Bray Wyatt (1987-2023)
Former WWE Champion Bray Wyatt, born Windham Rotunda, has died. He was 36.
Being a professional wrestler is hard. Being a successful one is even harder. Doing it under the pressure of being a multi-generation superstar is a difficulty in a class by itself. Bray Wyatt, however, was a superstar in a class by himself.
Wyatt was born on May 23rd, 1987, to WWE legend Mike Rotunda - best known for his time in WWE as Irwin R. Schyster ("I.R.S."), whose gimmick was exactly what it sounds like - and Stephanie Windham. His uncle, who he was named after, was WWE Hall of Famer and Four Horsemen member Barry Windham. His grandfather was another Hall of Famer, Blackjack Mulligan.
Bray's career in WWE started the way so many other young superstars' did. In 2009, he began wrestling in WWE's developmental territory at the time, Florida Championship Wrestling - the promotion that would eventually be transformed into NXT.
It took Bray Wyatt time to become Bray Wyatt
Rotunda went through a number of personas during his time in FCW/NXT - each of which would, at the very minimum, show sparks of the creativity he would eventually unleash upon the wrestling world. He would take the names "Alex Rotunda," "Duke Rotundo," "Axl Mulligan," and, eventually... "Husky Harris."
It was under this identity that Wyatt first drew the eyes of the WWE Universe. In 2010, he joined the reality/game show edition of NXT. Under the "mentorship" of Cody Rhodes, Husky Harris was part of the second season of the show - the season that followed the debut of the Nexus on the main roster.
Rotunda would find himself on that same roster, as part of that same group - this time under the leadership of CM Punk. It wasn't a situation he found himself in for very long, and soon, thanks to a punt to the head by Randy Orton, Husky Harris found himself back in Florida.
But Florida is known for its swamps (among other things), and Windham soon took inspiration from that – along with a sprinkling of Cape Fear's Max Cady – to turn Husky Harris into the charismatic cult leader Bray Wyatt.
It was that persona that Bray brought with him into his second run on the main shows. Alongside Eric Rowan and Luke Harper, his "Family," Wyatt began a reign of horror not seen in WWE since the early days of The Undertaker.
While the "Eater of Worlds" character Windham had cultivated evolved over the years (including a run as WWE Champion and a babyface partnership with the equally unusual "Woken/Broken" Matt Hardy), eventually it would have to change.
And change it did. In 2019, following time off to heal some injuries, Bray Wyatt returned. Not as the cult leader but as a... TV kid's show host?
The Firefly Funhouse showed Bray Wyatt at his most creative. His parody of children's television - complete with puppets and cheap TV sets - was genuinely hilarious. It served as a major contrast against the alter ego of this new persona - The Fiend.
Dressed in leather and clown shoes and wearing a mask designed by the studio of Hollywood legend Tom Savini, The Fiend became WWE's most popular and controversial character. There are more than enough stories you can find online regarding how WWE goofed up Wyatt's presentation during those years - so we won't go into it. But, for a while, The Fiend was the biggest thing WWE had going for it in years.
Following his WWE release after WrestleMania 37, Rotunda decided to move away from the wrestling business. He was attached to an independent horror movie directed by Jason Baker and Rob Fee (himself a WWE creative veteran), as well as Tom Savini himself.
However, following Vince McMahon's "retirement" and Triple H's ascension to head of creative, Wyatt saw himself back in the WWE fold. His final match with the company would be at the 2023 Royal Rumble in a Mountain Dew Pitch Black match against L.A. Knight.
Bray Wyatt - Windham Rotunda - is more than just a rundown of his pro wrestling career. Given a chance to let loose, Wyatt showed a level of creativity rarely seen in pro wrestling. His work drew such adoration from fans that when he lost his WWE Universal Championship to Goldberg in 2020, grown men were literally furious.
Windham was also a family man with four kids - two with his first wife, Samantha, and two more with his second, former WWE announcer "Jojo" Offerman. It goes without saying that our thoughts here at Sportskeeda are with Samantha, Joseann, their kids, and all of Bray's family at this difficult time.
The world of pro wrestling is less for the loss of Bray Wyatt. But the impression he left while he was here will last for years - generations, in fact. Just like the pro wrestling generations he was a part of.