Though I watched wrestling during the fabled Monday Night Wars of the late Nineties, I was a toddler in those times, meaning my earliest memories of watching wrestling originate in the mid-2000s. I would watch what I could of RAW on Monday nights, and my grandmother would tape SmackDown! for me, since she had UPN and we didn’t. One of the earliest feuds I remember being wildly entertained by was the work-shoot love triangle between Edge, Matt Hardy, and Lita. In the penultimate match of the feud, the two had a street fight on RAW, which ended in a no contest after a Side Effect off the stage left both men unconscious. The fall, coupled with the explosive landing into some production equipment, was enough to bring the brutal affair to an uncertain end.
My little nine year old mind was friggin’ blown. Not quite aware of kayfabe, the fact that a match ended not just inconclusively, but so dramatically, was enough to have me screaming at my TV with pure excitement. Though I would earn my mother’s ire had I echoed the “holy shit!” chants coming from the TV, I was chanting right along with them on the inside. It was as wild as a finish as I had seen for a match, even if Hardy, the babyface in the feud, seemed to be unable to buy a win.
Little did I know that over a decade later, the elder Hardy would make an impact on the sport at large, pun absolutely intended.
In April of 2016, after losing the TNA World Heavyweight Championship, Matt Hardy declared that his brother Jeff was not worthy of the Hardy name. This led to a tag team match, with Jeff partnering with Drew Galloway (now McIntyre) and Matt with Tyrus, with the winner picking the stipulation for their one on one confrontation the following week. Matt and Tyrus won, making the showdown an I Quit Match, which bewilderingly went to a no contest after neither man could continue, but had not verbally quit. Jeff would return to team with James Storm in an effort for the TNA World Tag Team titles, but Matt, who was disguised as Jeff’s alter ego Willow (last name The Wisp, no seriously) and interfered.
But something was different about the former “Big Money Matt,” as he had a blonde streak in his hair and spoke with a posh accent, referring to Jeff as Brother Nero, calling his younger brother by his middle name for some strange reason. He revealed that the Swanton from the top of the stage that put Matt through the table in their I Quit match really did “break” Matt, but in that breaking it revealed to him his true brilliance.
This led to a showdown at Slammiversary in a Full Metal Mayhem match, TNA’s equivalent of a Tables, Ladders, and Chairs match, which Jeff would win. This wouldn’t be over, not by a long shot, as the brothers then clashed in a Six Sides of Steel Cage match, which Jeff again won. Then comes the match that most of you are likely familiar with: The Final Deletion. This match was hosted at the Hardy Compound in Cameron, NC, the hometown of both Hardys, with the Hardy brand and name at stake. This is the first modern example of a true cinematic match, taking place across the whole expanse of the compound. While the match started in a ring, it went all over Hell’s half-acre, ending in a pit with a giant Hardy emblem erected over it. Jeff whiffed a Swanton off the top of this emblem, symbolizing the younger Hardy’s downfall, as Matt pinned his kin for the win.
Somehow, someway, this broke Jeff, allowing him to be rechristened as Brother Nero and once again join his brother as a team. The new Broken team won a four-way Ascension to Hell Ladder Match to gain number one contendership to the TNA World Tag Team Championship. They challenged Decay on the September 8 episode of Impact, which was hailed as “Delete or Decay,” which ended when Brother Nero sacrificed himself to save his brother, allowing for Broken Matt to save his son Maxel from Rosemary, then throwing his brother into the Lake of Reincarnation. The return match came at Bound for Glory, which saw the Broken Hardys win the World Tag Team Championship once again, one year after Matt had won the World Heavyweight Championship at that same event.
This gave way to the December 15th episode of Impact, which was dubbed “Total Nonstop Deletion.” The full show took place at the Hardy Compound, with the main event being Tag Team Apocalypto. In so many words, the Hardys wished to become the greatest tag team in all the universe, and embarked on an “Expedition of Gold,” traveling to other promotions to challenge for their tag team titles. The Tag Team Apocalypto saw ten teams step up to challenge The Hardys in an all-out war, but the champions prevailed in the end.
Most interesting about this was the build for it, in which Matt Hardy appeared on Ring of Honor’s Final Battle event, laying down the challenge to then-ROH World Tag Team and IWGP Junior Heavyweight Tag Team Champions The Young Bucks. This would eventually lead to The Hardys signing a short deal with ROH, where they would unseat the Young Bucks in March 2017. They would clash again on the ROH Supercard of Honor XI, in a Ladder War which saw The Hardys retain their titles. The very next night, however, the Hardys would be snuck into WWE WrestleMania 33, entering the triple threat Ladder Match as surprise entrants, thus turning it into a Fatal Four Way. The Expedition of Gold was still very much on, and The Hardys notched their seventh tag team title in WWE on that night.
The action of the Broken characters was crazy enough, but what managed to turn this absolutely batshit concept into one of the most unique and excellent things in the 21st century was the commitment to the bit. Matt Hardy has been in the wrestling business for nearly three decades as of this printing, and while he’s most fondly remembered for defining tag team wrestling in the early 2000s with his brother, the “spot monkey” game is one that can only be played for so long. Even if Matt was the less reckless of the two Hardys, he had to do something to avoid the death knell “your partner is out, we have nothing for you,” and his former High Voltage gimmick was far back in the rear view mirror. This led to V1, the Mattitude Followers (MFers), the incredible feud with Edge (even though the line between reality and fiction was paper-thin), all of it.
With the abject zaniness of Broken Brilliance, Damascus, ZENITH, all of that madness, Matt was able to reinvent himself, much like his contemporaries such as Chris Jericho and The Undertaker did. You could argue that, without this character, concepts like “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt wouldn’t have gotten a whiff of mainstream attention. The parallels between Broken Matt Hardy and The Fiend can be drawn ad nauseum, but it all boils down to a wrestler taking a gamble on themselves and willing it into not just success, but changing the wrestling world as a whole.
Granted, the Broken story doesn’t end with their jump to WWE, but the genuine article is still the best (to date) incarnation of the Broken Universe there is. And given everything that he put into it, it’s a goddamn good thing that he ended up with the rights to it, after a long legal battle with Impact’s parent company Anthem. We’ll get to how cinematic wrestling has functioned within the last year, but in case the Fiend/Broken comparison wasn’t hot enough of a take, here’s one more: the cinematic wrestling we’ve gotten in the last year would not have looked like it did were it not for The Final Deletion. Is it divisive? Sure. Crazy? Yup. Nonsense? That tracks, especially when you get Senor Benjamin and Matt’s real-life family into the mix. But he committed to it, as did everyone involved, and it shows. The man created an entire wrestling cinematic fucking universe, and what I’ve described here only scratches the surface.
If there’s one thing that the in-ring (at times, anyways) action proved, it’s that there is room for crazy locales and chaotic situations in wrestling, particularly outside the squared circle. And even before we get to the era of Pandemia, WWE decided to give that concept a chance, and thus we got the 24/7 Championship… but that’s for next time.