On Tuesday night, Matt Hardy finally defeated his younger brother, Jeff Hardy. It’s understandable if you missed it, but you missed out if you did.
The Hardy Boyz were two of the defining faces of the early-aughts post-Attitude Era WWE, helping to lead a tag-team renaissance and introduce the ultra-batshit aesthetic of backyard wrestling to the craft. But they’ve been out of the WWE since 2009 (Jeff) and 2010 (Matt), due to personal/substance problems and the resultant heat-loss in the ring. For the bulk of casual wrestling fans, that means they’ve been MIA for more than half a decade.
— DTAM (@DeathToAllMarks) July 6, 2016
For the more initiated, the Hardys plying their trade in TNA, the long-suffering and perpetually bankrupt-adjacent would-be pseudo-competitor to WWE, meant that their match likely wasn’t worth tuning in for. TNA’s flagship show, Impact Wrestling, is not only hard to find since being relegated to Pop TV, but more broadly such a mess that #LOLTNA has defined the promotion nearly as much as their fervent-unto-rabid legion of die-hards.
Whatever group fans belong to—lapsed, elite, or all-consuming—Tuesday night was appointment viewing. Matt didn’t just defeat Jeff after months of trying, he did so in The Final Deletion, a match TNA has been building to since January and one that’s been building naturally since the real-life brothers debuted in WWE, finger guns to their mouths with an inaugural “Ohhhhh,” back in 1999.
The story, without any added dramatics, is simple enough. It’s a sibling rivalry as old as the New Testament, with the “good” son angry at the love the prodigal son receives. Jeff has always been the more popular of the two; he’s the better looking, more athletic, and more naturally charismatic younger sibling. But while Matt lived wrestling, Jeff’s other pursuits—substance abuse, dirt biking, and some of the worst music you could ever ask to hear—derailed him time and again. Jeff was given repeated opportunities and the benefit of the doubt, while the worst thing Matt’s ever done is have his real-life girlfriend stolen from him and then suck it up enough to turn the situation into the hottest angle of 2005.
A few months back, as Matt built a family and reached the pinnacle of his profession with a World Title, Jeff interjected, upset that his brother had become selfish. Jeff, this being wrestling, wasn’t being altruistic. He was angling for a title shot as soon as Matt lost the belt. Matt was the victim here, and the very best villains are always the one who are both justified and misguided.
This story wasn’t told without dramatics, easy thought that would have been. Matt wasn’t mad. He went mad. He attacked his brother unendingly, lured him to his mansion—which, sure—for a contract signing only to attack him, then demanded match after match when he continued losing, all the while growing stranger and more obsessed. Once The Final Deletion was set, Matt sent drones to Jeff’s home, taunting him via hologram and later destroying Jeff’s elaborately manicured lawn.
No, seriously, that was how it played out.
— #BROKEN Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) July 6, 2016
— #BROKEN Matt Hardy (@MATTHARDYBRAND) July 6, 2016
The Final Deletion was touted as the brothers’ last battle. It was easy to believe, if only because it would be impossible for Matt’s character to go any further off the deep end.
“What…is this?” a fully outfitted referee wondered as he pulled up to The Hardy Compound in Cameron, NC.
He might as well have been speaking for the entire audience. And make no mistake, they tuned in. We won’t know for a few days if Pop TV popped (sorry) a larger rating for the episode, but in large part thanks to this feud, their ratings have spiked somewhat. If social media, Reddit, and wrestling sites are any indication, interest in TNA’s product has rarely been higher. Normally lacking for coverage, the match had previews, video clips from wrestlers and those around the industry who were sent an advance copy, and even endured a leak of the full show. For the second time in two months, an illegal streaming site had issues with the increased volume.
“Brother Nero, I knew you’d come!” Matt beckoned, using Jeff’s middle name as he’s come to do, welcoming his brother as he arrived to the makeshift ring that had so flummoxed the referee. That ring was surrounded by torches and both the typical and atypical hardcore wrestling plunder.
As classical music played over an expedited pre-tape, Matt and Jeff went from trading headlocks to slamming each other on tree branches. Matt hit Jeff with the family’s patented Twist of Fate before turning to a Kendo stick. Jeff hit a Twist of Fate and then ripped off his shirt, and his usual crowd-pleasing move scanned strangely in a spacious backyard with nobody around to cheer. When his finishing move, a Swanton Bomb from the top rope, didn’t keep Matt down, Jeff went to the weapon that made the brothers famous—a ladder. He scaled a large tree, and missing a second Swanton Bomb from much higher, crashed through the ladder.
