I’ve tried and failed to write anything terribly coherent about Windham “Bray Wyatt” Rotunda in the 18 or so hours since we learned he died. Like so many of us, feelings of sadness, anger, fear, regret and more have rendered me speechless. Even documenting the 36 year old third generation wrestler and three-time WWE world champion’s career feels impossible. Critical analysis of his work and its influence will certainly have to wait.
What I have been able to do, intertwined with grief-scrolling social media reading others’ remembrances, is think about the moments Bray Wyatt created on WWE television that stick with me. The ones that are coming up for me today because they’re never far from my mind.
I wasn’t an admirer of Wyatt the character(s) and Rotunda the creator because I loved everything he did. But I loved that he tried. That’s something I thought as I watched WWE’s Top 10 of “Bray Wyatt’s Greatest Moments”, which leads the “Best of Bray Wyatt” section that’s been added to Peacock.
There’s some good stuff in there, notably The Wyatt Family’s win over The Shield from Elimination Chamber 2014 (a brief but amazing program just prior to Seth Rollins ending The Hounds of Justice) and WrestleMania 36’s Firefly Fun House match (not really a match and not for everyone, but a uniquely pro wrestling way of telling a story that I love dearly). But there’s also stuff like the Crown Jewel Universal title win in 2020 that’s almost Universally reviled, which is an example that — for a variety of reasons that we’ll probably never know the extent of — not everything Bray tried worked. It’s also why the Top 10 should probably should be called “Bray Wyatt’s Biggest Moments”.
Greatest, biggest, or best, from the time I saw a guy I’d known as Husky Harris working a Max Cady-inspired cult leader character in NXT, I knew I’d pay attention to whatever he did for however long he did. Tragically, that wasn’t long enough when it came to two of the key figures in these vignettes that moved the Wyatt Family act to Raw:
It was material that captivated the audience. Bray’s promos spoke to people. They led my partner-in-blog Geno Mrosko to transcribe each and every one of them for a while.
That was the era of Wyatt that gave us a moment I, like most of you probably do, thought of as Daniel Bryan’s. But watching it back, Bray’s great in it, the perfect foil for Bryan at that point as he rejected climbing the mountain any other way than through being better than everyone else in the ring.
Not surprising that Wyatt did great work with the wrestler who is once again known as Bryan Danielson. A lot of people do. They had a particularly great connection, though; their 2014 Royal Rumble match is arguably Bray’s best, and the one they had at the same show six years later is probably the best Fiend match, too.
Another performer Bray always had amazing chemistry with was Roman Reigns. Their mid-2010s rivalry lasted too long — and came at a time when crowds weren’t accepting the roles they were cast in — but I always think of their too-brief team-up with each other in 2016. WWE calls this “the coolest moment ever”, and they ain’t wrong.
Bray apparently knew it too, as Rob Fee informed us in his tribute to Wyatt that his friend & collaborator “loved that ‘cover! spear! bray wins!’ is a meme”...
The Fiend’s run got... complicated... but I still think the Firefly Fun House was Bray’s biggest stroke of genius. He brought out the Lynchian darkness of children’s shows that Pee-Wee’s Playhouse (R.I.P. to another legend taken unexpectedly this year) only hinted at, and in a different company perhaps could have been a vehicle to tell an innovative, cohesive story with a set ending.
Fee’s tribute also mentioned the other thing I’ve been unable to get out of my head since Triple H’s tweet shook us all yesterday evening.
We’ll never see what Wyatt had planned for the rest of his 2022 comeback. And, yes, there were already signs it might have been headed off the rails like The Fiend’s title runs. But this promo, coming off the electric return a week before and ostensibly our first time hearing from Windham instead of Bray, was stirring.
That promo, and the whole angle, coming off the panned Fiend programs and his release, demonstrated what Rotunda believed pro wrestling to be. Or at least how he explained it in this quote making the rounds today.
Wrestling is hope:
Wrestling is not a love story, it’s a Fairy Tale for masochists. A comedy for people who criticize punchlines. A fantasy most can’t understand, a spectacle no one can deny. Lines are blurred. Heroes are villains. Budgets are cut. Business is business.
But it can also be a land where Dead men walk. Where Honor makes you Elite. Where Demons run for office. And Rock bottom is a reason to rejoice. WOOOOO! It’s an escape. A reason to point the blame at anyone but yourself for 2-3 hours. An excuse to be a kid again, and nothing matters except the moment we are in. Wrestling is not a love story, it’s much more. It’s hope.
And in a world surrounded in hate, greed, and violence, a world where closure may never come. We all know a place that has hot and cold hope on tap. For better or for worse.
I’m not sure when the profound sorrow I feel today (mostly about Rotunda, but also about Terry Funk... and the way losing Bray reminds me that we lost Brodie Lee and Jay Briscoe, too). Someday I’m sure I’ll have more to offer than tears, and a collection of things that made me smile through them.
Or maybe I won’t. Luckily, Bray and others built a place that serves something else. Something I think a lot of us can use today. So in honor of his life, and the work he did to keep that place up, let’s share more of the moments he helped make in this fairy tale for masochists. That made us hope for what we know wrestling can provide, and made us hope it could be something more.
It feels like a way of saying goodbye that Windham Rotunda would appreciate.