News of WWE releasing a hyper-talented performer who had been underused, or misused altogether, has become so commonplace in recent times that it’s no longer surprising. Just in the past two months we’ve seen Aleister Black (now Malakai Black), Ruby Riott, Braun Strowman, Mickie James, Andrade, and others cut loose. So seeing Bray Wyatt’s name alongside those isn’t exactly a shock, though maybe does feel like the biggest one yet in some ways.
But it’s when we get into reasoning that things seem awfully weird, and callous, if all is actually how it appears. When news broke yesterday of Wyatt’s release, the term “budget cuts” didn’t follow too far behind. Wyatt had been taking time off after WrestleMania and working toward an August return, and he remained popular among WWE fans.
The aforementioned budget cuts were cited last week in layoffs for employees in several departments. That gets hard to square when WWE has been boasting about its record profits over the past year, thanks to not having to stage and tour live shows due to the pandemic. WWE has returned to live shows over the past month, of course, but the cost of those shows hasn’t stopped their momentum financially. At least not according to what it told its investors just two days ago.
On that WWE investors call, both Vince McMahon and Chief Revenue Officer Nick Khan were only too happy to mention the ways that returning to live shows with crowds has boosted the company’s coffers. Whether it’s more merchandise, more tickets, or more eyeballs on their PPVs (which doesn’t really affect the bottom line too much, as their deal with Peacock is locked in) both McMahon and Khan painted just about as rosy a picture as you could imagine. Khan was also boastful of the new sponsorships WWE has signed this year, which we know are worth more than just soda money. So why is this company hiding behind budget cuts to justify layoffs when its financial situation looks this good? WWE would hardly be the first multibillion-dollar company to maximize profits over concern for the little guy, but this seems excessively cruel.
There have been whispers for months that WWE has been cutting where they can to maximize profits to engineer a sale, but they’re just whispers. The hiring of Khan, who is something of a master negotiator of megadeals (as a sale of WWE would be) only fueled that fire. It’s hard to square a company saying it needs to cut one day, while telling their investors they’ve got a Scrooge McDuck-sized vault the next.
When it comes to Wyatt, it all might be something of a smokescreen for his benefit. When Wyatt took a leave after Mania, the rumors were that he needed a break and was going through some things, including the death of his close friend Brodie Lee. Wyatt’s anticipated return in August would seem to indicate he was in a place to get back to performing, but we might just have to wait and see what happens over the next few days and weeks. Wyatt’s brother — Bo Dallas in WWE and Taylor Rotunda in real life — has retired from wrestling, which led some to conclude that Bray, Windham Rotunda, would follow suit. But that was probably just adding two and two and getting five.
If Bray wishes to continue his career, he’ll have no shortage of suitors, and he’ll become yet another frontline talent that WWE didn’t get enough out of and let walk far too easily. Which is a strange statement on its surface, considering all that Wyatt did accomplish in the company. Of all the performers recently released, Wyatt probably accomplished the most. Bray Wyatt’s characters, whether it was as leader of the Wyatt Family — the closest thing TV has ever gotten to the L’Angelle Family from “Preacher,” and that includes the “Preacher” TV show — or as The Fiend, were the most vivid and memorable in the company’s recent history. Wyatt is a dynamite (intentional?) promo and a vastly underrated worker in the ring. When he debuted the Fiend character at 2019’s SummerSlam, you’d be hard-pressed to find a fan who wasn’t totally blown away.
Wyatt is also the one who invented the Firefly Funhouse Match with John Cena at the COVID WrestleMania of 2020, a short film that will certainly be one of the most memorable matches in the company’s history, and may be studied in art schools. When allowed to go all out on his ideas, that was the kind of thing Wyatt could do. They thought enough of him to give him a match against Cena at Mania in 2014, and be the champion at Mania in 2017, and have the Wyatt Family utterly thrash The Shield, perhaps the company’s most popular faction ever.
And yet they could never fully pull the trigger on Wyatt. He lost to Cena at that Mania. He lost to Orton as the champ in 2019, even after Cena himself had insisted Wyatt should win the title off of Cena just months before. The Wyatt Family never really grew to be the dominant faction, even with the massive talent of Wyatt and Lee (then Luke Harper). While Bray and the Wyatt Family were always lingering around the top of the card, their time in the marquee was only brief.
The easy conclusion to draw is that as soon as his non-compete is up, Wyatt will join AEW to take over close friend Lee’s faction The Dark Order. That ignores what Wyatt might want to do and the myriad reasons he might not want to do that, what Lee’s family might want, and everything else that goes into it, as tidy a story as that might make. Wyatt certainly would be welcome in AEW though, and he might relish the chance to fully flesh out the characters that were cut off just short of being magical by WWE.
Whatever the reasons, it seems an unnecessary loss for WWE. But that’s been their calling card of late.