Naturally, Jeff kicked out after falling some 20 feet when Matt went to cover, because that’s what this feud has been all about: Matt can never keep Jeff down, and it pushes him further and further each time he fails. And so of course, Matt began shooting fireworks at Jeff from across the ring.
— frosty (@j_millerdark) July 6, 2016
“What’s wrong with you?” Jeff screamed, likely echoing any observers who happened in on a friend or roommate watching the match.
As the scene filled with smoke and the score grew ominous, Matt stalked his brother to finally “delete” him. “Oh, shit!” Matt yelled as he rounded a corner to find Jeff with fireworks of his own. “Damn right, ‘oh shit,’” Jeff retorted before chasing his elder brother and forcing him to seek refuge underneath a boat. It was a line that belonged in a cheesy action movie more than a wrestling match, but this was honestly more a cheesy action movie than wrestling match.
And it proceeded apace from there. The brothers fought into a pond, where Jeff morphed into “Willow,” the operatically weird feudal-Euro side-character he’s played at times over the years and whose costume Matt donned as part of his psychological attack a few weeks back. Matt managed to pin Willow, but it wasn’t Jeff under the mask. The real Jeff emerged from out of nowhere, choked Matt out, and then ascended a ladder to a wood cut-out the Hardy logo, ready for a Swanton finale.
And then, out of nowhere, Matt’s wife Reby—a constant in the feud, the the point where she once threw a fake replica of their infant son Maxel at Jeff to distract him for a sneak attack—snuck in to hand Matt a candle, which he used to light the gasoline-soaked pit in which they lay, and the Hardy logo, aflame. Jeff fell, Matt covered for a three count, and then Matt stood in front of the burning Hardy logo, arms spread wide in victory.
After months, years, decades, Matt had finally deleted Brother Nero.
TNA has long suffered from trying to be something it could never be: A competitor with WWE. With less money, less exposure, and less sheer force of inertia, that was never realistic. TNA’s best path to success has always been as an alternative, not as a competitor, and it’s little surprise that their best years came when they embraced the X-Division—a nu-cruiserweight class, essentially ECW’s and WCW’s lightweights ratcheted up to 11—as their core identifier. That two of their top stars from that era are now key players in the WWE system is likewise unsurprising.
Instead, they’ve consistently attempted to replicate WWE and battle on the grounds of legitimacy, bringing in names like Christian, Kurt Angle, Sting, and even Hulk Hogan. Those additions have had varying degrees of success, but through highs and lows, those viewing have come back to the same conclusion: for TNA to succeed, they need to be an authentically different product, not a lesser version of the globally dominant and far more accessible WWE.
This is absolutely 100% pure brilliance. Wrestling is entertaining and these two are entertaining the hell out of me #IMPACTonPOP
— Mike Bennett (@RealMikeBennett) July 6, 2016
With The Final Deletion, TNA did just that. They let Matt Hardy, one of the best character actors of the last decade, embrace every ounce of strangeness, creativity, and repressed hostility, real and kayfabe, to become #Broken. For a guy that was long the “Second Hardy,” Matt’s character work, both late in his WWE run and ever after, has been nothing short of remarkable. His psychotic, ever-more-deranged, out-for-vengeance turn in this storyline was the culmination of that growth and experimentation.
He played keyboards and violins, he was a hologram, he tip-toed in and out of a variety of impossible-to-place accents, and he tried to light his fucking brother on fire with fireworks and gasoline. Jeff, meanwhile, was just allowed to be Jeff, the hypno-colored, human-Mountain-Dew straight man who played the disturbed and confused victim perfectly. TNA gave them full creative license to essentially play out what may be their twilight feud in exactly the way they got on the WWE radar and fell in love with the sport in the first place—through their embrace of campy, reckless, unencumbered backyard wrestling fun.
#TheFinalDeletion was quite literally the worst/best thing I've ever seen
— Kazeem Famuyide (@RealLifeKaz) July 6, 2016
#TheFinalDeletion is to wrestling what Trapped in the Closet was to music
— Sunflower (@Sunflower4000) July 6, 2016
The event marked the culmination of one of the most bizarre, insane, and thoroughly enjoyable feuds in recent wrestling history. It’s already garnered a great deal of “so bad it’s good” reaction, but I think it grades out closer to high art than parody. It wasn’t “good,” because it never had a chance to be. That wasn’t really the point. TNA and the Hardys didn’t satirize the more laughable elements of pro wrestling. Instead they highlighted, embraced, and magnified them, in the process creating something entirely unique to the genre. So yes, Brother Nero was deleted on Tuesday night. So, too, was the idea that TNA has to follow WWE’s formula to succeed, or that wrestling’s campier impulses are anything to be ashamed of. It can, they are, and this was great.