The Hardys and the Young Bucks are on a collision course with history this Saturday night in Lakeland, Fla. The two teams are wrestling in a ladder match for the Ring of Honor tag team titles—currently worn by Matt Hardy and Jeff Hardy, who defeated the Bucks’ Matt Jackson and Nick Jackson earlier this month—at ROH’s Supercard of Honor XI. With the Hardys rumored to return to WWE as soon as this upcoming Monday, the match could serve as the final encounter between the Hardys and Bucks.
The signature show of WrestleMania weekend will be WWE’s WrestleMania 33, but the contest set to steal the show is a ladder match between the Hardys and the Young Bucks on Saturday night.
“This may very well be the last time we ever face each other,” said Matt Hardy. “After we defeat the Bucks of Youth this time, they will officially be deleted.”
The Hardys first claimed their stake to fame in a ladder match with Edge and Christian and the Dudley Boyz at WrestleMania 2000 in a triangle ladder match. Those three teams then combined to deliver some of the most compelling content in WWE history with the first ever “Tables, Ladders, and Chairs” match, which was followed up by its sequel at WrestleMania XVII.
“We were the ladders, D-Von and Bully were the tables, and Edge and Christian were the chairs,” Jeff Hardy said. “Those were our weapons, and that’s what made it so magical. For the rest of our lives, we’ll be known for ladder matches. It’s our claim to fame.”
Seventeen years have passed since WrestleMania XVII, and the Hardys now stand alone as the sole icon still active in tag team wrestling. They are, fittingly, matched up with the most talented tag team in wrestling, the Young Bucks.
“I do judge myself as the master of ladders in all of professional wrestling, and I always will,” Jeff Hardy said. “I’ve strained my brain on a day-to-day for what to do this Saturday, and I’ve got a few things up my sleeve.”
Despite the magnitude of the match, it will not take place at WrestleMania, nor will this revolutionary encounter be televised. Ring of Honor’s Supercard of Honor will be broadcast on FITE TV, but the show takes place 56.2 miles away from Orlando in Lakeland, Fla. But the location of the venue won't matter much once the Hardys and Bucks step into the ring and onto the ladders.
“Tell the Hardys to bring their best and to wrestle like it’s the early 2000s again,” the Bucks’ Matt Jackson said. “We’re the kings of these matches these days. They made the tag team match famous but we’ve taken it to a whole new level.”
While most people are familiar with the Hardys, wrestling fans are still getting to know the Young Bucks.
Matt and Nick Jackson are often mistaken as the younger doppelgangers of Matt and Jeff Hardy. Matt Jackson’s dark hair and sideburns nearly mirror the look of Matt Hardy, while Nick Jackson is seemingly intrinsically connected to the swashbuckling Jeff Hardy.
Nick Jackson is more than familiar—flattered, even—by the constant comparisons throughout his career to Jeff Hardy.
“Jeff Hardy is a daredevil,” Nick Jackson said. “He seems like he can do any type of crazy stunt and never get hurt. There’s something about him that separates him from the rest. He has this enigma about him that makes him so awesome.”
Matt Jackson is also grateful for the comparisons to Matt Hardy, who has completely evolved his character, once again, by transforming from “Big Money” Matt into “Broken” Matt Hardy.
“Matt’s sort of the businessman behind the Hardys’ success,” Matt Hardy said. “He’s the mastermind, and the thing I love most about Matt Hardy is his genius of constantly reinventing himself. He has stayed relevant and on top for so many years but always stays fresh.”
Jeff Hardy admitted that watching the Bucks is like looking into his past.
“The Bucks remind me so much of us,” Jeff said. “It’s amazing to see how over they are with the crowds, and now that I’ve worked with them, I can see why. They’ve reinvented something the NWO did with the ‘Too Sweet’ and ‘Suck It’ chants, and it works. Bottom line, they are great and inspire me to push myself to be just as good as I can be.”
Despite the similarities—and both teams are adorned in gold and well-compensated for their work—their paths to success are polar opposites. With the legendary Jim Ross calling their matches, the Hardys rose to fame in the WWE, building their following by elevating themselves to the top of the number one wrestling conglomerate in the world. After parting ways with WWE, the Hardys have also dominated TNA Impact Wrestling, and most recently reinvented themselves by touring the world as part of the indies.
“House Hardy, myself and Brother Nero, are pioneers,” Matt Hardy said. “My style of booking during early independent bookings was very similar to what Ring of Honor later become, which is what WWE later became. The current WWE superstars are filled with former Ring of Honor stars, and there is that very athletic, exciting, almost-cruiserweight style of contests. The business has started to migrate more closely to that, and those were the shows we were putting on in ‘94, ‘95, and ‘96. We didn’t have the strongest psychology at the time, but we had a good grasp of what the people wanted to see to be entertained. Once we had the opportunity to come to WWE and we got our feet underneath us, we then started the whole ladder match craze, and we added tables and chairs to it, and started the TLC match, and that was especially trailblazing.
