First of all, major props to the WWE for honoring BOTH the recently deceased Bray Wyatt and Terry Funk for 8/25/23’s Friday Night Smackdown. Terry did not have as many ties to the WWE, but they knew many fans watching their WWE programming did and loved the guy. That speaks volumes to me about how the WWE’s management team has matured, with respect to its talent, in comparison to the 1990s and 2000s where they were essentially warm bodies. Plus, WWE honors its past much more by taking care of any wrestlers in need of rehabilitation help.
I believe this is Triple H‘s doing backstage and change of culture. While I may have disagreements with how Triple H molds talent, particularly on the Main Eventer side, I do respect how he cares about the talent. For example, Bray Wyatt. HHH has always had Bray’s back, from pushing the repackaged Husky Harris to become Bray Wyatt to re-signing Wyatt last year after Vince McMahon terminated him. Triple H re-signed many wrestlers whom the WWE released during 2020-2022 when Triple H was removed from Talent Relations.
But Triple H has also honored the past more so than Vince. For one, Triple H was a big fan of the Ric Flair era in the NWA that later became WCW. He was a big Harley Race and Ric Flair fan, as he honored Harley many times while personally taking care of Ric Flair during the 2000s when Ric needed a morale boost. Then, Triple H reached out to the Ultimate Warrior and Bruno Sammartino to join the WWE Hall of Fame, as both wrestlers were thought to be permanently banned from the WWE thanks to heat with Vince. Triple H smoothed over relations with both guys, got them back on the same page as Vince, and allowed them to have a great final moment in their wrestling careers by formally joining the WWE Hall of Fame.
Right now, the WWE has a culture that is tight knit with its wrestlers and many wrestlers of the past are welcome to participate anytime. Just look at all of those documentaries of the past promotions that you can enjoy on the WWE Network. Vince dislikes any wrestling that he didn’t create, but yet it’s featured prominently on the Network and WWE is pulling in a wide net of wrestling fans, both young and old, with content catering to both.
I guarantee you that Triple H spoke up about having Smackdown honor Terry Funk. Trips knew how important that guy was to the business and probably insisted that Smackdown co-honor him with Bray. Then, of course with Bray, Triple H seized his moment of returning as EVP of Talent Relations by signing Bray Wyatt back to the WWE after he was released following Wrestlemania 37 during 2021. Bray’s return promo was emotional and heartfelt, which prompted Bray’s merchandise sales to immediately surge afterward. Now, thanks to Bray being under contract, it’s likely that Bray’s hospital bills will be covered and the likely boost in Wyatt sales, again, will allow for some much needed financial help for his widowed family.
Yes, Vince McMahon has his problems… But he’s always had problems. There’s a moral backbone inside the WWE now that tries to watch out for current talent (Bray Wyatt) while trying to increasingly honor the past contributors (Terry Funk). That’s good leadership under Triple H.
With that opening part out of the way, I’m going to say many words about both talents… Because I’ve been watching Terry Funk closely since 1989, I’ll go with that legend first and then discuss Bray Wyatt second.
Do you know what my favorite match of all time is? I have, in fact, listed it in several of my Top 10 matches of all time columns… It is Terry Funk vs. Ric Flair from November 15th, 1989 at NWA/WCW Clash of the Champions 9. The famous “I QUIT” match. I was blown away by this match, which in my opinion was the final peak of the great 1989 year for WCW. Flair and Funk tortured each other, while utilizing the live microphone as psychology to demand that the other wrestler say “I QUIT”. And if they didn’t, they bashed each other in the head with the microphone and then ask again! If you liked the famous Rock vs. Mick Foley “I QUIT” match from Royal Rumble 1999, there are a ton of fingerprints from that match that were influenced from Funk vs. Flair’s match just over 9 years earlier.
But how Terry Funk entered the feud with Ric Flair BLEW MY MIND! At WrestleWar 1989, Ric Flair re-captured the NWA/WCW World Title from Ricky “the Dragon” Steamboat in an amazing 5-star match that everyone should go out of their way and see (in addition to the above “I QUIT” match). During the match, Terry Funk was at ringside and he was on-hand to honor Ric Flair for winning the title back. However, Terry had other plans and brutally attacked Ric Flair. Funk did something at WrestleWar 89 that you never saw before and that was piledriving another wrestler through a table on the outside. It is sadly a normal move now, but it was completely shocking back then and the impact increased by Ric Flair selling that neckbrace for a while.
