I’ve been tracking the Wyatt Family’s movements since June, when their chilling vignette first aired on RAW. My column, Wyatt 101, looked at Windham Rotunda’s evolution from expendable generic guy to buzz-worthy talent. Two months later in Wyatt 102, I examined the Wyatt Family’s methodical introduction to weekly television, ending with this statement:
“The next step is Summerslam, and I will be on the edge of my seat when the lantern is lit.”
What a perfect milestone to begin this evaluation of Bray Wyatt since August. Wow, was that Ring of Fire match only two and a half months ago? On one hand, it feels like years since we sat through JoJo’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner”. On the other hand, one image from that night lingers fresh in my mind.
It is the image of the Wyatt Family coming down the aisle. The lights are out, the music casts a lull over the crowd, and the camera zooms in on the solitary glow of Bray’s lantern. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS? He is wearing his own t-shirt. I don’t mean a shirt that he owns, but a trademarked Follow the Buzzards shirt that they sell at the merchandise table in the lobby. Oh no. Oh no no no no NO NO NO. I get an immediate bad feeling about all of this. Bray Wyatt isn’t supposed to be wearing his own merch. He isn’t Cody Rhodes, with an immaculate duffel bag full of signed glossies and Crest Whitestrips. Bray’s mangy old shirts are full of memories, man, and you shouldn’t be messing with memory mojo by wearing, like, a uniform.
As you may recall, the mojo was indeed messed, if not by the shirt, then by the stipulation. Wyatt and Kane could not easily wrestle within the ring of fire, at least in a PG fashion. All they could really do was pound on each other whilst minding the gap between themselves and fire. On top of that, Kane’s moveset is dependable but limited, and there was little creativity within the confines of the flames. After such a brilliant build to Wyatt’s character, and knowing from NXT footage that Wyatt can really wrestle, this debut match was a major disappointment. But I’m not sure if anyone’s to blame. All wrestlers wear their own merch now, regardless of how “in character” they’re supposed to be. WWE wanted to go big with an old-school match, but the ring of fire has not aged well. They wanted to level the playing field and heighten the sense of danger by putting fire between Wyatt and his family, but the effect was more slapstick than sinister. I was angry at myself for thinking the best soundtrack for this would have been a kazoo.
The Wyatt Family disposed of Kane so that he could go make a movie, and it fueled my hope that Bray would move on up. The next night on RAW, he wore his old, greasy shirt and was his usual merciless self. In less than 2 minutes, R-Truth fell to the Sister Abigail. It was time to get his mojo back. It crossed my mind that they might be absent-mindedly relegating Wyatt to filler matches, but sometimes you need a little palate cleanser between feuds. We saw little of the Wyatts for three weeks, beyond another creepy vignette about Sister Abigail. In mid-September, Bray wrestled the also-elusive Dolph Ziggler. “It’s hard to believe that two-time World Champion Ziggler would be an upset if he beat Bray Wyatt, but that’s exactly what it would be in my book,” crowed JBL. A tip of the hat to Wyatt, for certain, though it too was a filler match. Both men put on a smart, speedy bout in a short amount of time – I had the benefit of seeing it live in Toronto, without the commercial break that dominated the match’s duration. Their talent shone above most of the other wrestlers that night.
Later in September, Harper and Rowan faced Zack Ryder and Justin Gabriel on Smackdown. Zack Ryder wrestles like he`s at a tryout. I meanly relish him colliding with Harper`s sweet discus clothesline. As soon as the match is over, Bray rises from his rocking chair. His expression is intense, then he tosses off his fedora and shakes out his scraggly hair in an almost giddy manner. You have to watch it to appreciate it. And while you`re at it, keep watching how Harper and Rowan gaze at Bray as he enters the ring; they look so young and in awe of him. But it`s very subtle. When Bray locks Zack Ryder into a gleeful embrace for the Sister Abigail, his laughter turns on a dime. Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Justin Gabriel perching on the top turnbuckle for an attack. Bray yells, ``HEY!`` and Harper takes out Gabriel with a ridiculously agile boot to the head.
Now the Wyatt Family is on a roll, facing the Prime Time Players on a regular basis. PTP get a little more offense than the others, but Titus O`Neil`s seal bark is cut short by the clothesline that even lariat-expert JBL adores. Three weeks after his singles match against Ziggler, Bray Wyatt faces off against Zack Ryder on Smackdown. I`d like to point out that even though the brand separation is all but erased at this point, I really like how the Wyatt Family has appeared equally on both programs. It gives them increased exposure, shows that they are valued, and also lends to the idea that they can pop up anywhere. If possible, Bray is even faster and more brutal than his family members; he is for certain more joyful about it. At this stage, I`m not seeing any evolution in Wyatt`s story or character, but I am happy to see his continued presence on TV. It`s more a vote of confidence than many other guys are getting during this period (when the shows are dominated by The Authority storyline). Leading up to Battleground, Bray interrupts a Kofi Kingston match with the threat that “On this Sabbath, I promise, the first will fall”.
