When Windham Rotunda – the son of WWE Legend Mike Rotunda (aka Irwin R. Shyster), grandson of WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan, and nephew of WWE Hall of Famer Barry Windham – got his call-up to the WWE main roster in 2010, it was hardly the character he’d expected. After a year in developmental at Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW), where he’d competed as Alex (then Duke) Rotundo alongside his brother Bo in the Rotundo Brothers, he was repackaged as Husky Harris and added as a late addition to the Nexus. Unfortunately, it was at the time that Nexus had jumped it’s nWo shark and was a failing rendition of a formerly hot young stable. A year of floundering as enhancement, and Harris was put out of commission for good following a punt from future Family member Randy Orton on the January 31, 2011 edition of Monday Night Raw. He returned to FCW as Husky Harris, but his character had stalled and staled.
In April of 2012, Rotunda was repackaged as the cult-like leader Bray Wyatt in the final days of FCW, initially partnering with Eli Cottonwood. Following the rebrand to NXT, Wyatt initially emerged solo, but an unfortunate injury early on helped put in the motion the acquisition of a Family to follow Bray, and soon after Luke Harper and Erick Rowan joined the fold (and depending which stories to believe, The Ascension, Judas Devlin (now Vibora on Lucha Underground) and Baron Corbin were all early candidates to become Family members). Under Bray’s guidance, Harper and Rowan won the NXT Tag Team titles, beating Neville and Oliver Grey in May of 2012. They would terrorize NXT for a year, until they made their way to the main roster in May of 2013.
For months, the Wyatt Family would victimize and terrorize some of the biggest names on the roster – like John Cena and Daniel Bryan – as well as building a legendary feud with another hot new faction, the Shield (Seth Rollins, Roman Reigns, and Dean Ambrose). The Wyatts seemed unstoppable as the new Faces of Fear. But in the past few years, inconsistent booking with the members – both together and in previous attempts to split them up – has lead to even the most die hard Wyatt supporters wondering if the ship had indeed sailed on the once menace to society. The introduction of a monster, the imposing Braun Strowman, in the summer of 2015, seemed to drag the Wyatts further down, as the seeming “greenness” of Strowman seemed more of a detriment than a booster. But then the Brand Draft happened, and while Strowman was sent to Raw, the other three members went to Smackdown Live and entered a feud with an initially eyebrow raising choice, Randy Orton.
But ever since then, the Wyatt Family has reached their grandest heights yet. Perhaps, like leader Bray Wyatt suggest, we have indeed entered the Era of Wyatt.
The leader has had his share of ups and downs, but a lot of the early complaints were simply due to a lack of understanding the character’s direction. Wyatt never said he had to beat his opponents – like Cena or Bryan – as much as he wanted to break and/or change them. Even in his losses, Cena and Bryan’s characters both emerged with new focus or attributes. But the trainwreck of an angle with The Undertaker and Kane – one that should have elevated the Wyatts to a whole new level began what seemed like the end of the Wyatt Family. They were no longer a threat to anyone anymore, in victory or defeat. But Wyatt’s induction of Randy Orton in late 2016 gave new focus to the group’s psychological drive – something that is very much up Wyatt’s alley – and the building payoff to see exactly who is playing who – Orton or Wyatt – has made the Wyatt’s Family Feud “must-see viewing” on Tuesday nights. After being strapless in his WWE career as far as singles titles went, Wyatt finally reached the promised land and won the WWE Championship at Elimination Chamber, pinning both John Cena and AJ Styles clean en route. The following Smackdown Live he pinned Cena clean once more, putting a stamp on his claims as the new face of Smackdown. The future looks bright for Bray Wyatt now that he’s seemingly gotten the rub from Cena to cement him as a legitimate contender and champion to the casual fans of the WWE Universe.
Despite an amazing and Hall of Fame worthy career behind him, Randy Orton’s name was starting to get whispered in the same breath as the likes of Brock Lesnar or John Cena, in regards to veterans of the WWE who took more time off than on and had grown stale in the process. When it was obvious that Orton was headed for a showdown with the Wyatts, most fans buckled at the thought of a now irrelevant link to the past dragging down the Wyatt Family further and making them even more boring. How wrong they all were. With Orton coming up short in his dealings with the Wyatt Family, many assumed it just meant that Randy would win the big payoff match at a PPV, diminishing the Wyatt Family even further. But instead, Orton seemingly gave in. In October of last year, Orton came down to apparently assist his partner in the war versus the Wyatts, Kane, but instead landed an RKO on the Big Red Machine. “If you can’t beat them,” Orton said. “Join them.” Thus began an undying pledge of allegiance to Bray Wyatt that has since torn the Family apart, leaving only the Viper as Wyatt’s ally as the Era of Wyatt begins. But the intrigue over Orton’s intentions is the focus – is the Viper truly allied with Wyatt or has he merely infiltrated the Family from within to destroy it.
Bray’s eternal right hand man and enforcer, Harper has been a favourite of the internet community for over a decade, going back to his brilliant indie persona of Brodie Lee. Fans have always clamoured for a singles run for the big man – one that resulted in an Intercontinental Championship reign in late 2015 following a brief alliance with The Authority – but he always ended up back as Wyatt’s lackey. Harper’s paranoia and distrust of Randy Orton has been great television and their first encounter a month ago on Smackdown Live gave hints at a possible match-up very few had dreamed of previously. The end result was a fantastic and physical big man match-up at Elimination Chamber that many felt trumpeted the arrival of Luke Harper to a higher level. It was even the talk of the indie darlings the night it happened:
Harper has been seemingly aligning with John Cena of late after turning on his longtime mentor, but has his love for Bray Wyatt really waned, or is he just a wounded child? With Harper getting huge reactions from the crowd of late, and following his nearly show stealing match at Elimination Chamber, don’t be surprised if Harper wins the Battle Royale for the #1 Contender’s match to face WWE Champion Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania 33 – and then see Randy Orton snake his way back into the match to “protect” Bray.
The only Wyatt Family member not still on Smackdown Live, Strowman arguably had the greatest success of all of them until Bray’s victory at Elimination Chamber. Rumoured to be working heavily backstage with The Big Show, Strowman has emerged as the best big man the WWE has had since, well, The Big Show or Kane in their prime. His promos have became believable and frightening threats of domination and his ring work and psychology has improved by miles. His brief interaction at joint PPV events seem to indicate there is still an aura of control on Bray’s part, but Strowman is going to be a huge part of Raw in 2017. With the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale at WrestleMania now becoming the new rub for the next Big Man (with Baron Corbin and Cesaro recent winners), it would be surprising if Strowman takes this year’s by storm.
It’s okay if you forgot Erick Rowan still had a job. He’s been gone since October with a torn rotator cuff, but he reported to the Performance Center in Orlando last week, so he’s begun his in-ring rehabilitation for a return to the ring. During his off time, he’s been posting some David Lynchian creepy videos, including one that seemingly digs up the body of a woman to dine with. Is this foreshadowing of an upcoming return – a return with another ally? Could Rowan have been sent to resurrect Sister Abigail to add further power to the Wyatt Family? If Rowan is back training now, he could easily be cleared for a return in a few weeks – just in time for WrestleMania 33.
So while the Wyatt Family has had their own private rollercoaster with good and bad storylines since their debut in 2012, it definitely looks like 2017 is a year where all five members may be making the biggest impact they’ve had in the WWE yet.
The Era of Wyatt is here.
Main Photo: All from WWE.com