The Hardy Boyz: Everything You Need to Know About WWE's 'Broken Universe' Duo
The Hardy Boyz returned to WWE at WrestleMania 33 on April 2.
In a freshly stipulated four-way ladder match, the brothers clinched the Raw tag titles, making them seven-time WWE Tag Team champions. Team Xtreme unequivocally stole the show—the 70,000-plus fans in attendance hit the roof the moment they realized the Boyz were finally back home after an eight-year absence.
Here's a Cliffs Notes breakdown of the Hardy Boyz's past decade. This is for fans who watch Raw each week but weren't aware the Hardys still wrestled and have no idea why Matt doesn't comb his hair. You probably have a lot of questions, so here are some answers.
Why, Exactly, Did the Hardy Boyz Leave WWE 8 Years Ago?
Short answer: Jeff was in severe pain.
That's what happens when a man spends his career hurling his body off ladders, steel cages and show sets. He needed surgery, and given the death-defying stunts he pulled off on a nightly basis, the biggest surprise is that he didn’t need it sooner.
Like many other performers, Jeff was working injured; professional wrestling doesn't have an offseason, and no wrestler wants to be perceived as injury-prone. So by the time he actually left WWE to take care of himself, Jeff Hardy had neck injuries and two herniated discs. Along with his wrestling injuries, he also suffered from restless legs syndrome, a neurological condition that kept him awake at night, according to Matt.
And after Jeff left, Matt didn't last very long on his own. He had a bitter public falling out with WWE, gained weight and watched his ring work deteriorate. In September 2010, WWE sent him home in the midst of its European tour for undisclosed reasons. The company officially parted ways with Matt the following month.
What Did Jeff Do with Himself After Leaving WWE?
The eight years Jeff spent away from WWE were marked by severe highs and lows. He went to TNA and Ring of Honor, where he became a world champion and tag team champion several times over. On the other hand, he revealed he suffered from multiple drug addictions—the product of living a fast lifestyle and self-medicating for untreated injuries.
Eventually, Jeff's demons caught up with him. His arrest in 2009, shortly after he left WWE, made mainstream news; according to TMZ Sports, police searched Jeff's home and found 262 Vicodin pills, 180 Soma pills, 555 milliliters of anabolic steroids and residual cocaine. He pleaded guilty and eventually served 10 days in jail in 2011.
What's the 'Victory Road Incident' That People Keep Mentioning?
It happened earlier in 2011, prior to Jeff serving jail time.
Jeff showed up to a TNA pay-per-view title fight against Sting under the influence; he staggered to the ring, while the announcers tried to cover for him by saying that he was playing mind games. Eventually, Sting was forced to legitimately pin Jeff (you can see Jeff struggle to kick out, for real, as Sting cinches up) to end the train wreck early. TNA cut ties with Jeff afterward.
That's Awful. How Is Jeff Doing Now?
He's doing really well! After the Sting match, Jeff attended a 120-day outpatient rehab, where he got clean. TNA brought him back later that year and gave him another chance. Around the same time, his first daughter was born, which gave him additional motivation to stay on the wagon.
He's been sober ever since. At his worst, Jeff was taking 25-30 pain pills a day, per the Regular Guys Podcast (via Wrestling Inc's Christian Miller), which makes his clean-living turnaround an unqualified success story. All told, Jeff has won the TNA Heavyweight Championship three times. He also won (with his brother Matt) the TNA World Tag Team Championships twice and the ROH World Tag Team Championship once.
What Did Matt Do with Himself After Leaving WWE?
He went through a lot of the same problems as Jeff did, albeit not as publicly. Like Jeff, Matt headed to TNA in 2011, where he wrestled for a little under six months as a part of the company's lead villain stable, Immortal.
But TNA would later suspend Matt before letting him go months later after he was arrested for a DWI. Following a series of embarrassing run-ins with authority, legal troubles and stints in rehab, things finally started to change. Recently, Matt has been on the straight and narrow, wrestling in Ring of Honor in 2012 and going back to TNA in 2014, and he capped his comeback tour by winning the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Twice.
