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What was ‘The Ultimate Deletion’ and why is everyone talking about it?

A legal fight helped lead to the weirdest thing wrestling has seen in years.

If you’ve been on the internet in the last 12 hours, there’s a good chance you’ve seen a screenshot or video from “The Ultimate Deletion,” one of the weirdest pieces of avant garde art WWE has put on cable TV. The brainchild of superstar Matt Hardy, it’s one-part wrestling, two-parts made for TV sci-fi movie, with a healthy sprinkling of student film project for good measure.

Explosive beginnings.

Matt and Jeff Hardy were two of WWE’s biggest tag-team stars during the height of wrestling’s “Attitude Era”, which ran from 1997 until 2002. The pair burst onto the scene in their early-20s and experienced huge success, with Jeff being viewed as the more talented superstar, while Matt had infinitely more charisma.

WWE split the pair up so they could have singles success, and Jeff ascended to win the WWE championship, while Matt lingered in the mid-tier — never really able to break out on his own. Jeff left the company in 2003 due to missed work commitments and drug problems, while Matt continued until 2005 when he was released from the company.

Fast-forward to 2016.

The Hardys competed on-and-off for a variety of independent promotions, but found success again in TNA, a rival to WWE. The brand was in a downward spiral thanks to horrible mismanagement of talent and a lack of good writing, which caused TNA to allow its superstars to take risks.

Both Matt and Jeff were working for TNA in a feud against each other when they competed in an “I Quit” match, with the loser leaving the company. Jeff won, Matt left and was absent for one month as part of the gimmick until he returned as ...

Broken Matt Hardy.

It’s here where everything began that would set up WWE’s “Ultimate Deletion.” Matt returned to the ring in TNA with his hair blown out, a shock of bleach through it and began talking in an affected accent. He would only call Jeff “Brother Nero,” referring to his real-life middle name — and Matt said he was a “Broken Man” who was obsessed with “deleting” his brother.

The “Broken Matt” character was an opportunity to reinvent the brothers, who had floundered without an identity for years. The absurdist nature of the gimmick, paired with an earnest execution, resonated with wrestling fans, and suddenly TNA began experiencing its best ratings in years, as people tuned in to see what kind of weirdness “Broken Matt” would bring to the table.

This culminated in “The Final Deletion,” a 17-minute promo video setting up the Hardy vs. Hardy match that has over 1.5 million views on YouTube.

The “Broken” concept garnered critical acclaim, with the wildly over-the-top character winning “best gimmick” from Wrestling Observer Newsletter in 2016.

WWE return and legal feud.

Matt and Jeff Hardy returned to WWE as a tag team at Wrestlemania 33 in 2017, but without their “Broken” gimmick. Behind the scenes, TNA was fighting their previous employees, with parent company Anthem Sports & Entertainment sending Matt a cease-and-desist on using the gimmick, claiming it was their property.

This resulted in the Hardys competing in WWE, much as they did in the Attitude era. Most fans knew what was happening outside the ring, and were content to chant “DELETE” during their matches, an ode to the “Broken” gimmick.

Finally, in November 2017, TNA relinquished their fight, and in January 2018 Matt Hardy was granted the ownership and trademarks related to the “Broken” concept, allowing him to use it in WWE.

“Woken” Matt Hardy.

In late-November Hardy began a feud with WWE’s other premier supernatural superstar Bray Wyatt. Wyatt is a backwoods cult leader with weird ghost powers, but that’s a whole other story. After losing a match to Wyatt, Hardy sat in the corner of the ring chanting “DELETE,” before appearing the next week and saying he had “woken,” and sentenced Wyatt to “deletion.”

After a series of back-and-forth promotions, the pair were set to meet at The Hardy Compound, where “The Final Deletion” was shot two years earlier for WWE’s own over-the-top version. It was dubbed “The Ultimate Deletion,” and married Hardy’s creative control of the concept with WWE’s resources to do things the superstar never could with TNA.

So what actually happened during the “The Ultimate Deletion?”

For wrestling fans, it was the culmination of something they’d waited two years for: Hardy being allowed to do his thing. The concept of an outdoors match shot on steady cams is something WWE has done in the past, but often to the mockery of fans as WWE took the idea too seriously. “The Ultimate Deletion” leaned into the absurdity, with dramatic music, lengthy anime-esque monologues, and even a fireworks attack launched by Hardy’s faithful drone, “Vanguard 1.”

There was even a Benny Hill-inspired chase scene, because this is what Hardy is all about. Remember — this was all supposedly happening in real time.

At this point I just need to show you moments, because my talking won’t do it justice.

So after trying to murder Wyatt with a lawn tractor, the pair fought outside and down by the “Lake of Reincarnation,” where entering the waters will make someone “woken.”

So it ended with Wyatt being “deleted,” allowing for a complete gimmick change for the superstar and fans left wondering what will come next.

Why do people love this so much?

“The Ultimate Deletion” is wrestling at its finest. WWE is at its best when things break the fourth wall to a point of real-life seriousness, or go completely the other way and embrace the absurdity of the form. Nobody thinks this was serious. Nobody believes this was remotely plausible — but it’s WWE steering into the curve in a way they rarely do.

Only Hardy and Wyatt could have pulled this off in 2018. Their stalwart adherence to the bit, paired with the low-rent approach breaks from the grand seriousness and manufactured tension that leaves fans feeling insulted. “The Ultimate Deletion” was self-aware, fun, and brilliant. It allows for a much-needed change in direction for the supremely-talented Wyatt, whose “Eater of Worlds” gimmick had become stale. Now they have a canonical reason to reinvent him.

Typically WWE doesn’t embrace anything that works in any other organization, assuming with arrogance that their way is best. This time they listened to fans, embraced a concept that people already loved, and let Hardy run wild with his “woken” bit. It was beautiful.