ViRTUE's RAGE: Fiend or Famine for WWE? Submitted by Virtue on 08/01/2020 at 11:06 PM
August 1, 2020
It was nearly one year ago I was in Toronto for WWE SummerSlam weekend with the NoDQ crew. The buzz of the weekend within the crew was Bray Wyatt’s in-ring return and debut as The Fiend character when he faced Finn Balor in what amounted to be about a 3-minute squash match. Gathering by the majority reaction and response from the crowd, most people were hooked and intrigued as soon as The Fiend entered the arena while carrying a lantern that was housed by his previous gimmick’s face. It had been a long time since an entrance not featuring The Undertaker seemingly gave me goose bumps while watching it live in an arena. As I stood up in awe and anticipation of what would happen next, I thought to myself, could this really be the redemption story that Bray Wyatt’s WWE career needed? As big of a Wyatt fan that I have been since his FCW/NXT days, I will be honest that his career up to 2018 seemed like just one big tease, even despite him facing John Cena, The Undertaker, and defending the WWE Championship against Randy Orton all at WrestleMania. During that span, he would be booked to go 0-3 on the big stage and even had a segment with The Rock in between, where his Wyatt Family would be bested when all was said and done. As Wyatt hovered near the so-called brass ring Vince McMahon has often referred to, he could not quite grab it. The only thing looking back at him was his reflection in the glass ceiling.
Injury prone? During the majority of Bray Wyatt’s WWE career, that is the phrase that has been thrown around the most. Jim Ross once referred to him as a locomotive with a Ferrari engine. That sounds great on paper, but unfortunately, it creates a lot of stress and strain on his “husky” body. Perhaps his various nagging injuries during that span created a trust issue with him and WWE management. Despite this, I still recall Wyatt having several damn good matches over the years against the likes of Daniel Bryan, Roman Reigns, Chris Jericho, John Cena, and Dean Ambrose. Yeah, that’s right MR. TITO, Wyatt can work with anybody on any stage if given the ample amount of time to perform. It takes two to tango. Call the Wyatt Family gimmick backwoods and weird, but it still served a very good purpose for WWE programming during what became the WWE Network era. The feud with The Wyatts and The Shield was a memorable one that stands out to me, but with that comes the biggest problem. That very problem is exactly what many of the most heavily pushed WWE talents have experienced since the WWE Network era launched, aka the post full-time John Cena era if you will (Dusty Rhodes voice). Problem = no wrestler will ever become bigger than the WWE. Now what exactly was Bray Wyatt to do?
At this point in his WWE career, Wyatt had to have known it was too difficult to get over as a megastar with the WWE machine setting limitations on characters. With that theory in place, he decided to split his character’s personality into multiple facets. While doing so, he was able to get the rest his body needed to heal up all nagging injuries, which all professional wrestlers on the road go through during their careers. During this time, The Firefly Fun House and eventually The Fiend were born. This is the moment I would like to reiterate that Wyatt realized becoming an Undertaker, a Rock, an Austin, and to a lesser extent a Cena was most likely never going to be obtainable because of the way the current WWE machine operates. He experienced firsthand top talents like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan make it to the brass ring only to be decimated by that very WWE machine that allowed them to get there. In Vince McMahon’s eyes, if you don’t look like Brock Lesnar or Roman Reigns, forget about sustaining the top main event level for the long haul. What exactly was Wyatt to do? The answer is simple. He was going to have fun just being as creative as possible and keeping his spot on television, which is exactly what The Firefly Fun House and his Mick Foley-like multiple personalities set out to do.
A character like the “Mr. Rogers” Bray Wyatt is obviously not designed to headline WrestleMania every year. As for The Fiend character, it is supposed to be the evil entity that forcefully makes its way to the top and threatens and lurks for quite some time, but it is supposed to ultimately be defeated by the hero. The problem with this gimmick from Wyatt is the timing of it. He should have been full heel all the way. However, fans immediately clung to The Fiend at SummerSlam last year because they are too smartened up to the business nowadays and they clamor for an almost constant new direction for the main event scene. Remember Kofimania? Yeah, the fans thought it was cool for a few months at best. By the time Brock Lesnar squashed him, they were already ready to move on to the next flavor. Because of this, it is hard to create true heels and true faces because fans stay in the gray area since they are more concerned about whether a wrestler gets their “deserved” push or not. It’s unfortunate most wrestling fans today cannot fully buy into who the character is supposed to be (heel or face), rather than who they think deserves the spot.
Did The Fiend need to compete for a major title like the Universal Championship? Initially, he absolutely did not. They could have built him up moving towards that goal for at least a year or so. But what did the WWE machine do? They mixed him up with the champion, Seth Rollins, before they even wanted to remove the title from Rollins. What a colossal mistake by WWE management, which was neither Wyatt’s or Rollins' fault. The Hell in a Cell match ending took the little bit of momentum The Fiend did have since SummerSlam and basically flushed it down the toilet. To end a match where anything goes by a referee stoppage might be one of the biggest blunders in WWE booking history. What made even less sense was they allowed The Fiend to not really feel any pain earlier in the match by no-selling everything Rollins threw at him, but then the referee still decided to stop the match later. Dumb! For the record, I am all for no-selling if it makes sense due to adrenaline rush or teasing some supernatural abilities, but the Hell in a Cell match went overboard with it. Fast forward a few weeks later to Crown Jewel in Saudi Arabia when WWE management then decided to put the Universal Championship on The Fiend to try and save the debacle from Hell in a Cell. Now that The Fiend had a major title, the only thing they should have kept doing was having him dominate as that character, which they somewhat tried to do with his feud with poor Daniel Bryan. Oh yeah, that red light gimmick did not last very long. As a matter of fact, they should have only done it near the ending of the matches when The Fiend “hulked” up.
Before the pandemic was a thing, the rumor mill was swirling that Roman Reigns might finally be going for the Universal Championship he never lost because of his Leukemia absence. That made complete sense, but WWE still found a way to screw that up, too. In what should have been The Fiend defending the title against Reigns at WrestleMania, the WWE machine decided to have OLDberg defeat The Fiend for the title in Saudi Arabia, in rather quick fashion to boot. Absolutely ridiculous booking here, especially since Wyatt and Reigns have had very solid matches with one another in the past. Goldberg cannot even go more than two minutes before getting blown up. This was where the faith the fans had in The Fiend gimmick quickly died on the vine, and not because of Wyatt but because of the incompetent booking and creative by WWE. In true karma fashion, this majorly backfired on WWE because of the pandemic. Reigns opted to stay safe and go home while WWE panicked and pulled Strowman out of a hat, who had recently been lost in the shuffle, to challenge Goldberg in front of zero fans at the WWE Performance Center. Meanwhile, The Fiend had a segment (not a match) against John Cena at WrestleMania. Nobody got over from any of this, and if anything, WWE hurt any chance The Fiend had to get back to where he was before the loss to Goldberg, which was at least trending towards a fun match and program against Reigns.
Has The Fiend been a success or a failure over the past twelve months? From a WWE management and booking standpoint, he has been a huge failure. This all could have been avoided if they did not put him in the main title picture until perhaps now. WWE management should be held accountable for The Fiend gimmick not having a higher appeal right now. Sure, they will blame the pandemic because they will never take accountability for their poor booking decisions. WWE somehow still makes money because of inflated television and Saudi Arabia deals, so that will always be their excuse that they are doing things right. I also do not want to dismiss the fact that Wyatt has done his part by being as creative as possible and trying something new to expand The Wyatt Family gimmick that WWE managed to make tiresome. How do I know this? Because I was there for that SummerSlam entrance last year and I felt it. Most of the arena felt it. The Fiend could have become something extraordinary and memorable for the long term if WWE had a creative team that legitimately cared to put out a good/great product. If I had to fantasy book what WWE should attempt to do with The Fiend the remainder of this year into early 2021, it would be for him to win the Universal Championship from Strowman at (ironically) SummerSlam. He should hold it and dominate until Roman Reigns is ready to return and take it from him, just like it should have been all along. It is hard to draw better ratings and get more fans to live shows (once there is no pandemic) when the WWE machine does not properly capitalize on the true talent they have. Without a legit threat and true competition like when WCW existed, things will most likely never get as good as they used to be.
Thanks for reading Virtue’s Rage and I WILL BE BACK…