Watching SmackDown’s Beat the Clock challenge last night, one recurring point struck me yet again. The tag team scene in WWE isn’t just problematic, it’s downright pathetic. It has nothing to do with talent. It has everything to do with effort behind the scenes from persons other than the workers themselves.
But, Vince has found his latest nostalgia act, and already Matt and Jeff Hardy have made a bigger impact than their former nemeses - the table-wielding Dudley Boyz - did in 2015 and 2016. Bubba Ray and D-Von came in, looked adequate in putting some deserving younger teams over, made a little money, and got one final run with New York. There’s certainly zero wrong with their decision or the company’s choice to bring them in, but there’s no question they could have been used in a more productive manner. Much of the run was for the older fans to chant the classic lines and phrases and occasionally see furniture broken. That was about it.
And it’s the last word in that sentence, “broken,” that leads us back to the Hardy Boyz. The 2Xtreme version of the team is a more over Dudley pairing, but in truth, the act itself isn’t sustainable long term in 2017. By sustainable, I mean on the highest level. They’re not going to draw money long term as the 2000 Hardy Boyz from Cameron, North Carolina. Those guys were great, and they did plenty of good work, but the reason the vast majority of people were so excited to see them was because of the characters that emerged in Impact Wrestling last year.
I wrote a controversial article about the “Broken” angle and concept after viewing The Final Deletion, where I basically stated it wasn’t for me, but with harsher words. There are many like me, but there are many on the opposite side. Whatever value Matt in particular has left exists within that construct. At the time, I respected the ability to pivot and the versatility and ingenuity of Matt Hardy, and without doubt, it carried an otherwise completely forgettable Impact promotion to ratings spikes and more interest than that organization had seen in years.
Contractually speaking, it may still take some time, but inevitably, when the brothers drop the Tag Team Championships, that’s when the angle should begin. Why would I bother to write a Captain Obvious piece about how necessary the Broken Matt Hardy character is for WWE? I wouldn’t, but I would write about why the Hardy Boyz can’t just be another mediocre returning act, and I would definitely write about the larger issues within the tag team division on both brands.
Calling up The Revival was a long overdue move, and then Dash Wilder was injured on a house show, stalling their debut momentum in its tracks. DIY remains at Full Sail for the time being, but we have to be nearing the end of the run there. There’s no excuse for them not to be on Mondays or Tuesdays, as they’re outstanding across the board. Both have a bright future, whether it’s together or separately, with Johnny Gargano a potential superstar babyface. WWE could benefit from the Authors of Pain continuing to improve as well, though they should be protected and polished for as long a time as is possible. And, I’m huge on SAnitY, so when the moment comes, pull that trigger and structure their push the way you have Braun Strowman’s, where it’s more open, free, and unrestrained.
SmackDown has so poorly destroyed nearly every team on its show that some may never recover. American Alpha should have worked, but was mismanaged to an unthinkable degree. Their pop is gone. The awesome feeling in the pit of your stomach when their music fires is gradually dissipating. The work they’re capable of remains, but I’m stunned that of all the NXT call-ups from the brand split last summer, they’ve done by far the worst. Even Carmella, who was nowhere near ready for a non-valet roster spot, has been given more to do and been treated more intelligently by the writers.
The Usos heel turn has been the lone bright move on SmackDown, but every one of their potential opponents has been driven into the ground with shoddy booking or a “you shouldn’t care about this” mentality. I dig Fandango and Tyler Breeze quite a bit, and I’m happy to see they’re going to get at least a mini-push, but they’re presented as a comedy act. Less than a month ago, Tyler Breeze was wearing fake breasts and doing Nikki Bella cosplay. And then she beat him up and dropped him with her finisher.
If they’re beaten in less than seven or eight minutes on the PPV, last night’s victory accomplished nothing. Hopefully there’s more in the planning than meets the eye, but we all know Vince is buying time before injecting every ounce of The New Day onto the shows to dominate Tuesday nights. As for Xavier, Kofi, and Big E, at some point Vince needs to have E in the main event scene and Xavier and Kofi as the regular duo, but with the three still together as one unit. I took note of the quantity of merch I saw in Orlando during WrestleMania week, and outside of John Cena and maybe Roman Reigns, New Day was clearly third at worst. Their schtick has worn out much of its welcome for me, but those guys are terrific entertainers and they will boost SmackDown’s tag profile, especially if Jey and Jimmy are strong heels at the time that feud is recycled.
RAW has Enzo and Cass as characters first, second, and third, and workers some larger number after that, but being a quirky New Age Outlaws only has so much worth. Eventually, we should care about the matches. Enzo is very much Road Dogg, but Cass isn’t on the same planet with Billy Gunn in the ring. Those two have some Edge and Christian in them, but hopefully the wrestling will improve a bit. They’re valuable, but when we get a warm feeling after Enzo is “injured” and replaced by Finn Balor, we’re seeing a team with a major weakness. We don’t really want to see them wrestle. We want to see them entertain. That’s fine, but those involved should strive for more.
Cesaro and Sheamus as a team has worked better than anyone could have anticipated, but essentially, these are still two singles wrestlers paired up because Vince can’t decide where to put them on their own. Plus, Sheamus’ heel turn failed miserably and Cesaro has been the ultimate victim of the stop and start philosophy. That strategy is described by Vince as a brass ring, but he’s the obstacle, and it’s impossible to move him out of the way unless you’re Daniel Bryan.
As for Karl Anderson and Luke Gallows, if you’ve seen what they’re capable of when not scripted, especially with the Sex Ferguson character that Southpaw Regional Wrestling greatly sanitized, you realize these two have tons of talent. Anderson is a solid in-ring hand and has a natural heel charisma, and Luke is hilarious and engaging on screen. But, eventually the people holding clipboards and keyboards in the back have to stop telling them to call opponents “nerds” and “butt nuggets.” That can work once in a while, but just last summer, remember those doctor skits in the run-up to SummerSlam and into September? Remember “The Old Day?” When WWE does humor, it usually sucks complete ass, and for these two, it nearly killed them off.
What “Broken” Matt Hardy and Brother Nero do for WWE is give them something they tried to copy and couldn’t, and opens up a completely fresh world for the company. While it’s not necessarily for me, I’ve grown more open minded as the months have passed, and I don’t like to see innovation in entertainment fail. The only way to keep everything from looking the same is to actually do something different. WWE’s match pattern will never change, but some of the other stuff could.
Sometimes, and I’ll go ahead and predict House of Horrors to be all-time awful, it flunks the test, but sometimes it connects.
Those characters can sell gimmicks, they can sell tickets, and they can get people talking. In such a stagnant tag division, WWE has gotten a little bit of mileage out of the Hardy Boyz of the past. I sat inside Camping World Stadium and felt that edifice shake when the music hit, and then I heard the deafening “Delete, Delete, Delete” chant. When you take the ladders away, they’re just two older guys with bigger names who are willing to put their bodies through the rigor of a match.
Give them back that special extra, that something that makes them stand out, and all of a sudden you’ve just spread a life force into WWE, and even if it’s tertiary, you’ve also done it INSIDE THE TAG DIVISION. It can only make things better.
It’s stupendous to have these guys back for one more ride, but right now, WWE needs the 2017 edition of Matt and Jeff far more than either of them need the company. And, the reason for the promotion’s lack of leverage is clear.
We want them. We need them. People are craving “Broken.” Big money could be on the line.
And all associated parties know it.