2016 has been a tumultuous year. In the real world it’s largely been horrible, all questionable political decisions, the emergence of post-truth as an accepted narrative, and far too many beloved celebrities dying. Conversely, professional wrestling has had an incredible year, with surprise after surprise being sprung on graps fans by every organisation from WWE to New Japan to the lowliest indy doing brilliant things with limited resources. The biggest news stories have seen AJ Styles not only join WWE but become its World champion, Shinsuke Nakamura leave the comfort of Japan for the US, and a resurgent Chris Hero have such a good year that even carrying timber like Dusty Rhodes hasn’t held him back from Greatest Of All-Time status.
But if you’d told me at the beginning of the year that Matt Hardy – perennially picking up a cheque for doing the same old, same old, on a forever-stumbling TNA – would come up with 2016’s most innovative, and most watchable, character then I’d have told you to stop the crazy talk. It’s true, though, and even those of us who long ago gave up on TNA, despite relaunch after relaunch, have found ourselves watching his bits at least, eager to see where BROKEN Matt Hardy goes next.
The climax of all this – at least for now – aired this week in the US, with a show-long Total Nonstop Deletion coming from the Hardy Compound in Cameron, NC. The show was built around a gauntlet match for the TNA Tag-Team titles – held by the Hardyz – but also featured a TNA World Heavyweight title match between Bobby Lashley and Eddie Edwards (which, as far as I can tell, is still going on), a number one contenders’ match for the Women’s title (which revealed that the North Carolina Athletic Commission frowns on drones fighting women), and the in-ring debuts of both Hardy’s infant son, who pinned Rockstar Spud with the aid of Senor Benjamin and his trusty taser, and Jeff Hardy’s headfuck Itchweeed.
If all this sounds like the ravings of a madman then, well, that’s exactly what it is – the beautiful insanity created by Matt and Jeff Hardy, and their partner-in-crime (enabler?) Jeremy Borash. The tag-team tournament – entitled Apocalypto, because if the Hardyz relinquished their grip on the belts a nascent volcano in the grounds of their compound would erupt and destroy the entire town – featured regular TNA teams like the Decay and the Helms Dynasty, as well as invited guests such as the Rock ‘N’ Roll Express, the Bravado Brothers, and a cast of dozens. Quite simply, it shouldn’t work. But it does. It really, really does.
The freedom afforded to Hardy to create the BROKEN series of vignettes and features is symbolic of a year in wrestling when people are trying new things more than ever. The audience for the sport is dwindling, but those who are on board are with it for life, and will tolerate – encourage, delight in – the different, as well as a decent dose of their usual fare. I sincerely hope that 2017 is a very different year for the real world, but I’d be more than happy to see wrestling continue along the same lines. It’s been different, it’s been weird, it’s been surprising. It’s been great.