Jeff Hardy knows what it's like to hit rock bottom.
The Charismatic Enigma's 17-year professional wrestling career had seen its share of ups and downs. At his peak, Hardy earned a reputation as one of the most awe-inspiring and beloved fan favorites of the industry's modern era.
At his low, Hardy found himself engaged in a battle with personal demons — as well as the legal system — playing out in front of a national audience. He would eventually be sent home from work, deemed to be in no physical condition to continue performing.
In recent months, Hardy's story has become one of redemption. Wrestling in the TNA promotion, he has had to scratch and claw in an attempt to restore the success and reputation he once enjoyed.
His journey has taken him across the country, giving him an opportunity to showcase his new attitude and outlook on life. Those in the Baltimore area have a chance to see it for themselves Friday night, when Hardy and the rest of the TNA roster perform at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen as part of a special BaseBrawl event.
"When I did return, wow, talk about being nervous," Hardy said. "I pretty much admitted I hit rock bottom, and I said that in front of the world. I think that was good for me. After that was over, I said to myself, OK, now I can start; I have my second chance, and I can roll with this.'"
Hardy's experiences illustrate that sometimes the stories unfolding behind the curtain are equally as compelling as those in the ring.
While he began his career and training on the independent circuit, Hardy's true road to success began in the late 1990s, when he and his brother Matt signed contracts with WWE. They climbed the ranks of the world's primary professional wrestling company, transitioning from enhancement talent to legitimate main-event stars, both as a team and singles competitors.
Jeff became the breakout star of the duo, finding more solo success than Matt, and he had a remarkable connection with the crowd. His merchandise quickly became a top seller for the company.
But along the way, he also accumulated two strikes against the company's drug-testing policy. A third would have cost him his job.
In the summer of 2009, Hardy left WWE. Despite being off national television, Hardy couldn't stay out of the public spotlight.
The following month, he was arrested and charged with possessing and trafficking prescription pills, anabolic steroids, a residual amount of cocaine and drug paraphernalia.
He returned to wrestling a few months later, this time for WWE's primary competition, TNA Wrestling. He maintained a role with TNA, being treated as a main-event star while fighting his legal battle in court.
In March 2011, Hardy was scheduled to face wrestling legend Sting in the main event of TNA's "Victory Road" pay-per-view. But the day of the show, company officials deemed Hardy unfit to compete and limited his main-event match to 90 seconds.
He disappeared from TNA for several months, leading many to speculate about his future with the company. Those questions were answered in August, when Hardy returned to the airwaves with an apology to the fans at home and his peers backstage. He vowed that he'd turned over a new leaf and asked for one more chance.
The fans welcomed Hardy back with a rousing burst of cheers, seemingly willing to grant their hero's request. But Hardy was never really as worried about the fans as he was the boys in the back.
Fortunately, they were accepting, as well.
"That night there were probably a lot of concerned people as far as my return, but I think I've proved myself and made believers out of everybody," Hardy said.
He was right. In the months that followed Victory Road, there were questions about whether Hardy would take the easy road and allow his problems to overcome him or tackle the challenge head-on.
But it was clear everyone in the TNA offices was pulling for Hardy.
"Everyone knew in their heart of hearts that Jeff wanted a second chance," said Jules Wortman, TNA's vice president of public relations. "Everyone was rooting for him, because he's such a nice guy."
Hardy settled his legal issues in September 2011, when a judge sentenced him to 10 days in jail, 30 months probation and a $100,000 fine. He served his sentence that October.
A week after his release, Hardy returned to in-ring competition on TNA's flagship program "Impact Wrestling." Since then, he's taken it one step at a time, both in the ring and in his personal life.
"It's just been a steady incline," he said. "I'm going to continue to incline until I'm not wrestling. I'm a father now, too, so that's a huge difference in my life. I'm kind of growing up again, so I've pretty much gotten back to basics and started over since I've returned and everything is good."
Now, Hardy'sa part of the Bound for Glory Series, a competition featuring 12 of TNA's top performers vying for the opportunity to headline the company's biggest annual pay-per-view and wrestle for the TNA World Heavyweight Championship in October.
In the series' points-based scoring system, Hardy joins James Storm and Samoa Joe atop the rankings. He'll have a chance to earn more points, when he goes one-on-one with Mr. Anderson at the BaseBrawl event Friday night.
"I just want to go out there and have the best matches I possibly can," Hardy said. "Twelve is my favorite number, and 2012 has been a good year, so far, so I hope to continue the roll and go out with a bang."
No matter the results of the tournament, Hardy has already laid claim to a much more important prize — the admiration of his peers and the faith of company leaders.
"For someone to take what he brought on himself and overcome it and to have the his determination to be a role model to his fans, especially the young ones, blows my mind," Wortman said. "You can look at Jeff Hardy and see a new person."
Who: The superstars and knockouts of TNA Wrestling
What: Live wrestling show and meet-and-greet
Where: Ripken Stadium, Aberdeen
When: Friday, 7:30 p.m.
Tickets begin at $20 and can be purchased at ironbirdsbaseball.com or by calling 410-297-9292.
TNA stars scheduled to appear include "The Icon" Sting, World Heavyweight Champion Bobby Roode, Kurt Angle, "Charismatic Enigma" Jeff Hardy, A.J. Styles, Rob Van Dam, Mr. Anderson and Velvet Sky.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun