The wrestling world was shocked and saddened by the news of Bray Wyatt’s passing on August 24, 2023. The former WWE Champion and Universal Champion died at the age of 36 due to a heart attack, which was reportedly caused by complications from COVID-19. Wyatt, whose real name was Windham Rotunda, was one of the most creative and captivating performers in WWE history, known for his unique characters and personas, such as The Fiend, a monstrous and demonic alter ego.
In this article, we will look back at Wyatt’s life and career, his rise and fall as The Fiend, the tributes and honors he received after his death, and some of his memorable moments in the ring.
Who was Bray Wyatt?
Wyatt was born on May 23, 1987 in Brooksville, Florida. He came from a family of wrestlers, as his grandfather was Blackjack Mulligan, his father was Mike Rotunda (also known as IRS), and his uncles were Barry and Kendall Windham. His younger brother, Taylor Rotunda, is also a wrestler, best known as Bo Dallas. Wyatt was a state champion in amateur wrestling and a college football player before he decided to pursue a career in professional wrestling.
Professional wrestling career
Wyatt made his professional wrestling debut in 2009, working for various independent promotions under different ring names, such as Alex Rotunda, Duke Rotundo, and Axl Mulligan. He signed with WWE later that year and was assigned to its developmental territory, Florida Championship Wrestling (FCW). There, he teamed up with his brother Bo Dallas and won the FCW Florida Tag Team Championship twice.
Wyatt made his main roster debut in 2010 as Husky Harris, a member of The Nexus, a group of rebellious rookies who invaded WWE. He had a brief run with the faction before he was sent back to FCW in 2011. He then underwent a character change and became Bray Wyatt, the leader of The Wyatt Family, a cult-like group that also included Luke Harper and Erick Rowan. Wyatt debuted his new persona on NXT in 2012 and quickly gained attention for his charismatic and creepy promos.
Wyatt and his family made their main roster debut in 2013 and started feuding with some of the top stars in WWE, such as Kane, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Roman Reigns, Randy Orton, and The Undertaker. Wyatt won his first singles title in 2017 when he defeated John Cena, AJ Styles, Baron Corbin, The Miz, and Dean Ambrose in an Elimination Chamber match to become the WWE Champion. He then lost the title to Randy Orton at WrestleMania 33 after a controversial match that involved projections of insects on the ring.
Wyatt continued to feud with Orton and formed an alliance with Matt Hardy, with whom he won the Raw Tag Team Championship in 2018. He then took a hiatus from WWE until April 2019 when he returned with a new gimmick: a children’s TV host who had a dark side called The Fiend. The Fiend was a masked and menacing version of Wyatt who terrorized his opponents with supernatural abilities and brutal attacks. He won his second world title in 2019 when he defeated Seth Rollins for the Universal Championship at Crown Jewel. He then lost the title to Goldberg at Super ShowDown in 2020.
Wyatt regained the Universal Championship later that year when he defeated Braun Strowman at SummerSlam. He then entered into a feud with Roman Reigns and Jey Uso over the title. He lost the title to Reigns at Payback after Uso interfered in the match. Wyatt then started a rivalry with Randy Orton that culminated in a Firefly Fun House match at WrestleMania 37, which Orton won after Alexa Bliss betrayed Wyatt.
Wyatt made his last appearance on WWE television in February 2023 when he faced LA Knight on Raw. He then took some time off due to health issues related to COVID-19. He was reportedly close to returning to WWE before he passed away on August 24.
The Rise and Fall of “The Fiend”
Character and persona
The Fiend was arguably Wyatt’s most popular and successful character in WWE. It was a manifestation of Wyatt’s inner demons and traumas that he unleashed on his enemies. The Fiend had a distinctive look that consisted of a mask designed by horror legend Tom Savini, dreadlocks, gloves that read “Hurt” and “Heal”, and a lantern that resembled Wyatt’s severed head.