And 1989 was YEARS after the guy began wrestling and had many peaks in multiple territories. Terry just started wrestling in 1965, shortly after JFK was assassinated and before we ever landed on the moon. The guy worked everywhere in the world and always gave you his best effort. I remember him mostly for his 1989 NWA/WCW stint, his ECW career, Chainsaw Charlie in the WWE, and his return to WCW just before it closed. While I gave the opinion that maybe Funk winning the ECW World Title at ECW’s first ever Pay Per View “Barely Legal” was a bad idea back then, with ECW closing just 4 years later, screw it, it was a great decision. And it goes to show you how much Heyman and his ECW locker room liked the guy to crown him champion at their very first Pay Per View.
I don’t care what anyone says, I loved me some Chainsaw Charlie… Yeah, we knew it was Terry Funk, but we also knew that Mankind used to be Cactus Jack. So what? If they are a good performer, they’ll succeed in any gimmick. I liked how he was a hardcore friend for Foley, but also how he and Foley were targets for the New Age Outlaws. That feud was HUGE for Billy Gunn and Road Dogg and everybody remembers that dumpster push off of the stage.
Sure, Terry stayed inside the wrestling ring for longer than most would expect someone to do… 1965 through 2017 is a long wrestling career. But he loved it and as long as someone is willing to keep employing you, while not hurting others doing so, then it’s OK. Being “part of the boys” probably kept him excited to live to nearly 80 years.
Rest in Peace, Terry, and thanks for the great memories and matches. I’m sure that God will have his hands full with you in heaven!
Windham Rotunda aka Husky Harris aka Bray Wyatt aka The Fiend. Nobody deserves to die that young, especially with a young family at home. My condolences to his young family. Reportedly, according to Fightful releasing the cause of death almost immediately, Bray passed away due to COVID-19 related side affects that did damage to his heart. COVID-19 is a type of virus that attempts to infect your lungs, but it can result in damage to the heart’s walls or blood vessels linked between the heart and lungs. Hence why doctors considered anyone with a pre-existing heart condition or weight issues as the most at-risk persons for COVID (along with older people).
For the past few years, yes, I have been critical of Bray Wyatt’s matches. To me, he just seemed slower in the ring, injury prone, and appeared out of breath. I didn’t know if that was a conditioning issue or what, but something was affecting his energy inside the ring. Slap on a thick mask and it could have made a pre-existing issue worse. I don’t know? But I made the same exact criticisms of Roman Reigns during 2016-2018, wondering why he was very exhausted during longer matches. Turns out that Roman not only had Leukemia, it was his second bout. Speaking with somewhat from experience, your body and especially the heart in its 30s and beyond can’t take the energy drinks, bad food, and lack of exercise that you got away with during your 20s. For example, if you have a heart murmur, drinking lots of caffeinated products isn’t the best thing to do and becomes an increasing problem with time.
My guess is that he had something pre-existing that was manageable or maybe not even known, and then COVID exposes any previous heart issues, known or not known. COVID does its biggest damage to those who are either older, have heart issues, or those in bad physical shape to begin with. For Bray, we can scratch the older age… It was revealed that COVID damaged his heart, so either he had a pre-existing condition that COVID exploited or his body wasn’t ready to protect itself from the Virus. No, this isn’t a vaccination thing. The COVID-19 virus, itself, does damage. The damn thing has killed millions of people. It’s not “just a cold”. I’ve had it and felt it attempt to go deep into my lungs before my immunity system kicked in and I instantly felt better in a day or two.
