AEW star Jeff Hardy looked to be in bad shape during his tag team match against the Young Bucks alongside his brother Matt at the company’s Double Or Nothing PPV on Sunday. The seemingly straightforward explanation, at the time, was that he was just banged up all the way to hell, largely due to an eye-popping stunt show of a match with Darby Allin three weeks prior. But after Jeff was pulled from AEW’s follow-up episode of Dynamite on Wednesday, Matt has revealed that his struggles in the match were mental as much as they were physical, saying on his podcast Friday that Jeff was “running on fumes” in the match because he was “almost knocked out.”
Matt explained (starting around the 5:10 mark) that, because Jeff can’t really remember the match, they don’t know exactly when the injury might have happened. That’s scary in itself, but the reaction of the performers after it became clear that Jeff wasn’t himself added significantly to the danger:
“He doesn’t remember the match at all after that happened, so thank God the Young Bucks are the Young Bucks and I’m me and we were—he was literally just a vessel being given directions throughout this match to kind of do what he was supposed to do. So considering he really got knocked loopy terribly at some point earlier in the match, he still did pretty good to go through and do everything he did. It’s so funny that he’s just still such a great athlete and so good at what he does. If you look at that Swanton he does on the stairs, he still does it perfectly and he didn’t realize he was supposed to do it until he was told he was supposed to do it.”
Here’s a look at that Swanton. Keep in mind that Hardy is 44 years old.
If there’s any concern at all that a man might have a concussion, this is not something he should be allowed to do. As an observer without any wrestling experience, I admittedly didn’t pick up on anything more than “Jeff doesn’t look like he used to.” But the problem was apparently clear to those more versed in the business. Retired wrestler and Impact Wrestling producer Lance Storm, on his own podcast on Tuesday, shared how worried he was for Jeff while watching the Hardys vs. Young Bucks match:
“He’s laying there dead on the mat, and he looks like he’s a corpse. And the doctor’s over checking on him, and the guys are wrestling, and he’s laying there like he’s a corpse, and I’m really concerned. And then they’re having to yell at him and tell him to stand up and come over here to do stuff. And then he did the (whisper in the wind), and he misplaced his foot like three times climbing to the top rope, and that’s the easiest way to climb to the top rope—from the inside. And I was like, ‘Oh my god I hope he doesn’t kill himself.’ And then after that his condition seemed to worsen, and he keeps climbing to the top rope for more stunts and it’s like, I couldn’t enjoy this match because I was just scared to death this guy was gonna die.”
Storm went on to connect this moment with a similar situation he experienced in his career, when his tag team partner William Regal suffered what was later confirmed to be a concussion in a match against Kane and Rob Van Dam at WWE’s No Way Out in 2003. In this case, however, Storm found a safer path forward without even interrupting the performance:
“I saw Regal’s face go blank and when Kane covered him I’m like, ‘I don’t think Regal’s OK’ … And I’m just looking at Regal and I’m like, ‘There’s something wrong.’ And I just grabbed his hand and pulled him like two feet so I could tag in. And I just told (Kane), ‘I’m staying in until I know whether he’s OK or not.’ And we completely changed the match, and I just stayed in.”
Matt’s nonchalance in describing Jeff’s injury is a window into the “show must go on” determination instilled in so many wrestlers. That the Hardys are in the twilights of their careers, and this might have been one of their last opportunities for a really good match on such a big stage, only adds to the pressure to continue. Which is why it shouldn’t be on them to do something like Storm did. Rick Knox was the referee in this match, and his non-storyline job is to make sure the performers are safe and communicate information to producers in the back if they’re not. Dr. Michael Sampson, who works as AEW’s ringside physician, also carries the responsibility for Jeff’s situation. That AEW already dealt with a Hardy concussion controversy two years ago, when Matt was cleared to continue a match very quickly after a nasty botch, means that they should have been better prepared to take action.
Wrestling is haunted by CTE, and anybody involved in a sport or performance with a risk of hurting your head should be well versed on its dangers by now. Particularly on a PPV that also included a tremendous tribute to Owen Hart—who was killed by a poorly planned stunt during a 1999 WWE PPV that led to the company paying his family $18 million to settle a wrongful death suit—this appears to be an appalling example of negligence on the part of AEW. The widespread perception that everything in wrestling is “fake” means that they’re likely to escape the scrutiny that an NFL or NHL team would get if a player toughed it out while in a daze. But the danger that Hardy was in is far too real to ignore.