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Week in Wrestling: Inside the broken brilliance of Matt and Jeff Hardy

Get inside the minds of Jeff and Matt Hardy before their big TNA pay-per-view. 

SI.com’s Wrestling Week in Review is published every Wednesday and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

In this week’s edition we have an interview with Matt and Jeff Hardy, a new segment with Eric Bischoff discussing behind-the-scenes moments from WCW Nitro, The Shoot with Joey Ryan, and “Five Questions with…” Brandi Rhodes.

The Broken Brilliance of the Hardys

“Broken” Matt Hardy is quite certain what would happen to Vince McMahon if the WWE chairman ever set foot on the Hardy compound.

“What would happen to Vince Meekmahan if he spent time in the ‘Broken Universe?’” asked Matt Hardy. “Meekmahan would be deleted!”

Jeff Hardy, who Matt refers to as “Brother Nero,” also shared his own theory on McMahon’s fate if he dared venture into the backwoods of Cameron, North Carolina.

“That reminds me of a song,” said Jeff. “If Meekmahan ever came to the Hardy compound, I would tell Meekmahan, face-to-face, you’ll fade away and classify yourself as obsolete! Obsolete!”

With Bound for Glory a mere four days away, the Hardys are prepared to challenge Decay—Crazzy Steve, Abyss, and their princess of distress Rosemary—for the Impact Wrestling world tag team championship.

The feud between the Hardys and Decay intensified when Crazzy Steve and Abyss attempted to kidnapp Matt’s son, King Maxel, as well as abduct his wife and personal consigliere, Señor Benjamin.

“Decay came to my house and perpetrated blasphemy,” said Matt. “The Seven Deities have shown that my brother and I must work together, and all the fans who are also broken souls want to see us exact revenge against Decay and reclaim the tag team titles of the world.”

The Hardys have revitalized Impact Wrestling over the past calendar year, beginning with Matt’s world title victory – with Jeff serving as special guest referee – at the 2015 Bound for Glory. While Jeff was recuperating from a broken leg suffered in a gruesome dirt bike accident, which forced the Hardys to forfeit the tag team titles, Matt cemented himself as a bona-fide world title contender.

“When Brother Nero was injured, I found that very selfish,” said Matt. “As time went on, I began my quest for the title of the world – and eventually I won that title. After I got a taste of the title of the world, I got obsessed with its aroma. I had a great battle with EC3, but during that time, there were some things that Brother Nero did not approve of in terms of the way I conducted my business.”

The Hardys reignited their feud in the spring, which built to an “I Quit” match that saw Jeff nearly break his brother in half.

“My brother jumped off the highest perch at the zone of Impact, and that is when my ‘Broken’ condition began,” said Matt. “It has allowed me to access more parts of my mind, far more than any other mortal humans, and that is where my ‘Broken Brilliance’ truly began. Once the demonic Decay started targeting my son, that set Brother Nero and I on an odyssey to regain the tag team titles of the world. They have pushed my broken brilliance to the limit, which means I need Brother Nero to be the nefarious one. I need him to be strong for this Great War.”

The Hardys, who first debuted in the World Wrestling Federation in 1998, will forever be associated with WWE. Fans are still clamoring for the future Hall of Famers to return, as “Delete!” chants have filled the rafters the past two weeks at Raw.

While the Hardys have generated genuine interest in their “Broken” characters, both 39-year-old Jeff and 42-year-old Matt credit Impact Wrestling for allowing such a tremendous amount of opportunity for originality and creativity. Yet the pair will be free agents in February, and the wrestling world anxiously awaits their decision to stay with Impact Wrestling or return to WWE.

“All the WWE stuff really depends on what happens between now and February with TNA,” admitted Jeff, who is a former WWE world champion. “I just went out to Nashville and recorded six songs, and we’re about to open a store that sells original art work, which is going to be huge. If it feels right and good, I don’t see anything wrong with staying. When you commit to a WWE contract, you’re committing to some serious time away from home. If it were under my terms, there might be a chance, but I’m really not sure. Of course it would be nice, but what we’re doing right now is so much fun. I don’t want to go back to WWE and burn out within four or five months, and having another run as TNA world champion would feel just as good.”

“Broken” Matt also added insight to where the Hardys will be wrestling come WrestleMania 33.