And on that Sunday, Kofi does fall. During the match, Michael Cole quotes Bray Wyatt as saying, “Patience is a virtue, a lost art”. And even though Bray Wyatt says a lot of sayings, I like to think of this one as a special truth. He exhibits a great deal of patience when he stalks his prey, and we as followers must be patient. Bray yells out messages and ideas to the crowd whenever he`s got Kofi in a rest hold. It`s pretty amazing, because he`s not even bothering with Kofi that much. I imagine he also likes to tinker with a little taxidermy here and there while giving sermons in the woods. A real multi-tasker. Whenever Kofi tries to squeeze in some offense, Bray attends to him with a vicious calm. He always looks completely comfortable with his opponent, a marvel given how few minutes he`s spent wrestling on the “big” shows. How could you ever chant “Husky Harris” at this guy?
And then there`s the spider walk.
And then they seemed to be all done with Kofi. I Jumpy Clapped the next night, when the lights went out on MizTV: they`re here. That first encounter was short and anti-climactic, more of a promise than a delivery. But that promise seemed to be forgotten on the following Smackdown, where Harper and Rowan faced the Rhodes brothers in a terrific competitive match. There are two ways to look at this: you can wonder, “But what`s up with The Miz? I thought they were attacking him”. OR you can think, “Hey this is a great match anyways, you know `cause wrestling is their job and terrorizing people is like a hobby”. They interrupted the Miz`s match against Randy Orton the next week on RAW, distracting him out of a win and informing him that his quest for fame makes him a target.
The Miz teams up with Kofi in a match against Harper and Rowan on Smackdown. Something occurs to me, as Kofi gets pinned and the Wyatt Family circles: Harper and Rowan work well as a unit, but they rarely actually interact or acknowledge each other. There’s not a lot of eye contact or communication at all. They don’t engage their opponents like Bray does; Harper does a lot of “Yeah yeah YEAH” like he’s meditating about violence all the time, but otherwise they keep to themselves. It’s a beautiful cohesion with their leader. They have the same match again on Raw the next week, and then The Miz pulls a sneak attack on Bray at ringside. Oh, The Miz.
I only ever liked The Miz twice before this: during his entrance video for WrestleMania 27, and during a podcast when I realized how painfully aware he is that he annoys people (and said that his father has the same effect on people). This is the third time; I really liked seeing The Miz in a vulnerable position. The Wyatts knocked him out, tied him up backstage, and wrote “Liar” on his chest. It made me feel a lot worse for him than I did for Kane when he got his head bashed in, because I knew Kane would come back. This was like, “BUT HE’S JUST A BOY, AND HE CAN’T HELP HIMSELF!” Bray Wyatt managed to make The Miz look sympathetic to me for a moment – a short-lived one, since The Miz resurfaced at Hell In a Cell to call them out to the ring. A choke slam from Kane put an end to this chapter as well.
The following week on Raw, the lights go out on Daniel Bryan during a backstage interview. Harper and Rowan lay the beats on him, and Bray finishes him off with a Sister Abigail into a chain-link fence. As he rears back with laughter, the swinging interrogation lamp shines on his shirt for just a second. Is there something written on the shirt? I rewind and pause. In scratchy print, written from neck to waist, is the word AWAKE. It’s like all this time, Bray was just lolling about like a chilled-out psychopath whose interest hadn’t been stimulated. “The devil made me do it”, he says, and repeats it after attacking CM Punk in the ring later on. Please note that the fans go wild when their music hits, even though it means bad tidings for their beloved Punk. THIS is far more interesting than the Wyatts targeting Miz or Truth or Kofi or even Kane. Regardless of who “the devil” is that made him do it, Bray’s in the big time now.
When Bray pontificates over the fallen Prime Time Players on Smackdown, he wears another homemade message on his shirt: Wrath. It makes me think of the movie “Se7en”, which is a very good thing, and it drives me nuts that I can’t make out what his shirt says on the next week’s Raw. CM Punk is victorious after a match against Luke Harper, but is attacked afterwards by the rest of the family. The arena summons Daniel Bryan with “Yes” chants that reach a jubilant pitch when he hits the ring with a steel chair in hand. Our heroes stand tall at the end of this particular battle, with “Cult of Personality” playing and Bray Wyatt looking just bothered enough to induce more Jumpy Claps.
“Patience is a virtue, a lost art,” says Bray Wyatt. Given the tedious pace of The Authority story and the repetitive nature of the Punk/Heyman saga, we are being rewarded for our patience now. Even though one could say that the Wyatt Family has taken only small strides towards making an impact, one must also note that their talents have been well represented, delivered in a steady dosage since Summerslam. The merch-table shirt and the ring of fire were initial causes for concern: could Bray Wyatt thrive beyond the brilliant production value that had gotten him this far? He has wrestled only a few times in singles matches, but his presence (in both senses of the word) has resonated with fans. He continues to deliver confident, entertaining promos. He is a man of rituals, but never gets stale. I can’t wait to see him challenge CM Punk in terms of talking, and Daniel Bryan in terms of wrestling. Harper and Rowan have proven to be the surprise hits of the season. The power of their unspoken understanding is matched only by their physical dominance. These guys are awesome, and I have a feeling that it’s finally time to use Bray Wyatt as more than just a blunt object.
Tiiiiiime… is on their side.
I’d love to read your thoughts about the Wyatt Family’s progress over the last few months. I went the super-detailed route because I often find that at face-value I miss some of the best nuances that should be taken into consideration. I really appreciate your reading this, thank you for supporting our writing with your clicks and comments! I’m also on twitter @kickyhick and my email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.