Matt Hardy on His AEW Experience So Far & Helping the Next Generation
Matt Hardy enjoys keeping fans on their toes.
The one constant throughout the many different characters he portrays is a love for the world of wrestling. It’s this passion that motivated his decision to leave WWE and sign with the buzzy All Elite Wrestling. Since March, the star has felt a creative resurgence working alongside familiar faces and new talent, like his latest rival Sammy Guevara. An errant chair shot to a bloody Hardy added another level of aggression to their feud. Now, the master of reinvention and evolution is set to face the Inner Circle member in a tables match on a Thursday edition of Dynamite.
As the road to the All Out pay-per-view becomes clearer, TV Insider sat down with the man known for his “Broken Brilliance” to talk about his AEW run thus far.
You debuted in AEW in the middle of the pandemic. What have these first few months working for this new company been like for you?
Matt Hardy: We’ve done well. Being in the middle of a pandemic is a territory no wrestling company has ever really stepped into, especially with AEW being so new. At this point, there have probably been just as many empty arena pandemic shows as regular [AEW] shows. In this first year, I think they’ve done well. They’ve had to adjust a lot of things. It’s a totally different environment and setting. [But] it’s hard to tell what acts are working and what isn’t working because you don’t have the immediate feedback you usually have in an arena full of wrestling fans.
AEW fans are passionate and vocal, so social media is a good gauge right now. How important it is to you to take the audience into account?
I definitely listen to the majority of the audience. It’s weird in that my audience is very split. A lot of them are die-hard “Broken” Matt Hardy fans. Then there is a huge amount of wrestling fans, which AEW has done a great job of getting back. These fans like the serious pro-wrestling content and crave more of the “Regular” Matt Hardy. I try to aim more at being “Regular” Matt Hardy and still incorporate elements of “Broken.” My goal, I said this in a promo, and was honest in saying it, but I hoped I could have brought “Broken” Matt Hardy in front of live crowds. It would have almost been an attraction. Then, I could still also help the next generation backstage. But, I felt I was at a point where I needed to pull more of the weight and be a serious act and contribute as much as I can for our fanbase. That's what I’m [trying to do] currently.
How has it been collaborating with AEW head Tony Khan and being given this creative freedom?
It’s extremely refreshing. One of the biggest things I can say is in other companies, specifically WWE, it’s easy to get disgruntled creatively. You might have these creative ideas and things you know you can do so well, but you don’t get the opportunity to do them or they get completely altered. In AEW, it’s amazing how you interact with Tony Khan or the Young Bucks or Cody or whoever it may be. You get together, collaborate and set a course of action and really get to do it. That’s nice. It feels very rewarding to get an idea that is yours [in the ring].
When you first appeared in AEW, it looked like you were moving towards a big showdown between yourself and Chris Jericho. Was a match on the Hardy Compound planned before COVID forced so many changes?
In all actuality, when we first started doing all that, the original plan, I think, was to have the cinematic match with Sammy. I challenged Jericho, but the idea was for it to get pushed off to Sammy. Things went differently when North Carolina and other states went into lockdown. There was this six-week period where AEW literally survived on a day or two of shooting footage, which was pretty amazing. They did an incredible job. Kudos to the crew. We had to change course in many ways. From the very beginning, I was going to end up having a feud with Sammy, and Jericho was my bridge to get to that. As far as the Hardy Compound fight with Sammy, that may happen one day. We’ll see.
What’s great about AEW is the strong emphasis on tag team wrestling. You’ve been working with Private Party. What kind of progress have you seen from them?
One of the things I can tell from watching their match with FTR is more aggression. I stressed to them that you have to believe you can fight and believe you’re an athlete that can kick someone's ass. That is something they’ve incorporated since we started working together. I’m proud they are doing that because the more they do, the more high-flying moves will stand out.
There is a renewed appreciation for tag team wrestling. When you look at the AEW landscape, is there a want or hope down the line to see you and Jeff reunite?
With the incredible deep division there is in AEW, I’d love to have my brother there to wrestle against the Young Bucks, Hangman Page and Kenny Omega, Private Party, FTR. There is such a deep roster. I’d love to do that one day if it was a possibility.
What are your thoughts on AEW welcoming fans back for televised events at Daily’s Place at 10-15 percent capacity?
It is going to be done in a super safe way. We’ve sort of tested it out in recent weeks with friends and others from local businesses that help AEW. They are going to be sitting up at the top, top section. That is away from the ring. It’s just great to have that background noise. It’s why we had wrestlers in the crowd, to give that background noise. Part of the magic of pro wrestling matches is the crowd interactions. The drama of the match. The crowd is such an important aspect of a pro wrestling match and has been missing during this pandemic. That little reaction adds so much. A wrestling match is not truly great unless you have this emotional response in the background.
Those who follow you know how important your family is to you. As your kids get older and understand what you’re doing for a living, how has that changed your perspective?
It was one of the reasons I wanted to go to AEW. I wanted to perform and be a standout where my kids could grow up and see me wrestle. The younger ones are just now beginning to understand it. My oldest Maxel doesn’t understand why other dads don’t have action figures. It’s very funny because this is all he has known for his entire life. They enjoy it. I want them to watch. And if it’s something they want to do down the road, they can pay back some of the money I’ve spent on them over the years to help Dada when he gets old.
I like that Sammy was the end game for you when working with Chris Jericho. Why did you think working with Sammy would be such a good fit?
I look back to the very first time I was in an AEW ring. The first person to put their hands on me or hit me was Sammy. I did my debut where “Blood and Guts” was shut down due to the pandemic. The next week we had a one-on-one confrontation with Chris. At the end of that, Sammy came from underneath the ring and hit me from behind. That was the start of our storyline. When you look back, we’ve had a long-running story considering we are entering September. I think the thing that is very important, and I think Chris is also an advocate for this, is once you’re established with name value, it’s so important to work with the younger guy. If myself and Chris Jericho were together, we’re not helping anyone. We’re still doing a good story and trying to build one another. Whenever you’re working with a Sammy Guevara, or Chris working with Orange Cassidy, you’re building up stock in wrestling. That’s something done well in AEW. We have to build these new guys for the future.
How do you think Sammy has handled and learned from different situations, whether it was something horrible he said or the chair shot to you, and how do you think this will make him a better performer in the future?
You have to keep learning from your mistakes. I see it with my children all the time. They make mistakes and have to learn from them. The same thing with Sammy. Hopefully, he learned from his mistakes. Between the beating that I gave him the other day and the beating I’m going to give him in our tables match. He is going to learn the hard way about this chair shot. If you’re a young person in this industry, it’s a continuous learning process.
What do you think AEW should do to take that next step to maintain momentum once the novelty of being the new company wears off?
The biggest thing is to actually listen to your audience. If something happens organically, go with it. That’s what the people want. [That's] one thing that is coming around to bite WWE right now. Listen to their audience and build the younger talent, and you have to give this new talent a chance. So, I think that it is [an] important [aspect] to continue doing in AEW.
Special Thursday edition of AEW Dynamite, August 27, 8/7c, TNT
AEW All Out, September 5, 8/7c, Pay-Per-View