'The Fiend' Bray Wyatt: A Familiar Stumbling Block

At WrestleMania, Bray Wyatt revisits one of his most infamous foes, meeting John Cena in a sequel six years in the making. Their first program holds a special place in Wyatt’s past, a clear period of controversy and contention. That was Wyatt’s first WrestleMania, less than a year into this character’s main roster stint. Though still fresh and new, that felt like a pivotal point in Wyatt’s career, a moment that’d determine this persona’s ceiling, either propelling him to the highest heights or stopping him where he stood.

Interestingly enough, that scenario remains relevant. Though six years have passed, this upcoming rematch holds similar importance for Wyatt. If anything, the stakes have only heightened since though, with an inevitable expiration date now looming. At some point, Wyatt’s position will be too defined to shift, too established to alter. In truth, that crossroads is fast approaching, with Wyatt’s current trajectory hard to gauge. This Cena match feels fittingly vital in that sense, thrusting ‘The Fiend’s future in one direction or another.

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That character is at the heart of this story, both inside the ring and out. The direct on-screen result of Cena’s victory over Wyatt, ‘The Fiend’ has had a chaotic introduction, entering to great fanfare and experiencing a range of results since. Just like the original Bray Wyatt character, ‘The Fiend’s first WrestleMania outing comes opposite Cena, once again signifying a potential turning point less than a year after his in-ring debut. In fact, both versions of Wyatt first wrestled at SummerSlam but by WrestleMania, optimism had become urgency, as expectation overtook excitement.

From very early on, the Bray Wyatt character seemed set for marquee matches but after the clash with Cena, those hopes were halted somewhat. It feels hyperbolic to overstate any loss to Cena but for the Wyatt character, it symbolized a vulnerability that swiftly capped him somewhat, a premature chink in the armor. Wyatt wasn’t destroyed by that defeat, but it did remove a shine of some kind, a sense that he was different, capable of reaching heights much of his crop had fell just short of.

After the conflict with Cena though, Wyatt then entered a bizarre period of his career, still featured heavily but even throughout lengthy feuds, appearing almost aimless. Wyatt felt as though he was constantly rebuilding, but there was no endgame in sight. Some of the resulting work was good, some of it less so but regardless, there wasn’t much impact to the programming being produced. Wyatt’s feuds no longer felt like a breath of fresh air but instead, a recurring episode, one that’s strengths were diminishing while its flaws only became more flagrant.

Those years didn’t help the perception created with Cena either, the notion that as a character, Wyatt was unable to win when it mattered. That trait certainly isn’t uncommon for a heel of any stature but paired with Wyatt’s extensive, often unconventional promo segments, it created a tedious experience. There was only so long that audiences could be drawn in by Wyatt’s style, only so long they could hang on his every word. After all, if the result was a formality, the prelude didn’t carry much weight.

By 2016, the Bray Wyatt character felt undeniably minimized, still a factor but one more shrouded in frustration than in excitement. Nonetheless, the brand split’s re-implementation provided a brief new lease of life, pairing Wyatt with Orton and returning him to the main event scene. With their ongoing saga underway, Wyatt claimed the WWE Title in February 2017, finally achieving what once seemed inevitable. Unfortunately, the reign was ill-fated, with Wyatt and Orton’s eventual WrestleMania match taking a direction that in truth, did far more damage than it did good.

Wyatt lost the title that night, ending a short reign that left Wyatt feeling further away from the gold than ever before. In hindsight, that time as champion sealed Wyatt’s fate, damaging the character when in theory, it could’ve cemented him as a headline act. The following year solidified that notion too, as Wyatt floated from feud to feud before eventually landing in a tag team with Matt Hardy. Once that pair’s tag title reign ended though, Wyatt vanished from WWE TV, returning almost a year later for vignettes that’d provide the foundations for what’s followed since.

Through the now familiar Firefly Fun House segments alone, Wyatt restored the interest that once surrounded his name, positioning himself for a new path toward to the top. Suddenly, that momentum was again palpable, culminating in Wyatt’s aforementioned SummerSlam appearance, defeating Finn Balor in less than four minutes. By the conclusion of Wyatt’s entrance though, he’d already stole the headlines, leaving fans in awe of ‘The Fiend’s stunning presence and presentation. While perhaps not in the package originally expected, Bray Wyatt now seemed set to reach his true ceiling after all.

The truth? Well it’s complicated. As expected, Wyatt went months without defeat and better yet, swiftly captured the WWE Universal Title too. That initial fan support has remained relatively consistent as well. However, the route to that destination told a very different tale. Wyatt’s immediate pursuit of the title felt rushed and those concerns were amplified by the content itself, leading to a Hell in a Cell match that blemished all involved. Paired with Seth Rollins, Wyatt’s title win could’ve carried real weight but instead, that eventual outcome was buried underneath the questionable quality itself.

Though fans continued to react to Wyatt, that general optimism had quickly dwindled. Wyatt vs. Rollins had become something to move on from and though the belt was now around his waist, ‘The Fiend’ was already becoming a cautionary tale. At that point, the writing was on the wall and regardless of what Wyatt produced, this seemed like a misfire of sorts, constantly climbing out of the hole that emerged opposite Rollins. The next chapter almost seemed irrelevant, as ‘The Field’s anticipated ascension already felt bundled.

Wyatt’s time as Universal Champion was certainly unique, finding a necessary balance against Daniel Bryan but struggling to regain the intrigue that was so prevalent before he’d even debuted. Even still, Wyatt was firmly on the Road to WrestleMania but as champion, he was headed to a dead end. Things can change quickly in WWE and they sure did in Wyatt’s case, as he dropped the title to Goldberg, a result that mere months ago, would’ve seemed unfathomable. If you’re reading this, I’d imagine your view of that is firmly in place but thus far, it’s impact on ‘The Fiend’ is to be determined.

Surrounded by his brooding ‘family’ and supported by the promotional vignettes, Bray Wyatt was a great character that truly captured the audience’s imagination. However, he never seemed to fully recover from that first bump in the road. After his programme with Cena, Wyatt had highs and lows but in terms of perception, he was soon fighting uphill. Fast forward six years later and in a different presentation, Wyatt looks to right that wrong. Visually striking and steered by Firefly Fun House segments, ‘The Fiend’ character has already returned Wyatt to the spotlight.

With that being said, a familiar hurdle now stands in front of Wyatt. If ‘The Fiend’ character is unable to rebuild from this point, it places Wyatt in a unique position. It’s undeniable that in many ways, Wyatt has a rare knack for creating characters that captivate fans. As a result, he’s already had a terrific career but yet, still feels in pursuit of the expectations that followed him all those years ago. Bray Wyatt still feels like a missed opportunity and until he claims the mountain top without asterisk, that’ll probably remain the case.

Right now, ‘The Fiend’ can be comfortably compared to the original Bray Wyatt. However, this next portion of Wyatt’s career could be truly pivotal, deciding whether this character is another case of almost or if it can endure and become a focal figure for years to come. That process starts opposite Cena, the perfect place to differentiate ‘The Fiend’ from Wyatt. This time though, Cena isn’t the stumbling block, he’s the chance to rebuild from one. At WrestleMania, Wyatt looks to reiterate that though not perfect, this is still only the beginning.

While an undoubted success, the Bray Wyatt character peaked early. The question is, has ‘The Fiend’ already done the same?

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