Inspired by Case Lowe’s recent piece on the argument for The Young Bucks being the greatest tag team in history, I present my case for The Hardy Boyz.
When it comes to the question of best tag team of all time, it all depends on the metric. Some may use star ratings, awards, drawing ability, etc. In this, I’m going to argue that The Hardy Boyz are the greatest tag team of all time because of their artistic abilities and lasting influence on the genre. In short, I’m arguing for quality over quantity.
Perhaps the most celebrated match in the Hardyz careers was the Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at WrestleMania X7. While Steve Austin and The Rock drew the crowds and new signees like Chris Jericho, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero were giving much-needed depth to the WWE’s midcard scene, it was the Hardyz, Edge and Christian and The Dudleys that rounded off the card with a futuristic spectacle that to this day remains golden.
It was the third part in a trilogy of three-way ladder matches that begun at WrestleMania 2000 the previous year and continued at SummerSlam 2000. Interestingly enough, Edge and Christian won all three matches, and yet it did not harm the Hardyz at all. Team Extreme remained insanely popular, especially as they added Lita to the mix and moved from the plaid gear to baggy pants and chokers, which captured fans from the alt-rock movement that was the zeitgeist at the turn of the millennium.
But if you really want to put a pin on the timeline where the modern day ladder match began, it has to be in October 1999.
At the end of a best of seven series, The Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian fought in one of the first tag team ladder matches and it became an instant classic. What’s amazing about this match is that you get to see four men, each of whom would go on to be world champions in their own right, get over. While the best of seven series leading up to the PPV had been one of the highlights of the Raw and SmackDown, the two teams had not yet solidified their place on the roster. That all changed at No Mercy; as the match progressed the crowd went from curious to fully enthralled and by the end, were on their feet. Even the following night on RAW, the four men got a spontaneous ovation. This kind of magic doesn’t happen too often. Of course this wasn’t all about the Hardyz, their dueling partners, Edge and Christian were equally as important, and throughout that creative period were the necessary foil to play against.
Singles work came next and real life drama with Jeff getting released from both WWE and later TNA. Matt got caught up in the love triangle between himself, Edge and Lita. It appeared for a time that both men’s WWE careers were over before they had a chance to shine on their own. Eventually Matt and Jeff would reunite in 2006 for a second run in WWE, most memorable for a series in which their rivalry with MNM was one of the highlights of the otherwise notorious December to Dismember PPV and an infamous ladder match where Mercury suffered a horrific injury after taking a ladder to the face. In 2007, they did well enough winning the tag titles for a sixth time, but there was nothing particularly groundbreaking here.
Indeed it was not until 2014, when they reformed outside of the WWE, that as a team they thrived again both in TNA and on the indies. Reuniting to take on The Wolves at Destination X, the stage was set for the old guard to pass the torch. At this stage in their careers it would have been easy for the Hardyz to rest on their laurels, but they were still wrestling as though they had something to prove and in just over ten minutes they went at a sprint in the best straight tag match of their careers. A post match ovation followed. In the following weeks, a reformed Dudleys appeared and the three teams put on brilliant series of matches, which each team picking up a win before a deciding Full Metal Mayhem match that was a contender for MOTY. It’s important to say this wasn’t just a nostalgia trip, these matches had a purpose (to put the Wolves over) and were great in their own right.
If you’re a wrestling fan in 2019, you’ll probably know what the Broken Universe was all about so I won’t go into the details, as you could probably write a full book if you wrote about every weird character and easter egg. More than just an over the top gimmick, this was a series of events: The Final Deletion, Delete or Decay, The Great War and Total Nonstop Deletion. Starting with a stylized backyard match and ending with a clown being blown out of a volcano, it was a spiral into complete madness and the biggest step that televised pro wrestling has ever taken towards the avant-garde.
Pro wrestling is a genre that exists on a continuum; on one end you have Bloodsport and other promotions that aim for a simulacrum of MMA. On the opposite end there is the Broken Universe. Of course it was not the first time that wrestling had flirted with fantasy, and the legacy of promotions like FMW and Hustle, and wrestlers such as Sting, Ultimate Warrior and Kevin Sullivan can clearly be seen, but Matt’s visionary zeal combined with the talent of TNA producers Jeremy Borash and Paredyse, created something that was both pastiche and utterly unique.
Let’s not pretend the Broken Universe wasn’t controversial. While F4W’s Bryan Alvarez posted reaction videos of himself laughing and cheering along to the skits and matches, his Wrestling Observer colleague Dave Meltzer, refused to rate any of the matches. Clickbait wrestling site-cum-UKwrestling promotion What Culture released a number of heavily critical videos, though the angle would eventually win them over, and by the end of the year brought Matt Hardy over for the “Delete WCPW” PPV as the Hardyz became a hot commodity on the indie scene. It’s also worth noting that an ROH crowd, not exactly famous for their embrace of the weird and wonderful, gave a gigantic pop to Matt’s gurning face as it appeared on the big screen to challenge the Bucks to a future match. Also, it’s hard to deny that the pop they received at WrestleMania 33 wasn’t made a few decibels louder from fans eager to see the Broken ones in a WWE setting. The controversy over the angle is indicative of just how brave and visionary the Hardyz were in this period. Pushback means there’s been a push forward.
