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Bray Wyatt: The Man Who Dared to Be Different

It still doesn’t feel real... does it?

Even after days of touching tributes and emotional goodbyes, it’s still hard to come to terms with the fact that Bray Wyatt is gone.

No more QR codes to scan or mysterious logos flashing across our TV screens. We’ll never have another puzzle to solve and we’ve heard our final mythological fable. Production of the Firefly Fun House, shutdown. So long to Mercy the Buzzard, Ramblin’ Rabbit, Abby the Witch and Huskus the Pigboy.

WWE Chief Content Officer Triple H made the announcement this past Thursday evening that Wyatt — known to his family and friends as Windham Rotunda — had unexpectedly passed away at the age of 36.

Barely 24 hours after WWE Hall of Famer and hardcore wrestling innovator Terry Funk had died from complications with dementia, another icon was gone. With many already in mourning, Wyatt’s passing sent shockwaves across the entire wrestling landscape.

WWE completely shifted gears with Friday night’s episode of SmackDown, pushing off a number of storyline elements to leave ample enough time to appropriately celebrate both men. Every member of the WWE family who could make the trip into Louisville on short notice, packed the stage as the show went live on the air.

Michael Cole, as he unfortunately has had to do before in his career, eloquently introduced the honorary 10-bell salute.

The embrace shared by Braun Strowman and Erick Redbeard (fka Erick Rowan) — the two surviving members of the Wyatt Family — as they mourned the loss of their friend and colleague, was just the first of many heartbreaking, yet simultaneously, beautiful moments in the days since Wyatt’s death.

Friday was an evening full of little teases and Easter eggs, that if explored, would lead the viewers down a rabbit hole to a treasure trove of Bray Wyatt’s most celebrated career highlights and awe inspiring moments.

A tribute more than fitting for a man with an unrivaled, and bizarrely brilliant, mind and soul. A man who excelled at rewarding those of his most loyal fireflies, who not only discovered the breadcrumbs that he had left behind, but followed them and followed him on such a strange and wonderful journey.

Put in an unbelievably difficult spot, L.A. Knight closed out the show Friday with arguably the best promo he’s ever cut — and that’s saying something. The last man to ever lock up with Bray blended reality with storyline perfectly as he toned down his usual bravado to give credit to Wyatt for preparing him for the massive stage he now stands upon.

Knight then transitioned seamlessly into a verbal evisceration of The Miz, including a spot on impersonation of the A-lister, before bringing it all together with one final nod to Wyatt.

“One more thing. Miz, a wise man once told me — next time you see me... run,” Knight said up close and personal with the TV camera. He would then go on to beat one of Bray’s storied rivals, Finn Balor, in the SmackDown main event.

Knight lived up to his nickname on Friday, delivering an absolutely megastar performance under the most difficult of circumstances.

The love and support for Bray Wyatt and his family was not limited to one night, and certainly not to one promotion.

Even though he never stepped foot in a wrestling ring that wasn’t under the WWE umbrella, rival AEW did not shy away from honoring their fallen brother in front of the largest paid attendance crowd in wrestling history.

The remarkable Renee Paquette wasted little time recognizing Wyatt when the All In: Zero Hour kick-off show hit the air. She started off the night’s proceedings with a touching tribute to her former colleague.

“To quote Windham Rotunda, ‘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.’”

Over 81,000 fans watched on as House of Black placed a lantern at the top of the stage ahead of their Trios Championship defense against the Acclaimed and Billy Gunn. And the commentary team made sure to call attention to the thousands of fireflies shining bright as the sun set on Wembley Stadium.

Maybe the most beautiful moment of the entire weekend, however, happened Monday night on Raw. After putting Zoey Stark through a table to win their main event Falls Count Anywhere Match, Becky Lynch sat down on top of a road case, pulled off her Bray Wyatt arm band and held it high for the Memphis crowd to see — trying to fight back the tears with all her strength.

After the show went off the air, The Man shared a touching story with the audience about how Windham Rotunda helped her out ahead of TLC 2016. Despite having his own match to prepare for, he unselfishly devoted his time to helping Lynch get ready for her SmackDown Women’s Title defense against Alexa Bliss.

“[Bray Wyatt] came up to me and he said, ‘Do you have any idea how to set up a table?’ And I said, ‘No, man. I’ve got no clue. I don’t know how to do a tables match. I don’t know what I’m doing.’ He said, ‘Come with me.’ And he put me under his arm and took me out to the ring. And he showed me everything I needed to do,” Lynch told the Memphis crowd. “That is the kind of person Windham was. And that night [at TLC], I went crashing through the table but tonight I sent two dopes crashing through the table. This one was for Windham.”

