WWE has done it again. They’ve managed to take something which was once special, entertaining, unique, creative and full of potential… and completely destroy it. The company’s latest in a long line of failings comes in the shape of Woken Matt Hardy, the sole reason for rival company TNA staying in business as long as it has and one of the most promising personas that professional wrestling has ever seen. Woken Matt Hardy has been dying a slow and painful death in WWE, but has the damage well and truly been done? Or can the Human Vessel once known as Matthew Hardy be saved?
First, a little backstory…
WWE fans first saw Matt appear as part of The Hardy Boys alongside brother Jeff way back in the 90’s when WWE was riding high during The Attitude Era. The duo quickly made a name for themselves as the risk taking, high flying, extreme daredevils who helped to shape the tag team scene alongside Edge & Christian and The Dudley Boys. The three teams put tag team wrestling on the map and took it to a whole new level, one which we will likely never see again. The latter stages of their WWE careers took very different paths as Jeff went on to have multiple memorable feuds and capture a tonne of singles championships, whereas Matt… sort of faded away into mid card obscurity. Upon leaving WWE the brothers continued to find success elsewhere, but Jeff always remained as the bigger draw of the two. Matt’s problem was always that he was too safe, too ‘by the books’… too boring. He never really had an interesting character to invest in, despite a couple of ultimately uninspiring gimmicks along the way (Matt v1 anybody?) and struggled to capture the imaginations of his once loyal fans. As the years passed by, Matt continued to plod along picking up championships along the way, but never managed to live up to the popularity he built within WWE. But that was all about to change… Matt was about to reach his ‘breaking’ point…
Debuting his new character back in May of 2016, Matt portrayed a new version of himself complete with partly bleached hair, unusual period clothing and a sophisticated, eccentric accent where he would often overly emphasize certain words and display exaggerated mannerisms. He blamed his brother Jeff for ‘breaking’ him and became obsessed with trying to ‘delete’ his brother, who he was now referring to as Brother Nero. Matt would regularly ramble intelligible mysticism and philosophical musings, and would often describe how The Seven Deities had informed him that over many thousands of years, his soul had been passed from human vessel to human vessel. The rivalry culminated with The Final Deletion match, where Matt defeated Jeff to become the sole occupier of the Hardy name and brand and forced his brother to take on the Nero mantle full time. This was no ordinary match though and played out as more of a short film than anything. It featured a drone which projected Matt’s face mid air and Jeff chasing the drone down on a dirt bike, tree diving, fireworks, fire, both men running at each other with roman candles… you know what? Just watch the clip, it’s one of those things that really does have to be seen to be believed.
Jeff would eventually succumb to Matt’s will and join him as part of the Broken Universe, eventually capturing the TNA Tag Team Championships. The duo would then spend the remainder of 2016 and early 2017 on their Expedition of Gold, where they sought to capture as many tag team titles from around the world as possible. During this time they would go on to taunt wrestlers from other promotions including the likes of “The Man With Three H’s” (HHH), “The Kid Who Breaks Hearts” (Shawn Michaels), “The Day of New” (The New Day) and “The Family of Wyatts” (Wyatt Family). This even prompted a response from Bray Wyatt via Twitter, leading to many fans hoping for a return to WWE and an eventual showdown with The Eater of Worlds. The expedition culminated in the brother’s triumphant return at WrestleMania 33 where they were entered at the very last moment into the now fatal 4 way ladder match for the RAW Tag Team Championships. Matt and Jeff would go on to win the match in what is hands down one of the great Mania moments of all time. I sat in my living room that night marking out like never before and on the verge of tears. The Hardy Boys, my favourite superstars to ever set foot in the ring, were finally back where they belonged. They were home.
That all sounds quite mental, right? Quite the rollercoaster? Well it was, but it was also incredibly entertaining. TNA knew exactly how to use the character and the key to this was allowing Matt to have full creative control, something that WWE were never going to agree to. We all know that Vince McMahon is an egotistical maniac who can’t stand it when something amazing comes along which he didn’t create, but the way Woken Matt has been booked in WWE has been nothing short of sabotage. The main problem WWE faced was securing the broken gimmick from TNA, which has only just recently been settled after a lengthy court battle, but in the meantime, WWE chose to do something very silly. They chose to jump the shark when Jeff suffered a long-term injury and forced Matt into becoming a watered-down version of what made the persona so captivating… and thus Woken Matt Hardy was born.
Now we had a problem. Matt needed to be given something to do while we waited patiently for Jeff’s return and hopefully the start of a new broken universe under WWE’s umbrella, so they did the only thing that made sense and put Matt into the long rumoured program with Bray. On paper this rivalry sounds like absolute fire. Matt may be 43 now and starting to lag in the ring, but you could surely bet on the promo’s being out of this world, right? Sure, at first they were… Matt and Bray played off each-others gimmicks beautifully, playing mind games with one another and we got to see some of Matt’s new found catchphrases come to life. However, as time has gone on the live crowds have lost almost all interest in the feud and so have many of us watching at home, because as usual WWE have failed to realise that you can have too much of a good thing. The rivalry has been going on for 3 months now and seems to be heading into Wrestlemania too… that’ll be 5 months in total, but it genuinely is starting to feel like we’ve been watching this for 9 months already. The clever exchanges are long gone and replaced by segments full of literally the two men laughing at eachother in the ring or via video feed. It’s just a bit… meh now.
