WWE What-Ifs: The Bray Wyatt-Randy Orton-Luke Harper Feud
During the latter part of 2016, after the brand split that separated talents once again into two brands, Raw and Smackdown Live, the latter brand was perceived to be the better one, both story-wise and wrestling-wise while the flagship brand was merely treading water with mediocre feuds. Smackdown Live was dominated by fun feuds such as Dean Ambrose's war against AJ Styles, along with the hijinks of pesky little sideshow James Ellsworth. There was also this fun feud between Dolph Ziggler and The Miz, while Alexa Bliss was just coming into her own with her feud against Becky Lynch. However fun those feuds may have been, arguably the best feud they were trotting out there was the slow-burn feud between Randy Orton and the Wyatt Family.
WWE didn't just allow them to waste away; they were given the spotlight in one of the big four PPVs, Survivor Series, in its defining match, the 5-on-5 Interbrand Match between Team Raw and Team Smackdown. The New Wyatt Family didn't just look good; they were the best out there, with Orton eliminating Chris Jericho, and Wyatt eliminating Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns with the help of Harper. Not only that, but Orton was really set up to be a loyal member of the family; he took a spear to ensure Wyatt's safety, and in turn, the victory. The family did well together and was set up to be the most dominant faction in the WWE back then, and they sure made good on that promise. Shortly after, they earned the opportunity (with Smackdown being the land of opportunity, and all) to fight for the Smackdown Tag Team Championship by defeating the American Alpha (RIP). And with how dominant they were being set up to be, they won the titles and looked every bit of the dominant faction that stood tall in that defining Survivor Series, easily dismantling the motley crew of Heath Slater and Rhyno en route to the title. After being crushed by Brock Lesnar in Summerslam 2016, Orton continued his feud post-brand-split against Wyatt, but he couldn't seem to crack the code of beating him. Orton lost to the Wyatts two matches in a row due to Luke Harper's interference, causing Orton to pull off a Kevin Durant (Orton is the viper, after all) and join the ones that have beaten him over and over. Two weeks after his final defeat against the Wyatts, he caused a distraction in Wyatt's match against Kane, and shortly after, he became an official member of the Wyatt family. This looks like the typical snake move, and all, but what was well done with regards to this feud was how they handled this game-changing move by Orton to join the Wyatts.
However, after Wyatt and Orton's instant success, Wyatt seemed to have forgotten his loyal family member. Harper was shoved aside, and it showed, since him and Orton never really jelled together, and it all fell apart after three weeks, and they lost the Smackdown Tag Team Championships during the 2016 Smackdown Wild-Card Finals, losing the titles to American Alpha. Harper and Orton got into it after Orton hit Harper which led to their defeat, but Wyatt preached patience and attended to his family members. The ingredients for a taut, coherent, and well-told story are all there, and it started to coalesce even better because three weeks later, Orton defeated Harper in a one-on-one match, with Harper being exiled out of the group in the process. It was very clear that Harper had a great chance to be involved in a great three-way feud, with his hatred towards Orton for getting himself kicked out of the family and his vitriol towards Wyatt for turning his back on a family member. And with the next few weeks setting up the pieces in place - Orton wins the Royal Rumble, Wyatt wins the WWE Championship - all the pieces were there for the feud to go three-way, with Harper aiming to get revenge on both Orton and Wyatt for various reasons.
But that wasn't the route they decided to take with this storyline. Orton, at first, declared that he wouldn't face Wyatt because of loyalty reasons, and this set up an interesting turn - a battle royale for the chance to face Wyatt in Wrestlemania 33. An interesting wrinkle was added to the fray - Harper and Styles, the two survivors, touched the mat at the same time which set up a single match the following week to determine who would face Wyatt. This was the perfect opportunity! However, with AJ Styles being AJ Styles, there's just no way Harper would defeat him clean in a one-on-one match, and indeed, Harper lost to Styles. In a vacuum, the result was understandable, however, with the way the storyline was going, they should have given the victory to Harper through a number of reasons, with one idea being a crazy interference from Wyatt and Orton to get into Harper's head yet ending up distracting Styles, giving Harper the victory. After Harper gets the victory, Wyatt then forces Orton to pledge his allegiance to him and force him to fight at Wrestlemania with Orton ordered to deliberately lose while helping him against Harper. This causes Orton's burning of the Wyatt compound to be more justified, or at the very least, more understandable, and with Wyatt nowhere to go and no one to run to, he faces an enraged Luke Harper and a rejuvenated Randy Orton who was merely biding his time until Wyatt became vulnerable.
But then again, WWE didn't want to give Luke Harper a chance at the WWE Championship, and instead, rolled with a typical singles match between Wyatt and Orton for Wrestlemania 33, with some random, "scary" projections that Orton didn't sell at all. Just imagine the tension within that match if Wyatt was forced in between his two angry former comrades. Imagine Wyatt's frustration with Orton's disloyalty and burning of the compound, and his sadness about letting Harper, his loyal soldier, go. Imagine that anger Harper is still feeling for Orton after getting him kicked out of the family and his sadness about seeing his former brother be broken into pieces by The Viper. Imagine all that emotion around the WWE Championship. If WWE just played their cards right, we wouldn't have to be imagining this right now. Instead, we got a stale match, a boring Orton title reign, and that extremely awful Orton-Jinder Mahal feud that happened just because WWE didn't want to give Harper a chance. This is indeed one of the more interesting what-ifs in recent WWE history.