“I am very content at Impact Wrestling,” said Matt. “I don’t know if I trust that Meekmahan, or if he’ll try to stifle my broken brilliance. I’m able to live in my broken universe here at Impact Wrestling to the fullest extent, and Impact Wrestling needs me as their savior, so I’ll do everything I can to help them grow. They’ve had many setbacks in the last few years, but things are changing. I don’t have an end game. Being a celestial being, I live for the moment to fight the Great War, and that is to light the darkness. Right now, I’m able to do that at Impact Wrestling.

“Especially in the beginning, when I was a mortal vessel, we set out many goals as the Hardy Boyz. We’ve accomplished those goals many times over. We wanted to be the tag team champions of the world just once, and we’ve done that many times. Once we went off into the singles world, I noticed there is something very unique about Brother Nero. People are drawn to him, and he has intangibles and charisma that cannot be emulated or duplicated. At first, there were times when I felt, ‘I wish I got the same treatment as Brother Nero,’ but as time went on, I just wanted to be successful on my own. A career is not a sprint, it’s a long race, so whenever he held the title of the world, I was very happy for him, and I always will be. We have evolved to the point in our career, after doing this for a quarter of a century, where both of us are very happy. We both want to make the most out of whatever it is we have to work with.”

Jeff revealed a glimpse into the creativity of the Hardy minds when discussing potential plans should the legendary brothers remain in Impact Wrestling.

“A better idea is if Matt and I become the tag team champions, and we still compete in the solo division,” said Jeff. “Sure, it’s double duty, but I would love to see a match for the world title between the tag team champions. Thank God for TNA, we’ve had the creative freedom to do what we want to do.

“For the people who really want to know where I’ll be after February, it’s just like what I said when I left [WWE]—this is only goodbye for now, this is not goodbye forever. As long as I’m healthy, there is always that chance I will return and have that one last run. For now, it’s up in the air. Ultimately, that’s my last dream match – with the Undertaker at the Hell in a Cell – so a lot of it depends on The Undertaker. If he’s going to still do one match a year, I would really like to be part of a Hell in a Cell with him. But I don’t know if he’s going to wrestle again this year at WrestleMania, or if he’s going to give it up. I was the world champion, but I never got to do a Hell in a Cell or main event a WrestleMania, but so much of it depends on The Undertaker.”

Sixteen years have passed since the Hardys engaged in the original TLC wars with Edge, Christian, and the Dudley Boyz. Edge and Christian have both since retired, while Bubba and D-Von were last seen on Raw announcing their own “retirement.” As their peers deal with their own wrestling mortality, the Hardys remain amongst the most discussed wrestlers currently active in the business.

“One of the things I have had to focus on, in order to move forward, is not being a stunt monkey,” said Matt, referring to wrestlers who wear out their bodies with unnecessary and dangerous spots. “Edge, Christian, myself, Brother Nero, and the Dudleys battled in the TLC matches, and they were revolutionary. Those matches helped establish us, but in many ways, turned us into ‘spot monkeys.’”

The wrestling business, while often criticized as fake, is often more real than reality. “Broken” Matt Hardy explained the keys to longevity in the business.

“As you evolve, you learn that wrestling is not necessarily about stunts or spots,” said Matt. “You need to go out and show the audience that they can love you for the persona you are – not because of the risk you’re willing to take or the jeopardy you’re willing to put your body in. That is something I try to stress to the wrestlers nowadays – there is an epidemic of spot monkeys in the business. They often are so concerned with the fans’ reactions that they’re willing to kill themselves, while I am trying to help them move past that. It is not about the move, it’s about the moment you create, and that’s what I’m doing through my broken brilliance.”

Jeff admitted that he has learned a great deal from Matt, especially while in the role of “Brother Nero.”

“I’ve learned that I can still be loved if I perform well, and I learned that from the broken brilliance of Matt Hardy,” said Jeff. “I’m sure I’ll want to relapse and jump off something high again, but for now, I’m feeling really good. It’s been very helpful to set new boundaries for myself and not always go as big. I have two daughters, and I want to be around for as long as I can to play with them and teach them to do whatever they dream of doing. I want to be healthy enough to do that, whether it’s riding dirt bikes, wrestling as the womens world tag team champions, or anything.

“I had a lot of time off when I broke my leg, and I felt nothing but a complete guilt trip. I won’t be able to let go off that guilt until we win those titles back. We were the world tag team champions for Impact Wrestling, but because of my broken leg, we never got to defend those titles. So naturally, I felt guilty and I want to make up for that, and the only way to do that is to win the world tag team titles again – and actually defend them for a good, successful long run. That’s my plan, and I’m going to kick it into high drive at Bound for Glory. The world will see what they never expected from me, and it won’t just include jumping off something high. It’s more character-driven, and I’m going to let my mind go free, so it’s going to be must-see.”