The Fiend also had a unique entrance theme that was a remix of Wyatt’s original song “Live in Fear” by Code Orange. The theme started with Wyatt’s catchphrase “Let me in” followed by an eerie laugh. The Fiend then made his way to the ring in complete darkness, with only flashes of red light illuminating his path. The Fiend also used the Mandible Claw as his finishing move, a tribute to the late Mick Foley, who was one of Wyatt’s inspirations.
The Fiend’s character was heavily influenced by horror movies, comic books, and video games. Some of his references included Freddy Krueger, Pennywise, The Joker, Venom, and Silent Hill. The Fiend also had a connection to the Firefly Fun House, a twisted version of a children’s show that Wyatt hosted as his “good” side. The Firefly Fun House featured puppets that represented Wyatt’s past personas and allies, such as Huskus the Pig Boy, Abby the Witch, Ramblin’ Rabbit, Mercy the Buzzard, and Sister Abigail.
The Fiend’s storylines often involved psychological warfare and mind games with his opponents. He targeted wrestlers who had wronged him in the past or who he saw as a threat to his power. He also tried to corrupt or manipulate his rivals into joining him or becoming like him. Some of his notable victims included Finn Balor, Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan, John Cena, Braun Strowman, and Randy Orton.
Reception and criticism
The Fiend was widely praised by fans and critics for being one of the most original and innovative characters in WWE history. He was also one of the most popular and merchandisable stars in the company, as his mask, gloves, and lantern sold out quickly on WWE Shop. The Fiend also won several awards and accolades for his performances, such as the 2019 Slammy Award for Male Superstar of the Year and the 2020 Wrestling Observer Newsletter Award for Best Gimmick.
However, The Fiend also faced some criticism and controversy for his booking and creative direction. Some fans felt that The Fiend was overexposed or overpowered, as he rarely lost or showed any weakness. Some also felt that The Fiend was mishandled or wasted by WWE, as he suffered some questionable losses or defeats that damaged his credibility or mystique. Some of his most criticized matches included his Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins in 2019 that ended in a referee stoppage, his Universal Championship match with Goldberg in 2020 that lasted less than three minutes, and his Firefly Fun House match with Randy Orton in 2021 that ended with Alexa Bliss turning on him.
Legacy in the wrestling world
Despite his flaws and shortcomings, The Fiend will always be remembered as one of the most memorable and influential characters in WWE history. He was a master of storytelling and psychology who captivated audiences with his charisma and creativity. He was also a pioneer of cinematic wrestling who pushed the boundaries of what wrestling could be. He inspired many wrestlers and fans to embrace their dark side and unleash their inner fiend.
Tributes and Honors After His Untimely Death
Social media reactions
After the news of Wyatt’s passing broke out on August 24, many wrestlers and fans took to social media to express their shock and sorrow. They also shared their memories and tributes to Wyatt, praising him for his talent, passion, kindness, and friendship. Some of the notable names who paid their respects to Wyatt included:
- Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson: “I’m heartbroken over the news of Bray Wyatt’s passing. Always had tremendous respect and love for him and the Rotunda family. Loved his presence, promos, in ring work and connection with @wwe universe. Very unique, cool and rare character, which is hard to create in our crazy world of pro wrestling.”
- Ric Flair: “I thought so highly of Bray Wyatt… He was a true visionary; one of the most compelling presences that wrestling has ever seen.”
- John Cena: “Bray Wyatt was more than just a wrestler. He was an artist, a storyteller, a mentor, a friend, and a brother. He touched so many lives with his creativity and passion. He will be dearly missed by all who knew him.”
- Roman Reigns: “Bray Wyatt was one of my toughest opponents and one of my favorite people to work with. He always brought out the best in me and everyone around him. He had a big heart and a big smile that lit up any room. Rest in peace, my brother.”
- Alexa Bliss: “Bray Wyatt was my mentor, my partner, my friend. He taught me so much about wrestling and life. He always supported me and believed in me. He was like family to me. I’m devastated by his loss.”