To summarize: It's been a rocky road, but the brothers are in a much better place, physically and mentally. Both of them are married with kids. And now that they're back in WWE, they'll likely end their careers as elder statesmen. It's a happy ending, considering where things were headed not too long ago.
OK, but When Did Matt Start Dressing and Acting so Absurd?
That started in 2016. Matt and Jeff fought each other in an "I Quit" match (which a wrestler can only win by getting his opponent to say "I quit"). It ended when Jeff drove Matt through a table outside of the ring. But this was no ordinary Swanton Bomb. Jeff hit Matt so hard, that it "broke" Matt. The Seven Deities spoke to Matt and told him that his soul, thousands of years old, had been passed down through the ages from human "vessel" to human "vessel."
Matt reignited his brotherly feud and now referred to Jeff as "Brother Nero." Matt was now "Broken" Matt Hardy. He spoke with an unplaceable accent that made him sound like an American imitating a Brit impersonating Derek Zoolander. He wore bizarre period clothing that was recolored and held together with clasps. And during his promos, he rambled a random hodgepodge of mysticism and philosophy.
The Hardys advanced this storyline through a series of weird, gonzo, so-bad-it's-awesome pre-taped segments. First, there was this video, which featured Matt and Jeff signing a contract to fight at TNA’s Slammiversary.
And then, the Hardys out-did themselves with "The Final Deletion." This short film was shot at Matt's and Jeff's houses, and it featured tree-diving, fire and a ton of fireworks, which both men launched at each other with Roman candles. It also featured a drone that holo-projected Matt's face midair and Jeff chasing said drone on a dirt bike. It also featured Matt—you know what? Just watch the clip. It's the sort of thing that has to be seen to be believed.
Neither of the Hardys is a particularly good actor. The special effects are horrendous. But there's a genuine low-budget B-movie charm to all of this. It's good in the ironic way that Ed Wood movies are good.
The Broken Hardys, like Ed Wood, are so aggressively campy and, most importantly, sincere about their efforts, that the audience gets swept up in their enthusiasm. Fun is infectious. Wrestling fans know what they are watching isn't real, but they do demand that the performers treat what they're doing with commitment; that's where the real realness is.
What's Up with the Hair?
We don't know what's up with the hair.
I See. and Then Jeff Got in on the Act Too?
Yes. Eventually, through Matt's encouragement and persistence, Jeff began referring to himself as Brother Nero and took on "broken" characteristics. He lowered his voice to a beastial growl. He cackled like a madman. He started wearing white contact lenses.
The turning point was when Jeff threw himself through a table—to make a point—and completely gave himself over to his brother's corrupting influence. Months later, the brothers captured the TNA World Tag Team titles.
The Broken Hardys were the most popular act in an otherwise failing company. And these were not young men—Jeff was 39, and Matt was 42. Combined with their risk-taking style and their overstuffed schedule—the Hardys took on multiple indie dates during their recent Expedition of Gold with NWA Mid-Atlantic, OMEGA, ROH and more—and the brothers' late-career resurgence was all the more impressive.
Meanwhile, the brothers taunted wrestlers in other promotions, including WWE. They invited the "Man with Three H's" (Triple H), "The Kid Who Breaks Hearts" (Shawn Michaels), "The Day of New" (The New Day) and "The Family of Wyatts" (The Wyatt Family), among others, to Total Nonstop Deletion. Bray Wyatt actually responded, which got fans' hopes up for an eventual Hardy/WWE reconciliation.
And when WWE finally came calling, the Hardys answered. Their Expedition of Gold concluded when the brothers won the Raw tag team titles—the ultimate gold—at WrestleMania 33.
Why Do All the WWE Fans Chant 'Delete' During Raw?
