Triple H vs. Vladimir Kozlov

For long-time fans of WWE, Jeff Hardy’s journey through the ranks was one of the most inspirational in wrestling history.

After starting at the very bottom, debuting at age 16 as a last-minute replacement for an enhancement talent in 1994…

…the decided underdog Jeff toiled in obscurity before capturing the tag team titles with brother Matt in 1999…

…upsetting Triple H for the Intercontinental title in 2001…

…and nearly winning the WWE Undisputed Title in an even more monumental upset against the Undertaker in 2002.

Along the way, Jeff had setbacks in the form of drug abuse, suspensions, and a stint in TNA…

(Guess which one WWE wouldn’t acknowledge on TV)

…but in October 2008, Jeff Hardy came the closest he had ever been to winning the world title…

…losing by an eyelash to WWE champion Triple H.

The next month, he set out to finally make good on his lifelong dream by capturing the sport’s highest and most coveted prize, and wrestling fans in Boston and around the world would have the chance witness the long-awaited culmination of his career.

Instead, fans were subjected to the biggest Survivor Series disappointment since the Gobbledy Gooker.

The match was originally scheduled to pit Triple H against the charisma-bereft rookie Vladimir Kozlov…

…with Jeff Hardy locked out due to his recent lack of extremeness.

Once Jeff Hardy proved to Vickie Guerrero that he was just as Xtreme as he used to be…

…she added him to the match – which was a really good thing when you imagined not only how pumped fans would be to see Jeff Hardy win the title, but how godawful it would have been with just Hunter and Vladimir.

And if you couldn’t imagine how godawful that match would have been, you were in luck, as WWE would give it to you anyway…

…thanks to one of its most tasteless angles in years.

The morning of the pay-per-view, announced that Jeff Hardy (who had a well-known history of drug abuse) had been found unconscious in the stairwell of his hotel, the obvious implication being that he had OD’ed.

Mainstream media outlets reported the story as if it were real, giving the company free publicity. All publicity is good publicity, or at least WWE was hoping so, as on the surface there is no publicity worse than having CBS News announce the near-fatal overdose of yet another WWE talent.

Of course, we would later learn that the “real” story was that Hardy had been attacked by an unknown assailant…

…but all we knew at the time was that his status for that night’s Triple Threat match was up in the air.

A very solemn JR and Tazz opened Survivor Series by basically bragging about how much press coverage the Hardy angle got, without specifying whether WWE would deliberately renege on its promise of a Jeff Hardy match, or whether they would be gracious enough to throw the fans a bone (a bone they paid $39.95 or more for).

Hours later, following an interview where the Russian challenger spoke in what WWE Network dubbed, “a foreign language”…

…JR and Tazz confirmed that Jeff Hardy, despite being perfectly healthy in real life, would not compete as advertised.

That left the WWE Title Match as a one-on-one encounter between challenger Vladimir Kozlov, the undefeated newcomer well-versed in the martial art of sambo…

…and Triple H, whose only sambo experience was that racist feud he had with Booker T.

It would be a pretty tough sell, so to drum up some last-minute hype for the new match, WWE played a promo package…

…which of course centered around Jeff Hardy…

…who, as you may recall, would not be in the match.

If you will, imagine that, after AJ Styles took Jinder Mahal’s place in the match against Brock Lesnar this Sunday at Survivor Series…

…WWE made up some BS storyline excuse at the last minute as to why AJ wouldn’t be on the card and why Jinder would wrestle Brock after all.

Needless to say, the anticipation was not exactly killing the crowd. What would kill the crowd was the match itself, not to mention the bait-and-switch angle that preceded it.

Kozlov started the match with a waistlock, from which Triple H escaped to apply a headlock. Barely a minute into the match, and the fans were already chanting, “Boring”…

…that is, when they weren’t chanting, “We want Hardy”. The announcers lamented that Hardy’s absence was beyond anyone’s control – except of course for WWE Creative, the people who abruptly and deliberately pulled Jeff from the match for the sake of a storyline.

