365 matches in 365 days, each from that specific date on the calendar? Challenge accepted. Welcome to 365 Wrestling.
What qualifies someone to be considered an all-time great wrestler?
Is it the ability to sell tickets or pay-per-view buys? What about longevity? How about the ability to re-create yourself, and keep things fresh? Maybe it’s the level of influence over future generations of wrestlers?
Matt and Jeff Hardy check every one of these boxes. How many wrestlers who step through the ropes today grew up watching the Hardys in WWE? They’ve found ways to keep themselves fresh, especially with the “Broken Universe” personas. Even now, both are still regular fixtures on TV for two different promotions. While each has spent some time on the Dark Side as an individual (Matt more than Jeff), the Hardys as a team were consistently fan favorites … but not always.
In this installment of 365 Wrestling, the Hardys take to the ring as heels–and not the so-bad-they’re-good heels. Not the “cool” heels. Nope, in this match from OMEGA (the promotion the Hardys helped start themselves) in 1999 against Shane Helms and Mike Maverick, the Hardys receive nuclear levels of heat from a packed high-school gym.
Let’s proceed, shall we? This match is available in two parts on YouTube, and embedded below:
You know three of the players in this match. Maverick didn’t reach the heights of the Hardys or Helms in wrestling, though he did spend some time in ECW as Jack Dupp.
For all the details on this match, I went straight to the source: Thomas Simpson, one of the co-founders of the OMEGA promotion, and someone I did commentary for on some independent shows in South Carolina a few years ago.
The Hardys had been OMEGA champs for about six months, winning the titles off of Helms and Venom (aka Joey Abs from the Mean Street Posse in the heyday of the WWF Attitude Era). Simpson noted Venom was substituting in the match for Maverick, who had broken his arm when he fell off a roof while working a construction job.
This match takes place at East Wake High School in Wendell, NC. That also happened to be the alma mater of Helms and Maverick. Hundreds of people are packed into the high school gym for this one and there are several minutes of prelude on the video before the match actually begins. Maverick and Helms, who are out first, are greeted as conquering heroes and receive thunderous applause. Meanwhile, the Hardys already are a known presence on WWF TV but that doesn’t win them any supporters in the crowd. Both Matt and Jeff get booed and heckled mightily from the moment they enter the gym — an off-putting sight at first given their later lengthy track record as fan favorites. Matt tries to stir up the crowd even more, making a reference to how he and his brother will be “winning on Sunday Night Heat” after beating Helms and Maverick here.
Once the match is well under way, you can hear the voice of someone standing near whomever is filming the action on their handheld camera say, “They’ve gotta win the belts or the crowd’s gonna riot.” That’s a good summary of the raucous atmosphere for this match. Just like certain sports teams and colleges promote their home fans as a de facto extra member of the team, the crowd at East Wake High helps elevate what’s happening in the ring — and the match itself already is quite good.
Maverick isn’t an overwhelming physical presence, but he and Helms work with a big man/little man dynamic that I’ve always enjoyed in tag teams, and they do it well. Twice, Maverick flings his partner into the air to do damage to their foes, whether it be on a gorilla press that turns into a splash for a close two count or launching him out of the ring to land on both Hardys. Such power already has been established through some early interactions with Jeff: delivering a brutal-looking spear and then catching him in midair to disrupt the Hardys’ now-well-known Poetry In Motion double team.
Helms plays a spectacular face in peril and it’s the engine that keeps this match going. He spends more time in the ring than anyone else, and the fans bite on every bit of offense he musters up, even if it ends with him getting cut off. After an initial exchange with Matt where something as simple as a leg trip by Helms gets the crowd cheering, Matt turns the tide with a handful of hair followed by two knees to the midsection in the corner. Helms promptly counters in the far corner by flipping up and over Matt, but lands clutching at his midsection in a spectacular snapshot of nuanced selling. While taking the heat of the match, Helms continues to sell but never completely fades, showing enough fight to keep the already-rabid crowd engaged.
Meanwhile, the Hardys put together an homage to the Southern-style tag teams of yore, but with a modern twist — especially through Jeff. This is 1999 and well before many of the catastrophic landings, injuries, and mishaps out of the ring. Jeff Hardy in 2021 is still a very capable wrestler, but watching him here shows a level of athleticism and mobility that was hard to match at the time. Jeff busts out a springboard swanton off the top rope, and chains it directly into a quebrada and makes it look effortless. In front of a different crowd, it might have earned a golf clap of appreciation or even outright applause. Here, Jeff culminates the high-flying combination by hugging his brother, only further enraging the crowd.
As the heels continue their control, Matt ensnares Helms in a sleeper. Many of the fans start clapping and stomping, to the point that the camera filiming literally starts to shake. We’re 15 minutes into the match at this point and it feels half as long — if that. A few moments later, Helms finally makes the tag to Maverick and we see one more final twist on the standard tag formula. The Hardys cut off the “hot tag” by Maverick in short order, and in the process, the referee gets wiped out. The Hardys simultaneously hit a splash and leg drop off the top on Helms. Jeff has the pin, and in a situation that is rare for heels, has the match won but there’s no referee! A replacement referee finally scurries down, but Helms is able to kick out at two. Matt responds as a true heel would: first by powerbombing referee #2, then hooking Helms by the arms while Jeff brings a chair into the ring.
By now, you can see what’s coming from a mile away, and so does the crowd, but that doesn’t make it any less satisfying; Helms moves, Jeff pulverizes his brother and gets knocked to the outside. Helms and Maverick both scale the nearest corner, with Helms leaping off of his partner’s shoulders with a splash to score the win and take the titles to the delight of the packed crowd.
–This was the end of an era for OMEGA. Having dropped the titles, the Hardys go to the WWF full time. By May of 1999, Helms and fellow OMEGA product Shannon Moore are in WCW as 3 Count. Venom, though not part of this match, also makes his move to the “big leagues” as Joey Abs. The promotion ran one more event in July of 1999 and a reunion show in December of 2000 (no Hardys on the card, though) before the brand was resurrected in 2013 for 10 shows over a 2 1/2-year span.
–Wrestlers who regularly work as a tag team and might want to look at some new twists on the standard tag formula need to watch this, especially the twists and turns during the finishing stretch.
Final Rating: 8.7
These four combine to create a love letter to Southern tag wrestling with a modern twist through the moves used. The crowd is red-hot throughout and shows no signs of tiring out or losing interest. The end result is fantastic, and a must-watch, especially if you’re a Hardys fan.
We take a look at another wrestler who embodies excellence over the long haul.
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