Jeff Hardy experienced an epiphany while watching the Hell in a Cell match at WrestleMania 32 between Shane McMahon and the Undertaker.
“Watching Shane, I knew I could top that,” said Hardy. “Every time I watched Shane, I was inspired to do something better.”
Hardy has his own chance to fly this Sunday at TNA’s Slammiversary in a "Full Metal Mayhem" match against his brother, Matt Hardy.
“I’m planning something big for Sunday,” said Hardy. “I’ll take my own path and do it my own way.”
The pinnacle of high spots, Hardy explained, will forever be Mick Foley’s work against the Undertaker in a Hell in a Cell at the 1998 King of the Ring. Foley was tossed off the top of the cage and plunged sixteen feet onto the announce table, and also accidentally crashed through the top of the cell, plummeting straight down to the middle of the ring.
“I still think about Mick Foley,” said Hardy. “That was the most impressive match. You talk about superhuman powers–Mick Foley got up from that first bump, then returned to take the choke slam through the top of the cage. I always think about that match–is that even possible to top? We’ll see what happens. I’m going to let instinct drive my body to see as far as I can go.”
Hardy, a former WWE world champion, admitted he still dreams of headlining a WrestleMania. He is surprisingly winless in his five WrestleMania matches, yet promised to bring a match of WrestleMania caliber to Slammiversary.
“This Sunday at Slammiversary, you’re going to see me put in a WrestleMania performance,” said Hardy. “So what if it’s in front of 2,500 people instead of 100,000? I don’t care. It’s all about the moment. That camera is going to be on, and it’s going to become a professional wrestling memory. That’s really important to me–creating moments that last forever.”
The 38-year-old Hardy, who is now the father of two girls, wants to make the most of the time he has remaining as one of wrestling’s most popular acts.
“I know I’m getting close to the end,” said Hardy. “I can feel my body telling me something. I don’t know how much longer I’ve got, and naturally I would love to end with a WrestleMania and I would love to have a Hell in a Cell. That’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve always wanted to headline ‘Mania.”
Matt Hardy unveiled his “Broken” character to unleash fury upon Jeff after he was nearly broken in half by a Swanton bomb from over two stories high. Jeff now refers to as “Brother Nero” and has promised to end Jeff's career at Slammiversary.
“Matt watches too much TV,” joked Hardy. “He’s always trying to get me to watch these shows. He’s all obsessed with them–True Detective, the Walking Dead, Game of Thrones. I don’t watch much TV, but Matt gets inspired by these shows and it helps his character.
“Matt’s a mastermind when it comes to pro wrestling. It’s all he thinks about–you can tell by looking at his social media. I have other interests–I like painting at home when I feel like it or writing when I feel like it, but Matt is 24/7 wrestling. That’s what makes him so good.”
Hardy only has one goal in mind for Sunday.
“I’m looking forward to having one of those moments that will be immortal,” said Hardy, who admits that he is still filled with fear before his high spots in matches. “If I didn’t get nervous, it wouldn’t be any fun. The fear is part of the fun, and that’s what I live for.”
Fear got the best of Hardy during a dirt bike accident in April of 2015, which resulted in a broken leg.
“When I broke my leg on the dirt bike, fear got the best of me that day,” he explained. “I hesitated. I didn’t hit it as fast as I could have and I came up short. It was the first time in my life I couldn’t get back up. I had a broken tibia and that was over a year ago.”
Injuries are never far from Hardy's mind, as he also has to wear a brace in the ring for his torn PCL. Hardy acknowledges the knee brace forced him to become even more effective with his storytelling and psychology in the ring.
“I have to wear a brace every time I wrestle,” said Hardy. “But that injury may have helped me, rather than hurt me. I feel really comfortable in it. And I just got the rod taken out of my tibia, so I’m still healing from that. But if I wasn’t nervous, I’d be concerned because that’s part of the fun.”
Hardy craved speed from the time he could crawl.
