Audiences for last nights Monday Night Raw were delighted last night to see Matt Hardy finally embracing his “broken” self. The gimmick audiences have been waiting to see in a WWE ring was finally breaking free – with all signs pointing to its imminent arrival. Yet as our hopes rise, there’s a horrible sense of foreboding. Not because Matt Hardy can’t bring his “broken” brilliance to the WWE Universe – more WWE Creative have a terrible track record of sticking the landing when it comes to being given sure fire hits.
Of course, the return of the Hardy Boys has thus far been hugely lucrative for all involved. There’s no doubt that in the afterglow of Wrestlemania 33 – audiences couldn’t get enough of the nostalgia around Matt and Jeff Hardy. But like most nostalgia acts, their presence slowly began to diminish. It became apparent that their current WWE run was based entirely on reliving the glory days of the Hardy Boys. That simply wasn’t enough in 2017.
Matt Hardy spent the majority of 2016 roaming the globe as one of the hottest wrestling acts on the planet. His “broken” gimmick not only catapulted him to the forefront of Impact Wrestling (Where he became THE biggest draw on the card) but also to the wider wrestling discussion. After a career wallowing in his brother’s shadow, Matt Hardy was the main attraction. He was the one people were paying to see – audiences couldn’t get enough of his crazy antics.
So successful was Broken Matt that WWE tried to wholesale life his FINAL DELETION match for their own purposes. It failed because WWE are terrible at handling unique characters. Their creative process stifles unique attributes, boiling them down to the easiest to market mold. Where Jeff and Matt Hardy’s Final Deletion was a gloriously over-the-top slice of entertainment – WWE managed to turn their “Wyatt Compound” match into one of the single worst segments of 2016.
It’s because of this that I worry about just where the “broken” gimmick can actually go in WWE. It’s clear the company don’t see Matt as anything but a mid-card performer. It’s the reason he left the company under a cloud many years back, as he grew frustrated with the glass ceiling that had been placed above him. Without Jeff Hardy, WWE seems incredibly unwilling to let his character be anything but a background player.
Which is why I doubt a gimmick change will be enough for them to finally let Matt climb up the card. If the broken gimmick is merely used as a tool to get cheap laughs, I don’t think it has a hope in hell of connecting with audiences. If there’s a lack of reception to the change, WWE won’t grant it time to develop in front of audiences. They have a habit of burning through ideas, desperate to find a quick fix to long-term problems.
The reason the “broken” gimmick worked so well was that Matt was granted the freedom to make it grow. The character developed into an appealing attraction because Impact Wrestling, for all their faults, were willing to grant Matt the time to make the character what it needed to be. Let’s be honest, a character like that would NEVER develop in WWE – because the environment doesn’t allow them to reach that stage. WWE Creative are so eager to have their cake and eat it, they can’t stop themselves from tampering with the formula.
We’ve seen plenty of examples pointing to this problem in recent years. The company has a horrendous history of handling unique characters – in particular when they’re given the chance to expand on already successful characters. It’s a problem that’s become very apparent among NXT call-ups, who see characters fail miserably when blown up for the weekly WWE television show.
Finn Balor’s “demon” character is the prime example. On NXT, the “demon” was an exciting, fresh idea that was used at the right moments to maximise the payoff. On the main roster, the demon has seemingly become a different beast entirely. WWE’s failure to understand the strengths of the character has led them to use it in increasingly awkward situations – arguably damaging the very aspects that made it great. Roll back a month and they had Finn Balor roll out a pumpkin inspired edition of his character. It’s laughable and ultimately highlights why WWE can’t be trusted with anything resembling a unique idea.
Which is why I can’t help but be worried about the long-term success of the “broken” gimmick. WWE got their money back from the Hardy investment thanks to a hugely lucrative nostalgia run. If the “broken” gimmick fails to connect, it won’t be long before Broken Matt Hardy is relegated to comedy character. What rocked the wrestling world in 2016 will be 2018’s laughing stock, an afterthought in the WWE machine.
Here’s hoping that WWE is willing to allow Matt Hardy the kind of freedom they’ve never granted him before. The chance to prove that he can be more than the mid-card performer they’ve had him pegged as for many years. It’s not just the “broken” gimmick WWE needs to get behind – it’s Matt Hardy.