The phrase “fight forever” is heard quite a bit on AEW programming, but while it’s most frequently used as a chant by fans, Matt Hardy uses it to describe his career history with Christian Cage – a history 20 years long and running, including a match on August 3, 2022, on AEW Dynamite.
“It’s crazy,” acknowledged Hardy during an exclusive sit-down with SlamWrestling.net at Starrcast V. “We’ve known each other for a quarter of a century now. It was 1999 when we had what is now our iconic tag team ladder match. It’s just so crazy. I’m very grateful that all of us are healthy enough to be wrestling.”
The challenge, of course, when facing an opponent with whom there is that much history is in trying to keep things fresh while still being true to the history. Hardy said that Christian’s current heelish personality made it a perfect opportunity to revisit their feud.
“A lot of it comes from people tweaking and changing and evolving their characters as they go forward,” he explained. “That gives them different motivations. And if you have a little bit of a story leading into the match, you can build off that story. In this scenario, Christian has been such a piece of (crap) to everybody. The things he’s done to me, and the insults he’s thrown my way towards my family and my brother, it gives me great motivation to kick his ass.”
One of Hardy’s other objectives is to avoid injury during the match. It’s no secret that he and Cage are both approaching 50 years old. So part of the equation in the match is recognizing that they may not be able to do the same things they did when they were in their 20s and 30s. For Hardy, that’s something he’s very cognizant about, and he says his current in-ring style is very much in line with that mentality.
“I’ve tried to (slow down) as undercover as possible,” he laughed. “But, actually, even the whole reason I started doing ‘Broken Matt Hardy’ in the beginning was to be more of a theatrical character, as opposed to a ‘work-rate’ guy. I wanted to get more longevity out of my body. I still incorporate that stuff in the things I do nowadays.”
“There are times where I try and crank it up, and especially if it’s a match or scenario that really calls for, you know, doing something that is risky, or something that’s a high risk. But even then I try to be very smart about it. As you get older, you learn to work smarter. You can still work hard, but you can work smarter, and a lot healthier.”
In mentioning the Broken Matt Hardy character, the discussion naturally turned to the entire “Broken” universe, and the role that played in popularizing cinematic matches. Of course, to some purists, those aren’t at all popular. Hardy accepts that that genre isn’t universally-loved, but makes no apologies for his part in furthering the concept.
“Yes, ‘divisive’ is a very good word for it,” he agreed. “I just wanted to try something different. The (Broken universe) was me really stepping way out of my comfort zone. And, you know, stepping out of the realm of normal.”
“I was inspired to do it as a throwback to things like Papa Shango in the early ’90s, or the early Undertaker with the magic and supernatural elements that had people thinking, ‘Oh my God, is he an extraterrestrial being? Because he can do all these weird things,’” he explained.
“I knew when we did that first contract signing [Ed. note: in Impact Wrestling] it was so polarizing. But people cared about it. They either absolutely loved it, or they absolutely hated it. But they cared. In wrestling, the worst thing you can do is have people not to care about what you’re doing at all. If there’s a reaction, if there’s cheers, boos, if people are reacting, if you’re evoking emotion, you’re doing something right. So I knew we were on a good path.”
After the buzz of the initial segment, things got ramped up, leading to the Final Deletion match between Matt and his brother, Jeff. The near 20-minute cinematic match broke nearly every convention of a traditional match, using special effects and video cuts, various odd characters and cameos, and various unconventional props like a fireworks shooter and a dilapidated boat.
“We were making that up on the fly,” he laughed. “No, really. I mean, we – myself and Jeremy Borash – had an outline of what we were looking to do, but it was our first time shooting one of those. There were only four people working on production there, which is hard to believe, because we shot it over the course of one night, a full 12 hours.”
After the success of that video, they kept trying to out-do themselves with subsequent videos like The Great War, and Apocalypto, which saw Decay member Crazzy Steve get pushed into and ejected from a volcano.
“That one was my favorite cinematic match I’ve ever done,” he said. “Because it was like a short movie, you know, with all these different tag teams, and they had all these different interactions. And I love that we put these spontaneous cameos in there which pop people. That’s part of the magic of cinematic matches.”
“And I get it, I understand that there are a lot of people that are just diehard wrestling fans, they consider themselves purists, and that’s all they want to see. And I don’t hold that against them at all. But,” he counters, “I think (cinematic matches are) a different way of like telling a story. And my pitch as to why they are positive is this: at the end of the day, pro wrestling is entertainment, no matter how you slice it. And this is a way to entertain people, which is also very, very different. And there’s definitely a huge base for it, there’s a huge market out there.”
