Whether the first time you saw him was Husky Harris, the Wyatt Family leader Bray Wyatt, The Eater of Worlds, Funhouse host, The Fiend, or his newest gimmick that involves Uncle Howdy, there has always been something fascinating and captivating about Windham Rotunda or better known as Bray Wyatt. Over the years, Bray Wyatt has become a polarizing character in WWE. There are some people love everything he does but some would rather him not be on television. But what about the minority of fans that are in the middle? What about that subsection of fans who enjoy seeing Bray Wyatt but understand that some things are out of his control? The biggest question is, which version of Rotunda is the character people want on television?
When Bray Wyatt debuted with The New Nexus as Husky Harris, many fans instantly saw him as someone special. At that time it was not about his character or his promos, people were drawn to Harris because of his in-ring ability and some of his backstage segments. His main attribute was being a part of a tag team with Michael McGillicutty, better known by Curtis Axel, where Wyatt was not only the power of the team but he was also deceivingly explosive for his size. Bray Wyatt was able to show his passion and develop his character more with backstage segments that featured CM Punk, one that stands out is Wyatt receiving lashes from Punk and the other members of The New Nexus with a leather strap as to initiate Wyatt fully into the faction. It seemed that he would take what he learned from Punk as a leader and manipulator to help form his next persona.
Rotunda would head back to NXT to develop a new character that he based around Walyon Mercy, some of CM Punk, and multiple cult leaders throughout history all combined to create Wyatt Family patriarch Bray Wyatt. He was a cold, charismatic, thought-provoking, well-spoken man that was from the back woods of Louisiana. Bray Wyatt started in NXT with one follower, Luke Harper, and his following grew throughout his time on the main roster adding members such as Erik Rowan, Braun Strowman, and for a short time Randy Orton and Daniel Bryan. This iteration of Wyatt was such a mysterious figure with his spine-tingling voice and his narration that would leave fans awestruck. For most fans, this was the best version of Bray Wyatt there has been, but there was another that is in contention.
After his time as the leader of the Wyatt family, Bray began to team with Matt Hardy for a while. The Deleters of Worlds were a fun team and mainly used as a team to help elevate others in the division, though they did hold the tag team championships, and it was shortly lived. Bray and Matt split as a team and had a feud that would end with Matt Hardy throwing Bray Wyatt into the “Lake of Reincarnation”, where it would be the last time we would see Bray until his other character that some have said is his best. On an episode of Raw in April 2019, a video began to play with campy upbeat music and a title card that read “Firefly Funhouse”. The audience then sees a living room with the camera pointed at the front door where Bray Wyatt would make his return but this time more lean than when he left and wearing a red sweater and khaki pants. He was cheerful and over the top like a children’s television host and even had a soundtrack of children cheering and playing over the top of his monologue. This was a stark difference from what he was doing before but there was something very interesting and mildly disturbing about the who presentation, every once in a while there would be a flash of a figure and what seemed to be an ominous looming presence in the Funhouse.
At Summerslam 2019, Finn Balor waited in the ring waiting to face off against Bray Wyatt but what the fans got was something more devious. The Firefly Funhouse theme song begins to play, then it starts to slow down and become distorted. The lights go out in the arena and a metal song begins to play. The figure that fans got a glimpse of during the Funhouse videos and that sporadically attacked wrestlers during lights-out moments appeared from the shadows on the fog-covered stage. As Bray Wyatt’s name bar came up, instead of it reading “Bray Wyatt” it simply said “The Fiend”. Once The Fiend was on the ramp people began to notice something in his hand, it was a lantern that looked like the severed head of Bray Wyatt’s former Wyatt Family leader’s persona. The live crowd was stunned, the fans at home in shock, and even Finn Balor in the ring did not know what to make of all of this. But the mystic was there, the intrigue was there, and at that moment it seemed as if the entire wrestling community agreed, this version of Bray Wyatt is the best presentation.
It didn’t take long for The Fiend to become a phenomenon but it took even less time for him to become a disappointment. Hell in a Cell 2019, just two months after the intense in-ring debut of The Fiend persona, Seth Rollins and The Fiend battled in a hell in a cell match that ended in a referee stoppage or disqualification (depending on who is asked). Yes, a hell-in-the-cell match ended with no clear winner but that should be no surprise because during the match it was even unclear who was involved. For some reason, WWE thought the best way to present the Fiend character was to bathe his matches in red light. At first, this idea seemed interesting and different but when the match takes place in a red-colored hell in a cell, it becomes annoying and painful to watch. But this was the first shoe to drop, the second would come at the Super Show in Saudi Arabia 2020 in a match against Goldberg.