- Mick Foley: “Bray Wyatt was a genius who could do it all – talk, wrestle, imagine – on a level so very few can reach. It’s hard to believe he’s gone – but he will not be forgotten.”
WWE’s tribute to Wyatt
WWE also honored Wyatt on its programming and platforms after his death.
- WWE aired a special video package on SmackDown that showcased Wyatt’s career highlights and achievements. The video featured clips of Wyatt’s matches, promos, and segments, as well as comments from his peers and fans. The video ended with a graphic that read “In Memory of Bray Wyatt 1987-2023”.
- WWE also dedicated the August 30 episode of Raw to Wyatt’s memory. The show opened with a 10-bell salute and a moment of silence for Wyatt, followed by a tribute from the commentators. Throughout the show, various wrestlers and personalities paid homage to Wyatt by wearing his merchandise, using his signature moves, or mimicking his gestures. The show also featured several matches that involved Wyatt’s former allies and enemies, such as Randy Orton vs. LA Knight, Alexa Bliss vs. Nia Jax, and Matt Hardy vs. Braun Strowman. The show closed with a segment where all the wrestlers and staff gathered on the stage and chanted “Thank you, Bray” and “Let him in” as Wyatt’s theme song played.
Legacy and impact on the wrestling community
Wyatt’s death had a profound impact on the wrestling community, as he was widely respected and admired by his colleagues and fans. Many wrestlers and promoters from other promotions and companies also expressed their condolences and appreciation for Wyatt, such as AEW, Impact Wrestling, ROH, NJPW, MLW, NWA, and GCW. Some of them also honored Wyatt by incorporating elements of his character or style into their shows or matches.
Wyatt’s legacy as a wrestler and entertainer will live on through his fans and followers, who will continue to celebrate his work and remember his contributions to the industry. Wyatt was a trailblazer who changed the game of wrestling with his creativity and vision. He was also a humanitarian who used his platform to raise awareness and funds for various causes, such as mental health, animal welfare, social justice, and environmental issues.
Wyatt will always be remembered as one of the greatest performers of his generation, who inspired millions of people with his passion and talent. He was more than just a wrestler. He was an artist, a storyteller, a mentor, a friend, and a brother. He was Bray Wyatt.
Remembering Bray Wyatt’s Memorable Moments
Wyatt had many memorable moments in his wrestling career that showcased his skills and abilities as a performer. Here are some of his most iconic matches, feuds, and storylines that defined his legacy:
Most iconic matches
- Bray Wyatt vs. Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble 2014: This match was one of Wyatt’s first breakout performances on the main roster, as he faced off against one of the most popular wrestlers in WWE at the time, Daniel Bryan. The match was a hard-hitting and intense affair that saw both men exchange strikes, submissions, and high-flying moves. Wyatt eventually won the match after hitting Bryan with Sister Abigail on the barricade.
- Bray Wyatt vs. John Cena at WrestleMania 30: This match was one of Wyatt’s most important feuds in WWE, as he challenged one of the biggest stars in WWE history, John Cena. The match was more than just a physical contest; it was also a psychological battle that tested Cena’s morals and values. Wyatt tried to tempt Cena to embrace his dark side and unleash his inner monster, but Cena resisted and prevailed in the end.
- Bray Wyatt vs. Roman Reigns at Hell in a Cell 2015: This match was the culmination of a long-running rivalry between Wyatt and Reigns that started at Money in the Bank 2015 when Wyatt cost Reigns the briefcase. The match was a brutal and bloody war that took place inside the Hell in a Cell structure. Both men used various weapons and objects to inflict pain on each other, such as kendo sticks, chairs, tables, ladders, fire extinguishers, and even a pair of pliers. Reigns eventually won the match after spearing Wyatt through a table.
