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At the conclusion of a rather basic, boring WWE PPV, Clash of the Champions went off the air with Bray Wyatt as his new character "The Fiend" choking out Universal Champion Seth Rollins in a surprise ending. Although it had been rumored and pretty much announced that Rollins was going to defend the title against The Fiend at the next PPV, Hell in a Cell, it was still a surprise to see him close out the show, choking out the man who just retained the title against Braun Strowman.
The audience popped huge for Wyatt's surprise appearance, and he easily got the biggest reaction of the night from an audience that got tired as the night went on. That kind of reaction is something WWE desperately needs right now; a performer that can really get the crowd invested in the action and come across like a complete superstar.
Throughout Clash of Champions, it was obvious that WWE lacked star power on the show and even big stars like Roman Reigns, Rollins, Braun Strowman and Randy Orton struggled to get big reactions from the live audience. In the absence of part-time stars Brock Lesnar and Goldberg, there wasn't anybody on the show who felt like a special superstar...until Wyatt arrived.
The Fiend is just getting started in WWE, but an important milestone has already been reached. The crowd reacts to The Fiend like Wyatt is a major star, and as the build for Hell in a Cell continues his popularity has only increased. The difference between Wyatt and a guy like Strowman, who is over to a certain degree, is large and should benefit WWE as they ramp things up ahead of their debut on FOX.
Wrestling fans today are going to end up cheering for whoever excites them the most, which complicates the traditional babyface vs heel dynamic since often-times, heels are more exciting, take-action characters than babyfaces, especially in WWE. Since The Fiend is the most exciting character in WWE at the moment, Wyatt is going to be cheered over Rollins at Hell in a Cell. Instead of worrying about Wyatt not fitting their pigeon-holed status quo, WWE needs to accept that Wyatt is currently the most popular performer on the show and push him as such.
During a time when most wrestlers in WWE feel generic and boring, Wyatt stands out with his unique gimmick. The Firefly Funhouse segments set the tone as Wyatt does a bizzaro Fred Rogers impersonation, all while hinting that evil lurks below the surface. The live audience only sees the evil version of Wyatt, The Fiend. Costuming, lighting, music and props for The Fiend are tremendous, and make use of WWE's considerable production power for when it comes to producing a spectacle.
We have seen wrestlers with alter-egos before, most notably Mick Foley and his various characters, but not something as obviously bi-polar as Wyatt and The Fiend. Over time it is unclear how the two characters are going to develop, and there is plenty of opportunity in the future for WWE to make some poor creative decisions in that regard, but for the time being the split between Wyatt and The Fiend is fresh and exciting. Most importantly, nothing on the roster or really in wrestling can be compared to it.
The next step for WWE and Wyatt will be to avoid the pitfalls that derailed Wyatt's previous character. Ever since the first vignette ran with Wyatt's Max Cady-inspired character, audiences have responded well to Wyatt as a different creative force in an era filled with generic personalities. Getting a different type of character over with the audience wasn't a problem for Wyatt, it was following up that initial output with enough substance to maintain that kind of interest over a long period of time.
The prior incarnation of Wyatt was victimized by typical WWE booking malpractice. He was hyped up as a destructive force, but was ultimately dispatched by John Cena in short order. He was supposed to be the leader of a cult, but soon lost his family members, making him a shepherd with no sheep. Then he got them back. Then he lost them again. Eventually he was reduced to a comedy tag team with Matt Hardy, before going on a sabbatical and returning with his new character.
The big question is if a character as shadowy and mysterious as The Fiend can exist over the long-haul. He is very good at making quick, surprise appearances, but what happens when he becomes entangled in a long storyline? What happens when he needs to sell in a match? What happens when he eventually loses? Will he be able to maintain his aura?
In addition, there is always the problem that a character as dark as The Fiend walks a fine line between doing stuff that is cool, and doing stuff that comes across as too cartoonish and fake. Part of what derailed Wyatt in the past was that WWE saw it necessary to include wacky elements to his character, including appearing as a hologram and projecting insects onto the canvas at WrestleMania.
All of those hurdles remain in Wyatt's path if he wants to become a new, generational superstar in WWE. By all accounts, he is a creative guy that can come up with a lot of interesting stuff, but it is still unknown if that stuff will resonate with the audience or if WWE will even be able to execute those ideas properly. He is off to a great start, but the difficult part has just begun.
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