No matter what the WWE tries to market in between, the Royal Rumble and WrestleMania function as a Part One and Part Two of a season finale of sorts. While the WWE has no real off time, chapters open and close on pay per views, SummerSlam and Survivor Series being of particular note (our sweeps episodes, if we are to continue the comparison to a normal show); Royal Rumble gives us what could be, and WrestleMania gives us what SHALL be for the next year. At least… that’s the way it used to go (and, I’d argue, the way it should go). In the past two or three years, we have failed to reap or sow various stories, pushes, and exchanges, and failed so badly that we are now actively acknowledging mistakes from almost two years before (here’s to you, Dolph Ziggler; I knew you were the sole survivor of 2014 and even made an elaborate map of every story it could’ve fed into all the way through WrestleMania of 2015… before I gave up after the death knell that was the Lana and Rusev angle). Have we learned from these mistakes? It seems not…
There is no bigger Chekov’s Gun in the WWE than Bray Wyatt. Wyatt, and his original family of Harper and Rowan, debuted in July of 2013, in one of the better packaged entrances of a gimmick so large. The eerie, vaguely bayou band of brothers attacked the demon Kane, setting an out with the old, in with the new story for the heels of the WWE universe, attacking seemingly random members of the roster in the months that followed, leaving nonsensical bread crumbs for Kane to follow. They fought fire with fire, putting on one hell of a show in a Ring of Fire match with Kane (every one of those puns intended), and creeped from generally unsettling and compelling to attacking CM Punk and Daniel Bryan, the patron saints at the time for face value good guy fans and smarks alike. He even briefly essentially brainwashed Daniel Bryan, but the WWE wants us to forget about that, and I’m happy to… moving on…
Bray Wyatt gave us one of the most compelling John Cena storylines we’re likely to ever see. Cena maintained his face status, but we got to see him breakdown. It was satisfying for those of us who view the company from every lens we can and offered complexity and character development to Cena fans in every age range. Until his feud with Rusev, John Cena retained some of this edge and dimension, even after he ended his feud against Bray Wyatt with a win. The message was clear: even if you win against Bray Wyatt, you’re not the same, and Bray Wyatt still wins. Why?
Because Bray Wyatt doesn’t care about wins or losses, not in any tangible way. The most obvious measure of a man in this company is titles, but Bray seemingly has no interest in those. Sometimes he wins and is overtaken by a fit of anger. Sometimes he loses but he laughs and smiles. There was an opportunity for him to really and truly be the New Face of Fear. The WWE took step after step forward with this concept: Bray Wyatt calling upon a spectre with some incantation and attacking Dean Ambrose, Bray Wyatt lying in a coffin and summoning the Undertaker, Bray Wyatt whispering “Anyone but you, Roman” and finding personal photos of the man’s daughter. And while these were all very chilling spectacles, in true WWE fashion we just had to sabotage our own success or we simply forgot what in the swampy hell it was we were doing with him.
I had high hopes for Bray Wyatt in the Royal Rumble. Rumors were abound and it seemed like the perfect time to undo the damage done by not addressing the fact that the Wyatt family had literally (in the original definition) kidnapped the Undertaker and Kane, and heavily implied that they devoured their souls or whatever it is you do when you carry an undead evil sorcerer and his demon brother off stage with heavy crucifixion imagery, a brilliant move (had it had any follow up) that made us question what was metaphor and what was actual black magic in the things Wyatt said. The Rumble itself was a masterpiece, as far as the Wyatt’s were concerned: Brock Lesnar made quick work of the family, though not so quick as he did of others, and Bray’s demeanor and spirit were not diminished. When it was Bray’s time to cast Brock Lesnar out, the family returned to help, unphased by the Beast’s attacks only moments ago.
Fantastic, I thought. Finally, we’re going to solidify that Bray Wyatt plays with his food, regardless of who it is, and that his family’s loyalty can put down undead spell casters, demons, and beasts alike.
And then for the next two weeks the Wyatt Family lost to Ryback. For… reasons… I’m sure there were reasons.
Roadblock reignited the Wyatt/Lesnar feud (with brother Luke facing him, instead of Bray himself), seeing a loss for the Wyatts, and we had a beautiful moment weeks ago where Bray Wyatt stroked Triple H’s WWE title, as it rested on his shoulder, uncaring of the status of Champion or Authority, a subtle threat few other men in the company could have pulled off… So does this mean that Wrestlemania 32 is the right time to pull the trigger on Bray Wyatt?
I say yes. It closes out our year with a bang… whether he attacks Lesnar, sabotaging his match against Dean Ambrose, makes another appeal to the Undertaker, or makes good on that taunt to HHH, we desperately need to make Bray Wyatt all he was promised. The Undertaker and Kane are getting old, a sad and simple fact that we must face when considering the foundational faces/heels of this company… and there is no heel on the card who makes the audience uncomfortable. It’s more taboo to cheer for a face than it is to cheer for a heel, here in the age of the Yes! Movement and hipster Smarks, people happy to pay $100 or more to hear themselves chant or to scoff at something they knew they wouldn’t enjoy, but Bray Wyatt has the potential to change that. As of now, we are used to the Wyatt family. We “WHAT” chant through even the most unsettling and impassioned of his speeches, but as Ambrose’s popularity has risen, the crowd’s willingness to boo Bray Wyatt when he hurts him has as well. It is beyond clear that Bray Wyatt is as evil and as frightening as the WWE will allow him to be.
If not Bray, who will be the great evil to pull us out of our heads and into the stakes of the story? If not Bray, who will be the new reason young wrestling fans say their prayers and check under their beds at night? If not Bray, who will loom so large and so threatening that faces and heels alike unify against him, connected by a desperation to stay safe in a world of chaos this antagonist has created? If not Bray, who will really and truly put the old demons to rest?
And I can think of at least one, sometimes-demon-summoning face who needs a reason to leave NXT, and a justification for pageantry long lost on our main roster. If not Bray, who lays the groundwork for every magic wielding, demon summoning, darkness holstering gimmick after him? We risk losing a transition period and making a fool out of ourselves if we ever try to have a big heel again.
The titles on the card are not the biggest things at stake at WrestleMania 32. The future of this company and the very nature of heel theatrics could be damaged irreparably if we dally any longer. If Bray Wyatt is an eater of worlds, we need WrestleMania to prove it.
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