WrestleMania 33 had its share of very good matches and excellent moments. While The Undertaker’s retirement will probably go down as the most historically important, iconic moment of the show, there’s little doubt that the biggest pop of the night came courtesy of The Hardy Boyz.
Jeff and Matt Hardy had been absent from WWE since 2009 and 2010 respectively. While they’re best remembered for being stars of the WWE tag team scene during the Attitude Era, their time with company actually dated all the way back to 1994 when they started making recurring appearances as young jobbers. Over the years they grew into one of the most popular tag teams of all time, and singles stars in their own right—Jeff an eventual World Heavyweight Champion, Matt peaking as an ECW Champion.
By the time the Hardys were done in WWE, it seemed they’d run their course most certainly as a team. Matt had accomplished about as much as it seemed he could in the WWE framework, and Jeff, after struggles with some personal demons seemed better off taking time away from the national spotlight. Little could we have known what seven years could do. Sure, when the old Hardy music hit at Camping World Stadium, there was an element of nostalgia appeal to their act, but they also had the benefit of coming into WrestleMania still a vital act to hardcore wrestling fans. Heck, there’s an argument to be made that they had even more electricity attached to them in 2017 than their had been a decade earlier.
How did the Hardys come back on top? There trajectory wasn’t all upward. They had their ups and downs in the wrestling world and in their personal lives. This article looks at 15 key points from the Hardy brothers’ time away from WWE.
15 Leading Immortal
TNA has a history of big heel stables running wild over the roster, ranging from The Main Event Mafia to Aces and Eights. At Bound For Glory 2010, the company unveiled one of its biggest, longest standing iterations of this angle with the launch of Immortal. Immortal had Hulk Hogan and Eric Bischoff as its kayfabe masterminds, but since Hogan was in no physical condition to wrestle full time by that point, the group needed a different in-ring leader. Jeff Hardy was pegged as the guy. In a swerve finish, Hogan and Bischoff helped Hardy win the Bound For Glory main event triple threat over Kurt Angle and Mr. Anderson to take TNA’s top title and assert himself as the new top in-ring heel.
Matt Hardy would make a surprise debut in TNA a few months later, immediately joining his brother’s stable and, upon his debut, beating Rob Van Dam in a PPV bout. Matt would clearly have a secondary role in the stable relative to his brother from that point on.
A combination of convoluted booking and real life issues complicated and shifted the Immortal storyline. TNA let go Matt before the angle was done, and Jeff took time away before returning as a face to ultimately defeat Immortal’s new top gun, Kurt Angle as Immortal fizzled out.
14 Getting Broken
Late 2015 into 2016 saw the Hardys both active toward the top of the card in TNA, and ultimately feuding with one another, with Matt playing the heel. Jeff generally got the better of the feud before an I Quit Match kayfabe put both of them in the hospital.
Matt would return a month later with a white streak in his hair and a British accent, proclaiming himself “Broken.” The angle grew pretty absurd pretty quickly with off-the-wall segments filmed from Matt’s home and increasingly bizarre promos and mannerisms in which he referred to others by their last names—most notably Brother Nero to refer to Jeff. The most unlikely piece of all? The gimmick got over to an absurd degree, making Matt the talk of the wrestling world even from his humble residence in TNA. After defeating Jeff in a Final Deletion Match, Matt took control of the Hardy brand, and re-partnered with his brother for a team that’s popularity all but forced them to become faces. With both brothers aligned, their antics only grew wackier—many of which will be discussed later in this countdown.
13 The Expedition For Gold
From late 2016 to early 2017, there were two stories of TNA. One was the behind the scenes matters that grew more and more public as financial backer Billy Corgan and majority owner Dixie Carter entered a legal battle over money and control of the company, and while TNA’s overall financial became increasingly in quesiton. The other was The Hardys growing their cult following via silly skits, wacked promos, and unique in-ring action aired from the Hardy Compound in Cameron, North Carolina.
The Hardy’s final angle with TNA would see them traveling to different independent promotions to collect tag team titles in their “Expedition For Gold.” The angle was innovative and off-beat enough to fit their gimmick. It would take a sharp turn, however, when TNA’s real life management issues came to a head, culminating in original co-founder Jeff Jarrett and his regime taking charge. While the details are sketchy, the new management either waited too long to give the Hardys a new contract offer or more actively showed the brothers the door. In either case, creative control of their characters was a big sticking point. The upshot was the Hardys leaving TNA altogether, and continuing a tour of the indies and their Expedition For Gold unfettered, and most notably winning the ROH Tag Team Championship. The Expedition also provided a fluid kayfabe transition back to WWE as they finished it by returning at WrestleMania to capture the Raw Tag Team Championship.
12 Ghost Hunting
In 2011, Matt Hardy was at a low point. TNA had let him go because of a DUI. He was bouncing between different independent promotions when he started talking on social media about suspecting he had a ghost in his house. This gave way to full blown ghost hunting videos featuring him and his wife, for which it was legitimately unclear how Hardy intended for viewers to take them. Were supposed to accept what they saw as real? Or were they unconventional short horror films in the style of found footage movies like Paranormal Activity and The Blair Witch Project? Or did Hardy actually intend them as comedy?
Looking back the ghost hunting expedition, for all its off-beat, genre-bending qualities, comes across as a bit of a precursor to the Broken gimmick. It’s confusing, and it didn’t go over as well, but it showed Hardy’s willingness and ability to think outside the box and grab headlines.
The Broken Universe introduced a number of unusual new characters to the wrestling world. One of the more unlikely, but nonetheless popular examples was Vanguard 1, a drone under Matt’s control. The drone shot footage, projected images of Matt to talk to his foes, communicated snarky messages text messages, and even shot fireworks at his enemies. The drone become a lovable character (very, very loosely) along the lines of Star Wars’ R2D2 for clearly not being human, but, in some senses, being more lovable for showing personality while being a machine.
Hardy’s drones would also become victims to garner unconventional sympathy, for example, damaged when The Decay spewed corrosive mist on it, later super kicked by The Young Bucks to launch a feud in ROH.
10 Matt Married Reby Sky
Matt Hardy has had his share of romantic partners in the wrestling world. He was most famously linked to Lita during their WWE Team Extreme days in the Attitude Era, which gave way to a worked shoot program with Edge in 2005. He was also romantically involved with Ashley Massaro while they were both with WWE.
After departing from WWE, Matt started dating Reby Sky, a model who was only a year into the pro wrestling business when they got together. They ended up marrying in 2013 and having their first child, Maxel, in 2015. Hardy seems to have found a true partner in both life and his creative pursuits as Sky was an active participant in Hardy’s ghost hunting videos, and later became a regular presence in Broken vignettes and Hardy’s matches under that gimmick.
9 Broadcasts From The Hardy Compound
Under the Broken gimmick, Matt Hardy began filming vignettes from the Hardy Compound—his home in Cameron, North Carolina. Over time, the property grew more and more elaborate, and particularly after each instance when Hardy asked his servant to "prepare the battlefield.” The compound was revealed to not only include a house, a drone, and a ring, but also Skarsgard the boat that occasionally came to Matt’s aid and, perhaps most ludicrously of all, the Lake of Regeneration which had waters that not only offered recuperation, but reinstatement of wrestlers’ past gimmicks including transforming Jeff Hardy into Willow and later Shane Helms into a super hero not unlike (though not explicitly named) The Hurricane.
The Compound was all about campy fun, and was accordingly shot and edited in budget horror film style to provide a fun, unique atmosphere for a number of stand alone Hardy matches as well as the Total Non-Stop Deletion full episode of Impact.
8 Jeff’s Most Dangerous Match With Sting
Both of the Hardy brothers wound up facing down some personal demons during their time away from WWE. Jeff hit rock bottom at the Victory Road 2011 PPV, for which he was booked in a main event match opposite Sting. The match only ran a little bit over a minute—terribly anticlimactic, and a situation that TNA wound up publicly apologizing for. The company had its reasons, though, as Hardy appeared visibly intoxicated. Referee Brian Hebner communicated with Eric Bischoff, who reportedly called the audible on shutting the match down quickly. In the end, the controversy surrounding the show and its main event split into those upset about the disappointing main event and those upset that TNA had sent Hardy to the ring at all in such a state that he was a danger to both himself and Sting.
While the incident probably would have led to Hardy’s termination from WWE, TNA gave him one more shot. He made the most of the opportunity, working a story of redemption that saw him legitimately walk the straight and narrow and return to his status as one of the top guys in the company.
7 The Introduction Of Senor Benjamin
As the Hardy Compound was featured more regularly on TNA programming, fans witnessed the rise of Senor Benjamin as Matt’s servant. At first, the character seemed reluctant regarding the family’s Broken antics, but as time went on, he became more and more a part of the act himself. Matt would send him to prepare to the battlefield for matches on the family grounds, and Senor Benjamin was even instrumental in facilitating the defeat of The Decay.
In real life, Senor Benjamin is Reby Sky’s father and thus Matt’s father in law. He became a particular sticking point in legal proceedings between TNA and the Hardys (more to follow) because the Hardys noted that Senor Benjamin was never contracted nor paid by TNA, but rather appeared pro bono as part of the family.
6 Jeff’s Rehab
Jeff Hardy’s first full-time run with WWE came to an end in 2003, with reports of heavy suspicion that he had a drug problem at the time, and problematic behavior like showing up late for events. He returned in better shape in 2006 and climbed to the top of the mountain as World Heavyweight Champion during that time, and even wrapped up that run on top, in 2009, losing to CM Punk in a TLC Match with the kayfabe stipulation that Hardy had to leave WWE if he lost. In reality, reports suggest Hardy was taking time away to heal up a variety of injuries.