These are just some of the examples of friends and colleagues expressing their appreciation and adulation for Windham Rotunda. Making sure that the world knows it lost, not only a tremendous talent, but an outstanding human being.

If there’s one thing that has become abundantly clear over the last several days, it’s that Windham Rotunda was truly beloved.

It’s unbelievably cruel that he’s gone.

36 years is not long enough on this Earth. It’s another stark reminder for the rest of us that no one is guaranteed any amount of time. It doesn’t matter how busy you are, how important you are, or how loved you are. It could all be over tomorrow.

As I watched SmackDown this past Friday, I developed this eerily reminiscent feeling in the pit of my stomach. I felt the exact same way I did watching the December 30, 2020 edition of AEW Dynamite — the Celebration of Life for Brodie Lee.

It was the same way I felt when I heard about the passing of Jay Briscoe earlier this year.

My heart just breaks for their families and closest loved ones. I was lucky enough to have my Father with me for 32 years, and my Mother for 34. And yes, I do consider myself lucky in that regard, because losing them was something I was not even remotely prepared to handle as a full grown adult. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to lose a parent at a young age.

Or God forbid what my own children, 4 and 2 years-old, would go through without having me in their lives.

At the end of the day, these men were husbands, fathers, and friends more than anything else. I send their families all the love in the world. May their journeys to finding a new normal be as peaceful as possible.

For all the fireflies out there who continue to grieve the loss of Bray Wyatt, eventually our sadness will fade and we’ll be able to look back on the good times - and smile.

Windham Rotunda is a man who maximized the time he had on this Earth. He accomplished his dream of leaving a lasting legacy. It will live on for generations with the people he inspired and in the lives that he touched in some way. Lives like mine.

It is strange... isn’t it? When you really stop and think about it.

How someone you don’t know on a personal level, can have such a profound impact on the decisions you make in life.

I don’t believe for one second that anyone was anxiously waiting for another Bray Wyatt tribute piece. Many we’re published long before I ever typed out the opening line of this one, but it was important for me to take these last few days to reflect on his passing and choose my words carefully.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Bray Wyatt. The only time I was ever in a position to even speak with him was during the Royal Rumble press conference back in January, and sadly, I was not called upon while he was at the podium.

Whether or not this column does well is irrelevant. If only three people ever read this paragraph, that’s perfectly fine.

I’m doing this for me.

I want to say thank you to Bray Wyatt. Thank you for the years of entertainment. Thank you for revitalizing my love of pro wrestling at a time in my life when it was starting to wane. I can honestly say my life would have turned out very different had you not first caught my attention years ago.

Thank you Bray Wyatt, for daring to be different.

“I am the color red, in a world full of black and white.”

It’s not often you’ll find me quoting the great John Lennon, but when it comes to Bray Wyatt, I can’t help but think back to what the Beatles founder told Rolling Stone during an interview in 1970.

It’s a line I hear in the voice of Jack Nicholson, thanks to Martin Scorsese’s Oscar winning masterpiece, The Departed (2006).

“I’m an artist, and if you give me a tuba, I’ll bring you something out of it.”

The perfect encapsulation of Windham Rotunda. He wasn’t a pro wrestler. He wasn’t a performer. He was an artist and WWE was his canvass.

It’s no secret that the pro wrestling business has gone through a dramatic shift over the last couple decades. The sport’s version of “chicks dig the long ball”, so how do we introduce more of that into the game?

So much focus is given to what a talent does bell to bell, and I get it. These kids today are freaks. They’re bigger, faster, stronger, more athletic and that creates the perfect recipe for the new preferred style of wrestling - a non-stop, fast-paced, hard-hitting thrill ride. A thigh slapping good time had by all.

Me personally, I guess I have more of an old school mentality. Don’t get me wrong. The athleticism of guys like Ricochet and Hijo del Vikingo will never cease to amaze me, and I love watching a good car crash spot as much as the next person.

That said, give me a Bray Wyatt match any day of the week.

Storytelling goes beyond any physical altercations or verbal sparring matches on the microphone. It lives and breathes in the small details and that’s where Bray Wyatt was a master of his craft. Savoring those precious few seconds in between the moves. Soaking in the atmosphere around him as he meticulously planned his next attack.

