As the pro wrestling industry relishes in the fantastic weekend between AEW’s second episode of Rampage, a controversial SummerSlam and an universally praised NXT Takeover, questions about the direction of both WWE and AEW linger. After the phenomenal ratings of CM Punk’s AEW debut on Rampage, many expect additional former WWE combatants to make their way to Tony Khan’s promotion. Bryan Danielson and Adam Cole’s arrivals make sense, but one of the more intriguing questions concerns Windham Rotunda, the performer formerly known as Bray Wyatt.
In the August 23rd edition of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer speculated about a potential additional “major acquisition” to the AEW roster.
But sources close to the promotion that would be alerted to such things also noted a new major AEW acquisition is coming on the heels of the deals for C.M. Punk and Bryan Danielson.
The following day on the Bryan & Vinny Show, host Bryan Alvarez was quick to counter, saying that multiple “people who would know” texted asking where Meltzer got his information. Apparently, it was news in the AEW locker room. This potential news does create many questions over the direction of the product.
The initial crop of AEW talent is composed of wrestlers who pride themselves on what they do in between the ropes. However, a current wave of talent has recently been imported from WWE, which values spectacle over substance. It isn’t difficult to see how this potential signing could divide the influence structure within the company.
Rotunda is considered a talented, creative mind. However, his in-ring work is much lower than the typical work rate standard seen on AEW television. Bray Wyatt’s appeal in WWE centered around his bold personality that was at its peak captivating but at its lows came off like bad dinner theater. But how does Rotunda fit in the AEW landscape?
From day one, Bray Wyatt was a leading talent in WWE. He worked major programs with all of the promotion’s top performers, including WrestleMania matches with John Cena and the Undertaker. Wyatt’s character had a unique appeal that stretched beyond traditional wrestling viewers. Wyatt earned fans in both comic and film’s creative worlds because of his horror movie-inspired character. Wyatt became a top merchandise draw as The Fiend, inspiring a new non-traditional fanbase that WWE has siphoned onto Alexa Bliss.
To his detractors, Wyatt was a poor fit in pro wrestling who stretched the product’s believability. “The magical murder clown,” as he was reviled, was all smoke and mirrors, both in the ring and beyond the scenes. The Fiend character, while popular amongst its fans, was challenging to portray in between the ropes. The character started as a killer and not ironically, killed the paths of many characters. His Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins achieved universal criticism. The WrestleMania match with John Cena was more comparable to a series of vignettes at best (or a student film at worst) than it was to a wrestling match. While many could point at the success of the Undertaker, fans in 2021 expect more from their in-ring product. How does a promotion book a legitimate monster?
Seeing as how WWE felt that Wyatt wasn’t worth his reported seven-figure contract, they couldn’t answer that question. Watching the apathetic reactions to Alexa Bliss and her voodoo doll, WWE still doesn’t have the answer.
AEW is a promotion on the rise, but one still significantly behind its competitor in terms of viewers and perception. On the surface, bringing in a competitor on the level of Wyatt makes sense. How does the Bray Wyatt character exist in a place AEW? The immediate rejection of Broken Matt Hardy, who in 2016 was the toast of internet wrestling, shows that the audience isn’t interested in that kind of presentation. Can AEW grow its existing fanbase by welcoming in the army of dejected Fiend fans? How do those fanbases co-exist? These are moot questions because AEW wouldn’t be bringing Bray Wyatt. Bray Wyatt as a character is dead. They would likely be bringing in Windham Rotunda. The Fiend is the intellectual property of WWE, and a great many of those fans are unlikely to follow the performer himself. The Magical Murder Clown in AEW won’t happen. So what could?
Tommy End, another former WWE competitor, was released in June and gave interviews expressing his own horror movie ideas regarding his character. His self-produced vignette gave another look at End’s personal tastes. However, while having a weird eye (carrying over from a worked injury in WWE), the Malakai Black character hasn’t shown any supernatural attributes. Rotunda would need to follow suit and find something new, perhaps a different version of his Night of the Hunter/Cape Fear-inspired cult leader persona. In reality, Rotunda would probably need complete reinvention in AEW.
The ultimate question is, does what makes Windham Rotunda special fit in AEW?