In making the case for Matt and Jeff Hardy/The Hardys to enter the Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame, my primary arguments are that of quality and historical significance.
In this article, I’ll argue that the Hardys were not just an elite-level tag team who delivered multiple outstanding matches that far outstripped the quality of their contemporaries, but that, most importantly, they have had a lasting influence on in-ring wrestling, revolutionizing the art form with a new vibrant style that would go on to become a staple of North American pro wrestling.
At the height of a wrestling boom, they were the top tag team and put on matches of the highest quality while defining a stylistic template that would become the industry standard. In other words. In terms of in-ring work and historical significance, they are the highest-performing tag team candidates from the turn of the century boom period and the decades that followed.
WWF No Mercy 99 & All That Follows
Quality and influence are often inseparable.
Wrestlers who excel at their craft and whose output is of a high level are also likely to be influential, with imitation being the sincerest form of flattery. So let’s begin with what I’d argue is the most influential match in North American wrestling over the previous few decades.
While the triple threat ladder matches that followed have cemented themselves in the wrestling consciousness more deeply, none of them would have happened without the Ladder match at WWF No Mercy. By Autumn 1999, the WWF was in the midst of its “Attitude Era,” with sex, swearing, and crash tv the order of the day. Even this match couldn’t escape it, in storyline being the climax of the “Terri Invitational Tournament” (yes, a lame joke based on the initials). Here’s the thing, though. No one remembers that. What people do remember is two lower-order tag teams cementing their spot in an incredibly competitive company through sheer work and inventiveness.
It wasn’t the first ladder match in America, and WWF had had their fair share of them in the 1990s, most notably Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon, but this was a match that not only get four young wrestlers over, but that would come to define the ladder match throughout the 00s and 10s.
Arguably, the ladder match is one of the most over-saturated match types these days. WWE has not one, but two PPVs (Money in the Bank and TLC) dedicated to it, and both TNA and AEW have had their own share of classic encounters. No Mercy is where you put the pin on the origin of this. While previous ladder matches had been memorable, The Hardys, Edge and Christian offered something that was not a match with ladders, but a high-impact stunt show that pushed the boundaries of the wrestling genre in a way that would leave audiences clamoring for more.
It’s one of those magical matches where you get to witness wrestlers getting over in real time. As the match progressed, the crowd went from curious to fully enthralled and by the end, were on their feet. The performance would lead to both teams getting more TV time at the behest of Vince McMahon. The enduring legacy is also clear when Cagematch began user rankings in 2007, over 200% more people have voted on the Ladder match than the Steve Austin Triple H main event. The following night on RAW, the four men got a spontaneous ovation. This kind of magic doesn’t happen too often.
Except when it does.
Because what happened next was that the Hardys would be part of what stole the show in terms of match quality during the peak of the wrestling boom. The triple threat ladder matches with Edge and Christian and The Dudleys at WWF WrestleMania 2000, WWF SummerSlam 2000, and the show that would be the peak of the era, WWF WrestleMania X7, are perhaps the most genre-defining matches of the time period, ones that took the template laid out at No Mercy and pushed it even further. Many a wrestling fan has queried why the art of pro wrestling doesn’t resemble the fast-paced fights of martial arts film, particularly the charismatic Jackie Chan, who in 1997 had gained plaudits in the West for his famous ladder scene in First Strike. The answer is, of course, because martial arts films have multiple takes, while wrestling is a live performance. Nevertheless, these ladder matches came closest at the time to matching the intricate and brutal artistry of choreographed film fights. To describe the Tables, Ladders and Chairs matches as futuristic is not only to say that they heralded a new era of wrestling, but to acknowledge the impact they had on their contemporary audience, whose reactions were clearly those of people seeing something that was far beyond the norm.
Now in terms of wrestlers as draw, the turn of the century boom was driven by The Rock and Steve Austin. Yet, while top-heavy cards predominated in the late 90s, by the time WrestleMania X7 arrived, the WWF was much more of an ensemble. While the main event scene was the major draw, it cannot go unnoticed that teams like the Hardy Boyz were drawing their own set of fans. Not only were they attracting an audible female fanbase, but by the time they ditched the plaid outfits for baggy jeans and goth-lite accessories, they were tapping into the alt-rock zeitgeist. The addition of Lita in the summer of 2000 made a natural trio and they were vital elements in lending the WWF brand an element of coolness that resonated with a younger and more hip audience. And while Rock and Austin headlined WrestleMania in 2001, it’s arguable that the TLC was the most memorable match. Cagematch ratings give Steve Austin vs. The Rock a rating of 9.41 based on 400 votes, while the TLC match is rated 9.59 based on 522 votes, not only beating the main event in qualitative ratings but a 30% quantitative increase of voters too. On Cagematch, it’s the eighth most popular WWF/E match of all time and, with Wilder/Dawson vs. Gargano/Ciampa, one of the only tag team matches in the top 30. The TLC match at SummerSlam 2000 is also very highly rated, being Cagematch’s #31 WWE match of all time. The Triangle Ladder Matches at WrestleMania 2000 and WrestleMania X7 would win also successive awards for PWI’s Match of the Year.
