For 16 years in WWE, Jeff Hardy has been known as a death-defying high flyer renowned for keeping an audience on the edge of their seats, and feeding off their energy.

For a man synonymous with some of the biggest ‘pops’ in history the current restrictions around fans in arenas due to the Covid-19 pandemic these are peculiar times.

“It is very different,” he explains. “There is no natural adrenaline rush because the people provide you with that. It has been my thing through my whole career having a great connection with the WWE Universe. They provide me with the energy and adrenaline to do some nutty stuff and without that it is different, but that’s the way it is with what’s going on in the world.

“I was supposed to return from my knee surgery in Detroit in front of 20,000 people, but that ended up being the first show we did in the Performance Centre in front of no crowd. It was the first time for me working with King Corbin and it was very bizarre – almost dream-like.”

While on the subject of the crowd, Hardy talked Sport360 through the biggest pops has had experienced during his time in the ring.

“My first real experience of that was the tag-team ladder match with Edge and Christian. We had a seesaw spot with the two ladders and I just remember being so excited to pull that off. I remember jumping off the top rope and my butt hit that ladder and it seesawed and hit my brother and Christian if felt like it wouldn’t get any better than that. All those people just reacted to this one idea I had in my mind and was able to pull it off.

“Naturally, the 33-foot Swantom I did to Randy Orton was a big one, with the slow climb, it is one of the immortal moments that will always be cool.

“The other is when Edge speared me off the thing that was holding the tag titles. It makes you feel somewhat super-human when you pull of something like that, and then hear 80,000 people just love it – it’s the best and I live for those moments.”

As we head into Payback tonight, Hardy is the current Intercontinental Champion after defeating AJ Styles on Smackdown a couple of weeks ago.

It is a title held in high esteem and one steeped in rich history. Those who have gone before him read like a who’s who of wrestling folklore – a group of people Hardy could lay claim to being among having now secured five separate reigns.

“I see myself as one of the most unique Intercontinental champions of all time. The Macho Man Randy Savage was one of the reasons my brother and I started watching wrestling. There are so many great champions who have held this title, and for me to have it again gives me great confidence that before all is said on done for my career I might still be WWE Champion, or better still Universal Champion, something I have never held before.

“It’s nice to be in the present moment and still be winning. I knew I’d had it a few times over the years but to be a five-time Intercontinental Champion is a blessing. I am about to turn 43-years-old and to still be doing this I am blessed each and every day.”

Hardy’s battles outside the ring have been well documented, and while for many quarantine has been a tough period in their lives it has allowed reflection and creativity to blossom for the Cameron, North Carolina native.

“It has been amazingly creative for me. Me and my Carolina guitar players have these six songs we are looking to get out – four of them I wrote during quarantine and I am so proud of them and can’t wait to get them out there for the world to hear.

“I have been journaling since my first day in rehab, it is something I do every day. I do it first thing in the morning and talk about how I am feeling, and when I go to bed I explain how the day was.  That’s been a really good form of expression. I am so blessed to have this creative artsy stuff in my head because I don’t know what I would do without it.”

Payback airs exclusively on the WWE Network in the early hours of Monday morning (UAE time).

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