By Mike Mooneyham

May 8, 2005

Valentine’s Day was supposed to have been a special time for Matt Hardy.

Recovering from knee surgery, he was enjoying being away from the wrestling industry. For the first time in his life, he says he was able to breathe.

“It was so nice. It was something I wasn’t used to.”

More importantly, he had been looking at engagement rings during his time off, and was considering the real possibility of proposing marriage to longtime sweetheart Amy “Lita” Dumas.

Hardy was even preparing to have his large back yard fenced in. He could envision a bunch of dogs and kids frolicking in that yard. He thought he and Amy would complete the perfect picture of a happy, normal couple who just happened to have not-so-normal jobs.

“When Amy would come home those first few months, we’d hang out and do things together. It was very cool.”

Matt Hardy

Matt Hardy

It was, indeed, a welcome change of pace from the grueling road schedule the couple maintained in the wrestling business. They had known one another for six years, and it had gotten serious the past four. The injury break had afforded Hardy the opportunity to literally stop and smell the roses.

“For those first couple of years, we casually dated and went out. But as time went on, and especially after we started living together, we sort of organically grew closer together and fell into love. It just felt natural.”

Hardy thought it was time to make their commitment an even longer-term arrangement, and planned on popping the question to the WWE diva on the most sentimental of holidays.

“I started looking at rings after the first of the year. I was thinking about seeing if maybe Amy wanted to get married. It was going to be great. It was something we had discussed before, and I thought the time had finally come.”

Hardy’s voice trails off as he wistfully ponders his next thought.

“Then all of this happened.”

What followed was something far different than anything Hardy could have even contemplated. In the ensuing weeks, not only would he be fired from his dream job with World Wrestling Entertainment, his dream relationship would go up in flames as well.

“This has definitely been the hardest period in my life,” the 30-year-old wrestler said last week, still smarting from a course of events that has left him wondering exactly what went wrong.

The nightmare began when Hardy discovered that the woman he loved was having an affair with one of his closest friends in the wrestling business. Amy and Adam “Edge” Copeland had been traveling together while Hardy was back home recovering. He didn’t have a problem with the travel arrangements, feeling that his friend was as good a candidate as any to watch over his girlfriend.

According to Hardy, he had no clue of the deception until Lisa Ortiz Copeland, Adam’s wife of just several months, discovered some strange text messages between the two on her husband’s phone and confronted Hardy with her suspicions.

Dumas had no choice but to admit the relationship after Hardy intercepted a series of telling messages from Copeland on a cell phone she had hidden from her live-in companion. Stunned and angry, Hardy asked her to leave his North Carolina home.

Once word of the wrestling love triangle surfaced on the Internet, Hardy says he felt he had to address the situation and comment publicly. He called Copeland and told him he was going to slap him across the face when he saw him.

“I talked to him a few days after that, but it came to a point where that was it. I had nothing else to say to him.” Despite the crushing blow to Hardy’s personal plans, he still had a job waiting for him with WWE. Or so he thought.

Nearly fully recovered from surgery last August to repair a torn ACL, Hardy was poised to return to the ring shortly before Wrestlemania 21. He looked forward to coming back with a renewed vigor, some new moves in his mat arsenal and his own creative ideas for a character change. He assured officials he could co-exist in the locker room with Dumas and Copeland. If WWE officials had any reservations, he was willing to be sent over to the Smackdown roster in the upcoming draft lottery.

WWE, however, had other plans for Hardy. Talent chief John Laurinaitis notified him that the company was looking at new talent and wouldn’t be renewing his contract. In one fell swoop, he says, his dream girl and dream job seemed to all vanish in thin air.

Hardy didn’t buy for a minute that the company was looking at new talent. He knew he was the odd man out and the most expendable of the three. While he was told his release wasn’t connected to the domestic situation, he firmly believes it was politically motivated. He adds that his relationship with Laurinaitis hadn’t been particularly smooth.

“We haven’t been the closest of friends … This obviously was the easy way out. But it was very bad business.”

WWE found out quickly that it was very bad business. Hardy’s poorly handled release prompted an outpouring of support for the Cameron, N.C., resident, including a petition with more than 20,000 signatures, along with growing anti-Edge and Lita sentiment at the arenas and even inside the locker room. The two were lustily booed at venues from New York to London, with WWE officials scratching their heads and wondering what to do about the situation.

Hardy contends the company should have been more concerned at the onset instead of going for the quick fix and releasing him. He says he is disappointed that WWE didn’t handle the situation in a more expeditious, forceful and fairer manner. With company officials fearing a potentially explosive situation backstage, Hardy was advised to stay away from the arenas.

“I’m not saying they condoned it (the relationship), but they didn’t say don’t do it. For me, who was sitting at home, to be asked not to come to the house shows and to be kept out of the loop, was driving me crazy. If they would have sat the three of us down and talked about it – this is what we want, this is what we don’t want and this is the situation – that would have been different. Instead they let things go on as they did and didn’t do anything about it. If you don’t address the situation, it just doesn’t go away.”

Hardy considered himself a model employee who had always gotten along with his colleagues and his employer.