The influence of the tag team series is undeniable. While neither the Hardys, Edge and Christian, or the Dudleys had invented the ladder match, they had made it into a spectacle that was a draw in itself. TLC became a PPV in its own right, and Money in the Bank would add a new gimmick to the ladder match. The innovation of the Hardys and their dance partners had given WWE something of a cash cow, one they would shamelessly milk throughout the next two decades. Between 1992 and 1999, there were nine ladder matches. In the next seven years, there would be 22. At the time of writing this, there have been 72 Ladder matches in the WWE, 46 in TNA/Impact, and 9 in AEW. The ladder match is clearly a major part of American wrestling.
So then, why the Hardys for the WON HOF and not Edge and Christian or the Dudleys? Well, firstly, this is an article for the Hardys, so I’m not here to weigh up the pros and cons of other teams. The Dudleys certainly should be on a long list for great tag teams, while Edge and Christian are perhaps better known as singles wrestlers. I pay special attention to the Hardys for their wider influence on pro wrestling and, as we shall see, their longevity and draw that surpassed the other two teams.
While certainly not as influential as the earlier run of their careers, it’s important to mention their 2010s run as it adds weight to the argument that their legacy is based on creativity and quality. Successful singles and tag careers in WWE, TNA, and ROH throughout the next decade highlighted their versatility in the American wrestling scene. In 2014, their singles match against the Wolves at Destination X would gain a standing ovation. A threeway series with the Wolves and Team 3D that culminated in Full Metal Mayhem match was clearly a nod to their earlier run, it was still a vital match, one cited as the best TNA ladder match of all time. This wasn’t a team content to rest on their laurels, but one that still had something to offer the wrestling industry in terms of elite quality matches.
In 2016, the Broken Universe was a brave yet polarizing venture into the avant-garde boundaries of wrestling, with high replay value owing to the numerous catchphrases and hidden easter eggs. Indeed for TNA, who two years previously had left Spike TV for channels with less reach, it was the first time in a long time that they had felt relevant in the larger wrestling world and the management’s faith in Matt and Jeff was rewarded with a 27% increase in viewers for the Final Deletion, the first of what would be a series of cinematic specials, ending in a full-length episode filmed at the Hardys’ compound.
The Broken Universe was hardly the critical success that the Ladder matches had been and critics were divided. Brandon Thurston wrote that it was “an absurdist piece of television that speaks to the ridiculous difficulties of living in a mass culture today,” while F4W’s Bryan Alvarez filmed himself laughing and cheering along to the Final Deletion. For others, it was just too silly to take seriously and made a mockery of wrestling. Rich Kraetsch and Joe Lanza on the Flagship Podcast felt that it was a goofy skit, but acknowledged that it had made TNA stand out in the wrestling marketplace.
It was a creative masterstroke that led to the Hardys once again being the hottest tag team in North America. UK wrestling media site and upstart promoters What Culture had initially panned the Final Deletion, but by the autumn of 2016, had brought Matt Hardy across the pond for a show titled Delete WCPW. 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 at Final Battle 2016 to challenge the Young Bucks to a future match. In the spring of 2017, the pair re-signed with WWE and received an immense pop at WrestleMania 33 as surprise entrants to a tag title match.
The legacy of the Broken Universe is difficult to deny. While it wasn’t apparent at first, the Hardys paved the way for cinematic matches as an expression of pro wrestling. The COVID-19 pandemic altered how TV wrestling was able to present itself, and cinematic wrestling, a style heavily influenced by the Hardys, became fashionable with WWE and its Boneyard Match and AEW’s Stadium Stampede clearly taking influence.