Impact Wrestling has not always been synonymous with “Must See,” but that has changed with the Hardys in 2016 – which included a moment when Jeff boxed a kangaroo that Matt claimed contained the ghost of Smokin’ Joe Frazier.

“I had to take Brother Nero back to his primal instincts,” said Matt. “My soul existed in an African vessel hundreds of years ago as the leader of a tribe, and my tribe fought for honor. We didn’t fight by swinging off the trees or hanging on the vines. We actually fought in hand-to-hand combat with weapons and shields, and that is what a battle is all about. Professional wrestling’s battles have gotten away from that, so I took Brother Nero to my personal zoo to fight Smokin’ Joe Frazier, whose spirit is embodied in a kangaroo. You’ll notice that Brother Nero learned from that fight, and used some of the same kicks from the kangaroo on Crazzy Steve. He’s finally tapping into his primal instincts.”

Professional wrestling was created to provide real-life magic for its fans—not concussions or broken bones to the wrestlers—which is a part of the art not lost on Matt.

“Now that the world is seeing my broken brilliance, I am bringing back that magic that has been lacking for so long,” said Matt. “The Undertaker is full of magic, so he is our first choice to join us. The broken universe that I have been creating, and the reason Brother Nero has been gravitating to it, is because it is full of magic. Professional wrestling has moved so far to the athleticism side and people are overly indulging in the stunt monkeys, but that’s why there are so many injuries all the time. You need to break open your soul, break open your mind, and remember that pro wrestling is magic. My goal is to open up a ‘Broken Universe,’ which is different than the typical wrestling universe, which is watered down with too many guys taking too many chances for a cheap pop.”

Perception and reality are a constant battle in wrestling, as well as with the Hardys. While Jeff was championed for over a decade as the more accomplished singles star, he admitted that it is his brother who he continues to learn from and seek counsel.

“The roles have been reversed,” said Jeff. “Ever since I broke my leg, and then ‘broke’ my brother, which created what you see right now, I have been in his shadow. He is brilliant, and what he’s doing now is brilliant. It’s the best s--- he’s ever done, in my opinion, and I feel like Jeff Hardy is the one with the broken stupidity. I’m the one who’s willing to jump off s---, but the real brilliance is from ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy, and that’s to be smarter. That’s pretty legit overall for your career and what you can do moving forward, and Matt’s been a great teacher. There is something very true and real to Matt’s broken brilliance.”

As for Bound for Glory this Sunday, the Hardys promised that their performance will be worth the price of the pay per view.

“When this Great War takes place at Bound for Glory against the demonic Decay, we will finally illuminate Impact Wrestling from its cloak of darkness,” proclaimed Matt. “We are not only going to render Decay obsolete, we’re also going to delete them until their vessels have perished.”

News of the Week

WWE’s Clash of Champions had a sole mission this past Sunday, and that was to legitimize the Universal Championship.

The result, however, was a failure.

The Universal Championship is still in its infancy, having only existed since August 21, and the belt was worn by Finn Bálor for less than twenty-four hours before he was forced to relinquish it. Triple H then returned to single-handedly pedigree Owens’ two opponents—Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins—during the finals of a mini-tournament to make Owens the second ever Universal Champion.

Since his title win, the focus has almost entirely revolved around whether Stephanie McMahon knew about Triple H’s plan to interfere. In the background of that storyline, which has seen Raw’s ratings drop to all-time lows, is Kevin Owens, arguably the most talented wrestler in WWE.

Owens’ victory over Seth Rollins at Clash of Champions included interference from Chris Jericho, a knocked out referee, and a second referee—sent, of course, by Stephanie McMahon—to count the winning pinfall.

Owens is fully capable of having a great run as champion, but he also needs an opponent to bring out the best in him. Instead of feuding with a fellow heel in Rollins, WWE could have inserted Cesaro into the main event picture and helped elevate Owens to another level. Instead, Owens remains the world champ in the shadows of Raw’s top storylines, while the spotlight remains on Stephanie McMahon and Triple H. Cesaro, by the way, really should have won that ridiculous best-of-seven series with Sheamus, which ended… in a draw.

Last night’s Smackdown main event between AJ Styles and Dean Ambrose—which included John Cena on commentary—confirmed the obvious.

Smackdown is far better than Raw.

