This is the story of how one DJI Phantom drone gained sentience and entered the wild world of professional wrestling
Wrestling has always been a colourful sport, dating back to the halcyon days of Hulk Hogan and bright spandex. But in a time when the mainstream popularity of wrestling has waned, traditional wrestlers have needed to find new ways to stand out.
In 2016, former WWE wrestler Matt Hardy found himself in an unenviable situation. His wrestling career had gone on for nearly 30 years and his star was fading fast — as was the popularity of his home promotion, Impact Wrestling. It was in these circumstances that he hit upon a strange and wonderful idea. By combining absurd fantasy film elements with wrestling, he birthed a whole new genre of entertainment known as ‘cinematic wrestling’.
Taking on the moniker of ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy, he was joined by a menagerie of characters in this strange, pseudo-fantasy world that played out via pre-filmed vignettes with action movie-style filming. The cast for these clips included Vanguard 1, Hardy’s personal DJI Phantom drone. Rather than just serving as another camera, Vanguard 1 quickly became its own character. The drone would accompany Hardy wherever he went, providing useful information about his opponents and carrying out his every wish.
While Vanguard 1 appears to be a generic DJI Phantom drone, it became so much more under Hardy’s watch.
The world Hardy created was characterised by strangeness and deliberately over-the-top acting. Hardy was joined by brother Jeff and wife Reby in the venture, and they soon carved out a particularly strange niche in the wrestling world. Their performances were so lauded that an entire Impact Wrestling pay-per-view wound up taking place at Matt Hardy’s mansion.
Hardy began treating Vanguard 1 more like a person as the story progressed, and so did Impact Wrestling’s audience. When Vanguard 1 was assaulted and damaged by Hardy’s rivals, an entire mini film was dedicated to the drone’s miraculous resurrection. (It’s Hardy’s over-the-top acting that really sells the action here.)
Vanguard 1 was soon appearing in live wrestling matches in a variety of wrestling organisations, serving as both a distraction and an active participant, once being kicked out of the air by the dastardly Young Bucks.
The more Hardy treated Vanguard 1 like a person, the more the audience grew to love it, until it became a cult figure in wrestling. As of writing, the drone has appeared in matches, vignettes and videos for at least four major wrestling organisations including Ring of Honor, Impact Wrestling, WWE and more recently, AEW. It even received its own action figure, courtesy of WWE.
Hardy’s career and fame originally came from his popularity in WWE in the 1990s and 2000s, and he returned in 2017 as a true fan favourite. While Impact Wrestling wasn’t particularly popular during his initial run, many wrestling fans had heard of his exploits and were excited by his return.
After a brief legal battle that saw Hardy and his characters in jeopardy of being lost to Impact Wrestling (which claimed to own the rights to his creations), Hardy’s ‘Broken Universe’ made its way to WWE — as did Vanguard 1.
Hardy’s return to WWE in 2017 was short-lived and he’d be out of the company by 2020 — but even in that short run, Vanguard 1 was able to make a massive impact, even featuring heavily in a WWE Raw showcase known as The Ultimate Deletion. The showdown was hyped up for weeks in advance and even led to several similar segments heavily inspired by Hardy’s cinematic wrestling style.
In The Ultimate Deletion, the DJI drone played a pivotal part in winning Matt Hardy the match, providing scattered fireworks that distracted his opponent, Bray Wyatt. It was a unique tactic and one that’s served Hardy well since 2016.
Since then, the drone has also appeared in AEW, a start-up wrestling company aiming to take on WWE’s wrestling monopoly. It’s featured prominently in recent storylines, including as a foil to WWE legend Chris Jericho.
This particular segment is absolutely made by Jericho’s biting, aggravated delivery as he berates Vanguard 1 from the ring floor. It’s silly, over-the-top and exactly the kind of entertainment that wrestling needs right now to maintain its sense of fun.
Despite being a simple DJI Phantom drone, Vanguard 1 has a prolific half-decade long career in professional wrestling and more personality than you or I. He’s been a co-champion with Matt Hardy and his brother Jeff, a cross-promotional superstar and through it all, a loyal friend. As far as wrestling legends go, Vanguard 1 deserves to be remembered among the very best.