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Monday, July 11, 2005
Pro Wrestling--- Matt Hardy could have changed the pro wrestling industry. Instead, he now stands as a shining example of one of the worst aspects of the pro wrestling industry, namely the fact that money always seems to be able to make real-life personal problems or moral values go away with the stroke of a pen.

Summary of the Matt Hardy Situation Up To This Point
For those unfamiliar with what I'm talking about, here's a brief recap. Matt Hardy has not appeared on WWE television since the summer of 2004. He had to have surgery last summer to repair a torn ACL, MCL, and meniscus in his knee. In March of this year, word came out through the insider pro wrestling media like the Pro Wrestling Torch and Wrestling Observer that at some point while Hardy was off the road due to injury, his long-time girlfriend Amy Dumas (Lita in WWE) started an off-camera, real-life relationship with Adam Copeland (Edge in WWE). The fling between Dumas and Copeland ironically started just after Copeland got married for the second time, to a woman named Lisa with no ties to the pro wrestling business.

The timeline of real-life events was that Dumas started cheating on Hardy in late 2004, Hardy found out about it in January of 2005, and the insider pro wrestling media became aware of it in March of 2005. Once word got out on the Internet, Hardy did not deny it and confirmed that he had broken up with Dumas because she had cheated on him. He also made other comments at the time, like calling Adam Copeland a piece of crap.

This presented several problems for WWE, namely that A) There was a WWE wrestler talking about personal, non-wrestling situations in a public setting that was not a WWE publication and B) It severely screwed up the continuity of WWE's storylines, because at the time Copeland and Dumas had never been in the same storyline together in WWE, and Dumas was actually a babyface character who was supposed to be getting cheered by fans.

Once word spread among insider fans, Dumas was bombarded at WWE events with crowd chants of "You Screwed Matt" or "Slut, Slut, Slut," essentially ruining any plans that WWE had for Dumas in a babyface role. WWE also felt that Adam Copeland was a much bigger star than Hardy, which meant that Copeland would get preferential treatment over Hardy from management.

WWE's response to the situation was morally reprehensible, yet at the same time not all that surprising, as WWE chose to fire Matt Hardy. His knee had been 100% healed and ready to go since early March of this year, but WWE never brought Hardy back to television, and then fired him in early April. It was the ultimate double punch to the gut for Matt Hardy, as within a span of a couple months he found out that his long-time girlfriend was cheating on him and then he got fired from his job.

As with all WWE releases, Hardy had a three-month no-compete clause, meaning that he could do interviews and he could schedule future independent wrestling dates for himself, but he would not be able to wrestle for any other pro wrestling promotion until early July.

WWE was shocked at the huge fan reaction to Hardy's release, as they had always perceived "insider pro wrestling fans" to be a tiny segment of their audience, and yet here were entire arenas full of people chanting things at Dumas and Copeland on WWE television, not only in the United States but also at WWE shows in Europe.

The Tough Decision that Matt Hardy Faced
At some point, the persistent crowd chants convinced WWE that there was the potential for money to be made, and so WWE made Matt Hardy a big-money offer sometime in June to have his old job back. Of course one's natural reaction would be, "Of course he's not going to go back to the company that basically fired him for being cheated on," but it's never that simple in the wrestling business.

The importance of Hardy's decision was momentous. He had already agreed to a large number of appearances on smaller independent wrestling events for the months of July and August, and he would honor those commitments whether he decided to re-sign with WWE or not. He had been in the advanced stages of negotiations with WWE's only national competitor in the United States, NWA-TNA, and was very close to signing a deal with TNA.

As with anyone in the pro wrestling business, Hardy essentially had two choices: A) Work for WWE or B) Work for everyone except WWE. Choosing to return to WWE would require Hardy to swallow his pride and agree to participate in a storyline based on his real life personal problems.

Hardy only had a limited amount of time to make his choice, as his WWE no-compete clause was set to expire in early July, and at that point he would either have to sign a contract with TNA (which would contractually allow him to work for any other pro wrestling promotion in the world other than WWE), or not sign with TNA.

How Matt Hardy Could Have Changed the Pro Wrestling Business
If Matt Hardy had chosen Option #2 and chosen to work in TNA, Ring of Honor, smaller independent promotions throughout the United States, and various big-money promotions in Japan, he could have changed the pro wrestling industry for the better in the United States.

I don't mean that Hardy's decision could have turned NWA-TNA into a viable "Big Two" promotion in the United States, because TNA's problems run a lot deeper than any talent signing will ever be able to solve.

