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Bray Wyatt - breaking the mold of the WWE

RIP Bray Wyatt (1987-2023): When Things Break, Things Shatter

Author’s Note: I had every intention of writing about ten years of Bray Wyatt, as we first saw him on the main WWE roster in the summer of 2013. That article will come, as the idea behind it was to celebrate the debut of one of the greatest characters in the modern era of pro wrestling, but it will have to wait due to recent events. – LZL

At the end of August, professional wrestling had its biggest weekend in decades. IMPACT Wrestling had its Emergence show, featuring the return of one of its greatest World Champions, Josh Alexander. The National Wrestling Alliance, one of the oldest collectives in all of pro wrestling, celebrated its 75th anniversary with a two-night event in the historic St Louis Khorassan Ballroom. All Elite Wrestling staged its first international show All In at Wembley Stadium, with over 81,000 paying fans in attendance. 

Loss of Legends, Old and New

As great of a time it is to be a fan of the sport of kings, the week leading up had, as IMPACT Wrestling’s Trey Miguel succinctly put it, “rocked us with a left and a right.” Not only did we lose the legendary Terry Funk on Wednesday, August 23rd, but the very next evening, it was reported that Windham Lawrence Rotunda, known to the wrestling world as Bray Wyatt, suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at just 36 years young.

Fightful’s Sean Ross Sapp was granted permission by the family to disclose what had happened: Rotunda had contracted COVID earlier this year, which caused complications with a heart issue he had been dealing with. While recovery had gone well according to those nearest him, Rotunda then suffered a heart attack sometime on Thursday, leading to the third-generation wrestler’s untimely passing.

Bray Wyatt Marching around the ring with the belt
Bray Wyatt celebrating his WWE Championship win in 2017

Next Generation of Horror Wrestler

Rarely can a wrestler get one gimmick, one character over. While he was Bray Wyatt since the summer of 2012, the character had layers, different incarnations with a common thread. He developed lore for his origin, sitting under the learning tree and care of one Sister Abigail. At first, he had a cult known as his Family, which would later morph into his Firefly Fun House, complete with the more human side of Bray adopting a manner and attire more akin to Mr. Rogers than Mr. Wrestling. This was the Dr. Jekyll to the Mr. Hyde that was The Fiend, a horrific masked sociopath whose lone words sent chills through the WWE Universe: “Let me in.”

The final iteration of Bray Wyatt on WWE television was a collection of all of the above, while being poised to introduce a new character to the fray: Uncle Howdy, which has since been confirmed to have been portrayed by Bray’s brother Taylor Rotunda, previously known as NXT standout and former RAW Tag Team Champion Bo Dallas. While we only saw one more televised match, that being the MTN DEW Pitch Black Match, a street fight by black light at the 2023 Royal Rumble, it was in this incarnation where Bray was perhaps his most human.

His first address to the crowd following his return at Extreme Rules 2022 saw him get very real, very raw. He spoke about how grateful he was to be back following his release in July 2021. He was “me being me,” he was a man who lost so much in those fifteen months, he was deep in the darkness without a way out of it. He was grateful for the fans who comforted him and told him that his work and his words saved them, and it turned out that the feeling was mutual. While we will never get to see how the story plays out, at the very least, Bray got to finish his time in wrestling and on this earth in his home, in his element.

Bray Wyatt: Triumph Before Tragedy

Bray Wyatt held three world championships in WWE: the WWE Championship once and the WWE Universal Championship twice. In his first and only run as WWE Champion, he was part of a historic moment, as he and challenger Randy Orton competed at WrestleMania 33 in a match that would see two third-generation wrestlers battling for a world title, a first for the Show of Shows. He also held the Smackdown and RAW Tag Team Championships once apiece, with Randy Orton and “Woken” Matt Hardy respectively.

While his championship CV may not be extensive, it is the work he put into the character, work that included special effects artists such as Jason Baker and the iconic Tom Savini, that will most be remembered.  His presentation was unique, from the lantern he carried to the ring right down to the unorthodox moveset he employed from bell to bell. When his creativity was allowed to flourish, the result was compelling, attention-grabbing, and perhaps the best supernatural or horror-infused character this side of The Undertaker.

In so many words, he had the whole world in his hands.

Thank you, Bray.

I and the Malevolent Dark family would like to extend our condolences to the Rotunda family, and wish them peace and healing during this difficult time.

Bray Wyatt tribute from the WWE (Graphic courtesy of WWE)
Bray Wyatt tribute from the WWE (Graphic courtesy of WWE)

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