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Christian Cage vs. Big Money Matt Hardy: Over 20 Years in the Making?
On Wednesday night we will see the reprise of a rivalry that's gone back over 20 years. Matt Hardy and Christian Cage first faced each other in tag team competition in a New-England-based developmental promotion in the summer of 1998, months before Cage would be paired with Edge, the tag partner who he went on to make his reputation with. The tag teams of Edge & Christian and the Hardy brothers went on to have a storied rivalry that made all four men into stars. But in singles competition, Christian and Matt first met at a house show in Oklahoma City in September of 1999. The first time they had a singles contest that was actually televised wasn't until a couple years later, on Raw in August 2001, with Matt defending the "prestigious" European Championship. However, I can't find video of that. so here's the same basic match a few months prior, but with Eddie Guerrero added to the mix for a triple threat:
(I confess, I had forgotten just how unflattering long hair was on Christian!) This is all my longwinded way to emphasize how this Wednesday's match is by far the deepest callback to an old rivalry in AEW's history thus far. Here is the average mix of offense by each of the rivals in their matches in AEW so far:
However, Matt's style went through a major change in the transition from face to heel, or from "Broken" to "Big Money". Not entirely how you might expect! But the average of all is overall misleading of what to expect on Wednesday night. Here are the averages of the two eras of Matt in AEW so far, separated out:
Surprisingly, going heel did not change the rate of fouls for Matt: the "Broken" character was certainly one of the dirtiest of fan favorites! However, he switched from countering moves to applying painful holds, and from strikes to throws.
Comparing Christian's overall average mix of offense, (top left,) with Matt Hardy's current incarnation, (bottom right,) and you have a pretty classic clash of styles: aerial maneuvers, strikes, and a mix of both holds and counters, versus fouls, throws, and stretches. But while their mix of offense is very different, both have a fundamentally similar philosophy to working a match—both started out as speed demons early in their respective careers, and both have learned to take their time.
Matt has a lot of muscle to call on in the Hardy Family Office, so numbers games could come into play. But while Christian hasn't so far formed a faction, he has made friends, while Matt has made a few enemies. With the longstanding rivalry and all of the contrasts between the two competitors, I'm very interested in seeing how this match plays out. But the key to the outcome in this case I would say is focus and momentum. Matt hasn't had any high profile wins lately and seems more focused on leeching his client's than in racking up Ws. I have a hard time picturing him being the one to hand Christian his first L in AEW.