Windham Rotunda had an interesting career… First of all, he was the son of Mike Rotunda (IRS in WWE) and the nephew of Barry Windham. His dad tagged up with Barry Windham during the mid 1980s in the WWE, likely how Mike Rotunda met his wife. That’s wrestling royalty, right there folks… On top of that, Windham was a great amateur wrestler and football player in high school, and such a great athlete that he played football in college too. Yet, this was NEVER mentioned on a WWE broadcast, well, at least until now. While other wrestlers have failed to live up to the “next generation” tag (Hennig, Dibiase, Sammartino, Gagne, etc.), others have succeeded (Orton, Cody/Goldust, the Rock, Usos, etc.). Coming from a wrestling family is NOT nepotism because the fathers actually TEACH their sons how to properly work and end up really succeeding because of that, not just their name and bloodline. They never mentioned what a good athlete Bray was before pro wrestling.
Instead, he was just “Husky” Harris and when that didn’t work, reshaped into the Bray Wyatt character. To his benefit along with NXT’s now run by Triple H, they put a lot of creative thought into Bray Wyatt and the Wyatt family. It was genius to pair them up as 3 wrestlers along with Luke Harper and Eric Rowan, as these were 3 hoss type wrestlers who looked intimidating together. Harper and Rowan weren’t strong speakers, which is where Windham Rotunda shined. He was an excellent promo, though maybe got too much into character at times. Either way, it worked and in my opinion, benefitted all 3 collectively. I would have kept them together as a group longer, as they were never as strong without each other. The Harper/Rowan tag team, for example, was awful and clearly didn’t work as a team that no-sold everything.
WWE pushed Bray Wyatt from the start, but man, that SummerSlam 2013 match was AWFUL with the ring ropes on fire. Off to a bad start, but the pure talent that Bray Wyatt had actually overcame it. I personally enjoyed when they were a 3 person unit and even 4 when Braun Strowman joined them. They were dangerous looking and a threat to everyone. I personally enjoyed the Shield vs. Wyatt family feud, as it really showcased everyone’s talent in short bursts and matches looked great because everyone on each side of the ring looked like an actual team. You know, matching uniforms… It really works!
Bray spun off as a singles wrestler had its good moments, but sometimes it missed. Personally, I thought that he gave the babyface Roman Reigns his best matches during that overpushed 2014-2019 run of Roman. The Hell in a Cell match, in particular, is worth going out of your way to see. The matches against Daniel Bryan, too. Those were complete battles and you really got to see how strong Bray really when wrestling a lighter Bryan who could sell everything for him. After that, I thought that his matches with John Cena and Undertaker didn’t work on the big stage and in my opinion, that limited his career from being bigger. You can argue with me all day if he should have won or lost, but the matches leading up to the finish just weren’t good. The match’s end result doesn’t matter if the match before it isn’t good. Roman Reigns had the same problem as Bray, as his matches against Cena, Orton, Undertaker, and Triple H just weren’t good in the big spotlight.
And then Bray shifted into “The Fiend”. Sorry, but I did not like that character nor did I enjoy anything involving the Firefly Funhouse. Yes, the Undertaker used supernatural stuff in the past, too, but everyone accepted them because THE MATCHES WERE GOOD OR GREAT. We did not see any good to great matches with the Fiend. That’s why the Fiend character wasn’t widely accepted and was quickly tanking Smackdown’s viewership after its big FOX debut. Something was off and with his recent passing, it makes me wonder if any heart issues were beginning to show themselves and affect Bray’s conditioning. You can argue that Bill Goldberg defeating Bray was a bad decision, but again, the Fiend’s matches were lacking and weren’t representing him well as the top guy of the Smackdown brand. Then, things got really worse through Wrestlemania 37 to start Day 2 of that event during his match with Randy Orton. It dampened what was shaping to be a great all-time Wrestlemania based on the fun first night, but then Orton vs. Fiend HAD to get too deep into the theatrics with Alexa Bliss having black ooze coming out of her head. One of the most bizarre things that I’ve even seen tried and that’s not art to me, either.
WWE released Bray Wyatt soon after the Wrestlemania 37 disaster and in my mind, that was a real shame because the talent was there. WWE’s Creative Team went too far into the wrong direction with the Fiend character and it just didn’t seem like WWE’s backstage agents were helping him much with the preparation of his matches. He would have been a perfect guy for Paul Heyman to look over, for example, instead of the many wannabes backstage. Plus, Triple H became less involved with the WWE at this point with the Creative demotion during the Fall of 2019, losing Talent Relations during early 2020, and then losing NXT during 2021. HHH had his own health problems, too, and couldn’t be there for all of his developed wrestlers as Vince was releasing them all.
