It’s another show. Yay. This past Monday’s marathon gauntlet match aside, there has been a palpable feeling that WWE has been killing time over the last few weeks, waiting until they can properly get the hype machine going for Wrestlemania. As far as Raw is concerned, we only have to wait a matter of days. But first we have to get through an utterly predictable Elimination Chamber show.
That’s not to say it will be a bad show quality-wise, but there just isn’t a great deal of intrigue. And the match I’m putting the Spotlight on this time around exemplifies that feeling – it was a pairing I had high hopes for, but that has been incredibly underwhelming. So what’s gone wrong with the rivalry between Bray Wyatt and “Woken” Matt Hardy?
Well for one, repetitiveness. The first match in this series between the two men was on the 27th November, after which Matt started deleting, beginning his metamorphism into the Woken persona. And to be fair, it was massively exciting for the first few weeks. But here we are three months later, and we’re still seeing the same promos, saying the same things. Plus, we already saw the match at Raw25, and it didn’t set the world alight, so there’s just not the same anticipation to see them do battle again now.
What I think has exacerbated this issue is the hype surrounding the Woken, or Broken, gimmick. When the Hardys returned at Wrestlemania last year in one of the best moments in Wrestlemania history, the reason the crowd’s reaction was so big was because the Broken Hardys had become the hottest gimmick on the independent scene.
In Impact Wrestling at the time, the descent into Matt’s Broken ways was rooted in an inferiority complex gone too far, an inability to cope with losing to Jeff. So he wanted to take Jeff’s essence away from him, his name. He wanted to Delete the Hardy from Jeff Hardy. In WWE, he went from your normal Matt Hardy, to a Woken Warrior in the space of one week with no real explanation.
That has created a disconnect. We know Woken Matt is out there, who believes he played chess against a goldfish who embodied the spirit of Napoleon. But we don’t know why. WWE have had three months to establish what this character is, and why this character is the way it is. WWE have had three months to build momentum for Woken Matt. And in three months, WWE have failed Woken Matt.
We know the character can work, both on admittedly smaller scale national television and on the independent scene. But for now, it clearly isn’t in WWE. That’s not to say Woken Matt is a lost cause – if anything can salvage the gimmick it will be the hot and smart crowds that come with Wrestlemania season, as well as the return of Brother Nero. It’s just that by this point, there was an opportunity to elevate Matt to the level WWE sees Jeff at, and make a boatload of money in the process with merchandising of the Broken (or Woken) Universe. And there has been no sign of WWE pulling the trigger.
That’s not to say all the fault has been on Woken Matt either. While on paper the clash of WWE’s demented preacher and the leader of the Woken Universe seemed like a match made in heaven, the reality is there may not be a more stale character in the company right now than Bray Wyatt.
It’s actually quite interesting to go back and look at Wyatt in his NXT days, or early on his main roster run. He is clearly the same character, delivering the same sort of sermon in the same style of performance. Yet the current incarnation of Bray Wyatt appears far darker, after a raft of changes in both presentation and attire. And Wyatt has suffered from a persistent problem from day one: he loses. A lot.
And that I think has killed any aura, and public belief in Bray Wyatt. No matter how much he delivers in matches, people don’t go into them believing he will win. Hoping maybe, for his own sake, but not believing.
Even when he does get a rare victory on a big stage, Wyatt is hamstrung by horrendous booking. After winning the WWE Championship inside last year’s Elimination Chamber match, the sky should have been the limit for his long running simmering feud with Randy Orton. But WWE went too far down Bray’s supernatural route, with the effects in their Wrestlemania match completely taking the viewer out of the situation and frankly ruining it. And just like that, the hope that Wyatt would finally reach his potential was gone with a 1-2-3.
If the best thing that can happen to Bray would be a face turn, the worst thing that ever happened to him might have been getting injured two years ago. In 2016, there were big plans for the Wyatt Family, which at the time consisted of Erick Rowan, Luke Harper and Braun Strowman with Bray at the helm. And there were big plans in store for Bray. He was at one point scheduled to face Brock Lesnar at Wrestlemania – a spot that ended up going to Dean Ambrose in what would be the most underwhelming match on the card.
Instead, he was put into a promo segment with The Rock. Talk about giving him a stage. Strangely, as the Family were out-and-out heels, The Rock put Bray over. Rock talked about Bray’s ability to capture the imagination of the WWE Universe, about his ability to become a leader who could be a focal point for the fans’ affections. It seemed like it was going to lead to a face turn for the Family, and they were even rumoured to be the guys who would put an end to the ill-fated League of Nations. But because of Bray’s injury, and later Rowan and Harper each getting hurt, those plans never came to anything.
Bray instead fell back down the card, and became just another guy. He’s young enough that there still has to be hope for him, and every chance of him becoming the force at the top of the card that he should have been. But at this stage, even a face turn looks unlikely to have any real impact for him.
Which brings me back to the match between Wyatt and Hardy tomorrow night at Elimination Chamber. It is actually one of the less predictable matches on the show, but that’s because there’s no apparent direction for either man at Wrestlemania. Really, this match is more difficult to call because it appears to be so inconsequential, it really wouldn’t matter who wins. These are two men who are in desperate need of something more. But odds are, whatever that something is, it’s not going to come this Sunday.