It has become obvious that Triple H is going to get as much mileage as he can by reclaiming all that Vince McMahon tossed overboard. There’s certainly a lot of goodwill from fans to win by bringing back their favorites, and the whole business is about the buzz you can create with pops from big or shocking moments. It’s been a while since WWE could make hay with a raft of surprising debuts or re-introductions, and it’s a field they’re going to harvest now.
Bray Wyatt returned at Saturday’s Extreme Rules PLE, perhaps the biggest name to return to the fold under HHH’s guide. While just about every release during McMahon’s various rounds of culls was rationalized by fans with some version of “Vince just didn’t get them,” Wyatt took that to another level. Wyatt was always trying to do something different, something way more out there than anyone else, dipping into the worlds of horror, sorcery, hell, wizardry, and backwoods shamanism, just to name a few genres he liked to explore. Wyatt was always synonymous with the supernatural, and while that’s not something McMahon had always shied away from, Wyatt’s character lived in a world McMahon clearly didn’t understand, nor did he want to. Hence, almost all of Bray’s work felt to his fans that it never completed its cycle.
Whether it was the Wyatt Family or The Fiend, Bray rarely if ever got the big win. He did win a top title three times, but two of those reigns were not taken very seriously by WWE booking. He lost the first immediately in 2017 to Randy Orton at WrestleMania, in that ill-fated encounter where the ring would be taken over by a video of bugs and worms every so often. The Fiend would claim a title from Seth Rollins, and that reign did last 118 days, but no one remembers that kind of thing when he had to spit it up to Goldberg in the end. Which Wyatt did. The Fiend claimed the title again during the pandemic Thunderdome shows, only to pass it over to Roman Reigns a week later, kicking off a years-long title run for Reigns that continues to this day. And then, after underwhelmingly dropping the belt once again, Wyatt was gone.
But all of that doesn’t really convey just how incapable at times, awkward at others, the handling of Wyatt had been. It is not easy to book a character always playing with demonic forces or spirits from beyond, when so few other wrestlers around them are doing so. It made Wyatt a perfect candidate for an Undertaker match, which he got, but there aren’t many others whose characters can believably dip into a fantasy world — see Miz getting carried away and eaten by zombies, and “Demon” Finn Balor’s magical comeback against Reigns being thwarted by faulty ring ropes). The supernatural stuff can work within the confines of a WWE story when the wrestlers and creatives are given time and freedom, but they so rarely got that chance under McMahon’s booking.
Wyatt’s build to his match with John Cena at Mania in 2014 was expertly done, with Wyatt and his cronies the Wyatt Family pointing out all the weaknesses and faults of Cena’s run in WWE, and most will tell you that the company should have pulled the trigger on Wyatt going over that night, they didn’t, and Wyatt was stuck in neutral again. He got to make good on all of this in his cinematic match with Cena from WrestleMania 2020, The Firefly Funhouse Match, which is still one of the best pieces of television the company has ever produced. But that was during the first days of the pandemic, at a show contained in WWE’s Training Center, where the company felt it had nothing to lose. It was a perfect storm for Wyatt’s ideas to finally get the full buy-in from McMahon.
The Fiend was similarly misunderstood, becoming instantly popular during his first appearance. He should have been treated as an unholy force that no one from the normal world could get their hands around, and really should have shot straight to the title with a blistering force. Instead, he was usually bathed in red light that made his matches hard to watch, and would take gobs of offense from an opponent without ever really looking damaged. He should have just dog-walked opponents until someone who could meet him on his supernatural level was built up to take him down (I was screaming for Aleister Black at the time). But Vince treated him as just another wrestler who wore a mask and had to wrestle in red light for some reason. Bray kept wanting to create Shakespeare-comes-to-horror films while McMahon kept shoving him into something with a laugh track.
The Fiend’s partnership with Alexa Bliss had promise, boosted by Bliss’s total buy-in, but also fell flat thanks to wonky booking and the whole thing crashed down at Mania 2021 in another match with Orton.
But, as Seth Rollins has said, it’s really hard to do a program with a mind like Wyatt’s and make it work. At least it was under Vince’s watch. Seth was right, almost no one ever came out looking better after a program with Wyatt. Was that Wyatt’s fault? Or the fault of the shackles he had to work under? Trying to fit any iteration of Wyatt into a tight window to look like a conventional wrestler with someone else is always either going to piss off the fans, make the other guy look really awkward, or cause Wyatt to have to tone down too much. Wyatt is certainly a creative enough mind to justify any story with anyone, but Vince always seemed afraid to make anyone else look different in service to work with Wyatt. McMahon would probably claim that Wyatt was given the green light on that Mania match with Orton in 2017, and everyone hated it. Not necessarily wrong, but also doesn’t balance out the years of mismanagement.
It felt like the only time Wyatt got to work with someone as weird and unhinged as he was is when “Broken” Matt Hardy first showed up back in WWE, and that program was treated as a sideshow by McMahon. Something he had to get out of the way.
Now there shouldn’t be any shackles. Triple H is clearly billing himself as someone who’s going to let his wrestlers do what they feel is best for them. There is nothing too out there, at least that’s what he’s selling, and doing as evidenced by the slow, careful, and abstract build-up to Wyatt’s return on Saturday.
Can HHH find enough supernatural dance partners for Wyatt? Will he allow those who want to deviate from their regular characters to give Wyatt the material he needs? Are there even that many who can? If it can work, we’ll find out now. If it doesn’t, there won’t be anyone else to blame this time around.