Bray Wyatt was just moved to SmackDown during this week’s WWE Draft and seemed to be solidified as one of WWE’s top heels, but the company’s ultimate goal with Wyatt may be to make him a bona fide fan favorite.
According to Paul Davis of WrestlingNews.co, WWE is well aware of the strong babyface reactions “The Fiend” is generating and the likelihood that he will have to turn babyface at some point:
“I’m told that there are a lot of creative things coming for the character in the coming months and Vince McMahon is on board with his ideas. If all goes according to plan, Wyatt will continue as one of the biggest (if not the biggest) heels in the company and at some point (it could be years from now) he’ll turn into one of (if not the biggest) babyfaces in the company. People in WWE are aware of the babyface reactions he is getting right now but I’m told there are no plans for him to turn right now. The idea is to continue to protect him and not have him lose clean.”
With the way Wyatt has been booked since returning to WWE TV just a few months ago, there is little doubt that he is supposed to be a villain in the truest since of the word. But as we’ve seen countless times in the past when stars are so good at being bad, it’s almost guaranteed that WWE will be forced to listen to the crowd and turn Wyatt, a stellar heel, into a babyface as crowd support for the popular star starts to get overwhelming.
Although Wyatt’s gimmick–in particular his “The Fiend” alter-ego–screams heel, it’s so innovative and captivating that fans can’t help but be drawn to it. Shortly after Wyatt’s return match at SummerSlam in August, WWE released a “Firefly Fun House” play set box on WWEShop.com, which instantly sold out (in less than three hours to be exact) and was listed at more than six times its retail value on Ebay. Maybe that shouldn’t be all that surprising, though, because Wyatt has a history of being a strong merchandise seller for WWE. Back in 2014 when Wyatt’s original character was relatively new to the main roster, Wyatt was one of WWE’s top merchandise movers, outranking names like The Shield, Evolution, Batista and Hulk Hogan.
Merchandise sales are strong indicators of a superstar’s connection with the WWE Universe, and Wyatt–for the vast majority of his career–has had a good one. The biggest problem with Wyatt in WWE has had nothing to do with his performances, his abilities or connection with the crowd. Anytime Wyatt has fallen by the wayside, it’s been due to lackluster booking, whether that be promos that he never backs up in the ring, over-the-top storylines, ridiculous match concepts (the “House of Horrors” match with Randy Orton immediately comes to mind) or badly booked match outcomes, like the debacle that was his Hell in a Cell match with Seth Rollins. While the poor booking of Wyatt’s previous gimmick doomed him so much that he spent roughly a year off TV as he and WWE decided what to do next, it was hard not to to be satisfied with how he’d been portrayed under his new gimmick–until the HIAC disaster.
Wyatt’s twisted “Jekyll and Hyde” character is half Mr. Rogers and half horror flick villain, and prior to that debacle, it was working to perfection. Ever since vignettes for the gimmick began airing on the night after WrestleMania 35 in April, Wyatt has been the talk of the town. His promos and in-ring segments have been downright enthralling, and every time he enters an arena, you can see, hear and feel the buzz. He has the kind of awe-inspiring gimmick that will make it virtually impossible to keep him as a heel for the long run. That’s why many have compared him to some of WWE’s all-time great macabre characters, like The Undertaker and Kane.
Though “The Phenom” and “The Big Red Monster” would, at least on the surface, appear to be heels, there gimmicks were so well-executed that they both spent large portions of their careers as babyfaces. The hope within WWE is that Wyatt will be someone who has the same type of longevity that both Kane and Taker have had during two of the most storied careers in WWE history. When it comes to Wyatt, the old adage of “less is more” is one that WWE should live by, with Wyatt and “The Fiend” appearing only infrequently so as not to ruin his aura. As has been demonstrated with numerous stars in the past, including Kane, the more a star with that type of gimmick is around, the less impactful his character will be.
At least right now, Wyatt is so over with the crowd because he’s yet to be overexposed, but after he lost his Universal title match at Hell in a Cell, WWE will have to find the right balance to ensure that he’s not around either too much or too little. One of the main reasons why Wyatt is generating such positive reactions is that he isn’t overexposed, but will WWE be able to avoid having him around too much? Oftentimes, WWE thinks “more is more” when that certainly isn’t the case with Wyatt, who should be slowly built into a full-fledged babyface if the crowd continues to organically react to him that way.
It’s a balancing act that–in addition to avoiding botched booking like we saw at Hell in a Cell–will determine whether he truly becomes the long-term top babyface he could be.