The final piece of the Hardys Hall of Fame candidacy comes not from their on-screen products, but their wider influence among peers. Before coming to the WWE, the Hardys ran their own promotion, OMEGA, a crucible for a generation who would go on to bring a new millennial style of innovative offense to the major leagues. Indeed while the Hardys were making waves in the WWF, over on the other channel, OMEGA Alumni Shannon Moore and Shane Helms were one of the bright points of declining WCW and would go on to emulate the Hardys in a well-received ladder match at New Blood Rising. Other Omega alumni included Joey Mercury, CW Anderson, Joey Abs, Caprice Coleman, Steve Corino, Christian York, The Dupps, and Lita. Outside of OMEGA, The Young Bucks, one of the most critically acclaimed tag teams of the contemporary era have also spoken highly of the influence of the Hardys. In 2017, the Hardys appearance and subsequent title win over the Bucks for the ROH titles would be labeled by the company as the “Holy Shit moment of the decade”
Why the Hardys are a Wrestling Observer Hall of Fame tag team
The Hardy Boyz Influence
The WON voter base tends to favor the criteria of drawing over historical significance/influence. Of course in some respects draw is itself a proxy for significance, but it also may elide the significance of wrestlers who were not in the main event, such as tag teams. Prioritizing draws may also be a methodological bias, with voters favoring the hard comfort of numbers over less tangible criteria such as influence. Yet, when it comes to the Hardys, who were a draw regardless, their influence and significance on the industry and art of pro wrestling is so strong that it is tangible.
Without the Hardy Boyz, pro wrestling in North America would be a very different thing than it is now. Their influence on the art cannot be overstated. Ladder matches would exist, but they would not have followed the template the Hardys set that would end up becoming a staple of the business not just in WWE, but in multiple promotions for the decades that would follow their turn-of-the-century classics.
In the decade that followed, there would be ladder matches, but without the genre-breaking innovation of the Hardys, they would be an altogether different style and certainly wouldn’t become WWE’s tried and trusted PPV draw. Ladder matches, and other matches involving structural creativity such as Ultimate X, followed the creative template that had been set by the Hardys at the turn of the century. High-flying and high-impact stunts became bonafide PPV staples for every major promotion in North America for at least the next two decades and show few signs of waning. It’s highly unlikely that this would not have been the case without the influence of the Hardys.
It’s not just ladder matches, though. The Hardys also brought fast-paced and high-flying matches to the world’s biggest promotion which had previously relegated such a style to the undercard or below. While WCW had its notable cruiserweight division, the Hardys were able to popularize the style much more widely in the card. Even outside ladder matches, their stylistic influence can be seen throughout the 2010s and 2020, especially in teams such as the Young Bucks.
The influence of the Broken Universe on wrestling is less, but still significant, and just like the ladder matches, the Hardys may not have invented the idea, but they laid out a template that became common currency in the wrestling world for decades to come.
The Hardy Boyz Match Quality
The Hardys’ historical significance alone should guarantee them a spot in the hall of fame, but in terms of match quality they excelled too and far outshone their peers. In both major runs, they were able to deliver Match of the Year candidates. Again, as with influence and significance, the earlier run is far superior, but the later run adds depth to the candidacy. The millennial wrestling boom was popular for a myriad of reasons but when it came to match quality, then as the voters on sites like Cagematch show, it was the matches with the Hardys that really stand out in people’s memories.
The Hardy Boyz As Draws
Getting into drawing is necessarily going to be more difficult when it comes to modern-era tag teams. Still, while the main event is the draw, modern North American wrestling is not wholly equivalent to sports like Boxing, where cards genuinely are sold in one match. To be sure, main events are the most important thing in wrestling, but WWF’s Monday Night Wars period showcased an ensemble roster. Speaking from my own experience as a fan, I didn’t always watch wrestling shows for the main event. In fact, by 2000, I was much more drawn to WWF’s midcard engines, such as Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, and teams such as the Hardys. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in this either, but nevertheless, it’s difficult to assess these things without access to more granular details like popularity polls, etc.
While they may not have been main evented, the matches of the Hardys were draws for a large number of the audience. It is difficult to say just how many, but consider that following No Mercy, both teams would end up with $5000 bonuses based on people who ordered the replays based on the hype surrounding the match.
If you’re assessing tag team draws from the turn of the century wrestling boom in North America, then the Hardys have the best case. WWE certainly cashed in on the brothers. One clear example of this is the 2003 autobiography The Hardy Boyz: Exist 2 Inspire, which to this date remains the only tag team autobiography to be published by WWE books. Clearly then, the WWE saw the Hardys, more than the Dudleys or Edge and Christian, as a highly marketable entity. In fact, to take a look at the autobiographies that were published by WWE in the last two decades, is to see a list whose majority is WON Hall of Famers.
Still, drawing is not my main argument here, even though it’s very arguable that the Hardy Boyz were an essential part of the WWF’s commercial success in the Monday Night Wars. The crucial argument is that in terms of the stylistic influence they changed the entire landscape of wrestling, and that’s why voters should add them to a Hall of Fame, one that values both quality and historical significance, without hesitation. A question that we should ask when it comes to a Hall of Fame of this importance is: What would wrestling look like without this candidate? In the case of the Hardys, it would look very different indeed.
Ewan Cameron is a writer for Voicesofwrestling.com and still owns a VHS bootleg of Hardys matches from 1999.