What I mean is that Matt Hardy could have made not just a decent living, but a damn good living, by being his own boss, being a top star in TNA and ROH, being the highest-paid wrestler on the American independent scene, and improving his craft by wrestling a totally different style of match in Japanese promotions.

In 2005, if you want to be a successful pro wrestler and not work for WWE, that's how you're going to do it. AJ Styles and Christopher Daniels would probably be the biggest examples of this model, but on a much smaller scale financially than it would have been for Matt Hardy.

The way it could change the pro wrestling industry is that the next time someone like Chris Jericho had his WWE contract come up for renewal, he really would have a legitimate choice, and that choice wouldn't simply be "Work in WWE" or "Work in TNA." That choice would be, "Work in WWE and make a very good living," or, "Work everywhere other than WWE and make almost as much money, while having tons of advantages you would never have in WWE."

If he had chosen Option #2, Matt Hardy could have been the person to establish that there really is a viable alternative to working in WWE if you want to be a "big-time pro wrestler." That would have been greatly beneficial to both non-WWE wrestlers and WWE's own wrestlers, who would be given higher pay and better treatment if WWE management knew that the wrestlers had a viable alternative that they could turn to when their contracts ran out. That's how Matt Hardy's decision could have brought much-needed change to the pro wrestling industry.

Matt Hardy Makes His Decision
Tonight on WWE Raw, the wrestling world found out what Matt Hardy's decision was, as he made his first live appearance on WWE television in almost a year. I can respect Hardy's decision to accept the WWE offer because it was a higher dollar figure and also because in general you don't want to get on Vince McMahon's bad side by turning down a contract offer.

What I can't respect is the fact that Hardy is now essentially whoring himself out to WWE by participating in a fake storyline based on his real life personal problems, and is now taking orders from the very same people who fired him earlier in 2004 under the most gutless of circumstances.

While Hardy publicly called Amy Dumas a whore for cheating on him, one has to wonder who the real whore is: Dumas for cheating on Hardy in the first place in late 2004, or Hardy for getting cheated on, getting fired, and then accepting money to turn his personal life into a worked storyline.

WWE's Approach to Hardy's TV Return
With Hardy back under WWE contract, the way in which WWE chose to re-introduce him on TV was in a "worked shoot" storyline the likes of which the wrestling world hasn't seen (at least not to this extent) since the WCW storyline with the late Brian Pillman. On tonight's Raw, WWE tried to present Hardy's appearance as if it were unplanned and as if he were a non-WWE employee who jumped over the guard-railing and got involved in a match.

Of course, you would need to have an age of under six or an IQ of under 70 to believe that the Matt Hardy run-in on Raw was a "real fight," but that's apparently what WWE thinks of its audience.

As part of the scripted WWE storyline, Hardy jumped over the guard-rail and attacked Adam Copeland, aka Edge, then grabbed a microphone from the ring announcer and said the following words (which were scripted by WWE): "Adam, you bastard, I'm going to make your life miserable! And Lita, you whore, I'm going to make your life miserable, too! And the WWE can kiss my ass!" Hardy was then tackled and dragged away by officials, security guards, and even fake cops to make the storyline seem as real as possible.

At this point, WWE seems to be serious about presenting the storyline as if Matt Hardy does not work for WWE, as if he's just a crazy renegade who will constantly appear at WWE events by jumping over the guard rail, attacking his enemy, and being dragged away by security.

It's a storyline that has been done many times in pro wrestling over the years. The two main differences are that A) This one was inspired by real life events, and B) It's not the 1980's anymore, it's 2005 and nobody is going to buy for a second that Matt Hardy is really traveling to WWE Raw each week, jumping the guard rail, attacking Edge, and being shown on WWE television while supposedly "being a renegade who doesn't work for WWE." It can be thrilling from a pro wrestling standpoint (as it was tonight), even knowing that it's worked, but it's just ridiculous if WWE and Matt Hardy actually want people to believe that every appearance he makes on WWE television is a shoot.

When Did Matt Hardy Make His Decision to Return to WWE?
As wrestling fans, we know from watching Raw tonight that Monday, July 11th was the date on which it was revealed to the world that Matt Hardy had decided to accept WWE's offer to return. However, what's not known for sure is when Matt Hardy actually made the decision to return to WWE.

After looking into this a bit and talking to some people with insider knowledge of the pro wrestling industry, it appears likely that Hardy agreed to re-sign with WWE sometime in the week before the June 20th Raw in Phoenix, which would mean that any interview or web site post that Hardy has made since that time has been in 100% work mode. And yes, what I mean by "100% work mode" is basically lying to people in order to make it all the more surprising when he showed up on Raw on July 11th.

