Hurt manifests in an assortment, and how it is tended to. It can overtake you until you find solace in things that you shouldn’t unless you face fear head-on. You stare it right in its dark, beady little eyes and you outlast its unforgiving path.
Such was the case for Jeff Hardy and CM Punk in their TLC match at SummerSlam 2009. It was a battle of philosophies; a man warring with a screaming torment inside his soul, a man fighting everything his past stood for.
As is well documented, The Charismatic Enigma’s struggle with substance abuse has taken a lot from him. It’s something hard to fight. Akin to a mosquito, it sucks out what is needed, making you weaker, sicker still.
He’s faced years and years of hurt at this point. Bruises, cuts, broken bones, concussions. Wounds that will never fully heal, but needed the proper treatment. A young up-and-comer in the early 2000s, Jeff has tasted the darkness that has cost him – but true to his nature, he fought and still fights like hell in what seems an eternal battle. Like climbing a mountain – it will take everything to make it to the top, but a simple fall will bring you back to its base.
CM Punk is the gust that seeks to topple Hardy. He, too, is hurt. A childhood of regret and shame from an alcoholic father would traumatize him so much that he swore off drugs, alcohol, and nicotine. As such, he has stayed liberated from toxic influence, and in doing so, he developed a disdain for the addicts and a sense of smug superiority. He was not afraid to dig and poke at you at this point in his career. He hated you. He hates you because he saw his father in you. He hated you because he was unable to see beyond himself and the youth that scarred him.
This came at a special point in both men’s careers. Jeff Hardy was incredibly popular, as notorious as John Cena. Fans were going nuts and the world was his oyster. If you are a Twitter user, you’ve likely seen the tweets that declare he was “bigger than Obama”.
CM Punk, meanwhile, would enjoy the fruits of being noticed as he rose through the ranks of Ring of Honor, as became a fixture on WWE’s ECW until moving to the main roster in the late 2000s, with his talent being so evident that he was handed opportunity after opportunity, creating some cool moments. The best part was that the best was yet to come. This was but a flash in his WWE career; one that would grow to the stuff of legend, so much so that he would one day match the importance of Jeff Hardy’s name.
All of this hatred and determination stemmed from the need for championship gold; the World Heavyweight Championship, to be precise. Following a sneaky, Money in the Bank-infused win at Extreme Rules, the Straight-Edge Superstar would taunt and fight Hardy at The Bash before ultimately losing it at Night of Champions.
With Punk using his drug-free smugness against the crowd, Hardy had ample reason to fuel and exhaust the burning gasoline inside. The pain Punk felt growing up, the child the father of the man. He was valid in his pain, the desire to be the monster that fights the monsters. But he was not correct in how he pursued this life, as Hardy protested.
Jeff wasn’t and still isn’t alone in his struggles. Under the impression that people like Punk will not surcease in their admonishment, Jeff is the encouragement to push through the dire and ever-circling wolves that salivate.
On this August night in Los Angeles, the two were besat with a familiar acquaintance: the combination of tables, ladders, and chairs. Punk entered, Killswitch Engage, his trademark wrist-taped T-shirt, and a smug smile on display. Hardy, decorated in his expressive face paint, carried many emotions not known to man, but known unto himself like a gospel, long memorized in lyric.
The Chicago native slithered his way through Hardy’s defenses immediately and reigned down the offense with whichever weaponry would accompany him. Under the red, yellow, and black of the nigh, the only colors that mattered to Jeff was pain and determination.
Returning the physicality in kind, Jeff swings a Hardy-ac Arrest to Punk, receiving, in turn, a failed Go To Sleep and a faceful of ladder.
Dropping Jeff on his back to a chair and slamming a ladder on him, Punk sought to break the man he saw as someone who himself will break again. A far cry from the man he would become later on, a man who would celebrate Jon Moxley’s trip to rehabilitation, a man who respected that this isn’t easy.
The lengths these men go to, the madness in their eyes; the addiction to professional wrestling thrived within them – where the stings of orchestrated combat numbed by the cheers of the audience and the moments seen to fruition. The spoils of the environment and their very bodies, tools of destruction, they, the carpenters.
Carrying a ladder akin to Christ with the Cross, the pompous savior of the future Straight-Edge Society reached within the grasp of the World Heavyweight Championship before plummeting to Hardy, countering a Go To Sleep with a bomb off the ladder. The toils of war slacked his very ascent to the championship that hovers in its Eden, casting him out as the ladder falls.
Superplex from the top turnbuckle would so shatter the spines of both men, but Hardy crawled with broken haste, flailing his arms to climb for a Swanton Bomb. No matter what man put which man through what, their broken bodies persisted like souls locked in metaphysical combat. Anything goes, leaving no need for flesh on flesh when all is fair in love and war.
Through hell and debris, Punk was aid out on an announce table. All the time in the world, but not enough recompense of vengeance. Eschewing his chance to climb the tallest ladder to reach of his belt as though it were the forbidden fruit, Hardy instead cascaded onto Punk’s body, doing more harm than good to himself, flailing himself back toward the ring, to a grimacing opponent who hobbled up the ladder – a sloth to the grand oak tree.
At the mountaintop, where the wind of fans blew and roared in their ears on the height, the pair battled. They’ve little to give but all. They trade offense with the meanness found in the least of creatures, creatures that can do anything.
CM Punk grabs the shimmering gold in jubilant elation as Jeff is cast out of heaven. Standing above the Adam, Chicago’s Morningstar held aloft his treasure as light flickers and gongs sound; when God made Man, the Devil was at his elbow.
Despite Hardy’s heroics, the evil of man prevailed, and at its own cost too, gained entry the dark force that is karmic justice.
Replacing the fallen Enigma is a Phenom. The Undertaker immediately sat up to a shocked Punk, choke slamming him to the mat, and leaving him bathed in purple haze demise. Suboptimal, for he already had a hell of a night and quite the duel.
In the end, Jeff Hardy’s quest for those who couldn’t fight for themselves ended with him following the same old thrill that has broken his body, and thus cost him the match. But never the war; he will fight and fight until his bones no longer agree.
Punk, youthful, and bathed in spite, carries that which he seeks and has earned, but at the cost of damnation, a ferry ride to Styx courtesy of Charon, The Undertaker.
The epic, slow crawl to the top, only for a quick descent made the symbolism of the fight against addiction feel all the more palpable.
A Summerslam main event befitting the talents involved, it’s easy to see why this is a match recommended by many a fan. It is why we can’t see these men in this same type of match in 2023. It is a memory stamped in time during a period where everyone involved felt larger than life during the initial stages of one of wrestling’s quietest periods.
This trial symbolizes the struggles we all face, be it addiction, mental health, or simply being lost, and what comes with the pursuit of where desire lies.