The biggest misconception in pro wrestling in making a top star, is having said wrestler win the promotion’s world title. While that can certainly help elevate a mid card star into main event status…there are no guarantees that it will always pay off. The truth is, you can make a star out of an individual just as easily by having them lose a match. It all depends on how the match is booked. Such is the case of the ‘Charismatic Enigma’ Jeff Hardy.
Now granted, Jeff Hardy was already an established star teaming all those years with his brother Matt as the Hardy Boyz. He also found some success as a singles wrestler, winning the Light Heavyweight and Intercontinental titles. While popular and having success, there was still something missing in Jeff Hardy. He wasn’t quite yet a main event star. That all changed on the July 1st, 2002 episode of Monday Night Raw. On this night, WWE had plans to elevate Jeff to top tier status.
A match was booked between Hardy against then WWE Undisputed World Champion…the Undertaker. Not only was the match for the title, it was also going to be a ladder match (Something Jeff Hardy specialized in.) According to the Undertaker, he didn’t have any idea he would be competing in such a match, until he showed up at the arena. When the Undertaker found out about the match and his opponent, Undertaker was a bit stand offish at first. This wasn’t something in his wheelhouse. Despite the uncomfortableness of it, the Undertaker felt that he and Hardy could pull it off and have a great match.
Before the match even took place, Jeff recalled “pissing off” the Dead Man by getting on Taker’s Harley Davidson and playing on it. Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and the two started planning out the match that would cement Jeff Hardy as a bonafide superstar.
The match itself wasn’t exactly what you’d expect from a ladder match involving Jeff Hardy. There weren’t many insane, crazy spots by the daredevil Hardy. Instead, it was more the Undertaker pummeling Hardy and having the upper hand most of the contest. Hardy did get some offense in, but it was Taker who would recover and quickly regain the momentum. What made this special, was the fact that as much punishment Hardy was taking…he kept on getting up and fighting back. It showed WWE fans that Hardy wasn’t a quitter and was as tough as nails.
The fans really became invested in this match and were able to suspend belief that Hardy had a shot at becoming WWE champion. This memorable encounter, was also helped by the spot on commentary of Jim Ross. His passion and enthusiasm helped create a ‘big fight feel.’ JR also had a classic line in his calling of the ladder match when Jeff was ascending the ladder and appeared ready to grab the undisputed title from above. Ross screamed out…“Climb the ladder kid, make yourself famous!”
Ultimately, it was the Undertaker who grabbed the undisputed title belt and was declared the victor. A battered, yet defiant Jeff Hardy stood up on his own two feet to show the Undertaker that he was still standing tall. The best part of this match was yet to come, as the Undertaker looked stunned and impressed that Hardy gave him such a fight.
Instead of pummeling Jeff a little more to send a message to the rest of the locker room, the Undertaker took Hardy’s arm and raised it in the air as a sign of respect and in turn, put over Jeff as a major star for the company moving forward. Years later, the Undertaker looked back fondly on this game changing match for Hardy. The Undertaker said…“So I’m very proud of that match. I think it might have been the only ladder match I was ever in. I can’t think of the top of my head of another one. So we got it right the first time, we didn’t have to do it again!”
Jeff Hardy would say that he owes everything to the Undertaker for that match and also said that he could never repay him for putting him over the way he did. While the ladder match did in fact elevate Hardy to a whole new level in WWE, we need to be reminded that Jeff left the company not even a full year later. Reports had Jeff being late to shows and acting erratic. Jeff cited he was completely burned out from the constant traveling. Regardless, the ladder match between he and the Undertaker has to rank up there as one of the better moments in Raw history.