by Phil Speer
D-Von Dudley is afraid of heights. But he had gone through a Tables, Ladders and Chairs (TLC) match before, six months ago, so he wasn't frightened this time. After all, if he had done it before, he could do it again.
Fear of heights aside, there was plenty for the six primary participants to be nervous about going into TLC II last week at WrestleMania X-Seven. The same three teams had competed last year at WrestleMania, and then again at SummerSlam -- in a battle that was named Match of the Year -- so expectations were high. Secondly, there was the matter of 67,925 fans looking on -- the largest crowd any of the superstars had ever performed in front of -- not to mention millions on Pay-Per-View.
"I thought I was going to have a heart attack before going out," said Jeff Hardy.
But in the end, it all worked out for the three teams -- the Dudley Boyz, the Hardy Boyz and Edge & Christian -- who put on a fantastic match, arguably the best of the night on perhaps the Federation's best night ever. Afterwards, the consensus among the banged-and-bruised participants was that the match lived up to the hype, if not exceeded it.
"We were worried if it was going to top SummerSlam or come damn close," D-Von said, "and it came damn close."
For the Hardy Boyz, the best part of TLC II was the interference by Lita, Rhyno and Spike Dudley.
"The run-ins were four to five extremely entertaining minutes which were different than the other matches," Matt Hardy said.
Initially, Edge said that while the match was going on, he was disappointed. However, once he saw it on tape he changed his mind: "I loved it," he said.
And it's a good thing. If it didn't live up to their expectations, all the injuries that they're forced to endure as a result of the match wouldn't be worth it. All six participants were having trouble getting around in the week after the match. On Sunday Night HEAT, Matt and Jeff Hardy were still limping as they accompanied Lita to the ring for her match against Spike Dudley.
Matt was probably the worst out of all six, as he needed 12 staples to close a gash on the left side of his head. His brother was sore all over, especially his neck, and was having problems with his left elbow as well. Christian said he wasn't sore on WrestleMania Sunday, even after the match, because his adrenaline was still flowing. But he was feeling it the next morning. Edge's lower back and ankle were especially tight. The Dudley Boyz were likewise quite sore; Bubba Ray also suffered a deep laceration to his left thumb that was cut on the metal underneath one of the tables.
And those are just short-term injuries.
"We're definitely going to feel it at 40 or 50 years old," Christian said.
Several Federation legends were in Houston during WrestleMania Weekend to illustrate Christian's point. Lord Alfred Hayes, 72, had his C4 vertebra completely removed -- losing six inches of height in the process -- due to his years in the ring. And the joke going around Houston all weekend was how long it was going to take the Iron Sheik to walk 70 yards to the ring for the Gimmick Battle Royal. However, the physical limitations that the Sheik must deal with today are no laughing matter. Neither Hayes nor the Sheik ever competed in anything resembling a TLC match, either.
"I don't think it's going to take a TLC match to feel what we're going to feel later in life," said D-Von Dudley. "It might speed it up a little bit."
At an average age of under 27, the six participants may not be as concerned about their long-term health as they are about WrestleMania, "the showcase of the immortals."
"When you have an opportunity to do something like that at WrestleMania," Christian said, "you take it."
"I'm pretty lucky I haven't suffered any major, major injuries," said Bubba Ray. "(Especially considering that) my heroes in professional wrestling are Cactus Jack and Terry Funk."
But even Jeff Hardy, the youngest of the group at age 23, realizes he must slow down one day. He figures he's got a couple more years to be a full-fledged daredevil.
How many more TLC matches will there be in the next few years? Will there be a TLC III? Will we one day see TLC X-Seven? Opinions vary. At least one of superstars involved in TLC II said flatly that there shouldn't even be a TLC III and that any other TLC match should involve different combinations of teams. All of the participants agree that if there is another TLC match, it shouldn't be for several months, or maybe a few years.
So what's next for the Hardy Boyz, Edge & Christian and the Dudley Boyz?
Matt Hardy says he'd like to see his team win the Tag Team Championship and keep the titles for a lengthy reign. The Hardy Boyz are four-time champions, but they've held the titles for a total of less than three months. Jeff Hardy says he'd like to be a part of different types of "gimmick" matches in the future.
Bubba Ray Dudley said he'd like to see a tag team get involved in upper-echelon storylines on a regular basis, like when the Hardy Boyz and Lita took on Stone Cold Steve Austin, Triple H and Stephanie McMahon-Helmsley on RAW IS WAR.
According to Edge & Christian, the possibilities for them are endless. They could evolve into fan favorites, but they're hesitant to do that because they love what they're doing right now. Christian says that now that the team has won the titles for a record-setting seven times (breaking their own record of six), they'll be even more arrogant. Edge believes that their alliance with Rhyno will lead to a number of new storyline possibilities.
But whether it's in six months, a year or longer, most of the superstars agree that, eventually, they will be involved in another TLC match. TLC matches should be reserved for special occasions -- WrestleMania, SummerSlam -- or else there's a risk of devaluing them, they say. They have to do something to top their last match each time, and that can be a risky and downright dangerous proposition. And with all the innovative, scintillating maneuvers they do each match, what else can they possibly do?
"Just by talking today," Edge says one day after the match, "we just thought of a whole new bag full of ideas."