What Went Wrong? The Curious Case of Bray Wyatt

I have been a professional wrestling fan for nearly 30 years now, many of those following the stories of the WWF, now WWE. I was a tried and true “Hulkamaniac,” staying up way past my bedtime to catch Saturday Night’s Main Event whenever it was on. My parents joke that my first word was “double” as I attempted to say WWF. I stayed loyal through the lean years in the early 1990s when the “New Generation” replaced the golden era of the company. I savored the biggest years in the company’s history through the “Attitude Era” and the “Monday Night Wars.” But over the past 10 or so years, I have fallen out of love with the WWE and what they are doing to professional wrestling. During that time I have racked my brain as to why that has occurred. Why after so long have I drifted further and further away from something that has been such a large part of my life and to some degree still is? I know I am not the only one; despite posting record earnings this past quarter, the WWE’s audience is shrinking. That’s really the birthplace of this editorial series; where the WWE went wrong for me. Over the coming weeks I plan to explore just that and discuss openly and honestly where I believe the WWE has harmed themselves with a lot of their once loyal fan base and forced them to go other places to scratch their professional wrestling itch. And to me, there one of the largest mistakes the company has been made is the misuse of “The Eater of Worlds” Bray Wyatt.

Bray Wyatt is truly the first superstar that was called up from NXT that NXT got so right and the main roster got so, so wrong. But initially, this did not appear to be the case. After a short main roster run as Husky Harris in Nexus (a likely future topic for this article), Rotunda went back to the drawing board and began exploring new characters. After short lived time as a lackey for his brother Bo in FCW, Husky donned a hockey goalie styled mask and became Axel Mulligan, who never debuted on FCW television. While Mulligan never debuted on television (thankfully), it was the first move toward the darker, more supernatural tone of the character we now know as Bray Wyatt. Wyatt initially debuted in FCW with another NXT alum Eli Cottonwood (remember him?) as his underling. However, when FCW was rebranded as NXT, Wyatt ditched Cottonwood for the more formidable Luke Harper and Eric Rowan. Forming the Wyatt Family, Bray was an evil cult leader that was equal parts Cape Fear and Jim Jones. Watching any of those early video vignettes and it was clear that Wyatt had found the character that was going to take him to the stratosphere within the WWE Universe. Wyatt was captivating in the role, and for the first time in years, the WWE had put together something truly original on their programming. Unfortunately, there have been major missteps in the development and evolution in the Bray Wyatt character since the debut of those vignettes in May 2013. I believe there are specifically two major areas that the WWE screwed up that have really kept Bray Wyatt from reaching his full potential.

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  1. No Signature Wins

Yes, wrestling is “fake.” Yes, wrestling matches are pre-determined. To me, that makes this all the more brazen. You have total control over how someone is portrayed on television. You clearly pumped a large chunk of change into these promos and vignettes. You are invested in the character and are receiving the response that you want from your audience. Yet, when it comes to nut cutting time in the ring, you have this person that you have talked up the fact that he is an “eater of worlds” and a “monster among men” and cannot get a single signature feud win over any of the current top guys in your company. Despite what Road Dogg or any of the current WWE writers have to say, wins and losses do matter. At the end of the day, despite how much WWE wants it to be sports entertainment, the core of the product is wrestling. If wins and losses did not matter, then you would not have had the Hogan era where he beat everyone, you would not have had the Super-Cena era where he decimated all, and you would not have the current era of trying to get Reigns over with force fed wins. It’s a bullshit narrative that the company tries to spew when they realize they are wrong and do not want to accept it.

