2014’s Extreme Rules PPV and the RAW following it have suffered a great deal of criticism in relation to two separate monstrous characters: Bray Wyatt and Kane. In Wyatt’s case, the criticism wasn’t directed at the almost universally lauded Wyatt specifically, but the booking of his cage match with John Cena which saw Wyatt win, but only after a great deal of help from his two regular followers, Harper and Rowan, and an extra follower, a child singing Bray’s ‘Whole World’ refrain with a demonic voice. In Kane’s case, there has been criticism of his presentation being hokey during his feud with new(ish) WWE World Heavyweight Champion, Daniel Bryan; indeed I have heard two separate comparisons between Kane on RAW and the popcorn horror film, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’. It may seem crazy to describe Wyatt as a ‘realistic’ character here, but that’s precisely what i’m going to do in comparison to Kane while hoping to rebuff criticism of Wyatt and his Extreme Rules match.
Bray Wyatt defeated John Cena at Extreme Rules. That alone is a fantastic boost for Wyatt as a character and potential ‘main eventer’, but for many it was tainted by the fact that Cena was clearly the stronger fighter in the match, only losing because his attempts were repeatedly scuppered by Wyatt followers. The problem with that is that it relies on a ‘textbook’ approach to wrestling where ‘looking strong’ is all that matters for key wrestlers, and where all wrestlers have the same background, skills, and motivations as each other. Bray Wyatt is scary, and his over the top performance of offense is very unique and fitting of his maniacal character; so I certainly don’t believe Wyatt is being depicted as someone who can’t beat anyone, but Bray Wyatt is a wrestler who – and I think this is deliberate – has a degree of physical vulnerability, but gets a lot of his power from how he presents himself. In short, he is the perfect depiction of a cult leader: an ordinary man who gains power through charisma and brainwashing. Bray Wyatt has been one of my favourite wrestlers and characters since his start on NXT, and he is becoming the most realistically-drawn character in WWE today, and perhaps the problem is that realism isn’t always the first concern in pro-wrestling matches.
To apply this to Wyatt’s cage match with Cena, it was a great example of how a cultish can use his ‘powers’ to overcome a stronger opponent. Wyatt as a wrestler could beat lots of wrestlers on his own; he isn’t some helpless jobber, but remember, he was facing the most unbeatable wrestler in at least ten years in John Cena, and that was something Wyatt could never achieve on his own. Thankfully, that is perfect for him. The key here is that Wyatt is not special in any tangiable way – he is not a ‘demon’ or impervious to pain, but he has the incredible ability to make people believe he is, and gain followers through his somewhat-sensical but warped view of the world and it’s heroes. It is this power that allows him to engender help from a pair of scary country-hosses who are mentally incapable of rejecting Wyatt’s ‘truth’, to scare ‘normal’ people like John Cena and make him question himself, and ultimately makes him capable of beating anyone, half with his physical skills, and topped up by dominating the mind of his opponent. I don’t mean he uses ‘mind control’, I mean he psychologically dominates them with his charismatic, earnest, melodic delivery; it puts whoever he is facing at a disadvantage, and even more so when the ring is surrounded by ‘followers’ who will do anything for him, so brainwashed are they.
Even when looked at as a fraud, this idea of Wyatt seems crazy, but then again, it is a lot easier to suspend that disbelief as soon as you type “Jim Jones” or “David Koresh” in to Wikipedia. That is what makes Wyatt so great, and so genuinely scary because, though rare, this sort of devotion, and abuse of that devotion is possible, with Wyatt playing up to it so convincingly that people genuinely worry for him as a human being away from the ring. While the match with Cena at Extreme Rules was probably a little overbooked, and maybe taken a little too far with the sheer amount of interference and the Wyatt’s ending up in the cage etc, I think the general idea at play was perfect. Man-on-man, Cena would always beat a non-cultist Wyatt every time, because Cena would beat most other wrestlers every time, or nearly every time. But for a cultist Bray, he would use the interference of his dedicated followers, and his psychological abuse of Cena through a genuinely scary brainwashed child to help him beat ‘The Franchise’ at all costs; and then use that victory to reaffirm his power. This is a perfect way to present such a different, unique talent, and I hope it continues like this for a long, long time.
One area I agree with a lot of criticism recently is to do with how Kane has been presented. It wasn’t so much his match with Daniel Bryan at Extreme Rules that bothered me, but the follow-up the next night on RAW. Where Wyatt is all talk, so to speak, Kane is, in kayfabe, a genuine fire-throwing monster. Now don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed the supernatural logic behind the Brothers of Destruction in the past – silly as it really is, both Kane and Undertaker have in the past been great at playing supernatural beings/monsters within a wrestling context and within some defined internal logic; the problem here was the presentation. While I feel the supernatural characters I was just discussing have maybe reached a shelf-life (for now at least), I would be ok with it if it was within the same wrestling context and logic they have always lived within, but in Kane’s case on RAW, they moved outside of that. As I mentioned, I have heard more than one flippant comparison to ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ in relation to this presentation, and it’s not inaccurate either. Kane has had these powers for most of his careers, but it has all taken part in the context of a wrestling ring/arena and has had a lot of power by being shot in the same way as the rest of the show (backstage segments, pyro from the ring/stage as if he controls it, etc), but this past Monday, it became this movie-like presentation, with reverse angles and a universe outside of the arena. Wrestling always requires some suspension of disbelief (blood feuds being solved with formal wrestling matches, only ever doing anything on Mondays in agreed upon arenas, etc), but we accept that as long as everything makes sense in context as the rest of the show. The Kane segments ripped that apart because while Bryan and Brie Bella showed up to the arena because that’s just what happens, they immediately wanted to get out of there, and their escape was suddenly filmed like a milktoast horror movie. From the ‘car troubles’ to the in-car reverse angles of the action, it felt different, a splice of pro-wrestling and horror movie, and it became almost nauseatingly awkward as a result.
While I find Wade Keller of the pro-wrestling torch a frequent indulger in pessimism and narrow-mindedness, he made a very good point about it on this week’s pro-wrestling torch – this would have worked so much better if it would have been in a pro-wrestling context, for instance, Renee Young interviews Bryan and Brie backstage when Kane appears to menace them with Bryan and Brie reacting in whatever way you want them too and have a backstage fight/chase. Just by doing that, it fits in to the wrestling context and logic; instead we got a not terribly threatening ‘monster’ falling off a car before it cuts to him sat lying perfectly flat on the floor and sitting up like Michael Myers or something. None of it rang true, and therefore, none of it rang scary. No doubt Bryan will show up again next week, and so will Brie, and they’ll both be terrified again.
Speaking of which, why is out new HERO BABYFACE WWE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION running away from a threat!? If you buy the somewhat patronising angle that he’s ‘protecting his wife’, then he should have told Brie to get out of there while he deals with Kane. Instead, Bryan looked as scared of Kane as Brie despite beating him the night before. What are we to think of Bryan now? The tenacious undersized peoples champion we’ve loved for years is running away from an obstacle! He’s coming across as cowardly and a bit stupid thanks to this, and I think we should all heed Mick Foley’s twitter warning that this is starting to seem like the Zack Ryder angle which turned him from Internet and US Champion, to well, essentially nothing important. Bryan is much much better than Ryder, will wrestle better matches with Kane, and will move on successfully, but I just worry this will effect his longevity as a top hero, and I hope the Yessing never ends, despite this nonsense.