It's been two years since Matt Hardy has been with a major wrestling company.
Despite gaining a lot of money, fans, exposure and notches on the resume, since Hardy began working the independent circuit he gained something that you cannot put a dollar amount on: freedom.
Beating up and down the roads working for various independents around the country is a far cry from flying to plush arenas with 10,000 seats.
But for the first time in a long time, Hardy feels as though he has full control over what he does in and out of the ring.
"I don't think I've ever been this happy in my life," Hardy said during a phone interview with Philly.com. "I control my schedule. I still get to do a to of great events and shows."
Not being under the WWE or TNA umbrella allows Hardy to work wherever he wants, whenever he wants. He can fulfill media requests whenever he wants. He can pick up side projects at his choosing.
At the end of the day, though, Hardy feels as though that he finally has the freedom to live life the way he wants to.
"The biggest thing to me is that it allows me to have a lifestyle," Hardy said. "Once you sign a contract with one of the big companies, they kind of control every aspect of you as far what you put out there via social media or what you say or your opinions. In many ways you have to become a company man. Now, I can be my own boss and to be a true independent contractor. I can say whatever I want. I can voice my opinion whenever I want to. I just feel like I have a life and kind of stepped out of the wrestling bubble."
"Ever since my brother [Jeff Hardy] and I were teenagers, we were wrestling and we started in WWE at a very young age. So we kind of grew up in that wrestling bubble and now stepping away from that it really gives you a fond appreciation of how great life really is," he added.
Among the things he has chosen to do is come to Philadelphia Dec. 28 to take part in Extreme Rising's "Unfinished Business" at the 2300 Arena, formerly known as the ECW Arena, at 2300 S. Swanson St.
Since he has the freedom to do and say whatever he wants, Hardy does not hold punches when it comes to his thoughts on what those major companies are currently presenting on television.
"I think WWE and TNA need to continue to do a sophisticated product," Hardy said. "I think we're in such a golden age of television right now. Television programming right now, especially drama series have gone through a renaissance."
"Breaking Bad, Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Mad Men, whatever shows it may be there is all this great television on out there," he added. "WWE and TNA both have to say is, 'We don't compete with wrestling. We compete with these great drama series and what we have to do when we're telling our stories is that we cannot insult our fans' intelligence. We have to tell sophisticated stories, have continuity and make sense.'"
According to Hardy, accomplishing this will help to get the masses engaged like they were during the late 1990s, when the wrestling industry was setting attendance, merchandise and pay-per-view records.
Having another major period of wrestling will not just help WWE and TNA, it will also help the wrestling business as a whole.
"I hope the wrestling industry continues to strive and thrive because I know there are a lot of young guys out there that are working so hard and busting their butts to make a living, make a name for themselves and carve a spot for them on one of the main rosters," Hardy said.
"I think wrestling has to evolve into a more serious programming that doesn't insult the viewer's intelligence and I cannot stress that enough," he added. "I think it's going to take that and a brand new star doing a brand new thing, whatever it may be, to catch on fire and actually make the wrestling white-hot again."
Hardy knows first hand what it was like when the wrestling business was on a roll. He and his brother began working for WWE 1994, when the company wasn't doing so great.
The duo signed official contracts with WWE in 1998, when the company was hitting on all cylinders. The tandem stayed with WWE through the next decade where they saw the end of the famed "Attitude Era" and the beginning of a content shift to a more family-oriented product.
Hardy may be critical of the product now, but recognizes the influence it has over wrestling fans, as it still helps him make a living in the business today.
"My brother and I were very fortunate to be injected into WWE television at a very high time," Hardy said. "We started during the 'Attitude Era' and wrestling was real hot. There were so many millions of people watching every single Monday. We were very blessed by being on that television in that era. Considering that it has carried so far and so strong, it's amazing. The power of WWE television is mind-boggling. [...] It's truly flattering."
But that was back in the days when Hardy was bound by a contract. When he had to worry about his spot on the card or even being fired. Those days are in the past.
Today, Hardy is his own boss and sees to it that he is the controller of his own destiny. He makes sure that a promotion fully commits to him before he gives that specific promotion his all.
Case in point is Extreme Rising. Hardy knew about the trouble the company was in during the spring and was admittedly skeptical about working for the promotion Saturday.
"I thought that was unfortunate what they went through earlier this year," Hardy said. "I think Extreme Rising has a place in the wrestling industry. There's a niche for extreme wrestling."
Two things changed his mind. Firstly, he made sure that he was given his pay for the show upfront.
"If you're willing to pay me one-on-one and you have a show, then I'll be there," Hardy said. "Once you send my money to me, I am locked in, I'm committed to you and I'll do whatever I have to do."
The other was the opportunity to work in the building that was once known as the ECW Arena.
"I never had the opportunity to wrestle there," Hardy said. "As far as buildings in wrestling, that's a legendary building. ECW made such a huge impact on the business. It's pretty cool. I'm excited to be there and it's going to be an emotional match that night and that's what performers like me live for."
The emotions will not be limited to stepping onto hallowed ground for the first time. His opponent Saturday will bring some different types of emotions out of him.
Hardy is scheduled to face an upstart wrestler by the name of Luke Hawx, who Hardy has had genuine friction with for quite some time.
"I understand I portray a character," Hardy said. "At the end of the day, I am Matt Hardy: person, entrepreneur, philanthropist, millionaire, whatever you want to call me. Luke Hawx is a young, cocky, brash guy who actually believes into his hype. Believes into everything he says."
"Until something happens to him and he comes to that realization like, 'Wow! I'm actually playing a wrestler. Not actually living the character I believe I am.' Until that happens, we'll never see eye-to-eye."
Hardy is no stranger to working with someone in the ring he doesn't necessarily care for outside of it. He worked with former WWE superstar Edge where real-life issues between the two behind the scenes came to the forefront of a story that played out in front of the world.
Hardy remained professional throughout his matches with Edge and plans on doing so again Saturday against Hawx.
"It's not easy at all," he said. "It's one of those things that puts added pressure on you because while you're worried about performing at your best, you're worried whether your opponent is going to take any liberties with you."
"It's a very stressful situation and there's a lot of pressure considering you're out there and not only be on your best as a performer, but you also have to watch your back as a human being," he added.
Personal issues with another wrestler have not prevented Hardy's from enjoying this new chapter of his life. He's recently married and enjoying the spoils of his success of years in the wrestling business.
But most of all, he enjoys being able to be Matt Hardy.