Jeff Hardy and the little kid who refused to believe that wrestling is fake

“Things are about to get Broken, Team Xtreme is back!”

I’m pretty sure that this Michael Cole commentary piece is going to stick around somewhere in my head for quite some time. As I saw the scenes unfold at WrestleMania 33 with my eyes partly teary and the hair at the nape of my neck rising, it felt as if I was taking a dip into a time when Jeff Hardy meant a lot to a 12-year-old kid. But, there I lay as a 20-year-old, curled up in my bed, with a Reliance Jio backed phone in my hand, eyes staring continuously at the bright screen. I barely remembered that I had an End-Semester exam to give that day, thanks to my largely childish act of waking up at 5 in the morning to watch a childhood hero of mine return to where he belongs.

Despite keeping constant track of the rumors that had surrounded the Hardys’ imminent return, I could not believe my eyes when Jeff and Matt Hardy strode out in their familiar swagger. I’ve never quite been the one for emotions until and unless it wasn’t football, but this was something I had dreamt of happening ever since Jeff had left the WWE on 28th August, 2009.

Being that innocent kid that I was, who refused to believe that WWE was fake, I remember arguing with my parents to watch Jeff Hardy once a week at a time when a set of house rules had restricted me from watching television after 6 in the evening. WWE Raw and Smackdown had broadcasts on Monday and Friday respectively and both started off at 5 in the evening. The timing was always troubling, considering how tough it is to win arguments with your parents when you are a child. I don’t know if that’s the case only with Indian parents, but the amount of blackmailing and taunting that goes into is certainly commendable, in hindsight. Every week, there used to be a specified time and day when I had to earn the right to watch Jeff Hardy wrestle. My mom’s defense for her argument was “Ye kya pagal aadmi ko dekhte rehte ho!? Aur koi kaam dhanda hai ki nahi?”( What do you get out of watching this madman wrestle?). It can be said that this and my determination to win the argument only increased my adoration for Jeff Hardy.

My admiration for the man from Cameron, North Carolina was so much that instead of doodling around with my pen and draw all those weird, cliched flowers, all I used to write out of obsession was Jeff Hardy Rocks, much to the surprise of school friends and colleagues. They knew about my obsession with Jeff Hardy and football, but failed to figure out how scribbling his name everywhere made sense. I wrote it on desks, chairs, if not only on my books and notebooks.

Despite knowing that WWE is scripted and having complete faith in my stubbornness for not believing so made me hate CM Punk when the Chicago born wrestler had cashed in his Money in the Bank briefcase at Extreme Rules back in 2009, minutes after Jeff had beaten Edge in a Ladder Match for the World Heavyweight title. That rivalry led to Jeff quitting WWE, leaving me dumbfounded for three or four days after the Steel Cage match. I could barely believe that one of my childhood heroes was leaving, years after he had brought fascination to my life along with football itself.

Eight years prior to when Jeff and Matt returned at WM33, I had forgotten completely about what and why the WWE existed. I was following him during his stint at TNA, but childhood memories and my fascination for Jeff in the WWE dampened his presence at TNA. I’ve heard many many people asking me why I’ve got this obsession for Jeff Hardy, despite knowing that whatever he does in the ring is fake.

Fake or real? It never mattered. 

It’s not about fake, it’s about what the man has taught me throughout my childhood days. As a kid of 12 or 13, I hardly had the brains to decipher why I loved him as wrestler, but it’s only now that I realize why Jeff will go down as one of my heroes. People can go on about all of it being fake, but that little kid inside me still glances with fascination every time Jeff steps into the ring.

His dare-devilry and astounding risk-taking abilities were often deemed as crazy by many. But for me, it has carried a deeper meaning than that. Jeff has, through the years, taught me that you can never succeed in life without taking risks. Call him crazy, call him a madman, but he always gets back up when he takes a fall after having crashed from 20 feet above. Every wrestler does that, but Jeff hasn’t just done that in the ring. He has done things like that in his life too.

Jeff’s mom died of brain cancer when he was just nine. You can still find videos of him and Matt wrestling in their backyard ring, jumping around and trying to replicate the moves of wrestlers of the bygone era. His journey from nothing to something wasn’t an easy one either. His fight against addiction and drug abuse saw the WWE suspend him as many as four or five times. While all this impacted his life substantially, Jeff never stopped in his battle against these distractions and came back stronger everytime people underestimated him. And that’s one of those things that convinced WWE into handing him a more prominent role, helping him become the WWE Champion and later the HeavyWeight champion too.

And again, people may undermine his personality by referring to him as a mere wrestler, but Jeff has this knack for putting his body on the line for the entertainment of his fans. He seems to leave his all in the ring before he trudges off, which is always pleasing on the eye. He seems to have little regard for his own well-being, when he jumps off a thirty foot ladder, just for the sake of amusement of the fans.

His image of having the ability to defy the odds and having the courage and bravery to have whatever it takes to win elevated his status as being an icon in the wrestling business. I remember good old Jim Ross speaking these lines after he claimed the Heavyweight title around two months before his departure: “From enigma to icon, from daredevil to Champion.” And it still gives me goosebumps, whenever I watch videos of Jeff come dancing towards the ring, with his No More Words entrance echoing across the arena.

All these memories came streaming back to my mind when the charismatic enigma made his way down the stage on WrestleMania 33, performing his trademark thrust right after entering. There was little I could do, apart from gaping open-mouthed at my phone, with my eyes moist. But that, in itself, was enough.

And twenty years on, when I continue to respect Jeff the way that I do right now, I will stand for what he has taught me. I will continue to assume the form of that innocent little kid, who refused to believe that WWE is fake because of an admiration for the rainbow haired warrior, everytime I watch him wrestle. I will continue to believe in him whenever he steps foot in the ring, whenever he defies the odds. After all, that is what he has done throughout his career and his troubled life.

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