Tonight’s episode of Raw will feature Matt Hardy’s first Final Deletion-style match for WWE. Not only has it been a long time coming—for almost a year it felt like it would never happen.
It’s been almost two years since Matt Hardy reinvented himself into one of the most creative and entertaining characters in wrestling history. He blew out his hair to look like a sphinx’s head, bleached a streak of white down the middle, dressed in elaborate robes, started doing these ridiculous promos full of mystic mumbo jumbo and chants of “delete!” delivered in a overly theatrical and weirdly accented voice, and called himself Broken Matt Hardy. He was like a host from the Creature Feature horror movie marathons that used to air on UHF stations trying to turn old Ultimate Warrior promos into something that made at least a bit of sense, but still also the small town North Carolina boy we’d known since the ‘90s. Its success hinged not just on our familiarity with Matt Hardy and his twenty-year career, but on the recognition of wrestling as an inherently absurd performance art that’s as much theater as sport. It worked so well because of how thoroughly Hardy committed to it, developing an extended mythology about his character’s past, introducing his family (including his wife, father-in-law, and very young sons) as part of the act, and turning his real-life home in Cameron, North Carolina, into a makeshift battlefield for heavily edited “matches” that turned wrestling into a sci-fi trip that could warp time, space and the basic character traits of Hardy’s opponents. Broken Matt Hardy made wrestling weird in the best possible way, bending so many of its age-old rules without entirely breaking them, and refusing to break character as strenuously as any ancient territorial road warrior even though the character was essentially one massive eye-wink and in-joke.
The highlights of Broken Matt Hardy’s Impact days were those set piece matches recorded at the Hardy Compound in Cameron. The first of that series, The Final Deletion, established the template, and remains one of the best wrestling segments in recent memory. This match, and the Broken character, helped turn Matt and his brother Jeff into one of the most popular acts in wrestling, which the Hardys leveraged into a feud with the Young Bucks (which was originally conceived as an interpromotional affair before the Hardys acrimoniously left Impact) and a return to WWE. A legal battle with Impact’s owners over the Broken characters prevented Matt from fully doing the character that brought him back to WWE, and for most of their last year in WWE the brothers drifted in the midcard as a nostalgia tag team act.
That started to change last fall, when Jeff had to take time off for injury. A now-single Matt went on a losing streak, eventually snapping in-ring after a loss to Bray Wyatt on Raw in November. Over the next few weeks he was established not as Broken Matt Hardy, but as Woken Matt Hardy. He had the same cadence, body language and appearance, but the first few months of Woken Matt were disappointing for fans of the original character. He had no family with him, not enough promo time to fully establish the character, and was stuck in an endless, boring feud with Bray Wyatt, whose specialty is endless, boring feuds. When Wyatt beat Hardy cleanly in a five-minute match with almost no build at the 25th anniversary episode of Raw in January, it felt like WWE’s devaluation of Hardy was complete. They brought in what had been the hottest act in wrestling, was forced to sit on it for months for legal reasons, and once they were able to jump on it the booking seemed focused solely on killing whatever heat the character still had.
That’s not exactly what’s happened, though. That anniversary show loss to Wyatt effectively jump started the full return of Broken Matt. Instead of ending that feud, it set up a rematch, which Hardy won. This, in turn, set up another rematch, the Ultimate Deletion, which was shot at Hardy’s house and will be airing on Raw tonight, and which will be the first Final Deletion-style match in WWE starring Broken Matt. And the emergent Brokenness isn’t confined to just being a match shot at the Hardy Compound—over the last week Hardy has reintroduced several crucial bits of the Broken mythos through videos on WWE’s YouTube channel, from his family (the whole gang—Queen Rebecca, Senor Benjamin, King Maxel and newborn Lord Wolfgang), to the Compound’s Lake of Reincarnation (when a wrestler enters it, he comes out in one of his older gimmicks), to his pet giraffe, who is the reincarnation of its namesake, George Washington. These videos should soothe Broken Matt Hardy fans worried that WWE will ruin the character; everything about them live up to the look and feel of the original segments on Impact. Long-time Impact employee Jeremy Borash, who was with the company from its beginnings in 2002 and was Hardy’s main creative partner in the Broken videos, joined WWE at the end of January. It probably isn’t a coincidence that Woken Matt Hardy started to finally feel like Broken Matt Hardy after Borash reentered the scene.
Of course it’s hard to put too much faith in WWE creative. The company has employed a writer’s room-style approach to its TV for almost two decades, hiring experienced TV writers and comedy writers to script its shows, which can strip away the spontaneity and verisimilitude that wrestling thrives on. Plus everything is still filtered through the sensibilities of one man, the company’s 72-year-old owner, Vince McMahon. He notoriously micromanages almost every aspect of WWE’s product, from how wrestlers look and talk, to how his commentators talk about them. If he thinks he has an idea that “improves” on Broken Matt’s whole presentation, it will almost definitely become a part of the show, and there’s a very good chance it will actually hurt way more than it helps.
The last week has been Hardy’s best and most exciting work since returning to WWE almost a year ago. If tonight’s Ultimate Deletion match has the same voice and spirit as these YouTube videos, and as Hardy’s work in Impact in 2016 and early 2017, it could be one of those classic Raw segments that everybody talks about and remembers for years. If it winds up as watered down as Hardy has been over the last year, or as overly scripted and lifeless as so much of WWE’s programming is, it could be the final straw that breaks Hardy for good.
If you need to get back in the Broken spirit before tonight’s Ultimate Deletion match, check out those YouTube clips from the past week below.