Even after the match at Hell in a Cell with Rollins, which a lot of people credit as being one of the worst matches ever, Bray Wyatt was able to capture the Universal Title later that month in Saudi Arabia from Rollins in a Falls Count Anywhere match. This did help the image of The Fiend but the following Saudia Arabia event against Goldberg all but destroyed that image. The match was over almost as quickly as it started and once again The Fiend looked like a joke. WWE would try to rehab his character and he would get another title reign that ended when Roman Reigns defeated The Fiend and Braun Strowman to kick off his historic Universal Title reign.
After his loss at Payback of 2020, Bray stayed around the upper mid-card and main event with a newly allied Alexa Bliss by his side while feuding with Randy Orton. Many people viewed this feud as pointless and overdrawn with the finale of the feud taking place at Wrestlemania 37. The match itself left people baffled. During the match, Alexas Bliss would emerge from a giant Jack in the Box with black ooze running down her face, The Fiend starts as a burnt husk but magically become healed, and Randy Orton picks up the win after one RKO. The following night on Raw, Bray Wyatt would appear in his “Mr. Rogers” character on the Firefly Funhouse and state he was looking for a fresh start. This was the last time fans would see Bray on tv that year and would later be let go by the company in July.
When Bray was released by WWE, there was a massive backlash from the WWE fans. Many thought this was one of the worst decisions WWE has ever made due to the brilliance that many saw with Bray’s captivating creativity. During his time away from WWE, it seemed as if he took time to focus on his mental health and to spend time with his family. There was a large portion of fans that clamored for WWE to reinstate Bray Wyatt and for a year it would seem that those fans were not listened to. But all that would change in September of 2022 when a simple QR Code and acapella version of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” would start popping up on tv and during live events, respectively.
When the QR codes started to pop up, there was so much intrigue that surrounded them. Each QR code differed from the previous one but there was a constant thread of “The White Rabbit” running through all of them. Some fans began to speculate that “The White Rabbit” could have been an homage to Karion Cross, who was in LuchaUnderground as The White Rabbit, but others began to connect the symbolism of Alice in Wonderland with Bray Wyatt. Then at the closing of Extreme Rules, life-sized versions of the Firefly Funhouse puppets began to emerge from the crowd and Bray made his return to the company to thunderous applause. On the Smackdown that followed Extreme Rules, Wyatt would come to the rind to deliver a heartfelt promo, only to be interrupted by a masked figure that would later be revealed as Uncle Howdy.
Bray would then stem off into a feud with LA Knight. This feud came off as an odd choice because there was no need to have Wyatt feud with Knight. When the match between Wyatt and Knight was announced for the Royal Rumble, fans were excited because they figured it would be the end of the feud. The issue was, the match ended up having a product integration. The Mountain Dew Pitch Black Match was a no-disqualification match but the lights were cut off and black lights were turned on in the arena. The match ended with Wyatt picking up the victory and Uncle Howdy delivering a flying elbow from the top of a large platform onto Knight. Wyatt would then make his intentions clear that he would be coming after either Brock Lesnar or Bobby Lashley but that never happened.
Following the Royal Rumble, Wyatt said that he would be looking for a fight with the winner of the Brock Lesnar and Bobby Lashley match. Though there has been no clarification, it was reported by Sean Ross Sapp of Fightful that Bray has been dealing with an undisclosed illness. This would force Lashley to figure out something else at Wrestlemania while Brock would go on to face Omos at the event. Since his absence, a lot of fans have turned sour on Bray. They feel that he is to blame for a lot of, or even all of, his creative since his return and it has not hit the same as his previous runs. Fans have felt that something is lacking. But what exactly is the thing that is lacking from his presentation?
Bray Wyatt has always been a polarizing figure in WWE. Whether it was his brief run as Husky Harris with New Nexus, The Wyatt Family Leader, part of the team Deleters of Worlds, Funhouse Bray and Fiend, or even this new character beat he took upon his return, fans have either been extremely cold or fiery hot for Bray. To me, the best version of Windham Rotunda was when he debuted his original Bray Wyatt character. There was something sinister about this backwoods Louisianan who spoke so softly while telling these enthralling tales. The Fiend character was fun and such a great spectacle for horror fans. Which version of Wyatt do you prefer? And what do you hope will happen when/if Bray returns to WWE television?