However long either side may have intended Hardy’s absence to be, it wound up stretching nearly eight years. Less than a year after he wrapped up with WWE, Hardy wound up back in TNA for a main event level run, before his personal demons caught up to him, culminating in the aforementioned incident of him showing up in no condition to wrestle Sting for their PPV main event. Hardy took off nearly half of a year to get himself cleaned up. According to an interview with Main Event Radio, he participated in a four-month outpatient rehab program that he claims changed his life. Sure enough, Hardy has not had any public incidents related to substance abuse since.
5 Working Shoot Interviews
While there’s a temptation to say that the Broken gimmick is fresh and original, a part of its appeal is that there’s also something very old school about it. Matt Hardy not only started playing an eccentric character on TV, but adjusted his social media persona to match with strange word and spelling choices, and staying firmly in his character on Twitter.
The next wall Matt broke down was in shoot interviews. On Talk Is Jericho, for example, guests routinely speak in straightforward, shoot fashion about their real lives and behind the scenes experiences. When Hardy came to the show, he stayed completely in his Broken character. While interview came across as a little silly to regular listeners, it also demonstrated Matt’s commitment to his character and to protecting his character. This was an old school approach to working everyone around him and not showing the fans any separation between his gimmick and his real-life persona.
4 They Became Fathers
The Hardys rose to prominence in WWE as a youthful dare devils who captured the imaginations of wrestling fans based, in no small part, on their reckless, daredevil antics. Upon their return at WrestleMania 33, they superficially looked not so different from their old selves. Post-match interviews on the WWE Network suggested that they’d changed, though. They appeared happy and at ease—not to mention that Jeff highlighted his status as a father.
Both Matt and Jeff have become dads since they’d last appeared on WWE programming. Jeff had his first child in 2010 with his then long time girlfriend Beth Britt, married her in 2011, and they had their second child in 2015. Matt had his first child with his wife, Reby Sky, in 2015 and announced in December 2016 that they were expecting their second child.
3 Runs In ROH
Ring Of Honor has been a fairly consistent number three player in US wrestling after WWE and TNA, and so it only makes sense that between work with the bigger two national wrestling promotions, the Hardys might find themselves there. Matt had one extended run with the company from 2012 to 2014 but, interestingly, the Hardy brothers’ times with ROH have otherwise closely met up with their time with WWE.
The summer of 2005, Matt worked with ROH after he’d been released to WWE due to Edge and Lita related turmoil. His work with the major indie made it all the more shocking when he made his surprise return to Raw, because hardcore fans assumed he was tied up contractually elsewhere. While some conspiracy theorists suggest that this brief visit to ROH was consciously designed to swerve fans, most official accounts suggest WWE simply changed its mind and came calling, and whatever deal Matt had with ROH didn’t preclude him going back to WWE.
A similar dynamic occurred in 2017 after both Hardys left TNA. Rumors ran rampant they were headed back to WWE, only for them to surface in ROH instead. It turns out they’d signed only a few-month deal with ROH, though—the night after they dropped the ROH tag titles to The Young Bucks, they appeared at WrestleMania to win the WWE Raw tag belts. Even more theories abound this time around that the ROH stint was a trick to throw fans off the scent, and make their WrestleMania appearance a big surprise.
2 Legal Issues With TNA
While The Hardys quite arguably achieved their greatest successes working with TNA, they left the company under less than positive terms. According statements from the Hardys, they had hoped to continue working with TNA while it transitioned to new management. However, the brothers’ demand for creative control over their characters, and TNA’s alleged slow work on offering a deal led to the Hardys heading elsewhere.
Things got uglier in the aftermath. While no one denies that the Broken gimmick was Matt Hardy’s idea, TNA has claimed that his contract stipulates any intellectual property he came up with while under TNA contract belongs to TNA. Hardy claims that’s not part of his deal. TNA’s legal representation has, in the meantime, filed paperwork for compelling the Hardys not to use the Broken gimmick elsewhere, which explains why it hasn’t appeared on WWE TV, though there have allusions to it Matt’s references to their Expedition for Gold and some other word choices.
The matter will likely be resolved in court, unless WWE either decides to work out a financial arrangement or definitively decides not to use the gimmick in its programming. In the meantime, the war on Twitter continues.
1 TNA World Championships
By the time Jeff Hardy was done with WWE in 2009, he was a bona find main event talent who’d had two reigns with the World Heavyweight Championships, so it’s little surprise that when he headed back to TNA in 2010 he was treated as a top guy. In the years to follow he’d garner three TNA world title reigns.
Matt Hardy was never really a main event guy in WWE. The closest he came was as champion and arguable top star of the ECW brand, but by the time that happened, it was clear that the company wasn’t going to be treating ECW as a brand on part with Raw or SmackDown. As a non-established marquee player it took Matt longer to work his way to the top of TNA, but he did eventually do it in 2015, winning the TNA Championship at TNA’s biggest show of 2015, Bound For Glory, which aired live from Hardy’s home state of North Carolina. Various shenanigans would cause him to forfeit the title shortly after, but he’d win it back in early 2016, turning heel in the process.
While a world title in TNA is not the same stature as a world title in WWE, these wins nonetheless helped cement each Hardy brothers legacy as a singles wrestler who not just found a spot, but thrived outside WWE, before they made their return.