Ladder matches are an integral part of professional wrestling history, appearing in almost every mainstream promotion on the planet.
The origins of the ladder match are a little blurry, with some sources stating that the stipulation began in Stampede Wrestling in the early 1970s. Others claim that various territories throughout the U.S. introduced ladder matches for the first time a little later on, and some claim it was first used as the blow-off match between Bret Hart and Bad News Allen in Stampede in 1983.
But over the years, the ladder match has shone under the banner of World Wrestling Entertainment. For all the things that WWE does wrong, one can’t argue that it’s them who’ve showcased the best ladder matches in history. Right from the famous Razor Ramon vs Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania X to Rey Mysterio vs Andrade on Raw this past week, ladder matches in WWE always deliver.
And like other stipulation matches, certain wrestlers have become inextricably linked with the ladder match, none more so than the legendary Jeff Hardy.
Jeff made a name for himself delivering high-risk maneuvers from balconies, scaffolding and stages, so it was only natural that the ladder would become part of his aerial repertoire. However, it was one particular match that highlighted him as one of the breakout stars of the Attitude Era and beyond. Alongside his brother Matt and the team of Edge & Christian, these two teams raised the bar for creativity and high-spots the wrestling world over.
October, 1999. No Mercy. The first-ever tag-team ladder match in history. It was the Hardy Boyz vs Edge & Christian, not for the Tag Team Titles, but for $100,000 and the managerial services of Teri Runnels (if anything here sounds strange, remember that Vince Russo was writing the storylines at the time).
Let’s take a little look at both tag teams to set the scene.
First: Edge & Christian. Edge debuted in June 1998 to a lot of hype, but his push was delayed due to causing a serious neck injury to Jose Estrada in his debut match. However, Edge recovered and began a feud with Gangrel not long after. Christian debuted in September 1998 and interjected in the Edge-Gangrel feud, aligning himself with Gangrel in the process. However, the two soon recruited Edge too, giving birth to the vampiric faction The Brood.
Edge & Christian had achieved moderate success in the tag team division but had never claimed the championship.
On the other side of the coin, the Hardy Boyz were experiencing a similar trajectory. Matt and Jeff had been in WWE for a number of years by this point, but only as enhancement talent. It wasn’t until early 1998 that their in-ring skills were noticed by WWE officials and they were signed to contracts. Pretty soon, they collided with The Brood, putting on some spectacular, high-flying matches with Edge & Christian. However, Gangrel soon turned on Edge & Christian and aligned himself with the Hardyz, forming The New Brood.
This led to their clash at No Mercy ’99, culminating in the first-ever Tag Team Ladder Match.
For its 17-minute duration, the match barely slows down at all. It opens with a brawl to the outside of the ring, with various ladders being smashed against faces. The carnage escalates around the 5-minute mark, with Christian, Jeff and Edge all taking small bumps off the ladder in quick succession. Christian then pins Jeff against the turnbuckle with the ladder, then runs up and hits the dropkick. It’s a spot which has been done countless times since, but this marked its debut.
More brutality quickly followed, with Jeff dropkicking Edge off the ladder from the turnbuckle and Swanton Bombing Christian while he lay on the ladder. By now, it was becoming clear that this match was something special. Attitude Era crowds were always lively, but every spot in this match was met with increasingly-thunderous pops.
Just after the 9-minute mark, Jeff hits his now-famous leapfrog leg-drop over the ladder onto Christian, resulting in a “leapfrog over the ladder for god’s sakes!” by JR on commentary. In the modern era, WWE commentators are known for their lack of emotion and character, but with JR it was easy to see when he was being genuine. In this match, you can tell that he’s loving every second of it. “I have never, absolutely not, never seen any offense like that.”
Edge returned to the ring with a second ladder, much to the surprise of commentary. Only when I watched this match back did I realize that this was the first time that more than one ladder had been introduced in a match.
Edge and Christian gained control, sandwiching Jeff between the ladder and repeatedly smashing the ladder against his torso. Edge hits Jeff with a Downward Spiral off the ladder, then Matt retaliates by hitting Edge with a neckbreaker off the ladder. Christian and Jeff battle on either side, followed by Christian hitting the biggest hip-toss in wrestling history.
The finishing sequence begins with another unique spot. One ladder is set up upon another ladder like a see-saw while Matt and Christian fight over it. Jeff then hits a splash on the other end of the ladder, sending the other end smashing into their faces. Both ladders were then set up in the ring with all four performers standing on each side. Everyone except Jeff fell off, to which Jeff seamlessly transitioned from one ladder to the other. He then climbed up and grabbed the bag of money above the ring.
By today’s standards, the match would be termed a spot-fest. However, such matches didn’t really exist back in 1999, and if they did, they were rare. This match pushed all four performers up the ranks of the WWE elite, cementing them all as major players.
This was just the first in a long series of similar matches. The Hardyz and Edge & Christian continued their rivalry, and soon the Dudley Boyz joined the fray, culminating in the now-famous series of TLC matches. Many of the spots were reused, but of course, we didn’t mind seeing them again. In fact, we’d see them a lot more over the next twenty years, because some of them became commonplace.
On a personal note, I remember watching this pay-per-view live (I’m old, you see). I live in the UK, so pay-per-views didn’t finish over here until 4am. But as soon as No Mercy ended, me and my brother rewound the tape recording (again, I’m old) and watched this match again. It was that monumental.
The next night on Raw, all four performers received a standing ovation from the crowd in Pennsylvania, and deservedly so.
As of January 2020, Jeff Hardy remains the WWE superstar to have competed in the most ladder matches in the company’s history.