It all started out with a ludicrous match. Over in TNA, Matt Hardy lost an I Quit match to his brother, Jeff Hardy. Because of his devastating loss and injuries sustained during the match, something in Matt snapped… or should I say, something in him broke. When he returned, Matt Hardy started dressing up like some Machiavellian villain, talking in a faux accent and just all around behaving strangely. This was the birth of “Broken” Matt Hardy. He eventually got his revenge at The Final Deletion, a match where… well, just go watch it yourself, because there’s no real way to describe it using words that’ll make sense.
The Final Deletion was very unique for its time. It was still a match but it was something really different for someone who was used to “traditional” pro wrestling. There have been matches with pre-taped segments before but not to the degree the Final Deletion took things. It had music, special effects and, the biggest change, editing. It was purposefully edited with hard cuts and camera trickery. It also showed how ridiculous and, well, how fake the world of professional wrestling, something that should be a no-no for wrestling fans.
So why do so many fans love “cinematic” wrestling?
This is a question I’m trying to answer because, as a longtime fan of professional wrestling, I do try to “pretend” wrestling is real. I know wrestling is fake and this is basically soap opera storytelling with fancy fights thrown in. I’m not naive! Even so, I still like to go with the idea that the two people in the ring hate each other’s guts because it’s just makes things more entertaining. It’s like watching something like Game of Thrones. You know all of these guys are just actors and it’s just a story yet you get all upset during a mass murdering at a wedding. That’s how I generally treat my wrestling.
However, the “cinematic” match in professional wrestling flies in the face of kayfabe. In fact, it takes kayfabe into the restroom, gives it a swirly in the dirtiest toilet bowl it can find, pulls down its pants, gives kayfabe an atomic wedgie and throw it into the women’s locker room for everyone to laugh at. Metaphorically speaking, of course. The “cinematic” match is the antithesis of the illusion of the entire “wrestling is real” idea.
For the longest time, I really couldn’t put my finger on it but, after this week’s AEW Double or Nothing pay-per-view event with the zaniness of the Stadium Stampede match, I managed to get a handle at what makes “cinematic” matches so enjoyable.
It’s because “cinematic” matches are overtly against kayfabe but respects the wrestling audience at the same time.
This may seem like an odd thing to say, especially after my statement about getting into the mindset of “wrestling is real” but hear me out.
Let’s go take a look at the most recent “cinematic” matches, this year’s WWE Money in the Bank and the more recent AEW event, the aforementioned Stadium Stampede match. First, let’s go look at the best moment of the Money in the Bank match. This was when AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan accidentally brawl into Vince McMahon’s office.
This is just pure comedic gold in so many ways. First off , AJ Styles and Daniel Bryan stop beating on each other when they realized they’ve busted into their boss’ office! They even become cordial enough with each other to rearrange the chairs they messed up before sheepishly leaving the room and even have a brief discussion about how they were scared to be there before resuming their fight. The icing on the cake is Vince McMahon, after kicking them out of his office, pumping out some hand sanitizer before resuming work, as this is one of the real quirks he’s supposed to have.
This interaction is something straight out of the world of movies and sitcoms. It’s totally never going to happen in real life but it works because it still tells you a story but that story only makes sense if you understand the world of professional wrestling. You have to know who Vince McMahon is and that he is the man who runs the WWE, the company the two wrestlers work for. We also get Vince rubbing his hands with hand sanitizer because it’s reported he a bit of a germophobe. This is something only the wrestling fans who love knowing the real life stuff about professional wrestling know about.
Now, let’s go look at AEW’s Stadium Stampede. More specifically, the segment where Santana and Ortiz try to drown “Broken” Matt Hardy, yes, the same man who invented the “cinematic” match, in a pool. Each time he gets up, Matt Hardy appears as one of his older gimmicks. Santana and Ortiz can ever read the Matter of Fact blurbs on the screen… even though they shouldn’t be able to see it!
Once again, this is really outlandish as we do see different versions of Matt Hardy. His clothing even changes just to emphasize he’s a different version! This is actually a reference to the Lake of Reincarnation in the Hardy Compound as seen in the Final Deletion. However, it’s still super entertaining for a longtime wrestling fan because, if you’ve followed his career, you know precisely what they were referencing. The astonishing thing is these personas weren’t even canon in AEW as those Matt Hardys only appeared in the WWE! Add the surreal element of Santana and Ortiz being able to see the stuff on the side of the screen and you have something truly amazing!
There is still a level of respect for longtime wrestling fans because of these little nods and winks to them. You can kind of think of it as fanservice as the people who do produce these “cinematic” matches know that fans will get the references and get the jokes. It’s also not really making fun of kayfabe but recognizing the fact that fans understand what kayfabe is and that we do pretend wrestling is real. The events of both the WWE’s Money in the Bank and AEW’s Stadium Stampede will still be recorded as actually happened, even though there’s no way those events could happen in reality!
In fact, without being bound by the chain that is kayfabe, this actually allows the people outlining the “cinematic” match to be more creative with what they can do. It’s kind of a good thing as they aren’t bound by the conventional laws of professional wrestling in that sense. With that being said, however, I do think the “cinematic” match shouldn’t be done all the time. It definitely shouldn’t become the staple and replace the standard “traditional” professional wrestling match. If they overdo it, the level of creativity just might stagnate or they’ll rush in with “cinematic” matches that don’t work. After all, this is exactly what happened when the Final Deletion took the world by storm and the WWE tried to make a cheap copy just a couple of weeks later with The Wyatt Family vs. The New Day. What a sloppy, nonsensical mess that was!
I do know the “cinematic” match isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. There are still some fans who can’t break free from the idea of wrestling is supposed to be all real and all serious all the time. I get it but, at the same time, I do see “cinematic” matches as the result of wrestling producers understanding that fans understand wrestling isn’t real but we still pretend it is. They respect us enough to know we’ll still keep the silliness within the bounds of kayfabe.
What do you think of “cinematic” matches? Let me know in the comments section below!