Jeff Hardy was at his peak as a main-event performer in the summer of 2009. His program with CM Punk was the perfect recipe to get Hardy to the next level, and truth be told, it elevated Punk at the same time. The heel straight edge punk against the free-spirit Hardy was a match made in creative heaven.
Hardy and Punk main-evented SummerSlam 2009 in a TLC Match. Looking back, that was one of the top moments of Hardy’s career, and certainly his crowning moment as a singles wrestler.
Nine years laters, we’re heading into SummerSlam again, and while nothing will capture the same magic as Hardy and Punk did in 2009, there are some ripples of that same feeling with Hardy’s character now, even though he lost in unceremonious fashion to Shinsuke Nakamura at Extreme Rules on Sunday.
Randy Orton attacked Hardy after the pay-per-view match and then again on Tuesday’s SmackDown, Orton attacked Hardy to cause a disqualification in his U.S. Title rematch against Nakamura. The scene was honestly horrific, as Orton stuck his finger in the hoop holes on Hardy’s ear and ripped the skin, stretching it down near his neck. The site of it all was gross.
Pairing Orton and Hardy feels like a big feud, and whatever has caused this new rage within Orton — he hasn’t spoken yet to address the heel turn — has done wonders for his character in the two days since the heel turn. Orton has always been a better heel, and he’s noted in interviews that he prefers playing that role. He’s more comfortable, and he comes across more natural as the bad guy.
Hardy’s role is finding its groove as well. He gets over with the younger audience thanks to his flashy attire and painted face. He can sell merch with that look. At the same time, he has a coolness factor to his character that attracts the older audience.
There’s no question, in 2009, Hardy was perhaps the biggest star in pro wrestling. He had bridged the gap between the younger and older crowd in a way that John Cena had not been able to do. Cena had a stranglehold on the younger audience, and always will, but Hardy had found a way to appeal to both segments. Something was growing. Then drug problems and an arrest derailed his push and he was in TNA a year later.
It was a huge fall from grace.
He’ll probably never get back to where he was nine years ago — age has caught up with him and he just doesn’t have the time he had almost a decade ago — but that doesn’t mean he can’t be a main-event babyface for WWE on the SmackDown brand for the foreseeable future.