Back when he was climbing the ranks of the independent wrestling scene, Mr Anderson was a big Jeff Hardy fan. That’s what makes his match with “The Charismatic Enigma” at Sacrifice so special.
“I’m dealing with a guy who, in my opinion, is a living legend, and probably one of the youngest living legends that we have in our business,” Anderson says, “somebody that I completely looked up to as I was coming up through the ranks on the independent scene. Ultimately we’re all still fans of the wrestling business – we’re the biggest fans out there – and I’m a fan of Jeff Hardy.”
Anderson has worked with Hardy before. In January 2011, Anderson won his first TNA World Heavyweight Championship by defeating Jeff Hardy at Genesis. The following month, Hardy took back the title in a ladder match at Against All Odds.
Wrestling Jeff Hardy previously can be both a blessing and a curse, says Anderson, as there is now more pressure on the pair to deliver something new at Sacrifice in front of the same Impact Zone crowd who witnessed their world title feud.
“We don’t wanna just go out there and phone it in,” he says. “We could go out there and stick to some basic stuff that we have in the tank, and work very hard, and nobody would probably be the wiser. But the two of us – I feel that we’re very competitive and we’re always trying to perform at a high level, so [coming up with new twists] is very difficult.
“A lot of times we get a hand from just picking the brains of … our agents. Me and Jeff and D-Lo [Brown] will sit down; me, Jeff and Al [Snow] will sit down; me, Jeff and Pat Kenney – Simon Diamond – will sit down, and a lot of times you get some good ideas from those guys and some interesting twists. Also, this company… we’re all pulling for each other. It’s nothing for me to go, if we’re stuck on something, ‘Hey AJ [Styles], what do you think about this? What would you do here?’ And that’s usually how it goes.”
Anderson came out of his 2010 world title feud with Jeff Hardy worse for wear. Not only did he ultimately lose the title to Hardy, but a steel chair shot to the back of the head left Anderson with a legitimate concussion and side-lined him for several months.
“I understood it was an accident, this isn’t tiddlywinks, it’s wrestling, so you’re going to get hurt – the guys who complain about getting hurt in this business I think are in the wrong business – but the scary part was I took maybe a week and a half, two weeks off, and when I got back in the ring I couldn’t remember anything, and that was really scary for me. I realised the scope and extent of the concussion at that point.”
Anderson has donated his brain – “Hopefully it’ll go after I die, not before” – to the Sports Legacy Institute, founded by former WWE Superstar Christopher Nowinski.
“I have to do a regular, yearly check-up and take a test over the phone and they kind of measure where I’m at, if I’m any dumber than I was the year before,” he says. “I think that it is just absolutely important for athletes … if you feel like you got your bell rung, go get it checked out.”
Concussions aren’t the only injury Anderson has experienced. During his time with WWE as Mr Kennedy, he tore his lat (the broadest muscle of the back) while on an overseas tour.
“We went on an overseas tour – my very first overseas tour – and I was in a 10-man tag. I was standing on the apron and the guy was supposed to come over and just give me a little forearm and I was just supposed to drop off the apron and then come rushing back to the ring. Well, at the last minute this guy decided that instead of giving a forearm it would look much, much better if he dropkicked me off the apron. So I’m not expecting this dropkick, which actually turned out to be a leg press. The guy leg pressed me off the apron.
“As I’m flying through the air everything kind of slows down in your mind, and I knew in my mind’s eye that I was going to clear the mats on the outside of the ring and I kept thinking ‘I’m gonna hit the guardrail, I’m gonna hit the guardrail’. I reached out and landed on my side and I ended up tearing my lat right off the bone. I knew right away something was wrong. I remember looking across the ring at Bob Holly, who is a pretty hard guy and generally doesn’t show a lot of concern, with just the most concern I’ve ever seen on his face, looking at me directly like ‘Are you OK?'”
Injuries aside, Anderson remembers his time with WWE fondly, and rates winning the Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 23 as one of the best moments of his career.
“I got to wrestle in front of 81,000 people at Ford Field, the biggest wrestling show, WrestleMania, it is what it is,” he says. “Every wrestler that decides to make the transition from fan to actually lacing up a pair of boots has that dream of getting into that ring and winning their match, and just to be able to do that was fantastic.”
Anderson credits “Stone Cold” Steve Austin with inspiring him to become a wrestler – “I wouldn’t be taking to you right now if I hadn’t happened to watch Steve Austin one night on wrestling” – and was honoured to be part of Austin’s beer-bash celebration for Raw’s 15th anniversary.
“Having him throw me a beer and toasting me, that was something that wasn’t even on camera, one of those moments that’s just really cool and memorable.”
Aside from Austin, Anderson says The Undertaker had the biggest influence on his career. Undertaker hand-picked the man formerly known as Mr Kennedy to work a programme with in 2007 after seeing Anderson wrestle Batista on a pay-per-view.
“He liked what he saw and came up to me and said ‘I think you and I can do some business together’ and kind of hand-selected me. We were married to each other practically for nine months to a year.”
Undertaker also gave Anderson some valuable advice about his in-ring style.
“I’ve always tried to be rough in the ring,” Anderson says, “I don’t like for things to look pretty. I don’t like when things look choreographed. When you’re in a fight, and you get punched in the face you don’t take a flat back bump every time you get punched, sometimes you stagger and you fall on your ass, you fall onto the ropes, those are the kinds of things I’ve always tried to do, I’ve tried to sell a little bit differently. With some guys, that’s a problem … but Taker said ‘Look, no matter what those assholes say, just keep being yourself and keep doing what you’re doing’.”
Speaking of assholes, Anderson embraces the word. One of his proudest moments came when he was able to lead an Impact Zone crowd in a chant of ‘We are Assholes!’
“When I was working my butt off on the indies … I would watch the wrestling shows, and whenever somebody was not well received by the audience, the audience would chant ‘Asshole!’ repeatedly over and over again and I just remember thinking – at the time one of my catchphrases was ‘Nice guys finish last, thank god I’m an asshole’ – and I just remember thinking ‘God, wouldn’t it be cool if you could call yourself an asshole, and get the crowd to chant ‘Asshole!’, but have it be a positive thing?’,” he says.
“When I got to TNA and had a little more freedom creatively on the microphone … I went out there one night and I hit that line, and interestingly enough Vice Russo then wrote for me next week the line about ‘Jeff Hardy has his fans, we call them the creatures of the night, well I’ve got my own fans, I call them Anderson’s Assholes’ and right at that moment the entire crowd start chanting ‘We are Assholes’ and it was like kind of a vision. An idea that I had had in my head for seven or eight years was finally hit, and it stuck, and it worked, so I was very happy.”
Mr Anderson takes on Jeff Hardy in singles action at TNA Sacrifice. Sacrifice is available live on pay-per-view tomorrow, May 14, on SKY ARENA (channel 38) from 12pm, with a replay at 8.30pm.