I wrote a little bit about this a few months ago, so I will repeat a few points right off the bat.
WWE loves to give talent a “test run” in the main event scene before giving them a real run at the top. They have been doing this for years and are continuing the stance in 2012. I will simply list a few examples.
While it was under the elder McMahon, Hulk Hogan was given a “test run.” Remember, he fought Andrew the Giant well before Wrestle Mania III. The man passed with flying colors, went to do other business, and Vince McMahon knew he could trust him. A year later, Hulkamania was running wild folks.
Ultimate Warrior was given a few “test runs” as IC champion and teased some major feuds for him. Obviously, fans were ready for him to take the top spot. At WM VI, they trusted him enough to be one of the few men to beat Hogan clean and win the title.
Shawn Michaels feuded with Bret Hart over the WWE Title at Survivor Series in 1992. Not 1997! Earlier in the decade, HBK was given his “test run” as IC champ and some matches near the top of the card. He did great, so WWE trusted him with the top spot. Years later, the company was all about Shawn.
The Rock, Stone Cold, and many others all got little “tastes” of the main event scene before being given the ball officially. WWE must know if guys can be trusted on top. You rarely see somebody just thrown into the main event and STAY there. Here are a few recent names to think about folks:
Alberto Del Rio – he got a “test run” leading into WM 27. He did great, so WWE trusted him with the title months later. As we saw, Edge beat him, Del Rio built himself up a little bit more, and got his moment at Summerslam later on in the year.
John Cena – in 2003, he was given a little bit of a run against Brock Lesnar. He did a fine job, went on to feud with Underaker and Kurt Angle afterwards, then started his rise to the top. WWE knew they could trust him after he passed his initial “test.”
The Royal Rumble is often used for “lesser known” talent to get a shot at the WWE or World Title. I won’t name names, but just look at the Rumble history. Take a look at the title matches! Clearly, some of those are not major matches – just a way to “test” guys out in the main event scene for a few months.
Dolph Ziggler got a chance last year against Edge to shine. Since then, he has been a constant mid-card to upper mid-card to SOON main event wrestler. All because WWE gave him an opportunity, and he did well. Again, I could go on and on, but the fact remains. From Randy Orton to CM Punk, most big names are given a little “test” before officially given the main event spot.
Others tried but failed. William Regal was pushed to the moon in 2008 and was hugely over as a heel, in great shape, and firing on all cylinders…then failed his 2nd Wellness test.
Carlito, Chris Masters, Shelton Benjamin, and MANY others were given a chance. Even The Brian Kendrick was in a WWE Title match on PPV! Either fans did not buy into them or they flopped for others reasons. Nonetheless, WWE was giving new stars a chance to shine.
That brings us to Jeff Hardy.
Hardy had some successes during his first WWE run, but this a new ball game. When he came back to WWE in 2006, it was clear the company had big ideas for him. He was given some vignettes, and major buzz was around his return. Within a few months, he was the IC Champ. After a nice run, he and Matt Hardy had a fun tag team title run in 2007. That was a “nostalgia” run which was destined to be very short-lived.
During all of this, WWE had to be very hesitant in “pushing” Jeff too much. Obviously, it was because of his past drug/behavior issues. Some fans love to just ignore these things, but you can’t. When you run WWE as a publicly traded company, somebody’s life style is a huge, huge factor. By the time, Hardy was catching on with the fans again in 2007, WWE had no choice but to give him a chance.
In 2007, the following stars got injured and/or missed time: Triple H, Shawn Michaels, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho (already gone), Ric Flair, John Cena, Undertaker, Edge, and many more. WWE HAD to give a new star a huge run to the top of the card. Their roster was becoming thinner and thinner. Hardy was worth the shot.
In a rare sight, he defeated Triple H clean at Armageddon 2007 to become the #1 Contender for the WWE Championship at the Royal Rumble. With Randy Orton in the middle of a long title reign, Jeff had no shot of winning the gold. However, this was all about gauging the audience’s reaction to Jeff Hardy as a main event player. If it bombed, no big deal. He would be moved back down the card. It it caught fire, WWE knew they could always go back to him down the line.
In the weeks leading up to Royal Rumble 2008, the video promos and actions of Jeff Hardy MADE him into a star. During that time-frame, he was a made man. The fact is that Orton was not going to lose his title just a few months away from WM24. With John Cena coming back later on that night, Hardy had to lose. While some cried foul on that decision, it was a MAJOR win for Hardy. He proved he could hang with the “big boys.” he was no longer just some bit player in WWE. Jeff was a major player that money could be made from down the road.
After yet another suspension and a WWE Draft in the summer of 2008, he was moved to Smackdown for the push of his lifetime. Again, he was not just given the title on his first chance. He had to EARN it. He had to FIGHT for it. He had to scratch and claw for it. Losing time after time to Triple H on pay-per-view may seem ridiculous, but it was something that HAD to be done for this story to be properly told.
Fans were just dying for him to get the title at this point. In yet another rare sight, Jeff Hardy defeated Undertaker on a Smackdown episode in late 2008. The momentum was gaining. Fans were loving his chase. People wanted something “new” for the Blue Brand. When Armageddon 2008 rolled around, Edge was defending his WWE Title against Triple H and Jeff Hardy in a triple threat match. This was the final PPV of the year and just the right time to pull off a ‘shocking’ move.
Jeff Hardy pinned Edge to win the WWE Title.
It was never going to be a long reign. It was never going to be some huge run. It was always going to be a nice, little moment for Hardy fans that dragged fans into the following year. Hardy was not going to main event a WM event. Again, his history and tainted past would not headline WrestleMania. However, Hardy was champion. WWE does this kind of thing a lot to close December.
You saw it with Daniel Bryan last year. He was given his “test” with the World Title and did a good job. In 2009, Sheamus was given the WWE Title for a short “test run” on the top. Look at where those two are now…top of their game.
In late 2008, it was Hardy’s turn. Again, his title run was never a long-term project. It almost reminds me of Austin Aries in TNA right now. The momentum was just so large, it had to be done despite other plans. As most remember, Hardy lost the title to Edge a month later. Jeff went onto feud with Matt (brother) for a few months before going right back to the main event scene. Now, WWE TRUSTED him. He had passed his tests with flying colors. No more need to beat around the bush…Hardy was OVER!
He feuded with Edge once again to win back the WWE Title to begin the summer. After that, he had an epic feud with CM Punk where they traded the title back and forth up to Summerslam and Hardy’s final WWE match days later. It may seem like I am over-exaggerating when I state this, but I am dead serious…
In mid-2009, Jeff Hardy was one of the top stars in the entire industry. Behind John Cena, Undertaker, and DX, Jeff Hardy was THE man on WWE TV. If you did not live through that year, you would think I am lying. I’m not. Just three years ago, he was in the main event scene (closing PPV events as well), selling more merchandise than over 95% of the roster, as over as any other top star, and WWE Champion.
That is what makes today so sad to see Jeff Hardy in an Orlando sound-stage in front of 1,000 NON-paying tourists each week for 1.0 television ratings. My, oh my…