It may be hard to imagine it now, but Jeff Hardy was once the most popular man in wrestling – even more than John Cena.
Despite his drug issues and run-ins with the law over the years, some fans will always remember the incredible moments Jeff Hardy had over his career. He was one of the most innovative, daring and exciting wrestlers to ever life, with his matches always some of the most “must-watch” of the modern era.
I say “modern era”, but Jeff Hardy has been wrestling for nearly 30-years at this point. He debuted in the WWE in 1996 against Razor Ramon, lying about his age in the process. Hardy told the WWE he was 18, when he had actually just turned 16-years-old.
The North Carolina-native went on to form an incredibly successful tag team alongside his brother Matt Hardy – known as The Hardy Boyz – as well as embarking on an incredibly successful singles run, until his release in 2009 (although he was fired by the company in 2003 for much different reasons).
In the year before he left the company, Jeff Hardy did something that very wrestlers in the past two-decades had managed – he outsold John Cena merchandise.
From his return in 2006 until 2009, Jeff Hardy grew in popularity like no other. Fans quickly remembered why they loved Hardy, with his death-defying stunts and fantastic matches endearing him to the WWE fans. He had incredible marketability, with his face paint and arm-sleeves giving him an iconic and unique look on the roster.
His battles with Umaga over the Intercontinental Championship showed fans just how far Jeff Hardy would go to win. He performed a Whisper in the Wind off a cage to win one of their best matches together, and went even further against Randy Orton when he did a Swanton Bomb off some scaffolding, onto the stage and through multiple tables.
Simply put, Jeff Hardy made you care about him, because he did not care about his wellbeing at all. You know that you would see something insane when he stepped into the ring, and fans could not help but love him for it.
His popularity helped Jeff Hardy ascended from a mid-carder that the WWE could not trust on top, to a world champion and main event talent who could carry the company on his back. In less than a year, Hardy won the WWE Championship and World Heavyweight Championship (twice, in between a feud with his brother, Matt Hardy), and was involved in some huge feuds on Smackdown.
He picked up wins over Edge, Triple H and CM Punk before leaving the company in the summer of 2009 – inarguably at the peak of his powers, and the peak of his popularity. Jeff Hardy was the most popular wrestler in the company, maybe even pro-wrestling as a whole.
This was even with John Cena, also arguably at the peak of his in-ring prowess, at the helm of Monday Night Raw. Cena picked up an untold amount of world title runs during this time, but none of them meant even a fraction of one of Jeff Hardy’s long-awaited and hard-earned title runs.
This is one of the reasons why Jeff Hardy managed to outsell John Cena in merchandise sales – becoming the first person to do so since he first ascended to the top of the WWE at WrestleMania 21.
Jeff Hardy Outsold John Cena In Merchandise In 2009
Jeff Hardy outsold John Cena in merchandise in 2009, when he won the WWE and World Heavyweight Championship. This was the first time in nearly a decade that somebody could match up with The Champ, with only a few stars in the future (like CM Punk) being able to match up to John Cena’s level of popularity.
This was confirmed in a tweet by Ringside News in 2015, who revealed that Jeff Hardy was the first person to outsell John Cena in T-shirt and merchandise sales since his main event run in WWE started.
Like John Cena, Jeff Hardy did not just limit himself to just t-shirts and posters. His iconic ring attire gave Hardy ample opportunity to create new merchandising opportunities, helping young kids dress up as their hero. Every time the camera panned to the crowd, the amount of children cosplaying as Jeff Hardy was astounding – so much that you would not believe it if you saw it today.
Jeff Hardy sold millions of dollars in t-shirts, armbands and masks based upon his face paint. WWE marketed him perfectly, and his unique look proved a cash cow for all parties involved, and showed why Jeff Hardy managed to outsell John Cena in 2009.
John Cena and Jeff Hardy actually wrestled once in singles matches around this time – Cena defeated Hardy in a number-one contenders match for the WWE Champion on Raw in June 2008. This was the pair’s only televised singles match, although they had multiple tag team matches together over the years.
He remained the most popular man in WWE until CM Punk ran Jeff Hardy out of town, sending him packing from the WWE in the summer of 2009 – although the actual reason for Hardy leaving the WWE was much more sinister than that.
Why Did Jeff Hardy Leave The WWE In 2009?
Jeff Hardy left WWE after losing a “Loser Leaves WWE” Steel Cage Match against CM Punk, in his bid to regain the World Heavyweight Championship. This came at the end of a heated feud between the two world champions, dealing with CM Punk‘s straight-edge lifestyle and the drug and alcohol issues that have plagued Jeff Hardy for his entire career.
Most “loser leave town” matches in WWE are used for storyline purposes. Sometimes they are used to give a wrestler some time off, maybe due to burn out. Other times it’s used for them to switch brands, as their time on Raw and Smackdown may have come to an end.
There are many reasons to book the match and most of the time, the losing party comes back soon after, maybe even with a change of gimmick. However, this was real for Jeff Hardy. This would be his final match in WWE for 8 years, as he took some time off from the WWE and let his contract expire to deal with his demon and focus on the injuries he suffered at the hands of Punk.
Hamish is a writer and podcaster and wrestling fan who is a key part of the Atletifo team.
After playing countless hours of WrestleMania X8 on the Gamecube, he discovered Rey Mysterio getting his head crushed by The Great Khali, and thus a love for professional wrestling was born.
He is also a Media Graduate, as well as writing for multiple sites about Premier League football and the culture of Wales – his home country.