Those of you who watch TNA Impact Wrestling this past Thursday were treated to a hype video for the return of Jeff Hardy… sort of. The video featured a masked man, dressed in black & white gothic clothing, twirling around an umbrella and moving in a bizarre manner while speaking in cryptic riddles. This is actually not outside the realm of normalcy for Jeff Hardy, or at least what passes as normalcy for Jeff Hardy.
The surprising thing about the video however was not it’s peculiar nature. You see, the man in the video wearing the mask was Jeff Hardy but according to the video, his name was Willow. If my words aren’t making this clear, have a look for yourself.
So, this begs the question: Why would TNA do this? Jeff Hardy is one of the biggest pro wrestling stars in the entire world. His fan base is ravenous and his marketability is through the roof. Why would TNA make such a drastic change to one of their headliners at a time when so many of their marquee names have left the company? It seems like such a bad business decision. Yet another blunder on the part of TNA management. A text book case of TNA being TNA, right?
Well, the more I thought about it, the more I began to understand why a case for Willow could be made. Not being an insider, I obviously don’t know for sure, so consider these my theories on why Willow is coming… and why maybe we should welcome him.
Anyone familiar with Jeff Hardy has probably already realized that Willow is a take on his OMEGA character Willow The Whisp, an alter ego of Hardy’s that seems to follow him wherever he goes. It’s obvious that this character is quite special to Jeff Hardy, which may be one of the reasons he is bringing it to TNA.
Jeff Hardy is an artist. Some might laugh when reading that, but it’s true. He has a very creative mind that he has used to fuel countless artistic endeavours over his lifetime including sculpture, painting, music and the art he is most famous for: professional wrestling. A man with as much artistic creativity as Jeff Hardy is not like your average human being. He doesn’t think like you or I. Because of this, what may drive or motivate the rest of us is likely in great contrast to his own wants and desires.
This may explain why Jeff Hardy has yet to return to WWE since 2009. Yes, I’m sure there are a myriad of reasons, but I believe it is more than likely that creative freedom has been a large determining factor in that decision. Jeff Hardy probably wants the freedom to work on outside projects without WWE’s approval, and the ability to create his own personas and characters without having to look to a writer or the McMahons for the go ahead. Sure, the money and exposure would be better for Hardy in WWE but for an artist, those aren’t always the most important things.
A guy like Jeff Hardy performs at his best when he’s motivated, happy, and creatively fulfilled. TNA likely knows this and is willing to allow Hardy the freedom to transform into another character if it means Hardy will be at his best. Besides, TNA is going through it’s own face lift right now, so why not Hardy?
Which brings me to the other reason TNA might be doing this, and why it can be a good thing. TNA is changing. In the last few months, whether it has been by force or choice, TNA has made some bold decisions regarding the direction of their company. Gone are the expensive, brand recognition talent like Hulk Hogan and Sting. Instead the focus has been on affordable home grown talent (Bobby Roode, James Storm, Chris Sabin) fresh faces (EC3, The Wolves, Magnus), and established names looking to reinvent themselves (Mr. Anderson, MVP, Kurt Angle). Jeff Hardy fits best into the last category along with former adversary Bully Ray, who has stood out as
the best example of TNA as a place of rebirth.
A few years ago Bully Ray threw all caution into the wind by trying something that had failed miserably once before: He split from partner Devon and embarked on a singles career. The difference this time was two fold: Bully Ray was more experienced and TNA gave him the freedom to be who he really wanted to be. This led to Bully Ray not only having one of the best runs of his career, but also becoming arguably the best heel in the industry.
The truth is, the Bully Ray character wasn’t much different than Bubba Ray Dudley. It was simply Bubba Ray Dudley maxed out. It is very easy to see Willow the same way. Jeff Hardy, the poetry writing, face painted enigma maxed out. Who knows what kind of heights Willow could reach if we are to give him a chance?
Fellow Last Word On Sports writer @DeHaanoffate said it best in his article. Most pro wrestlers need to change once in a while or face a very real risk of getting lost in the shuffle. It’s easy to play it safe, do the same thing and coast by. But that eliminates the potential for growth. Taking risks can lead to some amazing things, and as we all know, Jeff Hardy is a risk taker. Sure, Willow might crash and burn, but even if it does, Jeff Hardy is the kind of performer who has proven time and time again that he can come back from just about anything and still claw his way to the top. If Jeff Hardy continued to do the same act he had been doing since 2011, how much longer would it be before the fans and he himself got sick of it? No one wins in that situation.
Pro wrestling is a very changing beast, and its performers need to change along with it to stay fresh, interesting and relevant. Standing still will only get you left behind. I agree that this new Willow character is a little out there but so if Jeff Hardy. If you’re still having a hard time wrapping your head around this choice, don’t think of Willow as a gimmick change. Think of it as the evolution of Jeff Hardy.
Sound off below or on twitter using the hastags #welcomewillow if you’re in favor of the new changes, or #gohomewillow if you’re against them.
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