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31 Days of Wrestling (12/1/16): The Final Deletion

Welcome to the 31 Days of Wrestling, ladies and gentlemen. It's that time of year again when we take a look back at the past 11 months of pro wrestling (and as much as possible, the last month as well) and cherry-pick one match a day for each day of December from a list of bouts that defined the year in our beloved sport. Most matches will be good, while some may not be; what matters is that they helped build the perception and reputation of the kind of wrestling this calendar year produced for us.

Now that you're fully briefed, let's begin!


On July 5, 2016, the world of professional wrestling was #BROKEN.

The story of the Hardy Boyz can make an entire chapter in the Big Book of Wrestling Stories. Here are brothers who started out as enhancement talents fed to the most dominating superstars of the 1990s, and emerged as one of the most legendary tag teams of all time. Yet the epic is not without a key tension: in the exploits of the Hardys, it was Jeff—not Matt—who captured the imagination of so many, with his death-defying, risk-taking maneuvers. Jeff Hardy, in a way, became the template of so many pro wrestlers making their mark on the industry.

The entire career of Matt Hardy, however, can be seen as a sort of antithesis to his brother’s. Matt didn’t make his name defying gravity, but almost always as second-fiddle—as a set-up, as a literal springboard—to Jeff’s aerial and hardcore poetry. Even with gimmicks like “Version 1” and a story fueled by his real-life relationship troubles, Matt never seemed to reach the heights that his younger brother reached; while Jeff was delivering picture-perfect Swanton Bombs from scaffolds and 20-foot ladders, Matt was basically delivering leg drops from the second rope with a (rapidly declining) dose of Mattitude.

In that 20-year saga, Jeff’s star rose to unbelievable heights. Bit by bit, however, Matt Hardy started breaking. The slick hair gave way to a look reminiscent of Sweeney Todd. The generic promos and smart-but-unremarkable vlogs gave way to memorable lines, delivered in a way that can only be described as King Booker-meets-Ultimate Warrior. The drum beats and bass lines that characterized Hardy entrances were completely replaced by Beethoven.


Matt Hardy was completely broken. And we were treated to the most DELIGHTFUL spectacle of 2016.

*****

In many ways, The Final Deletion disagrees with many conventions we have about professional wrestling today. It was aired on a basic weekly show. It was more of a short film than a wrestling match. The match itself featured very little actual wrestling. Rather than launch the careers of wrestlers, it effectively became the springboard for the careers of a gardener, a remote-control drone, a tree, a piano, a xylophone, and a dilapidated boat.

And it aired on TNA: a company certainly left for dead after years of bad financial decisions and the departures of high-level talent. It is a company that (to borrow a Hardy phrase) will not die, but was on its last legs. It needed to be talked about. It needed to be controversial. It needed a spark of genius to be relevant again, and not go the way of the Elvis impersonators and the wrestling penises it was born with.

All of it was delivered by a single, simple, continuous storyline that is lacking in a lot of wrestling today: a man, literally broken by his own pride and envy, seeking to right all the wrongs in his life by annihilating his nemesis. Like how Cain murdered his brother Abel because God favored Abel more. Or how King Lear descended into madness from his follies, rants about a corrupt world, and ends up being abducted and toward the end, bearing the very corpse of his youngest daughter. The Final Deletion was essentially a 20-minute flashback of the Hardys’ 20-year career, with Matt seeking to make his brother obsolete.



Or to be exact: to banish his younger, flashier daredevil of a brother to the grim darkness of DELETION. The match was as over-the-top as it gets. A vignette that made a star out of an extraordinary xylophone. Ring entrances made possible through a summoning by violin. The typical Swanton Bomb, made more outrageous by the fact that it was done from atop a tree. Imaginary creatures from the deepest corners of your mind, destroyed by a Taser. Fireworks turned into makeshift cannons. That, and a referee and a superplex thrown in for good measure (this is, after all, still a wrestling match). Matt wasn’t out to beat Jeff for a title or anything: Matt fought to DELETE the evil enigma that was Jeff Hardy.

*****

Most other companies would rely on the narrow list of things that pander to the stereotypical wrestling fan. TNA also teetered on that unsustainable edge for a time. Yet like many, the acrobatics and the gymnastics and the unrealistic maneuvers didn’t do much for TNA’s main problem: the lack of solid storylines that keep people involved and invested in the product. The Final Deletion delivered on that, with an extra smattering of fireworks and broken side tables on top. And it was a storyline carried and delivered by Matt Hardy’s acceptance of his #BROKEN Condition, and the creation and transformation of a spot monkey into the NEFARIOUS Brother Nero.



Some may argue that the saga of Broken Matt and Brother Nero has run its course over the past few months. Many elements have been introduced to the narrative since then: The Decay, the DCC, the tag team titles, and an amnesiac Matt who now resembles a crossover between Kerwin White and Attitude Era Dustin Rhodes. Perhaps it has, but The Final Deletion has done more to revitalize the careers of both Hardys than a “realistic” blow-off feud that plays on the Bret/Owen brother-versus-brother storylines of the 1990s. The Final Deletion took the “fiction” part of wrestling and made the consequences real—after all, Jeff Hardy is now DELETED—and more importantly, made wrestling (or at least TNA) fun again.


The Big Book of Wrestling Stories will not run short of “what-were-they-thinking” chapters that evoke everything from respect to contempt. For every mad clown that succeeds in comic relief, there is a magician who wins matches by making illusions with underwear. For every master of the underworld, there is a pale rider who was eventually repackaged to a vampire (enthusiast). The trope of the unconquerable giant eventually descends to lovable dancing shells of the behemoths they once were. We don’t know where the refreshed saga of Matt and Brother Nero will take us in the next year, but one thing is certain.

We know that flash of #BROKEN brilliance will come.

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