We’re all still in shock about Bray Wyatt’s release, so that headline is probably too soon and cuts way too deep for some reading this. Trust, I’m not here to rub salt in any wounds you may have or point and laugh.
In fact, it’s just the opposite.
Windham Rotunda is a very talented cat who often made chicken salad out of the other stuff. Mickie James’ tweet says it all regarding his creativity, vision, and gifts as a professional wrestler. That same tweet paints a clear picture of the natural conflict between Windham and WWE. As the Max Cady-inspired flavor or the Fiend, Wyatt was always a tad complex by WWE’s standards.
Rotunda reached his peak in WWE because his characters are too complex for a company that paints almost exclusively in black and white.
As said in this space before, the Attitude Era is an anomaly. WWE loves its simplicity. Its heroes and almost superheroes are often pretty boring because of it, but that’s the style. Simple is easy to sell for a company that often finds itself doing all it can to go beyond the mat. More importantly, Vince McMahon understands easy.
Conspiracy theorist Sami Zayn doesn’t take much grey matter to process. The same goes for a conceited Carmela, Hollywood-wannabe Miz, or the arrogant Queen in Charlotte Flair. Even Roman Reigns, who gets the most compelling and complex stories of late, lives within the easily understood construct of a mob boss. More importantly, despite the every-so-often missionary style musings, these villains rarely do anything that makes the crowd cheer for them.
And then there’s Bray Wyatt.
Everything about Bray’s presentation, in any incarnation, is worth cheering. The music, the walk to the ring, even the outfits. The man did more for rocking chairs than a generation of grandmothers could ever dream of doing. That, plus the specific move set and dope mic skills made him easy to root for. That’s why moments like the one below this sentence happened.
Even with faint comparisons to Mankind or the Undertaker, there was no one quite like Bray Wyatt in the history of WWE. On the one hand, he’s a cult leader with a semi-supernatural connection who dresses and talks like he’s straight out of the Bayou. On the other hand, he’s a funhouse version of Mr. Rogers suffering from a demonic bout of split personality disorder as the Fiend lurks beneath the surface. Bray Wyatt was the most cinematic character WWE had, complete with horror movie iconography. One would think a company that claims its only competition is Hollywood and sleep would hold on to Rotunda for those reasons alone. And yet, here we are.
This isn’t about winning or losing either, as Wyatt was always going to lose matches. He’s the bad guy, and in WWE, that’s what most bad guys do. Despite the fact fans always responded to him, and he moved product like his last name was Barksdale, it was never in the cards for him to triumph over everyone. And therein lies the problem.
We rarely, if ever, get a heel so dynamic that it’s disappointing when he loses. Wyatt was too off-kilter for WWE. Even when he laughed manically or twirled his mustache, he took a meta-approach.
Bray Wyatt was the wrestling villain who knew all the wrestling villain tropes, which isn’t normal for WWE heels. They’re always the punchlines to bad jokes and often look stupid in one way or another. The Fiend or the head of the Wyatt Family always felt disconnected from the company’s larger narrative, so the typical WWE Universe tricks had no effect on a guy living in his own reality. Wyatt wasn’t a “cool heel,” but he was above WWE’s soap opera elements and overcomplicated the plot. As I said, Vince understands simple but has a hard time with incongruent.
Legend has it Mankind’s interview with Jim Ross unlocked that character for Vinnie Mac. That multi-part segment gave birth to Mankind’s feud with the Undertaker, and you know how his story goes from there. But WWE of 2021 isn’t WWF of 1997. And unfortunately for Bray, there was no similar wrestler for him to beef with like Mankind had the Phenom and vice versa. Mankind and Taker were natural fits for each other and lived on the same plane of existence. Bray was always an island to himself. The bigger and more polished WWE got, the smaller his piece of land became.
Sure, he occasionally drank from the keg of glory, but this was always the only possible ending for this chapter of his career. WWE never understood him despite the bags invested in his development and commas in his bank account. Some break-ups are for the best and this is a case where both parties involved need to cut it off, sulk their sorrows in a pint of ice cream, and listen to “Grapevyne” by Brownstone.
Windham Rotunda was and still is ahead of the game. The first company that catches up to him, even if it’s a little bit, will be all the better for it.
And so will we.