by Jon Lane
TLC II - three letters and a Roman Numeral which will forever change the lives of nine individuals. At WrestleMania X-Seven, the Hardy Boyz (with Lita) Edge & Christian (with Rhyno), and World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Champions the Dudley Boyz (with Spike Dudley) will compete in a second Tables, Ladders and Chairs match at WrestleMania X-Seven this Sunday in Houston.
Just when you thought that Matt and Jeff Hardy, Edge, Christian, and D-Von and Buh Buh Ray Dudley put their bodies through enough hell, and just when you thought SummerSlam's epic Tables, Ladders and Chairs Match would pacify fans' bloodthirsty lust for death-defying leaps off ladders and the use of tables and chairs for anything other than dining, it's time for them to do it again. The immediate questions are if the teams can surpass the first TLC Match, and exactly how much more punishment the human body can endure.
Jeff Hardy recently sat with the man who does his income taxes every year, and the subject of 1040s and W-2s took a sharp twist toward a more sobering reality. Jeff's taxman has been disabled since the age of 50, the result of wear and tear on his body. Knowing full well Jeff's job description and the hellish stunts and bumps he puts his body through five nights a week with no offseason, the taxman shared the problems he encountered in his old age.
At 23 years old, Jeff thinks about his future a lot. "It's hard to say now, being in the position we're in now - we are young and crazy and we jump around all over the place feeling invincible at times - what that's going to be like in the next four or five years," Jeff said. "I worry about it, but I'll try to continue at the same pace for the next year or so. Eventually I'll have to slow it down and bring back mat wrestling."
Mat wrestling and scientific, grounded competition will have to wait. Based on the nearly flawless original (won by Edge & Christian), the sequel can easily sell countless Pay-Per-Views, let alone a packed WrestleMania lineup headlined by The Rock's defense of the Federation Championship against Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The thought going in by each team is a game of "Can You Top This?"
"Deep down, we kept thinking, how are we gonna top what we did at SummerSlam?"
inquired Jeff, especially when he thinks about the finish of the first TLC match, when he and D-Von Dudley dangled 20 feet above the ring. "What are we gonna do to top that? I hate to do another TLC and it not be as good as the last one as far as ending on a good note, but I think we could do it. We've been trying to talk as far as keeping it fresh, and some new, innovative stuff.
"It's going be a challenge to actually top SummerSlam, but we're going do our best. The ultimate goal for me is to be original, to be creative and think, 'This has got to top SummerSlam.'"
Especially because it might be the last time you see all three teams in the same ring for a while. In short, TLC II represents the next - and perhaps final - stage in a feud that began with the Hardys and Edge & Christian in 1999. "This may be it," Matt admitted. "I don't know if all three teams will actually meet after this. We're definitely going to make this one count. If this is the final time, we want to go out on a good note."
Each team -- men who on camera have agreed to disagree for more than a year -- are united in their approach:
"You always want to surpass what you've done before, but this one is going to be tough," Edge said. "At SummerSlam, we hit everything and it was non-stop. It's going to be tough to surpass that, and we're going to put a lot of pressure on ourselves to surpass that, but with 65,000 people there, we're going to do our damnest to do it."
"The year boils down to one show and that's WrestleMania," Christian said. "You always want to accomplish bigger and better things as time goes on. Hopefully we'll get to do something, if not on par, hopefully better than what you've done in the past."
"It's a big order to ask us to top that. You don't go into a match saying 'We've gotta do this...'" said Spike Dudley, unable to resist disagreeing ever so slightly. Spike wasn't involved in the first TLC match, but will accompany the Dudleys on Sunday."You try to put forth the best match you can. Hopefully it'll be a great match, which I'm sure it will be."
"We're young. We're proud," sums up Matt. "It's not going to allow us to go in and have a par match. We're going to do everything we can to try to top it."
To top the match fans voted the Match of the Year for 2000 - "The final eight-nine minutes (of TLC) is one of the greatest finishes in the history of the wrestling business, especially in a gimmick match," Matt said - will take every ounce of ingredients both old and new. Jeff spent a good part of last week while home in Cameron, N.C., watching the first TLC match. His goal is to try and either recycle old ideas or create new ones, a challenge almost as daunting as competing in the actual match, but one made a little easier given the history between the teams.
Since the Hardys - Edge & Christian Ladder Match at No Mercy in October 1999 -- preceded by the Dudleys' Federation debut the month before -- the tag team division in the Federation has been dominated by the Hardys, Dudleys and Edge & Christian. In February 2000, the Dudleys won their first Federation Tag Team Championship, and the titles have been held by either the Dudleys, Hardys or Edge & Christian (including their stunt as Los Conquistadors) for 11 out of the 13 months since the Dudleys' win over the New Age Outlaws at No Way Out 2000.
"Ever since we started kicking it with Michael Hayes and Edge & Christian - that whole Terri invitational - it gave birth to the tag team scene again here in the World Wrestling Federation," Jeff said.
