Whether holding his own backyard bouts as a teen in his native North Carolina or hoisting the belt as World Wrestling Entertainment's Intercontinental champion, wrestler Jeff Hardy has long believed stepping into the ring is about one thing -- entertainment.
"It's always No. 1," he said in a recent telephone interview promoting his WWE Raw bout Saturday against Intercontinental Championship challenger Umaga at James Brown Arena. "For me, it has never been about winning or losing. It's always been about putting on a great show. It's the main thing we all need to do when we put on our gear."
Known for his daredevil style and theatrical presentation, Mr. Hardy first gained attention as part of the Hardy Boyz, later the Hardys, a now-infrequent tag team with his brother, Matt. He said that although the brothers are now part of different branches of WWE -- Jeff is part of Raw and Matt is a Smackdown star -- they remain close and relish the occasions when they are able to resurrect the Hardy team.
"There's a closeness that I think is enviable," Mr. Hardy said. "I think even more now."
Part of the WWE since 1993, broken only by an absence from 2003 to 2006 accompanied by rumors of a drug problem, Mr. Hardy said he's unsure how long he can continue as a professional wrestler and has begun exploring other avenues, most notably music. Still, he said he's not ready to step out of the ring and wouldn't care to guess when that day might come.
"Sure, I have other passions," he said. "I love music. But right now this is what I do and what I love. I mean, I'm pretty sure if I'm 40 and I feel good, I'll still be doing this then."
The secret to success, both during and after his life in wrestling, is to remember that fans pay his bills. He said he takes care to communicate with his fans, to reach out to them.
"I go out of my way," he said. "If I have time, I'll talk to each and every one of them. I treat them all like human beings. That's what we all are."
It's those human beings, Mr. Hardy said, that ensure that he keeps entertaining every time he steps into the ring. He said success for him is never about titles or the balance in the bank. It's about the energy an arena full of fans offers him.
"It's all I need," he said. "That sense of energy, that vibe they put off, well, it's just amazing."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get a grip
WHAT: WWE Raw
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: James Brown Arena, 605 Seventh St.
COST: $21-$51; (706) 724-2400