WWE did themselves no favours by giving Matt new entrance music, centred around his DELETE chant, it reeked of desperation and was almost WWE’s way of saying “he is in fact Woken as opposed to Broken and you have no choice than to get behind it. Oh and also, could you all please chant DELETE as loud as possible to make it seem like we made the right choice? Thanks” Almost everything which made the character interesting before, like the inclusion of family members, absurd skits and segments, hilarious bit part characters, a man being fired out of a back garden volcano (seriously) and Matt’s trusty drone Vanguard 1, had all gone missing. Having him engage in laugh-offs with a man who claims to be a god despite being 0-3 at WrestleMania, was a disappointing replacement. WWE panicked when Jeff picked up his injury and made a rash decision which is looking more and more like coming back to bite them on the arse. Woken Matt didn’t need to happen in the first place, they could’ve quite easily held fire until Jeff returned, maybe even keeping Matt off TV until that day arrived. This is yet another example of WWE seeing the dollar signs before looking at the long-term plan or what is best for the superstars themselves… no matter how good the Broken persona can be going forward, the unnecessary timing and poor booking of the Woken character may have damaged it beyond repair.
There has however been some very promising news on the Broken front recently, as Impact (formerly TNA) have officially signed the Broken Universe trademarks over to Matt, giving him full ownership of anything associated to the gimmick. WWE then went one step further in a very surprising move and signed Jeremy Borash to a deal with the company. Borash was the other great creative mind who helped to make the gimmick so successful in Impact by working alongside Matt, and his signing is a clear indication that WWE are determined to put all their eggs in one basket in an attempt to rescue the Broken character and make themselves some more of that sweet, sweet dolla dolla. But is it all too little too late?
The feud was looking like it would continue until at least WrestleMania, but WWE have made the quite bizarre decision to have The Ultimate Deletion match, their own version of TNA’s Final Deletion situated at the Hardy compound, take place on the 19th March episode of RAW. This match is due to be the culmination of the long standing rivalry and is guaranteed to get people tuning in to see if it can be anywhere near as absurd as the first time… so what do WWE do? They put it on TV 3 weeks before the biggest event of the year. 99% of the time I find myself sitting there asking myself ‘what the fuck are you thinking WWE? Who makes these decisions? Is it Vince? Why isn’t he in a home yet?’. You don’t waste something this big, with this much potential, 3 weeks before your marquee PPV. I’ve seen some people saying that the Mania crowd wouldn’t want to sit and watch a match on the big monitors for 20 minutes… I do get that, but how is it any different showing it on RAW? Regardless of where you are, what show you’re on, what town you’re in… its still gonna be shown on monitors and screens. Rivalries have been forged in the last couple of weeks and are taking place at Mania… this rivalry has been going on for months and months but the outcome will be decided on a Monday night. Gee, thanks a lot Vince!
There were already huge questions marks about what these two would be doing post Mania, but now there are even bigger burning questions like what the hell are they even going to do AT Mania? Too much time has been invested for them to just not be used at all, and I desperately hope they aren’t just thrown in to the Andre The Giant Battle Royal. The imminent return of Jeff (assuming he isn’t fired for his recent run in with the law) could mean that something happens post Ultimate Deletion and leads to some sort of match at Mania, most likely on the preshow. The real concern here is for Bray though, a supremely talented individual who can cut absolute fire promos but has really struggled over the last 12 months. The feud with Randy Orton dragged on too long, the Finn Balor feud was embarrassing and unless the Ultimate Deletion match is incredible it’ll be another wasted opportunity for the new face of fear. Far too much inconsistency with his booking has led to negative crowd reactions and destroyed any credibility that he once had, and I truly fear for this clearly talented individual post Mania/Hardy feud.
This is where I put on my fantasy booking hat and look at life for the Broken character after WrestleMania. I would love to see Matt take on a similar role to the one Bray did so well back in the days when The Wyatt Family were popular and at the top of their game, becoming more of a cult leader who goes around ‘deleting’ superstars in an attempt to have them join his Broken Universe. If Matt could recruit one more male superstar, ideally a powerhouse (Samoa Joe?), and a female superstar who can play that disturbed role (Mickie James), place them alongside Matt and Jeff, call up SAnitY from NXT… boom. Two crazy ‘families’, two maniacal cult leaders in Matt and Eric Young, two right hand men in Jeff and Alexander Wolfe, two powerhouses in Joe and Killian Dain, two crazed women in Mickie and Nikki Cross… the rest of it writes itself. This feud has money written all over it. I really am too good sometimes.
I just pray to God that WWE can sort this absolute mess out, and sort it out sooner rather than later. Matt has given a hell of a lot to the company over the years, and although he never had much character to speak of his in-ring work and dedication to his craft are surely deserving of one final memorable run before he calls it a day and takes his rightful place in the Hall of Fame alongside Jeff. Vince and Co. owe him that much after years of weak booking and creative decisions. especially now that he has finally managed to get more over than Jeff for the first time in his career.
WWE need to DELETE all traces of the OBSELETE Woken character before its too late. And if we do get to see Broken Matt reach his potential well… wouldn’t that be just WONDERFUL?