“I’m a guy who’s pretty respected. I’ve always gotten along pretty well with people. I’ve never had any problem with WWE. I’ve always done whatever they’ve asked me to do. But they chose to shut me out. “I wish JR (Jim Ross) would have been involved in the situation. JR is the one who brought Jeff and me in originally, and I loved JR. I have nothing but good things to say about him. Vince (McMahon) also has been really been good to me all of these years.”

Time heals all wounds, but Hardy says the events of the past few months may take a while to get over. He says he can forgive Amy, who has apologized, but can’t find it in him to have much mercy for Copeland.

“I had considered Adam one of my closest friends – the kind of friend you could trust your life with. It seems like he very much had an agenda going into it. I think there were things he did to lead Amy on and to get inside her head. Adam was leaving messages telling Amy he loved her, that if she stayed with me, he wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. He was trying to put a guilt trip on her.”

Hardy says he still has a hard time believing that Copeland, whose wedding he and Amy attended last October in Tampa, could betray a friend. Matt and brother Jeff were involved in one of WWE’s most memorable tag-team programs with Edge and Christian (Jay Reso) during the height of the company’s “Attitude” era. That series included a 2000 triangle ladder match also involving The Dudleys that was hailed as one of the greatest matches in Wrestlemania history, along with another ladder match at the 1999 No Mercy pay-per-view and several innovative TLC bouts that put both teams on the map.

“It’s just a tough situation,” laments Hardy. “Not only on a personal level but a professional level. Amy and I were a professional couple on TV. Christian has known Adam all his life, and he told him what he did was just wrong. It sickened him. Your true friends will tell you what they believe is true.”

Hardy believes his ex-girlfriend simply got in over her head and didn’t know how to get out of it.

“Amy’s been very apologetic and remorseful. She knows she did wrong and she’s been trying to correct things in some ways. Adam has not shown any remorse or offered any apologies.”

Hardy says Copeland even accused him of slashing his tires at a recent house show.

“Without even being asked about it, I was specifically blamed,” says Hardy. “There have been other things as well.” Hardy believed he was immune to the sobering pro wrestling reality that most couples do not survive the rigors and temptations of the business.

“I definitely thought I was immune from it, but it came from someone who was supposed to be one of my closest friends in wrestling. Adam and I had built our careers off one another in the formative stages. Everybody there were tight friends. A good person just doesn’t do stuff like that. That’s just the bottom line.

“I would have loved for Adam to have been honest and come up to me and admit he made a terrible mistake, that he did things he shouldn’t have done, and that he was going to stop and let me try to get my relationship together. But that just wasn’t the case.”

Hardy says Copeland’s estranged wife is ready to move on her with her life as well.

“I think Lisa’s depleted after expending all her energy and emotion on this. Right now I think she’s saddling up for a real nasty divorce. She just wants to get through that and move on with her life because she has been so mentally tortured.”

As for Amy and Adam, Hardy says that relationship appears to be short-lived.

“They’re not boyfriend and girlfriend by any stretch of the imagination. Amy is just trying to find within herself what she needs to be. I think Adam has issues. I don’t think he knows what love is.”

Hardy and Dumas still speak occasionally. Things are different now, but he admits there are still feelings.

“Love isn’t a switch you can turn on and off,” he says. “You just can’t get rid of it, regardless of the circumstances, if you truly love someone. It’s just a real awkward situation.”

Hardy also won’t rule out an eventual reconciliation. Borrowing an old wrestling line, he says, “Never say never.”

Despite making some bad decisions early on, says Hardy, he’s making more logical ones now, trying to use his head more than his heart. He’s lost two of the most important things in his life, but he’s far from giving up.

“I have to pick up the pieces and move on. I have to get back to being Matt Hardy.”

Hardy, whose non-compete clause with WWE expires July 10, says he has been overwhelmed by offers to work dates for other promotions.

“I guess the most natural thing to do would be to do some stuff with TNA. (Brother) Jeff’s down there. I think Ring of Honor has a cool little niche in the business, and I might do some stuff with them. It’s not like I’m not going to be busy.”

Hardy says he’d also be interested in working in a creative capacity with TNA. “I’d like to be the guy to help contribute day-to-day ideas and to work with the younger guys. There are a ton of things that I’ve learned over the years. It’s not just about Matt Hardy. I’m one of those people who want to give back and see other people do better. I’d like my legacy to be remembered as a guy who was more about giving back to the business than being selfish about the business.”

Hardy says he has received thousands of e-mails from fans who have been in similar positions and are empathetic to his plight.

“It’s amazing how many people have rallied behind me. I know everyone likes to discredit the Internet wrestling fans, but it was refreshing to have so many fans rally around me, regardless of it being right or wrong. It was an emotional situation, and their support was very flattering. It wasn’t about Matt Hardy the performer. They sympathized with Matt Hardy the person. To me, that’s on a different level. It’s beyond fan support – it really shows their support for the human being.”

Mike Mooneyham can be reached by phone at (843) 937-5517 or by e-mail at [email protected]. He is the co-author of the New York Times best-seller “Sex, Lies and Headlocks: The Real Story of Vince McMahon and World Wrestling Entertainment.” For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at 937-6000, ext. 3090.