On August 5, 2020, Matt Hardy appeared on AEW Dynamite and explained why he looked and sounded more like, well, Matt Hardy. Or “Matthew Hardy,” as he put it. He spun a very passionate and eloquent tale of choosing to sign with AEW to have more creative freedom and control over how the final chapter of his career will play out. As his pre-debut series Free The Delete showed, he came prepared to unleash all the fury and quirks of his “Broken Matt” persona. Few of these plans could come to pass, however, due to COVID-19. Matt himself has since noted that some change was needed due to the lack of the interaction and emotion that Broken Matt gains from live crowds, who have always reacted strongly to such a unique character in today’s wrestling business. As that business adjusted, so would he. It was time to intertwine with the real and ground himself again, and be his true self on-screen and off.
As Matt’s next promo appearance (his “I don’t die” YouTube feature) would show, dropping the well-loved character of Broken Matt did not mean he’d lost any amount of compelling showmanship. But even if not a loss, it was still a goodbye. By focusing on reality, Matt Hardy bid farewell to four years of his “Broken Universe,” an enchanting and all-consuming creation of his mind that allowed him to raise his profile and become the focal point of promotions. He teamed with his brother Jeff again, sure, but for the first time in their careers Matt was the primary draw.
As Matt prepares to speak out on tonight’s AEW Dynamite following his first major PPV match as his own self, it seems appropriate to take a look back at just what worked so well and made the Broken Universe an unbridled success.
When Matt revealed himself to be the one who attacked Jeff back in TNA (now Impact) Wrestling, few could see where things would go. Matt had already been TNA champion and was a respected ring general, but still left less of an indelible mark than his brother on-screen and with fans. With their new feud being away from the title picture, however, the brass allowed Matt to run with its effects on him and chase them down any rabbit hole. And we learned so many things as a result.
One of the first things we found was a new side of Matt – a FUNNY side. His look itself was incredible and inspired easy laughs, but he didn’t stop there. A man who’d lost touch with reality could do and say anything, even with a bit of a wink. So whether you felt like you were part of the joke and enjoying the tropes being used or mocked, or if you felt like this was all too much and laughing at the overall inanity, you couldn’t help but enjoy and smile either way.
Matt spit out instant new catchphrases by calling Jeff an “obsolete mule” who he’d been sent to “delete” by pinning and winning control of the Hardy name. Others came later from his sheer ebullience – Broken Matt wasn’t an all-intensity badass, but rather off-kilter enough to find the slightest thing “WONDERFUL!” or brag about his prescience that “I knew you’d come” to whoever showed up…even if he’d called them over just 30 seconds before. This charismatic and now uniquely hilarious delivery helped Matt’s phrases catch on – crowds would soon be chanting them weekly.
Moreover, each bit from the Hardy Compound rewarded multiple viewings to catch the insane front-and-center ideas along with all the little references and quips that went by fast in the margins. Vanguard 1 noted on-screen facts that flashed by, for instance that Jeff was also known as Jimmy Jack Tompkins – (wait, what?). Turns out that was his original (cowboy) character back in 1991, hilarious shrimpy photo and all. If you didn’t feel like putting that much effort in, Matt’s inner eternal being recognizing reincarnated friends like George Washington (as a giraffe) and training for matches with others (Joe Frazier as, fittingly, a boxing kangaroo) and treating them with real compassion was fun for anyone. More fun than we knew Matt Hardy could have.
The Broken Universe didn’t just use people and things as props for Matt to interact with, but rather allowed them to develop memorable identities of their own. Matt’s real life family such as his wife Reby got involved, initially trying to get Matt help before seeing the success his Broken mind yielded and being sucked into it herself – dressing more crazily and helping Matt put Jeff through a table by throwing a fake baby at him. The “gardener” Señor Benjamin (actually Matt’s father-in-law) wasn’t just a hired hand, but got to shine as a ruthless conspirator who snuck in to strike down foes and cackled as he deposited Abyss into an open grave. Their participating in the Universe and reacting sincerely to insane demands like “Prepare the battlefield for massacre!” allowed us to suspend reality and enjoy this warped, wacky world all the more.
That suspension was key as the characters moved beyond people and into things. Matt used inanimate objects as recurring characters and, through his imagination, imbued them with personalities. Flying drone Vanguard 1 was a soldier spy of keen instincts and observations, finding enemies and reporting their weaknesses as commanded. Skarsgard (hilariously debuting to a shout of “it’s a dilapidated boat!” in “The Final Deletion vs. Jeff”) became a steadfast bodyguard and loyalist. The depth of feeling shown by all Hardys and opponents towards these things led up to the coup de grace: a war of words between Vanguard 1 and the GOAT himself, Chris Jericho (whose promo SOLD for, again, a freaking RC drone), on a national broadcast. That speaks for itself.
Of course, under it all, “Broken Matt” was still a wrestler and his commandment to “delete” opponents meant pinning them. That meant he needed matches – and he delivered incredible and indelible ones. Befitting his new zeal for destruction, and his actual need to preserve his body, Matt developed a more hardcore, less flying style. He’d bash people into turnbuckles endlessly or slam them with whatever he could get his hands on rather than via giant legdrops or dives. Ironically, this made him more unique in an era full of highspots inspired by his and Jeff’s past.
Beyond the moveset, the big event matches of the Broken Universe were just that, separate independent events, and were shot as such. The precise camera work and editing of The Final Deletion, Delete or Decay, and even the battle with Bray Wyatt under WWE’s banner set the bar for cinematic wrestling before we even had a name for it. Cutting between locations, costume and character changes (Jeff-to-Willow, Abyss-to-Joseph Park), and giant spots gave the audience an excitement that belied a ring in a field in North Carolina. That open space did allow for amazing freedom, though, with multiple competitors shooting fireworks as a weapon or Jeff “indulging” (Matt’s word) himself by jumping off an honest-to-god tree.
The influence of these matches wasn’t clear right away, but cannot be overstated in the time of COVID-19. The creativity of the staging and action showed Matt to be one of the best minds in wrestling, and the similar work that has now followed speaks to that. There’s no Boneyard Match, no Ciampa/Gargano Final Beat, and (importantly for Matt’s career) no Stadium Stampede without The Final Deletion and the others that came later.
Whatever message Matt Hardy may have for the AEW crowd and locker room tonight, his impact on the business has now long been sealed for posterity. For while the Broken Universe may now have come to a close, one thing is for sure: the fans, business, universe, and all Seven Deities will never view Matt Hardy as an alternative or second option ever again. His creations and deletions were far too wonderful to ever allow it.