BUT, then Bray Wyatt came back… After Vince McMahon “retired” during the Summer of 2022, Triple H resumed Creative/Talent duties once again and HHH re-signed many of the wrestlers that Vince McMahon released. This included Bray Wyatt and Bray’s return was legendary, which involved him speaking personally to the fans. I was like “YES, FINALLY” because sometimes he was too much into the supernatural stuff that it subtracted from the personable character he could have been. It was the best promo of Bray’s career and WWE fans responded very positively by acquiring much of his merchandise. Unfortunately, instead of continuing that direction of the character, the Firefly Funhouse stuff came back and then we were introduced to the mysterious Uncle Howdy. I’m still shocked that LA Knight is popular during 2023 because that Royal Rumble 2023 feud was AWFUL and the match was even worse, especially with Uncle Howdy’s fall missing Knight by like 4 feet.
Then, unfortunately, Bray Wyatt fell ill soon after this match and we never saw him again… Bray didn’t have a chance to redeem himself. There were rumors of a SummerSlam comeback that the online wrestling community talked about, but it never happened.
Bray Wyatt falls into that category of “WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN” as a wrestler. The talent, the charisma, and the microphone skills were there. Sadly, the WWE Creative Team and his health was not. Now, I don’t want to rip a Creative Team that made him a 3-time World Champion in the WWE. But some of the supernatural stuff was ridiculous and hurt Bray’s time in the spotlight, particularly when it coincided with a main event push. That said, for as bad as Creative can be, you still have to nail the Main Event matches given to you. As goofy as Undertaker’s supernatural stuff was, he always delivered in the Main Event, even when the opponents were bad. Bray always had great opponents and yet he’d fall short for match quality. Had the WWE just kept him a tad more normal as a personality and focused more on his match quality, he could have been a bigger star.
His 2022 return is what makes me really sad now. That promo was exceptional and had WWE kept with that tone of his character, they could have made him into a big superstar. Instead, we went back into the Firefly Funhouse stuff and Uncle Howdy was pure garbage. That’s the biggest shame, but even when WWE Creative hands you lemons, you MUST turn it into lemonade. The matches just weren’t good when the big spotlight was turned on, and whether or not Bray’s health had a part in that, we’ll find out now if he’s had heart issues for a while.
I’m very sad for his family and wish them the very best.
On the WWE’s side of things, start taking Heart Health seriously, please. We’re talking ongoing examinations and stress tests. Make it a part of your Wellness Policy because many wrestlers have died from heart related issues and at a younger age. Treat it as an issue to protect wrestlers, as the Wellness Policy does for substance abuse and concussions. Had Bray or others from the past been properly examined, then maybe a pre-existing heart condition or enlarged valves from taking something could have been detected.
COVID-19 sucks and has been hurting the world for the past 4 years. It’s something to be taken seriously, as it aims for your lungs and can cause your heart to work into overtime to cause permanent damage. Take this virus seriously and stop reading into the online lies that the vaccine is causing the heart issues. No, it’s the virus itself and everyone has been infected by this, whether they are aware of it or not. COVID-19 will continue to be here and mutate itself into different forms, so thus it’s in your best interest to take care of yourself and boost your immunity. This virus attacks your vital organs in your heart and lungs, and thus should be taken very seriously. Otherwise, it could become fatal or will create permanent health ailments.
It’s just another shame in the pro wrestling business, both with the end and what could have been with his career. The talent was always there, but the willingness to present him as a normal wrestler wasn’t and maybe WWE’s health team failed him. You know, the same team that was instructed to look the other way for various issues in the past that created the Wellness Policy for substances and concussions. Also, the same team that tried to sue CM Punk for defamation and lost. The WWE environment has come a long way from what it once was, and oddly enough, the younger wrestler deaths have slowed compared to the past. But WWE could do more and thoroughly examining its talent and executives for heart issues could save even more lives.
RIP Bray Wyatt. Sorry for the loss to his family, friends, and many devoted friends.
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