In a professional world marred with contract disputes and conflicts over ownership rights, the WWE is usually the company flexing its muscles to withhold character names and keeping wrestlers' gimmicks hostage. But this year, a long-enduring legal dispute kept the WWE from utilizing one of the most popular characters in professional wrestling today. Until last night.
Matt Hardy's outlandish "Broken Matt Hardy" persona – a Don Quixote-like mad man operating under the impression that he's a beloved hero – had launched the former WWE fan favorite back into pro wrestling’s spotlight last year when the wrestling world was least expecting it. Building off viral momentum, the veteran star climbed back up the professional wrestling ladder and returned to the company at Wrestlemania 33 for the first time in more than half a decade. But due to a legal battle over the character rights for the "Broken" Matt Hardy gimmick – which was first used in TNA – the eight-time WWE tag champion was forced to wait to fully bloom into his once-red hot character until last night's Monday Night RAW after the issue was reportedly settled over the past week.
"Due to a condition, I have laid dormant inside this vessel called Matthew Hardy," the long-awaited character said in a purposefully off-kilter European accent in a back-and-forth video promo with former WWE World Heavyweight champion Bray Wyatt. "But now, thanks to the consumer of terrestrial entities [Wyatt], I have been woken."
Hardy has been referring to himself as "Woken Matt Hardy" instead of the original "Broken Matt Hardy" since losing a match to Wyatt on last week's Monday Night RAW – likely a way for the WWE to avoid future legal troubles and to lay claim to the character by owning the rights to a different name.
Despite the unwavering efforts of WWE fans to will Hardy to "break" into his faux-folk hero mindset since his return to the WWE earlier this year, with crowds frantically slashing their arms to the side and chanting the 43-year-old's "Delete! Delete!" catchphrase as "Broken" Matt had been during the height of the gimmick's popularity prior to his WWE return, Hardy was merely restricted to hinting at his unstable other half. Brilliantly keeping hype alive, Hardy would occasionally chop his arm to the side or slip the word "delete" into on-screen promos with a sly emphasis. The build was long and anticipated, but was received by a raucous ovation from the live Monday Night RAW crowd at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
In an era of professional wrestling that's flooded with young, worldwide talent due to the exposure of the Internet, a veteran who made his debut in the late 1990s "Attitude Era" of the WWF might have been the last person you'd guess to go viral. But the hysterical magic that Hardy's complex character created was contagious and the man behind it is one others in the business recognize as a proven performer with a unique ability to adapt to changing times and crowds. Speaking with Rolling Stone last month, Bullet Club member Matt Jackson said him and his brother Nick (who perform together on independent promotions as "The Young Bucks") had first learned to utilize social media by watching Hardy during their time together on the TNA roster in 2011.
"He was probably one of the best guys in the world with social media. He was an 'OG,'" Matt Jackson said. "Chris Jericho's another guy. Those two always know how to evolve with whatever’s current and modern. They're so smart at reinventing themselves."
More so, Hardy's "Broken” character was groundbreaking and regained the WWE's attention late in his career. After debuting as a heel in a feud with his brother and on-again, off-again tag partner Jeff Hardy, "Broken" Matt's unpredictable and outlandish behavior was so different from the typical good guy/bad guy dynamic that wrestling fans were immediately intrigued. "Broken" Matt's moral code was skewed and layered. Hinting at a fair amount of mental instability, when "Broken" Matt battled in the ring, he was (in his mind) embarking on a noble cause, whether it was "deleting" his brother Jeff from existence in order to ensure his son Maxel was the rightful heir to the Hardy family name or simply entering into a "great war" for a championship title. Even Wyatt, a notably self-indulgent character who is himself often out of touch with reality, claimed Hardy "knows of nothing that is actually real" during their war of words last night.
The WWE eventually wanted in on the "Broken" frenzy, mirroring it with Wyatt himself in 2016. Following a pre-taped TNA match between Jeff and Matt Hardy dubbed "The Final Deletion" that went viral among Internet wrestling communities, the WWE experimented with their own pre-produced match between The Wyatt Family and The New Day. Though, the imitation was obvious and perhaps even a bit desperate, it still couldn't match the original Hardy Boyz production that was every bit as cinematic as it was outrageous. Now that Matt Hardy is back with the WWE and has officially been "Woken" after a seven-month delay, it appears that an ensuing feud with Wyatt – a Manson-inspired horror character who delivers sermons and, at times, possesses supernatural powers – is in the cards leading up to Wrestlemania season, which starts with the Royal Rumble on January 28th. In the world of professional wrestling – where fans are asked to suspend belief and accept physicality that extends beyond reality – the butting heads of Wyatt and a freshly "Woken" Hardy sees the WWE positioning its two most poetically spoken characters in a shouting match from the two most opposite ends of crazy.