Entering the new millennium, the Hardys' attention was turned to the Dudleys. The
teams' rivalry took off with their furious match at Royal Rumble 2000, escalated when Buh Buh Ray powerbombed then Hardys manager Terri though a table the day after the Rumble, and reached new heights after the Tables and Ladders match at last year's WrestleMania. The evolution of the feud has seen the Hardys and Dudleys go from heels to babyfaces, and Edge & Christian metamorphose from silent, gothic warriors to two goofy, egotistical, obnoxious characters who found their niche with comedy routines that echoed memories of Bill and Ted, not to mention Edge & Christian's talent inside the ring.
"Just when the feud with the teams starts to go stagnant," Edge said, "you throw something else in there to rejuvenate it, because it works. It adds an exciting element."
Enter Lita, Spike and Rhyno -- the new twist in the story and potential X-factors in the final outcome. Lita played a role in the first TLC encounter, but this time, the Dudleys and Edge & Christian are armed with backup of their own. Spike's road to the Federation began in Extreme Championship Wrestling when he and Buh Buh Ray feuded with their "half brother," D-Von, until Buh Buh decided to dump Spike and team with D-Von. The
Dudleys went on to capture eight ECW Tag Team Championships and destroy half of ECW in the process -- "Little Spike" in particular. "Because these guys had been kicking the crap out of me for so long, I think they know what I'm doing and what I've been taking out there," Spike said. "The combination of all three of us will bring out something cool for the fans.
"I'm trying not to freak out over WrestleMania," Spike continued, catching his breath. In his first week in the Federation, Spike helped the Dudleys win their third Federation Tag Team Championship, was gored through a table by Rhyno, made his debut at Madison Square Garden and learned he'd be a part of WrestleMania. "I just want to go out and give them a good show. You've thrown in a new element in Rhyno, Lita, and myself and hopefully we could come up with something creatively that will top (the first TLC Match). Hopefully the fans will accept it and take it for what it's worth."
Technically still the ECW World Heavyweight and Television Champion, Rhyno possesses the most potential to turn the course of a match with deadly impact. Three days after his Federation debut (the same night Spike made his), Rhyno headed home to watch both the TLC and WrestleMania Tables and Ladders matches. "It's like doing my homework," he said. "Maybe I might see a spot in there that we could throw that they forgot about."
A longtime companion of the Hardys - and Matt's girlfriend in the current Federation storyline - Lita has never thought twice about looking out for the Hardys, no matter how big the adversary or dangerous the situation. She's been slammed through tables and most recently gored by Rhyno, but she keeps returning for more, and she made her presence felt in the first TLC Match.
"They should play a good part," said, Jeff summing up the involvement of Lita as well as Spike and Rhyno, "and maybe give us that final ingredient we need to top the last (match)."
"The psychology going in is tough," added Edge. "It's some of the things that people don't sometimes realize. They come to have fun - which is awesome - but the thing that goes into making everything fun is sometimes the hard part."
Expectations for TLC II are high, yet the men say the thought of performing before 65,000 people won't factor into the teams' creative process or execution. "Regardless if it was 60,000 or 6,000 or even 600 (people), it's WrestleMania, and WrestleMania is the end of our season," Matt said. "It's the World Series and it's time to let everything hang out." Exactly what the future holds for each team is still unclear. For the Dudleys, it could be a long title reign if they win, or six months of beatings for Spike if they lose. Matt's on-camera relationship with Lita is could be expanded to touch on the emotional side of the Hardy Boyz. Fans don't know the Hardys as characters, they know them as performers who jump around -- doing flips and going crazy -- and that leaves more room for development when they do get to speak. "People have been waiting for that. We've been waiting for that," Jeff said. "We might need a change of pace and to be heard."
Edge feels the next logical progression is for he and Christian is to go babyface, to run the full gauntlet. "I think the people would accept our characters the way it is," he said. "We'd just tweak it a little bit. Half the people already cheer for us. I think close to 100 percent will eventually, so we'll see where we go from there. Our job by WrestleMania is to establish the Edge-Christian-Rhyno faction and the Dudley faction, while keeping the Hardys strong with Lita.
" A week-and-a-half of WrestleMania hype on Federation television saw Rhyno and Spike debut, Edge & Christian defeat the Hardys to become a Federation-record six time Tag Team Champions only to lose the belts to the Dudleys to become the shortest reigning Tag Team champions ever, Spike and Lita put out of commission by Rhyno, and D-Von and Buh Buh Ray promise to take TLC II to new levels.
On Sunday, everything will come to a head at WrestleMania, with Tables, Ladders and Chairs playing judge and jury on who walks away as Tag Team Champions, and who ends up winning a war filled with countless memorable battles. Working five nights a week for three years has taken enough of a toll on the Hardys. But because it's WrestleMania, they will take the calculated risks. They will take chances. "This is the time to do it," Matt, 26, said. "The pride of the three teams will not allow us to go easy on ourselves."