Bray Wyatt has been a victim of that his entire WWE career. For a guy that has been labeled “The Eater of Worlds,” and “The New Face of Fear,” and cuts promos about hellfire and brimstone, it’s really hard to take him serious when he loses every single major feud that he is in. Disagree with me? Feel free to name one signature feud win that Bray Wyatt has had during his career in the comments section below. I’ll wait…

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Bray Wyatt’s character has always played to that of the supernatural, that of a leader among men, that of a demi-god. But it’s hard to take a man that pontificates like that when he never, ever backs it up. It’s detrimental to the character and after a while you just stop taking him seriously. He has lost every single high profile feud he has been involved in over the past four years, he has never followed through on any of his threats, he has not kept one of his promises (by hook or crook), and has been more or less treated like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. A weak, sad person that only uses smoke and mirrors to intimidate but lacks any real punch to get the job done. It’s a problem not only with Bray Wyatt, but with a lot of the WWE Roster, both heel and face. Promises are made, threats are given, but nothing is ever followed through on. It’s why wrestlers do not say that they are going to kill their opponent; because they can never believably deliver on that. Wyatt has a habit of this, and it has damaged the mystique which made the character so interesting to begin with.

There are several signature losses that I believe really took Bray Wyatt’s career trajectory as the modern day replacement for the Undertaker, to nothing more than upper mid card fodder/gatekeeper status for new talent the company is trying to push. First and foremost, the biggest loss of Wyatt’s career was his clean as a whistle loss to John Cena at WrestleMania XXX. This was Bray Wyatt’s first WrestleMania appearance. At this point in time, the WWE had done a fairly good job of building the Bray Wyatt mystique and protecting the character. He came in rather impressively and walked through Kane before dragging him out. They never followed up with anything on that (which we will cover later), but it was a good start. And then he went after the most beloved fan favorite at the time (despite the company’s wishes) Daniel Bryan and they had a pretty hot feud heading into the Royal Rumble. Wyatt went over clean in a hard hitting affair, before interfering and costing John Cena the chance at regaining the WWE Championship later that night. Wyatt was poised to be boosted into that upper echelon of talent within the company as he set to face the face of the company on the biggest show of the year. And it was pretty clear the company was behind him at this point, as he was one of the few that got the special entrances that night. So what did the WWE decide to do? Have John Cena go over clean one, two, three in the center of the ring on their biggest stage.

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Now, I am not a John Cena hater. In fact, I think Cena more than deserves the recognition that he has received throughout his entire career. When he is serious, he is one of the most talented guys on the mic the company has ever had, and has vastly improved in the ring during his tenure. That being said, what good did that win at WrestleMania do for John Cena? Would John Cena been harmed in dropping a match to one of the fastest rising superstars in the company at the time in Bray Wyatt? The answer is simple: no harm would have been done. But imagine what that win could have done for a primed and ready Bray Wyatt. This could have been that signature victory that people went back to and said, “This is the match where Bray Wyatt became a made guy.” He would have fulfilled his promise to bring the WWE’s big hero down to his knees on the biggest stage the company has. Instead, John went over with no fuss from any of the Wyatt Family, and made Bray look like he was not remotely ready to be on that stage. The entire feud was built around the fact that Wyatt was going to bring the darkness out of John Cena, get him to “embrace the hate.” Even if you the WWE wanted Cena to go over, to do so in a manner where Wyatt’s promise of a darker, more vicious Cena was met would have protected him in the loss. Instead, Wyatt looked like a false prophet, and a man that could not back up anything that he was saying.

That point was only driven home further in the build to their next match, a Last Man Standing Match at the Payback Pay Per View (another match that Wyatt lost convincingly). In particular, at match on the April 21st edition of RAW where John Cena took on the entire Wyatt Family in a 3 on 1 handicap match. Again, Cena overcame the odds in rather impressive fashion. There was not even a time in the match where Cena was overcome by the three giant men. Cena simply knocked the Wyatts down like they were day players in a James Bond film before again laying waste to Bray Wyatt. The only saving grace in this match was that Bray was saved by a disqualification. Shortly after this feud ended, Harper and Rowan were inexplicably pulled from Bray Wyatt (a point we will argue later); a move that benefited no one involved.