Since coming to AEW, Hardy has seemingly put the ‘Broken’ character on the back shelf – in part, he has said in other interviews, because it was hard to properly transition the character in the pandemic era with a limited audience – and instead has carved out some other personas, like his Big Money Matt manager character. When his brother joined the company, Matt went back to square one, reforming their popular tag team.
For Matt, it was a welcome return to tag team wrestling, a division which is very much valued and a priority for AEW owner Tony Khan.
“I think tag team wrestling has been doing great stuff, both in AEW and in Ring of Honor. FTR has been doing great stuff. The Young Bucks – they’re very polarizing, but I love them. I think they’re they hottest tag team currently. They so good at what they do, they know how to lean into things,” he praised. “They really know how to blur the lines between reality and fiction. There’ll be an event and someone will say, ‘The Young Bucks did this and that, they’re punks – they’re not real wrestlers, they’re spot monkeys.’ And then the Bucks will lean into that, and they’ll use that to evoke emotion. That’s very smart. That’s part of the name of the game in this day and age.”
Hardy is proud that many people see he and his brother’s influence on tag team wrestling today, and especially as being a pioneer of some of the exciting matches and moves that newer teams emulate.
“That’s a huge compliment,” he agreed. “To be one of the teams that really ushered in the Tables, Ladders, and Chairs era, being one of the forefathers of the TLC concept, I’m very proud of that. We were the first ones – Jeff and myself, Edge, and Christian – to go out and really break ground when it came to that. So I love seeing that still in tag team wrestling, because it helps put tag team wrestling in the main event and being given the current spotlight it has.”
While Hardy may be a pioneer of sorts in tag team wrestling, one area where he’s gaining experience is in podcasting. He and co-host John Alba have been broadcasting “The Extreme Life of Matt Hardy” since January talking all about his life both in and out of the ring.
“It’s been a blast,” Hardy enthused about the show. “It’s been fun for me, because (doing a podcast) was something that I really didn’t know anything about. So there was a lot of learning on the fly. And I think, as an artist, I am always intrigued to try something new, whether it’s a character, or whatever kind of storytelling, do something different, put a different spin on it. And the podcast game to me, it was kind of very much like that.”
As another creative outlet, Hardy enjoys the podcast, but it’s not something he’s going to be dropping wrestling for. Indeed, he wants to keep wrestling as long as he is able to.
“I’m going to (wrestle) as long as I can, because I do love it. That was my first real passion and love in life. I mean, there were other things that I liked before wrestling, but that was the first thing that ever really got a hold of me. So I feel very blessed and grateful to be able to do it as long as I can, and have this amazing longevity. But the podcast world is a good thing for me to put my toes into the water and kind of feel the temperature. And it’s something I might do a little more as I get older.”
It’s also about the only other thing he has time for other than wrestling. Indeed, as a father of four children, most of his off-time consists of being with his family.
“My kids are seven, five, one is going to turn three in a couple of months, and my little girl just turned one,” he beamed. “So you can best believe when I’m at home, between keeping my wife happy and taking care of four young children, every minute of my day is accounted for. That being said, if I do have some time to myself, I love watching a television series. If I’m on the road, I have stuff downloaded onto my iPad and I’ll watch whatever it may be. I’m currently watching the last season of The Boys right now. And my wife actually just started watching Stranger Things at home. We get the kids to bed and we burn right through it. That show is amazing – we’re a couple of episodes into season two right now.”
Another thing he likes to do when he can is to help younger talent develop and grow. Having worked for every major company over the past 25 years, Hardy has a lot of experience and wisdom to impart on the current generation. It’s an aspect of being a veteran that he really enjoys, as it is not only helpful to the people he’s mentoring, but to the company and industry as a whole.
“My goal week in and week out is to contribute to the show,” he said. “I take a lot of pride in being able to help young talent. When I was doing the Big Money Matt run with Private Party, I was literally mentoring them and tutoring them off-screen as well. And I think they improved by leaps and bounds. I did that with the Butcher and the Blade as well. And I really enjoyed that.”
“To me, that’s the true definition of giving back,” he noted. “Because the business has changed, the culture has changed over the last 20 years, and very drastically so. I feel like guys didn’t want to give back as much then, especially if they’d succeeded a very high position. They weren’t as quick to help pass information down because they want to protect their spot or whatever it may be. So I’m very proud to do that.”
Asked if he could go back in time and provide advice to his younger self, Hardy said that his advice would be some of the same as he gives to the stars of today: to work smarter.
“When I think of early on in my career,” he considered, “I would definitely want to reprogram my mind to work smarter and have longevity. Doing legdrops – because I feel the effects of them on my lower back and hips after doing them for, you know, 15 years on a full-time schedule. I think my goal would have been to work smarter. Still to work hard, but to work smarter and healthier.”