“Even once I separated with Jeff, I was able to show I was strong on my own. Many people found ‘Mattitude’ absolutely delightful. As time went on, it was a constant evolution of change. The most recent time was when my broken brilliance manifested. We took the business in a whole new direction, and even though we left Impact Wrestling, it proved that we are bigger than some brands. When we showed up at the Honorable Ring and won the tag team titles of the world, the place went insane. Something we’ve always taken pride in is evolving the game and pushing the business to go to new places, and that’s what we are doing now and what we plan on doing in the near foreseeable future.”
The Young Bucks were booked as an afterthought in TNA, then worked tirelessly to build their own brand in Ring of Honor, New Japan Pro Wrestling, and the indies. Their rise to fame was never easy, but the Bucks are firm believers that success is not complicated. Success for the Bucks is coming to work every day, remaining creative and being willing to outwork their opponent.
“Every time we wrestle, we treat it like it’s WrestleMania,” Matt Jackson said. “I’m not kidding. We never take a night off.”
To the Bucks, being recognized as a top tag team in the world is not an accomplishment. It is the outside world coming to grips with what they have worked toward on a daily basis.
“This ladder match is particularly a big one for us, as we’ve put a lot of thought, emotion, and effort into the build of it,” Matt Jackson said. “We want to make it memorable.”
While the Bucks are popular because of their talent in the ring, their connection with audiences worldwide extends far deeper than high spots and superkicks. They put together a masterpiece this past September in their “Ladder Wars” match, which has been compared to the WrestleMania XVII TLC affair.
“This ladder match will be pretty different,” Nick Jackson said. “I don’t think it’s possible to top that ‘Ladder Wars’ match because we took way too many risks and got lucky that we were not seriously hurt. This will be different because we have two teams that are over-the-top characters that want to prove they are the best tag team in the world.”
Danger, as Nick Jackson noted, is an inherent piece of a ladder match. Devon Hughes, who was D-Von Dudley in the Dudley Boyz, can relate.
“I was hanging 25 feet up in the air with Jeff Hardy, which is something I’ll never do again,” D-Von Dudley told Sports Illustrated before the Dudleys re-signed with WWE two summers ago.
“Jeff Hardy was one crazy son of a b----,” D-Von said. “Matt was crazy too, but Jeff didn’t care about his body—he still doesn’t. Jeff will go out to the top of a building to do a swantom bomb. If the guy moves, he’ll just land on the concrete.
“During the TLC match at WrestleMania XVII, we had to come up with a spot to take each other out, and someone thought we could have Jeff and me hang from the ring again. I said, ‘Absolutely not.’”
Jeff Hardy persuaded D-Von into an unforgettable sequence.
“I wanted to hang off those rings, and I wanted to have multiple human bodies up there,” Jeff Hardy said. “When we got up there, it was surreal.”
The spot called for Jeff Hardy to kick D-Von until he dropped violently back to the canvas, but Hardy was not supposed to kick D-Von until after Edge and Christian removed the fallen ladders.
“Remember, the ladder hadn’t moved yet,” reminded D-Von. “But Jeff Hardy was in such a zone he wouldn’t stop kicking me. I was screaming at Edge, ‘Please move the ladder!’ I remember yelling at Jeff, ‘If you ever loved me, then for the love of God, you would stop kicking me! The ladder has not moved!’
“Jeff never stopped kicking me. He still apologizes to me about it ‘till this day, but like I always tell him, I’ll never hang up there with him again.”
Jeff Hardy recalls the story, albeit with a slightly different perspective.
“I guess I didn’t notice the ladder was down there,” Jeff Hardy said. “I was all young and invincible, and I thought it was clear.
“It’s almost like time still stood. I’ll never forget D-Von’s face, I’ll never forget him saying he wasn’t ready. It is one of those moments that is immortal, will still be cool in 20 years, and one that I’ll never forget.”
The Hardys set the blueprint for a ladder match. The challenge for their match with the Bucks, former TLC combatant Bubba Dudley explained to SI, is making sure that the Bucks leave the match looking as the Hardys’ equal.
“From the Hardys’ point of view, they’ve been there, they’ve done that, and they’ll look to add to the Hardy legacy,” said Dudley, who wrestles as singles star Bully Ray. “More importantly, how can the Hardys get the Bucks over even more? The Hardys want to get the Bucks to the next level, and that’s what I want to see happen.”