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The faction was later reunited (again with no explanation) with the addition of a very green Braun Strowman, only to be fed to the Brothers of Destruction at Survivor Series 2015. Now, I understand the Undertaker is and will always be a big deal. But again, would a loss against the Wyatt Family, a group you would assume they are trying to rebuild, ultimately hurt the legacy or momentum of the Undertaker at that time? The answer is no. But would that loss ultimately do damage the already tarnished legacy of Bray Wyatt? Absolutely! Wyatt had already lost to the Undertaker at WrestleMania that year (a win that would’ve helped fix some of the previous errors made with Wyatt). Wyatt had a rebuilt and supposedly better Family this time around, and also had begun introducing supernatural elements to the character. Wyatt was being presented as a demi-God of sorts in this feud, which only provided a larger platform for Bray to fall from when losing against the end of the career versions of Kane and Taker.

Despite all of these rubber band pushes with Wyatt, he showed his resiliency shortly after the brand split by becoming one of the main players on the Smackdown brand. He was about to enter a program with Randy Orton, one of the top guys in the WWE on either brand. They were scheduled to be one of the highlighted matches of the first Smackdown only pay per view Backlash. However, Orton went down with an injury and Kane subbed for him in a no holds barred match. This should have been a match that showcased what type of a monster Bray had become on the blue brand, but that is not the case at all. Instead an aging Kane picked up the win with the help of an injured Randy Orton. While that would have made sense in regards to pushing the story forward with Orton, what didn’t make sense was that Kane controlled most of the match prior to the run in. In the end, Wyatt continued to look week and step below not only the main event talent on the roster, but an aging veteran like Kane.

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Wyatt was given an opportunity to be WWE in 2017 by winning the Elimination Chamber, but due to the poor booking of his character of the past four years, the significance of that victory was considerably lessened. That did not help as he moved into a feud with Randy Orton going into WrestleMania. Orton had joined the Wyatt Family for most of the winter in what was arguably the most interesting thing he was involved in since Evolution. Orton’s turn on Wyatt and removal from the group was disjointed from the story, and painted Wyatt as a babyface although that was not the intention of the writing staff; it’s hard to assume that a man that committed arson is a guy that is supposed to be cheered. Wyatt went into WrestleMania as champion but continued his losing streak by losing to Orton clean in a relatively uneventful affair. Since then Wyatt has been treated as a gatekeeper and his once considerable hype has waned considerably.

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  1. Cult Leader with No Followers/No Character Direction

If we were to label what Bray Wyatt’s original characterization was, it would be that of a cult leader. Every vignette had that southern Jim Jones-esque feel about them. The vignettes featured Wyatt pontificating about the corruption of man and the planet and how he was the only person that would be able to save you from this annihilation. The imagery was strong, with Wyatt standing on a large rock above his minions; arms stretched much like Jesus on the cross, as the followers move closer to lay their hands upon him. It was new, it was unique, and it grabbed the attention of the WWE Universe. However there was just one problem with all of this; Bray Wyatt didn’t have any followers.

The Wyatt Family was supposed to be that. Luke Harper and Erick Rowan were supposed to be the manifestations of that cult that Wyatt had created; his chosen children if you will. But outside of two rogue individuals, Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, the group never grew organically on the roster. And even in those cases it was later revealed that they were not under the spell of Wyatt but working to destroy the family from the inside out. But looking back on it now, the presentation of Wyatt and his cult were dead on arrival.

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There were plenty of opportunities for Wyatt to gain followers. If you did not want to add wrestlers to the faction (you didn’t want the Wyatt Family to become the NWO circa 1999), then why not use all the faceless minions that were presented in the video. Clearly Harper and Rowan were treated in higher regard than the rest, but you could have pooled together enough talent from the training center or from local talent to be Bray Wyatt’s followers. Throw them in sheep masks; have them pour out of the crowd like locusts to do Wyatt’s bidding. It would have given Wyatt a unique look and power over the roster and ultimately elevate him to a place where his character could have achieved great things. It would have made Bray Wyatt special.

