Feature Article

Woken Matt Hardy Has Arrived, And WWE Had Better Not Blow It

Prepare the battlefield for massacre.

After nearly a year of thinly veiled allusions and legal red tape, the Broken Matt Hardy character is in WWE. Traditionally, Vince McMahon makes new wrestlers dump their old gimmicks completely; he doesn't want anything in his company that he cannot trademark and control. He made an exception here; that he is allowing Matt any degree of creative input is noteworthy.

Matt and Jeff Hardy were fan favorites when they left WWE in 2010. They bounced about for a bit in the indies, but eventually, they both landed at TNA. And it was there that Matt devised his "Broken" gimmick.

The basic storyline was this: Matt's mind snapped. He began speaking to "The Seven Deities" and believed his soul to be thousands of years old. He talked and dressed like a bad Star Trek cosplay. And he picked up a whole bunch of verbal tics and physical quirks. He dyed a white stripe into his hair. He smiled like he was in a toothpaste commercial. He didn't pin or defeat an opponent; he #DELETED them from all space and time.

Unhinged maniac gimmicks aren't unusual in professional wrestling. But the lengths to which Broken Matt Hardy took things were. He had a Lake of Reincarnation in his backyard that could revive injured wrestlers. He had a sentient drone, Vanguard 1, that could also teleport him to anywhere in the world. And his whole family was in on the act. His infant son was King Maxell. His father-in-law was Senor Benjamin. And his brother, Jeff, was Brother Nero. Together, they created a gonzo series of shorts and sketches that fleshed out an entire "Broken Universe."

You know how WWE haters always call the shows "fake?" The Broken Matt Hardy gimmick is both an embracing and a middle finger to that sentiment. It takes "fake" to its extreme; the goal is to do the most off-the-wall schtick possible. It's an extremely meta, anarchic sort of commentary on professional wrestling itself, challenging the audience to swallow increasingly improbable story twists

So when "Woken" Matt Hardy debuted on last week's Raw and interrupted Bray Wyatt's promo with his own, it was shocking--not only because McMahon is normally hesitant to surrender creative control, but because he surrendered creative control to this gimmick. Its entire point, after all, is to disrupt any semblance of narrative continuity. Matt appeared in full regalia, with his trademark red and black sleeveless coat and his wild shock of hair. His signature faux-British accent had returned. And he proceeded to outdo Bray Wyatt in the creep department.

Wyatt's character is that of a smooth operator--a charlatan with a silver tongue--whose main desire is to acquire power. Like any street corner preacher, the religious mysticism is merely the means to accomplish that. But Hardy's character is no fraud; he's a true, unhinged believer. He knows, with every fiber of his being, that he speaks to gods. The character who's pretending to be unbalanced has nothing on the character who's actually unbalanced.

For example, Wyatt has the devious, practiced laugh of a Hollywood boogeyman; it sounds great, but it's familiar. Hardy, on the other hand, performs a weird, unhinged laugh that stops and starts. It rises and falls in pitch. It's ridiculous, which is the point; Hardy got this gimmick over in TNA by never breaking character and overperforming. For him, it's not about who does the best acting; it's about who does the "most" acting.

But then on this Monday's Raw, fans got another pre-recorded promo between Wyatt and Hardy. And it was more of the same. More cackling. More backstory (apparently, Hardy has met Sister Abigail before?). It felt overly cautious; a live segment or even a pre-recorded short film would have gone a long way toward getting newer fans involved.

This feud between Hardy and Wyatt presents an opportunity: to give Hardy one more solid run before he retires, and to give Wyatt a chance to redeem and reboot his character, who is too often on the losing side.

And WWE had better not blow this.

Let Matt Hardy Control The Creative Side

The best thing WWE can do in a situation like this is stay out of the way, although history does not support that happening. This one time, however, the WWE Creative team should leave well enough alone. The gimmick works best as the product of a single mind; it's too weird and off putting to be conceived by a committee of Hollywood writers.

We're still in the earliest stage of Hardy's push. Should this gimmick take off, McMahon might feel pressured to protect his investment and get involved. He needs to resist every urge to do so. If it fails, let it fail on its own terms. Because it will definitely fail with too many cooks in the kitchen.

Keep The Hardy Family Involved

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It's important that Matt be allowed creative control over the narrative. And that means the periphery characters of the Broken universe need to play roles as well. Senor Benjamin. Reby. King Maxell. And of course, Brother Nero.

It's not necessary to replay the brother vs. brother angle that Matt and Jeff did in TNA. But Jeff is crucial to the gimmick's success. If he comes back from injury and continues the brothers' Team Xtreme gimmick, it'll damage both his brother's push and his own.

Limit The Budget On The Short Films

This seems counterintuitive. All the backing of a billion dollar company, and there should be a budget limit on the short films? But the appeal of the Broken Hardys was their do-it-yourself approach. That was actually Matt's property they were destroying. That was actually Jeff's lawn they were ruining. There wasn't a full-scale film crew capturing this footage, or a top-league editor cutting it all together. But it was done sincerely, with the best effort the Hardys could muster. And that counts for a lot with the fans.

Maybe some better CGI for Vanguard 1 would be fine. But the majority of the pre-recorded short films should be produced under constraints, to maintain the homemade ethos of the TNA original films. And besides, a high budget is no guarantee of quality. Just look at Bray Wyatt's "House of Horrors" (where WWE tried to knock off the Broken gimmick) for all the proof you need.

Try New Things

Right now, the fans are so happy to see the characters in WWE, that the creativity bar is set low. So long as Matt includes Senor Benjamin preparing the battlefield for massacre, and inserts some verbal callbacks ("I knew you'd come," "A dilapidated boat!"), the fans will be satisfied.

But once this Wyatt feud is over? The backlash will begin if the Hardys continue recycling and repeating everything they did in TNA. Wrestling fans want the story to move forward, and the Broken Hardys' appeal was based on their unpredictability. Memes get stale; the fans need new, off-the-wall plot points to maintain their emotional investment.

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