The two-hour Smackdown had a compelling finish, as Styles rolled up Ambrose moments after Cena cost Ambrose the WWE championship and effectively built up their triple-threat match at No Mercy.

Raw has struggled since the brand split. With such a thin roster, Raw has struggled to produce three entertaining hours of content. Although Smackdown also deals with the same personnel issues, the problem is far less pronounced with only two hours of programming to fill. Smackdown’s two hours seemingly fly by, while there are too many instances when Raw continues to drag.

In other news…

• Mick Foley is much more than just the general manager of Raw. He is also a devoted friend, and he is raising funds for his friend, Gordon Bailey, who is fighting an inoperable brain tumor. Foley agreed to match the first $10,000 in donations for Bailey, who is a legendary figure in the professional Santa community.

• Where is the silver lining for Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson? Formerly known as Doc Gallows and Karl “Machine Gun” Anderson, the talented duo lost twice in twenty-four hours to The New Day. The brand split—which removed AJ Styles from The Club—has allowed WWE to creatively stifle Gallows and Gun.

• Did Randy Orton’s search for Bray Wyatt on Smackdown give anyone else flashbacks of the old Ultimate Warrior-Jake “The Snake” Roberts vignettes? If only Wyatt could have locked Orton in a room full of vipers…

• Speaking of flashbacks, the WWE’s decision to end the Brock Lesnar/Randy Orton feud at an untelevised house show this past Saturday in Chicago harkened back to memories to the WWF’s glory days in the 1980s when major storylines took place off television. Unlike SummerSlam, fans were treated to a legitimate finish to the match as Lesnar cleanly pinned Orton. Chris Jericho, who admitted to a backstage altercation with Lesnar after he concussed Orton at SummerSlam, was not on Saturday’s card.

• The ongoing TNA financial situation remains in flux, but expect Bound for Glory to air this Sunday. Of course, whether Shane McMahon will enter the middle of the six-sided ring and announce “I now own TNA!” is an entirely different question.

• There is no end in sight for John Cena’s singles drought on pay per view. Cena last won a singles match on PPV over a year ago on September 20, 2015 at WWE’s Night of Champions over Seth Rollins. Since then, he is winless in two matches with AJ Styles and one with Alberto Del Rio.

• Ring of Honor’s All Star Extravaganza pay per view is set for this Friday. Two matches that stand out are IWGP Intercontinental champion Tetsuya Naito vs. Jay Lethal, as well as Ladder War 6, which features The Young Bucks, Motor City Machine Guns, and ROH world tag team champions The Addiction.

• Booker T shared some of his time with Sports Illustrated, and a story with his insight on race and politics will post this Friday on SI.com.

• In addition to a loaded card featuring the likes of Ricochet and Michael Elgin, Beyond Wrestling is bringing Joey Styles to “Midas Touch” this Sunday in Somerville, MA.

• The Week in Wrestling will open next week with a feature story on WWE women’s champion Charlotte.

The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff

Courtesy Eric Bischoff.png

The Nitro Files with Eric Bischoff will delve into a moment from WCW’s Monday Nitro. Bischoff hosts his Bischoff on Wrestling podcast,” as well as delivers a “Controversial Video of the Week” with 120 Sports’ Nick Hausman, and plans on proving every week in the Nitro Files that the “truth is out there.”

Chris Jericho has entertained the past two weeks on Raw by talking incessantly about writing a list.

Eric Bischoff recalls Jericho’s original list, which debuted on Nitro eighteen years ago on March 30, 1998.

“That idea originated with Glenn Gilbertti, aka the Disco Inferno,” said Bischoff, who was WCW’s president during the zenith of Nitro’s success. “I just spoke with Chris Jericho, and he told me it was really Disco’s idea to come up with that segment and to roll through the commercial break.”

Jericho, who was WCW’s Cruiserweight champion at the time, was building his feud with Dean Malenko, who proudly called himself “The Man of 1,000 Holds.” After defeating Marty Jannetty, Jericho cut a promo—one that extended through a commercial break and into a second segment—one-upping Malenko as “The Man of 1,004 Holds.” Naturally, Jericho then proceeded to read the list.

“The credit behind ‘The List’ goes to Disco Inferno, Terry Taylor, Raven, and Mark Madden from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, as well as, of course, Chris Jericho,” said Bischoff. “They knew the storyline, they knew the angle, and they knew what we were trying to get across. Throughout the day, during pre-production, they were bouncing around ideas all afternoon, and they created a great way to position Chris against Dean Malenko.