However, I think what would have worked best was to add males and females from the roster. Bray’s first feud was with Kane. This was near the end of Kane’s main run when Wyatt debuted and laid him out on Monday Night Raw. Kane had become pretty stale as a character at this point and was used in the same manner that Wyatt is being used now: as a gatekeeper. The Wyatt Family attacked Kane and laid him out, setting up their Ring of Fire match SummerSlam. Wyatt went over as he should before directing Harper and Rowan to carry Kane out of the building. Nothing ever came about after that, until a few months later when Kane returned as “Corporate Kane.” Corporate Kane was a complete failure on all levels and he was relegated to comedy relief in regards to this newly formed Corporation around Seth Rollins.

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Wouldn’t it have made more sense to allow Bray and his chosen sons to essentially brainwash Kane into joining the family? Kane was stale, and putting him with a hot new act like Wyatt would have given him something new to work with. It would have also given Wyatt weeks of material to work with where they could have shown segments of Wyatt’s brainwashing and manipulation tactics being applied to Kane. It’s here where they could have begun to reveal pieces of Bray Wyatt’s master plan to the world. It would have also provided a more organic reason for Wyatt to become involved with Daniel Bryan due to Bryan’s history with Kane. It would have made Wyatt look like the puppet master, moving the other WWE talent around the board like chess pieces. Instead, the feud simply ended and Wyatt looked like a dog chasing after his own tail instead of a brilliant mastermind bordering on lunacy.

The WWE did not even need to come up with an original idea. Raven’s Flock as it was presented in WCW could have been a perfect blueprint for how to repurpose underutilized roster members and breathe new life into them. Bray Wyatt going around and collecting the misfits and the cast offs of the WWE roster and providing them with new purpose and new direction would have been ideal to build Wyatt as a master manipulator and to provide these lower roster talents with some direction. It did wonders for guys like Scotty Riggs, the Yeti, Billy Kidman, Van Hammer, Horace Hogan, Lodi and Perry Saturn. You could not tell me that guys like Bo Dallas, Curtis Axel, Darren Young, 3MB, or even higher profile talents like Dolph Ziggler, Goldust and Zack Ryder could not have benefitted from falling under the spell of Bray Wyatt. Two of Wyatt’s more interesting feuds were with Daniel Bryan and Randy Orton, both who joined the Wyatt Family. Even though it was revealed later they were doing so in an undercover capacity, it always was some of Wyatt’s most interesting times in the WWE.

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Which brings me to my next point: Bray Wyatt did not have any clear and concise message. Thinking about it now, what was Bray Wyatt trying to accomplish by coming to the WWE? Other than some provocative promos, there was not a lot of substance to what he was saying. That is a no-no when trying to develop a cult. Any successful cult, it is clear what the message is from the beginning. The message may change to the fit the needs of the leader over time (which could have been a fun narrative piece to play with), but its always made clear to those involved. Wyatt never made that happen. Wyatt pontificated without any point and that ultimately harmed the character. Whether that was by his choice or WWE creative, not having a mission statement really left the Wyatt character directionless. Even if his mission statement was to create anarchy within the company that was not particularly spelled out. How are you supposed to follow someone when you do not know the destination?

Conclusion

Looking back at the buzz around Bray Wyatt and ultimately where he stands in 2017, it’s a sad state of affairs and a real reflection on the problems within the WWE. Wyatt appeared to be a slam dunk in regards to a next potential star within the company, but as they have done so much of in the past 15 years, they fumbled in presenting him with any sort of consistency. This has ultimately damaged Wyatt to the point where I wonder if he will ever be able to recover fully. And with the potential introduction of Sister Abagail as his alter ego, things appear to be moving from bad to worse for Mr. Wyatt. Hopefully the WWE will be able to figure out the right formula for Bray because I do feel that he still has a lot to offer as one of the top flight talents in the company.

 

What are your thoughts? Please respond below and let us know what you think!