Based on the people I've talked to, here are the reasons why it appears that the week of June 13th through June 20th is when Hardy made his decision to return to WWE. For one, it was during that week that Hardy's attitude about NWA-TNA behind the scenes changed from being extremely excited about signing with TNA, to stalling on making a commitment to sign with TNA. It also just so happens that he stopped taking new independent bookings on that same week.

It also just so happens that Hardy's name was briefly mentioned on the June 20th episode of Raw in Phoenix (the one with the wedding), which was the first time in nine months that Hardy had been acknowledged on WWE Raw by anyone other than the fans with their "We Want Matt" chants. It's unlikely that WWE would have acknowledged Hardy on WWE television if there wasn't some kind of an agreement in place for him to re-sign with WWE.

Initial Concerns about Hardy's WWE Return
The first thing that most people probably noticed when they saw Matt Hardy on TV for the first time in almost a year is the fact that all of that inactivity seems to have caught up with him. As the Torch's James Guttman wrote, Hardy looked a bit more like "Fat Elvis" (referring to Elvis in his later years) in the face than he looked like Matt Hardy when we last saw him. That will probably go away over time, but it can't be good for his in-ring cardio and work-rate in the short term.

Another thing I noticed is that while he seems to have gotten a bit plump elsewhere, Matt Hardy's arms have grown immensely in size, and they now bear more of a resemblance to the muscle mass of Batista's arms than the way Hardy's arms used to look. That's not going to be good for Hardy's in-ring cardio and work-rate in the long term, and could also make him more injury-prone in the future.

One also has to remember that there's always a chance that WWE's creative team will botch Hardy's current storyline and then blame him for it, and then justify any future lack of giving Hardy a decent push by saying, "He can't draw money, look at how bad X, Y, and Z turned out." That has happened to plenty of wrestlers over the years, and Hardy is not immune to that.

However, my main concern with Matt Hardy is that even if his current on-air feud is a rip-roaring success, I'm afraid that once it's over he will go back to being in the same WWE creative hell in which he has spent most of the past several years.

There's a chance that six months from now, Hardy will be back to being lost in the shuffle, with the most vindictive writing team in any form of entertainment burying him on the undercard as payback for daring to speak out against WWE in early 2005... and he'll be stuck in a multi-year, exclusive WWE contract from which he can't escape. That should be Matt Hardy's biggest fear, and unfortunately it's a very real possibility.

Sidebar: Hardy Eliminates Any Remaining Doubt about WWE-ROH Relationship
One other thing that Matt Hardy said on WWE Raw tonight was something he said to the fans just before he was dragged away by the fake security guards: "I'll see you at ROH, Ring of Honor!" Ring of Honor is a small, critically acclaimed independent promotion with an ever-growing cult following (a sentence that could have described ECW in the mid-90's), and Hardy will be working for ROH a few times in July in order to fulfill commitments that he made after he was fired by WWE and before he agreed to re-sign with WWE.

The mention of ROH on Raw was meant to make Hardy's appearance seem all the more "shocking" and "real," and was designed by WWE management to make casual fans think, "Oh my God, he just mentioned another pro wrestling promotion by name, so this must be real!" In fact, Hardy's mention of ROH only serves to confirm in my mind that WWE and ROH have a working relationship.

Though I can't say it for a fact, I am almost certain that WWE and Ring of Honor have a "working business relationship" with each other, in much the same way that WWE and ECW did in the 90's. WWE has the same motive to work with ROH that they had to work with ECW for all those years, which is to mine the place for talent (see WWE's recent signing of Ring of Honor main-eventer CM Punk). The recent announcement that a WWE-contracted wrestler, Steven Richards, would be appearing on a Ring of Honor show made me highly suspicious that WWE and ROH were in cahoots in some way.

Now all remaining doubt has been eliminated in my mind tonight by the fact that WWE employee Matt Hardy said on WWE television, "I'll see you at Ring of Honor!" Every word that Matt Hardy said on Raw tonight was scripted by the WWE creative team, which means that the WWE creative team actually scripted Matt Hardy to mention Ring of Honor by name. Now, ask yourself: Would WWE ever script that under any circumstances if there wasn't a "working business relationship" between WWE and ROH?

I'm not saying that there is necessarily anything wrong with WWE and Ring of Honor working with each other. I just think that both parties, WWE and ROH, should be a bit more open and honest about it.

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