Every strike was impactful. Every move had purpose. And with each new infliction of pain on his opponents, Bray Wyatt would express the same level of joy you typically see in toddlers after they’ve been given a lollipop.

I’m not saying Bray Wyatt’s matches were better than any of the ones you may prefer, but the childlike glee he showcased during his performances always brought a smile to my face.

Like many great artists, his work was subjective. It wasn’t for everyone. Many people simply never understood the story he was trying to tell. Heck, even those of us who adored what he was doing, didn’t get it most of the time. But that’s part of what made him so good.

Bray Wyatt knew how to get a vast majority of the audience invested in what he was doing. Whether he flashed a QR code that led to a video of a rabbit jumping down a hole or showed a video package of a hand puppet bursting out of a cardboard box, his fans ate it up.

We would spend a full week arguing with each other, trying to decipher the meaning behind it. Until the next Raw or SmackDown aired and we were given the next piece of the puzzle to start the process all over again.

You’ve no doubt heard others refer to Windham in the past as a creative genius, and that he was. Maybe almost too creative for his own good sometimes. Triple H once compared working with Bray to trying to harness a tornado.

The wildness and unpredictability of his vision seemed to clash with WWE’s vision for him at several points throughout his career. Which placed Wyatt on this immensely unstable rollercoaster that, despite taking him to extraordinary highs, would inevitably come crashing down.

The WWE Universe rarely placed the blame with Wyatt himself. Choosing instead to point the finger at the bookers who, regardless of their reasoning, never really got behind the idea of Bray being the top guy in the company.

And each time, just when the fans would start to lose faith that WWE would truly utilize his talents, Wyatt would let his true genius shine and force the creative team to strap the rocket to his back once again.

Windham Rotunda put an entirely new spin on the term ‘renaissance man.’ Renaissance meaning, reborn.

He made a career out of completely reinventing his character, giving the world three iconic iterations of Bray Wyatt - The cult leader, The Fiend, and this latest Bray, haunted by his past and the mysterious Uncle Howdy.

As I said before, Windham Rotunda was an artist and his canvass stretched far beyond the ring mat and what happened when the bell rung.

Every piece of the local arena, every production element, every second that someone was watching, Bray Wyatt would utilize what was at his disposal to perform. He was so good at making you pay attention. If you left the room for one second, you could potentially miss something important.

And when he knew all eyes where on him, that’s when he really shined.

When the Fiend debuted at SummerSlam 2019 against Finn Balor, Bray Wyatt was instantly the coolest professional wrestler who ever lived. I say that with no hyperbole, what-so-ever.

It’s a title he still holds to this day as far as I’m concerned.

No wrestler has ever topped stalking down to the ring in a demonic clown mask, carrying a lantern made out of his own head as thousands of fans stand in unison, cell phone lights flashing, rocking out to a banger theme song.

Seriously, who even has the idea to carry their own head during their entrance? Bray Wyatt did. Because he lived in a world that very few were willing to even visit.

Windham Rotunda was bold. He was willing to go where no one else would dare to venture, and that’s what made him stand out. That was his connection to audience. That’s what made him iconic.

“It’s a sport to some, and it’s a show to others. But I think the beautiful thing about wrestling and this industry is that there’s something for everyone,” Bray Wyatt said during the 2023 Royal Rumble Press Conference. One of his final public addresses to the WWE Universe.

“I’ve been willing to take risks and do things that no one’s ever done. Because, in my opinion, if you’re not willing to do that, then what are you doing here? It’s about kind of leaving a legacy for me, and I’d do pretty much anything. Especially if no one’s ever done it before, because I’d know that people would notice it. It’s fun for me.”

Wyatt’s final chapter in WWE will forever remain unfinished, but consider your legacy fulfilled, good sir.

No one will ever forget Bray Wyatt. No one will ever forget Windham Rotunda.

Someone told me this past week that pro wrestling lost it’s last true performance artist. I refuse to believe that. Bray’s legacy will live on in the inspiration he provided to others. In the new ways he showed others to think. Alexa Bliss, by her own admission, being one of them.

There will never be another performer, another artist, like Bray Wyatt - that is true. But hopefully, as an honor to his legacy, more wrestlers in the future will be as brave as the Eater of Worlds.

We’ll all just have to wait to see who travels those previously uncharted waters next and opens our eyes to something that we never knew existed.

You can follow Rick Ucchino on Twitter and subscribe to the Bleav in Pro Wrestling Podcast Channel for more of his work.

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