The Hardyz left TNA abruptly at the start of 2017 and quickly appeared at ROH and took on The Young Bucks in what was perhaps their last great match at ROH’s Supercard of Honor XI, a spectacular ladder bout that saw the Hardyz again graciously pass the baton on to the next generation, the tag team, that aesthetically at least, most resembled them.
The Hardyz were great at in ring emotion. There’s an ideological split in the current wrestling scene between those who see the art of wrestling as telling stories in the ring with physical and athletic ability and those who see the art of wrestling as telling moral stories through physical theatre. More than any other tag team, it can be argued that the Hardyz straddled this gap perfectly. Yes they were known for their daredevil moves, in particular Jeff, but there was also an appreciation that it wasn’t just moves, but the way you did them. Gait, gestures, facial expressions: Matt and Jeff knew how to use them to create suspense. In their early days they were not great promos, but they radiated charisma and character. Jeff was the risk taker while Matt was the general but neither of them were stoics; they wore their hearts on their sleeves as they wrestled.
The most influential wrestling match of the 90s was the No Mercy ladder match.
Not only did it convince Titan Towers to get behind a now iconic series of ladder matches, it set the tone for what hardcore wrestling would morph into for the next two decades. Ladder matches in wrestling are now commonplace, saturated even. WWE has two PPVS dedicated to them. ROH and Impact have back catalogue full of amazing ladder matches. You could count the great ladder matches of the 90s on one hand, but it would be difficult to agree on a top 50 of the 00s and 10s. None of those matches would have happened without that one match and the trilogy that followed afterwards. The Hardyz did not invent the ladder match, but the style that they popularised is still in essence what we see today.
Their later work with the Wolves, Decay and the Young Bucks were generous and helped elevate the next generation, and as for the Broken Universe, perhaps it is too early to say If we travel to 2039 and find that the wrestling industry has been bereft of anything inspired by those wacky antics then it might reconsider the lasting influence of the Hardyz, but look no further than Bray Wyatt in the WWE to see how there is already a growing legacy.
That’s it? But they weren’t really a team for very long!
When we talk about the greatest team of all time, of course a team that has stayed together for decades or more as a team is a positive argument, but it is not necessary to be the greatest.
Quality will always trump quantity. As we can see they had two big moments as a tag team on either side of their careers. What I’m arguing here is that those periods were so influential that they make the longevity argument irrelevant. This is an argument based on the artistic merit of their work rather than anything else.
Also, the singles careers of both Hardy brothers helped build the mythos and evolution of their tag team as they oscillated back and forth through the years. In Matt’s solo career especially, the weight of the Hardy Boyz pulled on him, and the meta story of his solo run was always about whether he could break out of being the “lesser hardy boy”. When he finally achieved that in 2015, it was not only a victory for him, but for team extreme too.
But they didn’t draw!
Who cares? Ok some of you care about “drawing dimes” as it’s seen as the only objective metric for popularity in wrestling (though I’m sure we’ll soon be seeing columns analyzing twitter followers and t shirt sales too) and even then it’s not a perfect science. While main eventers are generally thought to carry the card, raw numbers can’t take into account the impact of a popular midcarder or tag team.
Do we really want to reduce the conversation about this genre we love to a cold look at numbers? When movie critics talk about the best films of all time, does one of them pop up and say “well actually Blade Runner lost money at the box office”? Popularity does not equal greatness. And anyway the Hardyz were as popular as any tag team have been in the last twenty years, and if you really want to talk about draws, then consider how many promotions have used Hardy Boyz inspired ladder matches over the past twenty year to sell tickets. Do we really want to reduce debates about the greatest to boring and cold statistical analysis or do we want to passionately argue the case for the wrestlers who made us feel something?
But the Young Bucks!
This article was written in response to Case Lowe’s claim that the Young Bucks might be the best team of all time. The article makes the point that the Bucks have the greatest collection of matches in tag team history. It’s a solid argument. Yet if we want to be critical of the Bucks of Youth we could say that their style, while bombastic and incredibly athletic, is kinda spotty. At it’s very worst, you could cut up a Young Bucks match and put all the big spots in a different order and it wouldn’t really make much of a difference to the story of the match. And while the Hardyz evolved their characters both separately and together, The Young Bucks don’t really have that range and remain pretty interchangeable as characters and so lack a true tag team dynamic. That might not be very generous, because despite or perhaps because of their style, the Bucks are an incredibly popular tag team, and I even would probably admit that in terms of tag team matches they probably do have more good matches on their resume than the Hardyz.
But that’s not enough to be the GOAT.
It’s not simply about the numbers. It’s about moments. In terms of ideologies of wrestling, the Young Bucks are the flag bearer for the athletic style that leaves it all in the ring and sells itself to the audience as the chance to see a good match. As I wrote above, the Hardyz could do that too, but along with great matches, twice in their careers they looked at the boundaries of the genre and pushed them further than they had ever gone before.
The French semiotician, Roland Barthes, writing about wrestling in 1957 described it as an “immediate pantomime” in which “the most socially inspired nuances of passion…find the clearest sign which can receive them, express them and triumphantly carry them to the confines of the hall”.
This is the metric that I subscribe to when it comes to assessing the GOATs in wrestling. From hope to suffering, from determination to frivolity, from jealousy to pride, and from rage to levity: more than any other tag team in the history of wrestling it’s the Hardy Boyz that have given us the sublime.