Fans may have had their hearts set on a wild three-way brawl with lots of drama, thrilling stunts, and a Jeff Hardy title victory, but they would just have to settle for the exact opposite of all of that.

To soften the blow, Ross reminded the home audience that Triple H didn’t like to take chances.

After three solid minutes of the most basic of holds, Kozlov finally broke free to deliver the first “big” move of the match – a shove into the corner and an attempted headbutt that Triple H dodged, sending the Moscow Mauler very gradually into the turnbuckle.

Helmsley immediately put Kozlov in a wrist lock.

This match was so basic, 95% of it could be re-enacted in WWF Attitude for the Playstation without once pausing to check the moves list.

After a few more minutes highlighted by shoulder thrusts and punches, all executed at what JR generously called a “deliberate pace”, Triple H hit the first actual big move of the night, a spinebuster, to stem the “boring” chants. The bad news was, we were already halfway through the match.

The good news was, we were already halfway through the match.

Trips then attempted a Pedigree, which Kozlov escaped and countered with a headbutt to the chest before taking an unconvincing back bump. This doesn’t sound like anything special, but it was actually one of the highlights of the match…

…meaning that the production truck replayed it not once but twice as the “Boring” chants resumed.

Again, Hunter attempted in vain to pop the crowd, this time with his patented corner flip to the outside, drawing some oohs and aahs.

But then it was back to more shoulder thrusts and headbutts.

The fans began chanting, “USA”, finally buying into the whole America vs. Russia angle. No, scratch that; they actually began chanting, “TNA”.

Kozlov hit a running powerslam for a two count, but when that garnered zero reaction, he really kicked it into high gear with a waistlock.

He kept that waistlock on for a good minute before executing a body slam, a backbreaker, and another waistlock. JR assured the fans that the boring, boring action they were witnessing was simply part of Kozlov’s strategy.

“That is Kozlov’s style. He isn’t a high-flyer. He’s not going to take any unnecessary risks.” It wasn’t flashy or exciting, but what did fans expect to see when they ordered this pay-per-view? Triple H vs. Kozlov vs. Jeff Hardy?

Oh, right.

Another pin attempt by Kozlov failed to end the match, drawing boos from the crowd, who either really wanted Kozlov to win the title or were afraid he’d now have to apply yet another waistlock.

Kozlov then applied yet another waistlock as Tazz gushed about what great strategy it was.

Triple H finally managed to get to his feet and perform a Pedigree, but he failed to capitalize on it, instead staying on the mat with Kozlov to take a breather.

Maybe he was thinking back to that match with Booker T and assumed that the Pedigree would keep Kozlov down for another two or three minutes, but Triple H’s hesitation opened the door for Smackdown GM Vickie Guerrero to intervene.

Vickie proudly announced that the match would be a Triple Threat match after all. And who would the third participant be? Balloons? A dinosaur? The Playmate of the Month?

A giant turkey?

How about Jeff Hardy, who the fans actually, you know, paid their money to see?

No, because that would be a waste of a perfectly good opportunity to avoid a false advertising suit.

So it was Edge. Or, more specifically, Bearded Edge, who, after being chokeslammed to hell by The Undertaker at Summerslam, had spent the intervening months felling timbers in the Pacific Northwest.

Some fans actually popped for Edge, because at least it meant the end of the 15-minute rest hold that WWE called a match currently unfolding in the ring.

Others resented Edge for coming in fresh against two men who had already expended nearly a dozen calories apiece.

But before Edge could pick up a cheap victory, in rushed Jeff Hardy, who looked barely the worse for wear, despite being deemed in no condition to perform by WWE’s medical staff.

Clearly, WWE and TNA are two very different places.

Jeff swung for the fences at Edge, only to hit Triple H with a chair by mistake.

Then he smashed Kozlov over the head, too. The only thing more jarring than the chair shots themselves was the fact that they were executed after June 2007.

Edge put an end to Jeff’s run-in with a spear…

…then pinned Triple H to win the title.

The story had a happy ending, though, as fans finally got to see Jeff win the big one a month later…

…provided they paid another $39.95 to order WWE Armageddon on pay-per-view.

Please watch your back this weekend, AJ.

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