It's taken on a life of its own. Most WWE fans do it when they see something they don't like, either when they're bored or when a heel is in the ring. But "delete" is also Broken Matt Hardy's signature catchphrase, which he and Brother Nero deliver (and pair with the word "obsolete") with a horizontal swipe of their arms. It refers to the defeat of a foe from all time and space. Jeff Hardy was deleted, for example, and Brother Nero took his place.
Remember how Bray Wyatt always swears to corrupt and turn WWE stars into his personal zombie followers? Deletion is sort of like that—only Matt actually manages to do it and win instead of going 0-3 at WrestleMania.
Are There Any Other Catchphrases or Inside Jokes I Should Know About?
Practically everything Matt and Jeff do is a meme at this point, but here are the main ones to keep in mind.
Matt Hardy usually says, "I knew you'd come!" in a moustache-twirling tone when confronted with an enemy. The phrase "dilapidated boat" refers to an particularly horrible line reading in the "Final Deletion" film, when Matt hides behind a boat to avoid being hit by fireworks.
There is a "Lake of Reincarnation" located on the Hardy compound, which functions like Ra's al Ghul's Lazarus Pit. It can heal weakened wrestlers and instantaneously switch a wrestler's gimmick.
Oh, and everyone in Matt's family is in on the gimmick. Matt's wife, wrestler Reby Sky, participates in the pre-taped segments, and she escorts the brothers to the ring. Matt's toddler son is called King Maxel. Reby's real-life father plays the role of Senor Benjamin, Matt's gardener, caretaker and taser wielder who "prepares the battlefield for massacre." And Vanguard 1 is Matt's sentient flying drone, who delivers holographic messages and launches rockets. He can also teleport people. Basically, he's whatever the plot needs him to be.
Can I Buy a Senor Benjamin T-Shirt?
Yep. The internet has you covered.
Can I Buy My Own Vanguard 1?
Yes, but it's not cheap, and it neither projects holograms nor teleports.
So Why Aren't They Performing Their 'Broken' Gimmicks in WWE?
Anthem Sport, the sports and entertainment company that bought TNA, claimed the intellectual property rights to the gimmick. As result, Reby is engaged in a lengthy, one-sided Twitter war with Anthem. Her parting shot, "F--k that owl" (Anthem's logo is an owl), has also caught on as a meme (warning: link contains NSFW language).
According to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio (h/t Jigmey Bhutia of International Business Times, via Yahoo), WWE is trying to work out a deal for the Hardys to use the gimmick. Meltzer noted the organization wants to cut Anthem a check for a one-time lump sum rather than paying out royalty rights and merchandising deals to Anthem on a regular basis.
In the meantime, Matt Hardy is throwing out little Easter eggs for the fans. He's kept the blonde streak in his hair. He's making the arm swipe gesture, even though the cameras try to avoid it (though they don't appear to try too hard). And at a recent House of Hardcore indie show, Matt was in full broken mode. As long as he continues doing stuff like this, fans can assume that negotiations are ongoing.
If WWE does manage to pry the gimmick from Anthem's talons and the Hardys subsequently go full-on broken, it'll be a significant shift in the organization's ethos. Vince McMahon is notoriously reluctant to let wrestlers keep non-WWE gimmicks. This is the same guy who wanted to turn Vader, a former WCW world champion, into The Mastodon (warning: link contains NSFW language).
And initially, according to Billi Bhatti for Sportskeeda, Vince was not a fan of the Broken Hardys. But once he saw the vocal response to them at WrestleMania 33, he revised his opinion. Could it be that WWE will adapt what works rather tossing it out entirely?
The last question is whether the organization would allow the Hardys to run with the gimmick in its full goofy glory or keep a firmer hand and turn the Broken Universe into a slick, high-budget production. It's a reasonable concern because the one time WWE tried to put its own spin on the Hardys' broken brilliance, it didn't turn out so well.
Either way, WWE Creative needs to keep the Hardys involved and on board in the process. It is their enthusiasm and commitment that got this unlikely gimmick to work in the first place. Its high camp is part of its appeal. And a Broken Universe without Senor Benjamin is a universe that many fans don't want.