Bray Wyatt – WWE’s 21st Century Proving Ground

The main subject of my wrestling thoughts these last few weeks has been Bray Wyatt. I essentially turned the Payback Spotlight into one long extended rant about how little his move to Raw was going to do for him. But it feels like years that there has been a feeling that WWE are holding Bray back – he has been in championship pictures for a miniscule part of his run, and he always seems to lose the big feuds.

It looked like WWE might have changed their ways with Bray earlier this year, as he put away SmackDown’s top two stars in AJ Styles and John Cena with one Sister Abigail each inside the Elimination Chamber to become the WWE Champion for the first time. He then defended the title two days later against the same two men in a triple threat match. But WWE’s Eater of Worlds, and their current darkest, creepiest superstar, quickly and too easily succumbed to Randy Orton at Wrestlemania.

Orton Wyatt WWE Title

Wrestlemania – and the weeks since – have not gone particularly well for Bray

The reason I use terms like dark and creepy, is because Bray has often drawn comparison in his WWE tenure with The Undertaker. And I see that, in more ways than one. Both men have gimmicks that in all likelihood only they could pull off, both men are extremely talented athletes for guys of their size. Both men have hugely cool and intimidating entrances.

And a perception of both men is that their characters keep them credible, and a threat, and so they do not always need to be in the title hunt. Bray Wyatt won his first WWE Championship in February this year, almost five years after debuting on the main roster. Undertaker, in his first five years in WWE, won one WWE Championship. In fact, it was six and a half years after his debut that he won his second world title, and five and a half after he won his first. And it was another two years before he won his third, another three before his fourth, and another five before his fifth world title reign.

Undertaker WWF CHamp

Undertaker had only a single WWE Championship to his name at the same point in his tenure

Obviously, whether Bray can get away with that amount of time between WWE Championships will depend on his longevity, and I will fully embrace that it is a different era where it is now easier to win world championships. But The Undertaker was proof that if the gimmick and performer are good enough, they don’t need a world championship to validate their careers.

I suppose the main difference, especially in the early part of their careers, is down to the number of big rivalries they have won. Which is why I’d like to throw out a similar comparison, but one that I feel more accurately defines how Bray has been used so far in his WWE career. I think a better comparison for Bray Wyatt could be to the former Raw General Manager Mick Foley.

Mankind was also a dark, brooding, dangerous character to grace WWE TV. All three of the men I’ve talked about are the kinds of gimmicks that will give children nightmares – and I mean that in the best possible way. Those same scared kids will love them when they grow up. But again, Mankind wasn’t successful in terms of accolades in WWE for years after he debuted. No, instead Mick Foley carved a career out for himself by giving other superstars a mean streak.

Foley RR2000

Foley is one crazy SOB. And that’s why you’ve got to love him.

He was the master elevator, giving people credibility when they needed it most. If he hadn’t been savaged by a dozen chair shots to the head with his hands handcuffed behind his back at the Royal Rumble 1999, would The Rock have gotten to the same level he did? Rock was hugely popular and charismatic, but knowing he had the ability to be as brutal as he was to Mankind in January 1999 gave him a level of violence that cemented him as a top guy.

The same thing happened a year later with Triple H. Steel steps, steel chairs, announce tables, wooden pallets, barbed wire, thumbtacks. Triple H needed solidifying as a top guy in the company, and Pedigreeing Mick Foley (as Cactus Jack) into a pile of thumbtacks was a sadistic act to be taken seriously. I don’t think it was a coincidence that the first real title feud The Rock and Triple H had was with Mick, because he had the innate ability to make the top heels appear heartless.

And even after retirement, Mick Foley came back and did it all over again. His battle with Randy Orton at Backlash 2004 is one of the highlights of both men’s careers to this day, and again established the ruthless barbarity Orton could let himself sink to. Hell, even throw getting thrown off the top of Hell In A Cell by The Undertaker at King of the Ring 1998 into the mix – again one of the more memorable moments of either men’s careers to this day and a feather in Taker’s cap that justified his claim he “made people famous”.

Foley HIAC98.gif

It’s one of the most iconic moments in WWE history. And probably made both men’s careers.

So possibly what Mick Foley’s legacy ended up being was proving the toughness of rising stars when they needed to show a violent side. And though it is easy to wish for better for Bray Wyatt, if he makes a star in the same way Foley played a significant part in making at least three, it will be worth it for all involved.

Like Undertaker, I don’t see how Wyatt can go through his career without winning a world title once or twice more at least. But even though I don’t find his recent booking to have been particularly rewarding, he doesn’t need the belt to be successful. He can follow the Foley path – hopefully with less crazy, career-if-not-life-threatening and permanently damaging falls – and be one of the most important figures in the next era of WWE much like Mick was for the Attitude Era. He might not always get the plaudits himself, but he can be just as important by putting people over as he can by winning.

So there lies the question – who on the current roster can benefit most from descending to the callous depths of Bray Wyatt’s mind? They seem to have set up a feud with Finn Balor (though Braun Strowman’s injury could change that), and for me that is absolutely perfect. Balor has been lacking a bit of spark on a weekly basis since his return, and proving he can rough it up with the likes of Bray Wyatt should be exactly what he needs. Plus, the visual of Bray vs the Demon King would be awesome.

Balor

The Demon King surrounded by Bray’s fireflies. What a visual.

The only other person who seems like a suitable candidate would be Seth Rollins. Bray has already feuded with Ambrose and Reigns in the past, and letting things become a little hardcore could be the appetiser Seth needs after his personal encounters with Triple H and Samoa Joe to prove he can hang with the beast incarnate. That has to be the end goal for whoever gets past Bray next – a Universal Championship opportunity. And let’s face it, much as we might want Bray to be the champion, being the proving ground for the next title contenders isn’t a bad second prize for Bray to have.

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