“I got my first dirt bike when I was eight,” said Hardy. “We didn’t have a ton load of money, so it took years to persuade my dad to buy me a dirt bike. Motocross and pro wrestling are so similar. You come up with these big ideas and you build these big jumps, and you just want to conquer them and bring them into reality. Motocross started it, and that led to pro wrestling.
“Luckily, I had this natural talent for it, and luckily I had this huge foundation with the creatures, my fans. I couldn’t be any more blessed than I am. I’m so lucky that I went this long without being seriously injured in the ring. Outside the ring got me, but it’s all good. I think I’m wrestling better than I ever have.”
Sunday's match at Slammiversary offers the Hardy brothers a chance to add a new chapter to their rivalry, which has been enhanced with the phenomenal work of Matt as a dark, brooding heel.
“As far as storytelling and psychology, I think I'm at my best,” said Hardy. “Matt's older (41), and he's better than he's ever been. It’s just like writing a good song–you’ve got to tell a good story in a match.
“Brother feuds are cool. Matt and I grew up watching Owen Hart wrestle Bret Hart at WrestleMania, and we wanted to do that–and we got to wrestle at WrestleMania. In real life, Matt is more arrogant and I’m more modest, and that’s what makes us a good team.”
Fans have witnessed an endless amount of contract signings over the years in wrestling, but TNA aired a very unique scene between the brothers at their home in North Carolina that was striking in its originality.
“I loved it, and think we need more of it," said Hardy. "It’s so intriguing, and we’re planning to have some more. You won’t want to miss the next few months of TNA. It is is going to be amazing. My brother and I are going to reach new boundaries that have never been imagined by any fan.“
Despite the compelling feud between the Hardy's, Father Time remains one of Jeff's fiercest opponents. The concept of slowing down is an ongoing issue for the future TNA and WWE Hall of Famer, especially when he enters the ring with an all-systems-go mindset.
“It’s very hard,“ admitted Hardy. “I have two daughters now. I feel so comfortable with my ideas and being in the ring at this age in my career, and I feel more comfortable with what I can and can’t do in the ring. But it’s a challenge to me, especially on a pay per view, to steal the show. There’s no doubt in my mind that Matt and I will. I feel sorry for [the main event of] Drew Galloway and Bobby Lashley. Unless somebody shuts me down, there’s no way anyone else can steal the show.“
Hardy has reached the rarified Undertaker level in TNA, as his popularity is so high that he is above world titles. Nevertheless, he still believes his destiny includes another run with the world title run.
“It’s much more important to me to go out there and have a killer match than to have a title,“ said Hardy. “Before it’s all said, I want to win that world title again. 2012 was one of my best years ever, and coming back after those dark days and winning the title from Austin Aries in Phoenix was one of the highlights of my career. That was the exclamation point on my career. Naturally, I want to win it again before it’s all said and done.
“I hope it won’t be from my brother Matt. Hopefully Drew can retain this weekend at Slammiversary, he’s such an intense guy. I came so close the last time I fought him, and we can have another killer match. I would much rather wrestle him than Bobby. Bobby Lashley ain’t no joke. So that’s what I want to do before it’s all said and done.“
World title aspirations aside, Hardy's focus remains on defeating his brother at Slammiversary.
“The bottom line is Matt on Sunday,“ said Hardy. “He got a good jump on me and I’m still healing, but by the time Sunday comes around, I’ll be ready to go.“
As an eight-time tag team champion, Hardy admitted his favorite tag team partner is the crowd.
“My connection with the people has a lot to do with when the camera isn’t on,“ said Hardy. “The time I’ve spent with fans in hotel lobbies and airports reminds me we’re all part of the human race and we’re here to make this planet a better place.“
As for the future, there is a possibility that Hardy reappears in the tag team division–as a trainer for his two daughters, who are five years old and five months old.
“I have the Hardy girls,“ said Hardy. “Twenty years from now, who knows what’s going to happen in the pro wrestling world. That’s the only time I’ll agree to train somebody–if they want to do it.“
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.