Vengeance ... but at what cost?

Vengeance ... but at what cost?

MOBILE, Ala. -- A hushed silence swept down on the Mobile Civic Center as WWE officials, referees and personnel rushed to Jeff Hardy and WWE Champion Randy Orton's aid.

Our fans had grown accustomed to Hardy sacrificing himself and taking our fans' breath away with his death-defying style in the ring. But tonight, he used his body to try to fulfill a vow -- to take Orton out for his attack on his older brother Matt two weeks ago. As officials untangled cable wires and pulled the "Rainbow-haired Warrior" and the Legend Killer out of the wreckage, it looked like he accomplished his mission … but at what cost?

Hardy's loyal fans and even Orton's most vocal critics clasped their hands and craned their necks to get a glimpse of the two men. The sadistic WWE Champion didn't move as officials carried him away on a stretcher, but Hardy -- to the joy and relief of his fans -- flashed a small victory sign while he lay on the gurney. (WATCH)

At first, it appeared history would be made tonight on Raw. Orton had laid a challenge to Hardy to put his title on the line and give the third-generation Superstar an opportunity to become one of three men to simultaneously hold the Intercontinental Championship and the WWE Championship. Our fans had an opportunity to see Orton and Hardy tangle less than two weeks before Royal Rumble.

However, one immediate low blow by Orton suggested that he didn't really care about history, but about eliminating his latest threat. When Hardy saw Orton preparing to kick him in the head, it seemed to pour gasoline on the fire that has burned in his stomach for weeks. He saw Orton kicking Matt in the head all over again and lashed out at the WWE Champion. Orton may have realized that he set a trap for himself when Hardy threw him off the entrance to the arena floor, scaled the heights of the Mobile Civic Center and hurtled himself onto the WWE Champion.

Hardy has always had a "devil may care" approach to life. But he seems to have undergone a metamorphosis since watching Orton punt Matt in the skull. This was supposed to be a happy time for the Intercontinental Champion; he has the greatest opportunity of his career in his match for the WWE Championship against Orton. He has a chance to fulfill a childhood dream.

But Hardy's golden opportunity took a dark turn with Orton's attack. The self-proclaimed "one-man dynasty" made their rivalry personal. For the first time in his career, Hardy didn't just want to win, but wanted to hurt his opponent. He made no secret of it, either -- he told the world on Raw last week that he was going to take Orton out before their showdown at Royal Rumble. (WATCH

Orton was stunned when he saw Hardy execute his patented Whisper in the Wind backward twisting dive off the top of a 15-foot high steel cage onto Umaga last week for a thrilling victory. If there were any remaining skeptics, Hardy may have made all of them -- especially Orton -- believers tonight.

But again, what did he sacrifice to prove his point? Does he want revenge more than the WWE Championship now? Despite his injuries, Randy Orton still has the gold. But will he be in any condition to defend it at Royal Rumble? And will Jeff Hardy be healthy enough to take it away from him? Tonight, Hardy may have accomplished part one of his mission. At Royal Rumble, he will want to complete part two of the mission.

Photos: Jeff's Gigantic Swanton Bomb on Orton

 Check out Orton's new Oblivion T-shirt at WWE Shop!

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