Prepare the battlefield for annihilation!
On the March 19 episode of Raw, WWE debuted the "Ultimate Deletion," a pre-recorded (final?) confrontation between "Woken" Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt. After a wide variety of missteps while booking this feud, the WWE, in a rare instance of humility, allowed Matt Hardy to do whatever he wanted for his latest short film. The result was that #UltimateDELETION was the #1 worldwide trend on Twitter on Monday evening. WWE allowed something outside of its comfort zone to simply "be" and thus reaped the rewards.
I grew up during WWE's New Generation Era, which meant that every Saturday, I'd cheer as pig farmers, circus clowns, psychotic dentists, and fitness gurus squared off in the ring. It was an age of outlandish gimmicks, when you could wrestle as a Three Mile Island nuclear meltdown survivor, and people would nod their heads and say, "Sure! That sounds reasonable." It was done with a wink and a smile--an acknowledgement that this was fun, escapist entertainment and not an accurate reflection of the real world.
WWE has lost some of this fanciful, farcical "fun" over the years. Nearly every current superstar portrays an outsized version of himself, rather than a different character entirely. And that's why left-field characters like Bray Wyatt, a backwoods cult leader who follows the teachings of Sister Abigail--and Woken Matt Hardy, who believes he is an immortal spirit trapped in a human vessel--stand out from the rest of the pack. They hearken back to the sort of free-wheeling, throw-it-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks ethos that WWE used to indulge.
It made sense for Hardy and Wyatt to feud with one another, especially leading into Wrestlemania 34. But over the course of several weeks, WWE killed their momentum with a series of lackluster, unimaginative matches accompanied by repetitive promos, where Hardy and Wyatt would trade off laughing at each other. That got stale in a hurry. Fans love Hardy's Broken/Woken gimmick, which began in TNA, for its variety, randomness, and go-for-broke creativity. And this was not that.
So when Matt Hardy announced that there would be a pre-recorded Ultimate Deletion, even Hardy fans were skeptical, especially if WWE had final say and final cut. But thankfully, the Ultimate Deletion that aired this Monday was fun, weird, and oddly personal; WWE fans will put up with a lot of outlandish BS if the underlying intent behind it is sincere.
The little touches throughout the film, which lasted a little over 15 minutes, were nice; Reby Hardy played Bray Wyatt's theme on her piano as he made his way to the ring. Hardy alluded to all his signature catchphrases--"I knew you'd come," "Prepare the battlefield for annihilation," "Skarsgard, my dilapidated friend!"--without harping on them. The Ultimate Deletion featured both the indoor ring and the outdoor ring from the previous films. Hardy used "boomsticks," although (probably because WWE is PG) the two men didn't launch the fireworks directly at each other. There was even a quick glimpse of Matt's partner-in-crime Brother Nero, who was recently arrested for a DWI.
At its core, despite all the bells and whistles, the Ultimate Deletion was a falls count anywhere, no disqualification wrestling match, which added to its absurdity. And the match itself was very physical and well-worked, featuring stiff lariats and a painful looking apron spot. The straight-faced, official WWE referee, who's keeping his veneer of professionalism while everything goes to hell around him, was a perfectly underplayed joke.
But most importantly, there was a sense of humor around the whole affair. It was silly and dumb, and rather than playing it straight-faced and selling the segment as a legitimate life-or-death scenario, the Ultimate Deletion let us in on the joke. And in doing so, it respected the audience. No one wants to be talked down to.
Compare the Ultimate Deletion to the Wyatt vs. Orton House of Horrors match, or to the Wyatt Family vs. New Day brawl at the Wyatt Family compound. Both were obvious attempts to rip off the Hardys' films. Both of those pre-recorded segments had higher production values, slicker editing, and better effects than the Ultimate Deletion. But what they didn't have was self-awareness. They took themselves too seriously, which is a fool's errand in this type of narrative framework. Fans don't care about production values when they can see honest effort--the sort of do-it-yourself scrappiness that the Ultimate Deletion had in spades.
The WWE brass now knows, thanks to social media, how popular these types of segments are. And hopefully, they also know to leave well enough alone, should Hardy want to film another one. In a company so preoccupied with image, polish, and branding, this rare sort of individual, messy creativity deserved the chance to stand on its own. And the Ultimate Deletion did.