Three years into his career on the main roster, Bray Wyatt has still not achieved the level of main-event fixture expected when he first arrived as a hot commodity from NXT, and the problems that have hampered his WWE growth seem as innumerable as the lights from smartphone screens that fill darkened arenas whenever he saunters down to the ring.
But the problem may not even be so much that WWE does not know how to use Bray Wyatt as much as it doesn’t even know what Bray Wyatt is supposed to be which isn't Undertaker 2.0.
Since arriving in July 2013, Wyatt has been positioned as a sort of second coming of Undertaker, but only insofar that he also seems to have supernatural abilities and a spooky entrance. In fact, that seems to be about the extent of WWE’s comprehension of his character; a bearded boogeyman who is better known for mumbo-jumbo promos with that limited definition contributing greatly to his inability to move beyond being a set-up man for those bound for the top spots.
WWE has attempted to create a comparably Undertaker-like aura around Wyatt through cryptic promos, bizarre vignettes, and even utilizing outright paranormal activity. Like Undertaker, he has been shown as being able to manipulate reality in order to psychologically intimidate his opponents. Only, Wyatt’s mind games rarely result in victory. This idea has been further enhanced not just by Wyatt’s two brief and unsuccessful feuds with Undertaker, but in that his default state, he seems to be feuding with WWE’s other resident supernatural character, Kane.
Because it has tried so mightily to match Wyatt with two characters that have had 20 years to develop, he only ever manages to come across like a bad imitation and poorer execution of those ideas. Not only has it proven an ineffective tact thus far, but lumping him in with monsters misunderstands and squanders his potential as a messiah for maniacs.
There are clear differences that should distinguish Wyatt as wholly unlike entities like Undertaker and Kane, but because of the eerie overtones of the character, WWE has painted him with broad strokes to resemble a less successful version of The Deadman. With each motion, they get further and further away from what the character should have been all along: a charismatic cult patriarch who may be selling more than snake oil.
Rather than be built up to be Undertaker 2.0, Wyatt should have more in common with the aformentioned SES Punk. The central idea of Wyatt’s character, like that Charlie Manson-bearded iteration of Punk, is that he is a silver-tongued devil who fancies himself something of a deity and collects people like possessions. What made Punk so compelling as a cult leader was that he had a stated goal with advancement having clear benefits for Gallows, Mercury, and Serena while simultaneously giving Punk a loyal army that would bolster him in his quest to gain more followers and win back the World Heavyweight Championship.
Like Punk, Wyatt should be a man -- and a living one at that -- who has grand ambitions that require exploiting the lost and the weak-minded. For his somewhat vague objectives, he amasses an army that is willing to do his bidding and nod in unison whenever he proselytizes. And while the audience knows that Wyatt is exploiting his followers, they stay with him not only because they are blinded by his charm, but because there is a clear benefit in it for them.
That desire to control and manipulate is what should make Wyatt frightening, not pyrotechnic lightning or holograms appearing from smoke billowing out of a lantern. Undertaker is an unrelenting force that repels, where Wyatt should be a being who preys on the desires and fears of others to draw them in closer. Undertaker is imbued with a malevolent force that puts him beyond the reach of death and beyond the need for a human motivation; Wyatt should be an alluring flesh-and-blood creature who places his power in the legions that do his will and guides them like missiles toward his completely human craving for dominion.
But Wyatt comes off as lacking any ambition whatsoever which makes him ineffective as the leader of a stable (or of a doomsday cult, for that matter) and has contributed to the overall meandering, discursive nature of his promos. It would be unfair to lay blame for this at the feet of Wyatt himself. To his credit, his delivery of even the most incomprehensible promos has been strong enough to keep him compelling where others likely would have floundered completely.
But lacking any sort of goal or motivation, Wyatt is unrestrained and unfocused at best, and that lack of purpose or point continually ebbs away at his appeal with each passing vignette.
This is a relatively simple problem to fix. Wyatt recently told The Mirror that he feels like his “time is coming” with regards to a WWE World Championship run, but it is hard to recall any instances in three years where the character has expressed any championship aspirations on screen. If the Wyatt character seeks power and influence, then it should stand to reason that he would then seek championships, ignoring the fact those aspirations should (or should be) the primary motivation of every character in professional wrestling.
This should extend, too, to his cohorts. If the backwoods cult leader and self-professed Eater of Worlds wants to amass a greater following, he must show that he can take his flock to some kind of promised land. Whether it is he and Luke Harper vying for tag team gold or Harper chasing the I-C title hile he pursues the WWE World Championship, it does not particularly matter as long as there is an effort made to show that Wyatt is a force to be reckoned with and that any man or woman who stands by his side will have success.
Making Bray Wyatt a main event player requires a lot of different moving parts. Moreover, it requires an investment in the concept of Bray Wyatt, whether it is deciding that he is a wannabe Jim Jones or an avatar of Nyarlathotep or something in between that is left to the audience to decide. It requires moving away from rambling promos that offer only cryptic tortuousness and giving him a clear line of focus, whether it is reigning over the Smackdown brand or burning the entire company to the ground from the inside. It requires letting him win feuds, create a sort of momentum, and ascend up the card.
In order for that to pay off with any effect, Wyatt must eventually become a usurper that takes the main event scene by force; he must be carried there by his followers to some extent, but should also be shown as possibly wielding some unexplained power that makes him powerful in his own right.
But for any of this to happen in the first place, WWE needs to understand that Bray Wyatt is not an Undertaker retread.