There are a few wrestlers in the world of pro wrestling, that have the innate talent of being able to constantly evolve and reinvent themselves. While guys like Chris Jericho are well known for constantly evolving and staying relevant…Matt Hardy must also be put in that conversation. One of Hardy’s very first gimmick changes may arguably be one of his finest. Today on the blog, we look at the character known as ‘Matt Hardy: Version 1.’
It all really started after a series of classic matches between the Hardy Boyz and Edge and Christian. The two teams shook hands as a sign of mutual respect and that put an idea in Matt Hardy’s brain. Matt went to WWE management and proposed a faction that would consist of the Hardys and Edge and Christian. The faction’s name was to be called “Version 1”, meaning the four men were the first version of a new breed of wrestlers that would take over WWE. Matt outlined an entire storyline where the foursome would united and feud with Degeneration X. Unfortunately for all involved, Vince McMahon passed on the idea.
In 2001, McMahon made the decision to split up Matt and Jeff Hardy with the intent of pushing Jeff as the main star of that team. In real life, Matt felt overlooked by WWE management, as he believed he was just as important, if not more to the overall success of the Hardy Boyz. It was rumored that McMahon purposely fawned over Jeff more to make their impending break up more real and natural. Matt would turn heel on his brother Jeff after the Hardys lost a steel cage match to the Dudley Boyz. Matt began a small one on one feud with Jeff, where Hardy would also dump Lita as his girlfriend.
As was usually the case with Vince McMahon, he got a little gun shy about the whole break up of the team and decided to scrap the plans he had and reform the Hardy Boyz. It wasn’t until 2002, when McMahon revisited the breakup angle between the brothers. Jeff Hardy was being used on the main shows, while Matt was relegated to competing on the less viewed Sunday Night Heat program. Matt, once again turned on Jeff, this time costing Jeff a match against Rob Van Dam. After the heel turn, Matt Hardy was sent to Smackdown, while Jeff remained on Raw.
While Smackdown…at the time…was considered the number 2 show to Monday Night Raw…Matt wanted to make the most out of this new heel turn. He went to WWE management and once again pitched his Version 1 idea. This time, however, it wasn’t intended for a faction, but for himself. Matt Hardy Version 1 would be a new and improved character. WWE creative decided to give Matt a shot with the Version 1 character on Smackdown.
Since this was his idea, Matt was extremely hands on with the gimmick. He helped in designing the Version 1 logo and merchandise for the character. He also had ideas for his entrance involving the music and using a computer screen to “load up” this new version of Matt Hardy the heel. Matt Hardy Version 1 incorporated his first name into much of his lingo such as ‘Mattitude’, ‘Mattamatics’ and ‘Mattributes.
Then of course, there was his ever popular ‘Matt Facts’ that appeared during his entrances. Each week, there would be a little known, yet mundane factoid about Matt Hardy. These were actual, real facts that Matt came up with and included facts like…Matt loves English Muffins, Matt strongly dislikes mustard, Matt has wrestled in 44 states, Matt likes pulp in his orange juice, Matt has a heated toilet seat, Matt sleeps on his side, Matt uses ketchup on one fry at a time, etc, etc. While Matt came up with all the facts, Hardy credits WWE producer Kevin Dunn for the actual Matt Facts idea.
The gimmick caught fire with fans and suddenly Matt Hardy Version 1 became a personal favorite of Vince McMahon. Matt felt that the reason his gimmick was loved by Vince, is because it was becoming so popular with fans. Hardy would have segments where he was trying to lose weight to challenge for the cruiserweight title…which he ultimately won by defeating Billy Kidman. He successfully defended the title at Wrestlemania 19 against Rey Mysterio and actually main evented a June episode of Smackdown in a rematch against Mysterio where he lost the title.
Matt eventually got his own little faction when he recruited his buddy Shannon Moore and then later added Crash Holly to the group. Hardy referred to both Moore and Holly as Matt followers or MFers for short. Crash Holly was used as an apprentice to Shannon Moore known as a “Moore On” but both followed Hardy and did his bidding. His MFers usually interfered in matches on Hardy’s behalf. The Matt Hardy Version 1 character won ‘Best Gimmick’ by the Wrestling Observer readers for 2002.
For about two years (2002 – 2004), the gimmick was over with fans and well received by critics. In real life, Hardy requested a switch to Monday Night Raw, where he could be closer to his girlfriend Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas. His request was granted, but strangely…his Version 1 gimmick along with his MFers were dropped. Was it out of fear that his gimmick would overshadow his brother Jeff in popularity? Whatever the case was, Matt suffered a knee injury and was taken off the road. The rest of that story is well documented and eventually led to Matt’s release from the company.
Matt would return to WWE on a couple of other occasions, with the last being in 2017. Matt revealed that in 2019, he approached Vince McMahon to bring back his Version 1 character with an updated take, but sadly, Vince rejected the idea. While Matt Hardy has had some memorable characters in pro wrestling like Big Money Matt and Broken Matt, his Version 1 character just may be his finest work.