicked out of Jerry Lawler's formerly-devastating finishing move, the piledriver, and no one was surprised. Heck, it barely looked like a finishing move. Not compared to the stuff folks are doing now. At the top of the card, The Rock and Triple H can get away with flashy, choreographed, but ultimately harmless finishers like the Rock Bottom or the Pedigree, but Jeff Hardy's got to risk head and neck every time he wants to end a match. Equally, few people buy Matt Hardy's twisting neckbreaker thing (The Twist of Fate) as a realistic end to a climactic match of theirs, certainly not on pay-per-view. So he's expected to jump off a ladder, sending his opponent through a flaming table or something.
What makes me sad is that ten years from now, when the Hardy brothers are pushing into their thirties, we're going to see two men (at least one, Jeff) who could have been the next Chris Benoit, who ideally will have become some kind of legend himself by then. But alas, poor Jeff's body won't be able to take anymore. Eventually, that limping you see after a big match will be come the norm rather than the exception, and his knees will be of no more use to him than Kevin Nash's.
What makes me ashamed is that watching SummerSlam, theirs was by far my favourite match. Benoit and Chris Jericho put on a stellar technical affair, and I loved that one too, but it was too short for what it was. Besides, I was on the edge of my seat the entire three-way tag team match, often shouting 'ooh' or 'ouch' with the rest of the viewing establishment. In doing so, I'm as guilty as anyone in setting up the demise of the Hardys.
Edge and Christian are fortunate. They're handsome and charismatic, and have found a gimmick that suits them. Like The Rock and Triple H before them, they'll be able to get over on a combination of talent and charisma, hopefully enjoying a long and fruitful career. Meanwhile, they weren't so much kidding when they said in their skit on Raw that the Hardys weren't allowed to talk, a punishment that dooms the young brothers to using their bodies to get over.
The sad truth of it all, though, is that I'll continue to wish to see the antics of the Hardys (their match having been my favourite in three pay-per-views this year), and I'll keep cheering when it's delivered. In return, I'm sure the WWF will deliver more of it.
I guess this it the part where I deliver some kind of helpful suggestion that alleviates the problem, but ultimately, there isn't one. Wrestling by nature is violent. We pay to watch men brutally assault each other, be it fake or not. Clearly, a more violent display is going to appeal to at least some portion of fans, and there's nothing more violent, more acrobatic, more high-flying than a good, old-fashioned TLC match.
Gimmick the ladders, the tables, and the chairs. Even the ring if you have to. Put on these matches less often. Do whatever it takes, though, to save the careers of two of your youngest, most talented athletes, The Hardy Boyz. And while you're at it, please be careful with the attention-getting stunts. Yes, that means you, Shane.
Here's the mail.
Simon Lam, from firstname.lastname@example.org, writes:
"Hey Eric, I agree that this Sunday's SummerSlam looks oddly familiar and unexciting. Actually that's the way I've felt for most of the pay-per-views in the last year or so. I think the problem is that these days they're always showing too many good matches on TV which should be saved for pay-per-views instead. For example, look at this past SmackDown! This show leading up to SummerSlam included matches between Kurt Angle and the Rock, Jericho/Hardys and Benoit/Edge&Christian. These are guys who will be facing each other in this Sunday's pay-per-view, and yet they've already fought on the previous few TV shows!
In this past year, I remember plenty of good match-ups that were shown on TV before on pay-per-view. For example the Rock fought Jericho on Raw, a match that could have well headlined a pay-per-view. In addition, the TV shows are always offering too many title matches. What's the point of a wrestler winning the Royal Rumble to earn a shot at the gold in a couple months, when someone else could be instantly awarded with a title shot a couple days before Wrestlemania? I remember a couple years ago when the upcoming pay-per-views caused a lot of excitement. As Wrestlemania 14 approached, I really couldn't wait to see Austin vs. Michaels and Undertaker vs. Kane because they did not previously fight, at least not for a while in the case of Austin and HBK. These were the times when pay-per-views did not require much gimmick matches to hype up the show, just because the match-ups themselves were new and exciting enough. The fans had to painfully wait for the pay-per-view to see the matches they so badly wanted to see. So these days I don't look forward to pay-per-views as much as I use to do, simply because what they have to offer is not very much different from what is offered on the cable shows."
Extra credit to you, Simon, just because your first initial and last name, put together, make SLAM!
It's a time-honoured tradition for the television main events leading up to a pay-per-view to have something to do with the pay-per-view's main event. If Hulk Hogan is fighting King Kong Bundy at Wrestlemania II, then have Bundy squash all of Hogan's friends the weeks before, and maybe have Hogan make a save once or twice.
Nowadays, though, with mixed tag matches, singles wrestlers wrestling in tag matches, six-man tag matches, they basically take the top few matches, shuffle a little, and present it as hype. Wrestling has changed, though, and fifteen years ago we rarely, if ever got to see the marquee players wrestle each other (they'd tackle jobbers) on free television at all. So it's comparing apples to oranges.
I don't mind, for one specific reason: televised matches are throwaways, anyway. Jericho and Triple H will wrestle for maybe six minutes on Raw, but twenty or twenty five at the pay-per-view. It's like we don't even get real matches on television anymore. That's my take, at least.
That's all for this week. Thanks for reading, thanks for contributing to the mailbag, and have a great week!
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