- The Fiend vs. Finn Balor at SummerSlam 2019: This match marked the debut of The Fiend character on WWE television after months of build-up through the Firefly Fun House segments. The match was a squash that saw The Fiend dominate Balor from start to finish with his power and aggression. The Fiend also showcased his new entrance theme, mask, lantern, and finishing move in this match.
- The Fiend vs. Seth Rollins at Crown Jewel 2019: This match was a rematch from their controversial Hell in a Cell match that ended in a referee stoppage after Rollins used excessive violence on The Fiend. The match was contested under Falls Count Anywhere rules with no disqualifications or stoppages. The match was a chaotic brawl that spilled outside the ring and into the arena. The Fiend survived multiple curb stomps from Rollins and eventually pinned him after hitting him with Sister Abigail on an exposed part of the ring.
Notable feuds and storylines
- The Wyatt Family vs. The Shield: This feud was one of the most anticipated and acclaimed rivalries in WWE history, as it pitted two of the most dominant and popular factions in WWE against each other. The Wyatt Family and The Shield had several confrontations and matches that showcased their chemistry and intensity. Their first match at Elimination Chamber 2014 was hailed as one of the best matches of the year, as they delivered a classic six-man tag team match that had the crowd on their feet. Their second match at WrestleMania 30 was also a thrilling encounter that saw The Shield get their revenge on The Wyatt Family.
- Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton: This feud was one of the longest and most complex storylines in WWE history, as it spanned over two years and involved multiple twists and turns. The feud started in 2016 when Wyatt recruited Orton into his family after Orton failed to defeat him in a series of matches. Orton then betrayed Wyatt in 2017 and burned down his compound, which contained the remains of Sister Abigail. Wyatt then lost his WWE Championship to Orton at WrestleMania 33 after a bizarre match that involved projections of insects on the ring. The feud continued in 2020 when The Fiend targeted Orton for his past sins and tormented him with mind games and attacks. The feud ended in 2021 when Orton defeated The Fiend at WrestleMania 37 after Alexa Bliss turned on him.
- Bray Wyatt vs. Braun Strowman: This feud was a personal and emotional rivalry between Wyatt and his former protege, Braun Strowman, who was once a member of The Wyatt Family. The feud started in 2020 when Wyatt challenged Strowman for the Universal Championship at Money in the Bank. Wyatt tried to persuade Strowman to rejoin him or become his puppet, but Strowman refused and defeated him. Wyatt then returned as The Fiend and attacked Strowman at Extreme Rules, setting up a rematch at SummerSlam. The Fiend then defeated Strowman to win the Universal Championship, but was then attacked by Roman Reigns, who joined forces with Paul Heyman. The feud continued at Payback, where Reigns defeated both The Fiend and Strowman to win the title.
Legacy as a wrestler and entertainer
Wyatt’s legacy as a wrestler and entertainer is undeniable, as he was one of the most creative and captivating performers in WWE history. He was a master of storytelling and psychology who created memorable characters and personas that connected with the fans. He was also a versatile and talented wrestler who could deliver high-quality matches with various opponents and styles. He was a multiple-time world champion who headlined several pay-per-views and events.
Wyatt’s legacy will also live on through his influence and inspiration on other wrestlers and performers, who will continue to emulate or pay tribute to his work and style. Wyatt was a trailblazer who changed the game of wrestling with his creativity and vision. He was more than just a wrestler. He was an artist, a storyteller, a mentor, a friend, and a brother. He was Bray Wyatt.
Bray Wyatt was one of the greatest performers of his generation, who inspired millions of people with his passion and talent. He was more than just a wrestler. He was an artist, a storyteller, a mentor, a friend, and a brother. He was Bray Wyatt.
He passed away on August 24, 2023 due to a heart attack caused by complications from COVID-19. He was 36 years old.
He will always be remembered as one of the most memorable and influential characters in WWE history, who captivated audiences with his charisma and creativity.
He will always be remembered as Bray Wyatt.
Let him in.