Bully Ray is fully aware of the nuances and subtleties that manifest in this match, and he'll be watching the Hardys take on the Bucks with an eye on the mental side of the match.
“I am looking for excitement built around psychology,” Bully said. “Too often, you watch gimmick matches with ladders or tables, and the psychology of using the gimmick is never enforced. I hate when guys have a ladder match and just do superfluous ladder spots and not try to win the match. I want them to have an extremely exciting match, but I want the match to be psychologically sound.”
With the Hardy legacy already well-established, the challenge for the Bucks is to leave an imprint on this match.
“This is a challenge they are more than willing to accept,” Bully said. “The Bucks had ‘Ladder Wars’ in Ring of Honor, and they tore the house down. They actually told me that they sat down and watched TLC I and II the night before the match because they wanted to see the psychology in our matches. The Bucks look at this as an awesome challenge, and the intangible here is the Bucks. They are like Edge and Christian, they bring a different dynamic. They are the best tag team in the world.”
WWE announced that the tag team title match at WrestleMania 33 between Gallows and Anderson, Enzo and Cass, and Cesaro and Sheamus will also be a ladder match. With rumors rampant that the Hardys are returning to WWE, Matt Hardy did nothing to quell that notion.
“The best ladder match of the weekend will be the one with the Hardys,” said Matt Hardy, careful not to mention where the match would actually take place. “It is amazing that, whenever a ladder match is announced, people automatically think of the Hardys. People so often think back to the amazing TLC matches we had with our brothers in tables, ladders, and chairs with Edge and Christian and the Dudleys. That is a compliment of the highest regard.”
As for a WWE return, Jeff Hardy is also open to returning home to WrestleMania.
“I’d like to end my career where it began,” Jeff Hardy said. “If not this year, then next.”
Originally, the match between the Hardys and Young Bucks was scheduled to be an inter-promotional match for the Ring of Honor and Impact Wrestling tag team championship belts, which was forced to change after the Hardys exited Impact Wrestling.
“Initially, I had come up with the idea of making it a ladder match for all of the titles,” Matt Jackson explained. “The ROH and TNA titles would both hang from above the ring. Obviously that didn’t work out, but we’re still getting the ladder match. We plan on having the best match of the weekend, and I don’t think anything else will come close.”
Although this match will be a challenge for the Bucks, Nick Jackson noted that it is also a dream come true.
“This is one of the matches that Matt and I have always dreamed about having,” Nick Jackson said. “We’re the two most talked about tag teams in wrestling right now, and the timing is perfect. It’s been such a hot angle that fans wanted and we’re going to give them a show on Saturday.”
The reality of the match is that both teams have a lot at stake. The Young Bucks are still hungry to prove they genuinely are the best tag team in all of history, and the Hardys—42-year-old Matt and 39-year-old Jeff—will aim to prove they remain as relevant as ever in a new age of pro wrestling, especially in a match that they made famous.
“It’s so much fun to live up to that challenge of staying relevant,” Jeff Hardy said. “And as long as I’m able to wrestle, it’s inevitable that I will get excited about wrestling about a ladder match. That’s my claim to fame with Matt. It was the ladder match that helped us turn the curve in 2000 in the greatest way possible. It’s so much fun to challenge yourself, and it’s so exciting to be doing as well as we’re doing now. We’re working Ring of Honor’s biggest show ever, and I’m so grateful to be just as relevant and respected now as I was in ‘99.”
When asked why he would agree to a match that will, undoubtedly, leave him in agony and pain, Matt Hardy smiled.
“This is what we do,” Matt Hardy said. “To know you’re truly alive in wrestling, you have to constantly challenge yourself. You constantly have to do things that you’re unsure you can do. Performing in a ladder match against one of the most athletically gifted teams of the last ten years, at this stage in the game after doing this for a quarter of a century, is a chance to show that we are the greatest tag team in all space and time. This is what we love to do. When I’m out there, I have the pressure on me. I have to perform, I have to produce, and that’s when I truly feel that I am alive.”
The Hardys have forever changed the perception of mega-stars working on the independent scene over the last five years. They also reinvigorated a dying TNA product, brought genuine excitement to Ring of Honor, and now, on the precipice of their WWE return, plan on creating history with the Young Bucks.
“I can promise you that this match is going to be a story,” Matt Hardy said. “It’s going to become iconic. The match between the Bucks of Youth and the House Hardy on Saturday is going to blow everyone’s mind. It’s going to show that tag team wrestling is a main event style match when it is promoted properly and the right players are in place. We’re going to steal the show, we’re going to be the main event that leaves everyone talking about how this stole WrestleMania weekend.”