The year was 2014. I was in the throes of the longest hiatus from pro wrestling I’d ever taken in the wake of my grandfather’s death in February of 2012. He was responsible for introducing me to pro wrestling in the late 80s; responsible for my obsession with pro wrestling by the early 90s; responsible for the pro wrestling writer I’ve become today. Watching the sport of kings was not an easy thing to do once he was gone. I opted not to watch at all rather than come to grips with the grievous reminders of the hours we spent bonding through wrestling. I had no desire to watch WrestleMania XXX that year and so I didn’t, but hearing about the inauspicious end of The Undertaker’s famed streak after the fact compelled me to watch a condensed version that eventually aired on network television later that year.
That’s when I saw Bray Wyatt for the first time.
The forceful ‘Legacy’ package prior to his match against John Cena was the only tool at my immediate disposal to place any sort of context on the character or the story that was about to culminate. I was instantly intrigued. As he deliberately made his way down the long entrance ramp my intrigue only grew; the hypnotic melody of his theme song forcing me to keep both eyes locked on his silhouette and the two sinister-looking henchmen at his side. It wasn’t until the lights came back on in the Superdome that I was freed from the momentary trance; it became clear that quite a bit had changed since I left the squared circle behind.
As the opening bell sounded I found myself inexplicably rooting for this maniacal prophet, this unique blend of Kevin Sullivan, Waylon Mercy and The Undertaker. The story of the match was worthy of WrestleMania; a masterfully crafted reimagining of the classic story of the dark side and the light made famous by the Star Wars franchise. Of course Cena would ultimately overcome the temptations of the dark side and leave New Orleans with his legacy intact. Not everything had changed while I was gone.
My experience watching Wyatt that night played a major role in my full return to wrestling weeks later. I wanted to learn more. I wanted to see how the character had evolved since losing on such a grand stage. Only the Bray Wyatt I watched at WrestleMania XXX was long gone by then, replaced by a hollow shell of the character I found to be so mesmerizing. It was the night after SummerSlam; the night after Brock Lesnar’s epic dismantling of Cena en route to winning the WWE title. The night Cena stepped back into the ring, undeterred from the previous night’s defeat like he had so many times before, to execute a squash of his own. The recipient of that decisive beat down was none other than Bray Wyatt.
What in the world could have possible transpired in the four months between WrestleMania and that late summer episode of RAW to have made such a scenario possible?
Things continued to devolve at a rapid pace. In the fall of that year the eater of worlds decided to let Luke Harper and Erick Rowan go free, though it was unclear why or what exactly that even meant. Wyatt’s new purpose in the WWE universe was also unclear. His promos were less captivating and more confusing; his presence less intense and more cartoonish. Before I knew what happened I found myself watching Wyatt emerge from the shadows of a hologram to interrupt a match between Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins for reasons I’ve yet to understand. And thus the tragic disintegration of Bray Wyatt was officially underway.
Unlike when I returned home from my tour of duty in the US Navy (the only other period pro wrestling wasn’t part of my life) I never went back and watched the things I missed during my sudden interruption in viewing. It was as if pro wrestling ceased to exist for those two years; disappearing into a black hole where it was lost to time forever. I never experienced The Shield in all their glory or the epic build to Daniel Bryan’s heroic rise to wrestling fame. I never experienced the birth of Bray Wyatt.
Only now have I chosen to go back and watch the genesis of the Wyatt character strictly for the purposes of this article in order to better understand the magnitude of the character’s tumultuous fall from creative grace. More so than the compelling teaser promos and his initial debut in 2013, the early stories surrounding the Wyatt character and the emotion they would evoke make the eventual degeneration all the more depressing. There is simply no comparing the Wyatt who battled Daniel Bryan or the Wyatt who led his family into battle against The Shield in 2014 to the Wyatt having a series of meaningless calamity matches against Ambrose or the Wyatt falling to The Undertaker and Kane in 2015. It’s as if they are two separate characters altogether.
Any inkling of emotional investment was sucked from the Wyatt character by 2016. For most of last year I operated under the self-imposed Wyatt Rule; when Bray Wyatt appeared on my television screen I completely checked out. I ignored his promos, his matches, everything. Thinking about that now, it makes sense that I would take such drastic measures. Wyatt was going to be the character that reenergized my wrestling fandom; the character that single-handedly snapped me out of my wrestling haze. For me it wasn’t just another case of bad booking or creative malpractice, it was personal.
Randy Orton’s involvement was enough to at least suspend my Wyatt Rule, though for the first several weeks of the story I was still considerably underwhelmed. At least it was something; a sentiment that both highlights the true despair of Wyatt’s standing on the SmackDown Live roster and how desperate I was to enjoy the character in some sort of meaningful way. When the duo won the tag team titles my interest increased a bit more. Though the title reign wouldn’t last long it served as a vehicle to make me think about Wyatt’s character in a substantive manner for the first time since 2014.
The progressive dissention in the Wyatt ranks combined with Orton’s Royal Rumble victory last month made the writing on the wall pretty clear (at least until the final moments of Tuesday’s SmackDown episode); Orton and Wyatt were on a collision course set to culminate at WrestleMania 33, which meant that Wyatt would obtain the WWE title somewhere along the way. Last Sunday at Elimination Chamber that chapter of the story was told. Much to my surprise, witnessing Wyatt win the title was more meaningful than I imagined, predictable though it may have been. Seeing him with that title in his grasp, having vanquished the previous two champions to do so, was a powerful image. It felt right. It felt…important.
The universe works in mysterious ways.
Ironically, next week is the fifth anniversary of my grandfather’s death; the catalyst for my temporary suspension of pro wrestling fandom. And as I mark that solemn occasion the character responsible for bringing my fandom back to life sits atop the creative mountain as champion. I need Bray Wyatt to remain interesting. I need Bray Wyatt to enter WrestleMania as champion. I need Bray Wyatt to leave Orlando a victorious champion. Bray Wyatt doesn’t just have the whole world in his hands; he has the entire WWE Universe in his hands. Here’s hoping it stays that way for the foreseeable future.