Bray Wyatt: Follow the Buzzards
WWE superstar on horror, power, and the allure of the ring
By Richard Whittaker,
9:00AM, Mon. Aug. 15, 2016
Bray Wyatt remembers the first time he saw the fireflies. That’s when the WWE superstar walks into the arena, and the lights drop, the audience whips out their phones, and they don’t video or take a photo. They turn on the flashlight app, and the whole room turns into a thousand glowing fireflies.
It was in London, two years ago, when he entered flanked by his brothers in the fearsome Wyatt family faction, Eric Rowan and Luke Harper. Wyatt said, "It was madness. It was a euphoric moment, and I had a hard time taking it in. Harper tugged at my shirt and said, are you seeing this? It wasn't something that I provoked or asked them to do, it's something that they just did."
The fireflies will be hovering in Austin in their masses on August 16, as pro wrestler Wyatt headlines WWE’s Smackdown Live at the Frank Erwin Center. In an industry dominated by flexing musclemen and soaring luchadores, Wyatt stands alone. Part Leatherface, part Max Cady in Cape Fear, part Southern death cult leader. So why would a messianic maniac become a professional wrestler? “It's such a simple answer,” Wyatt said. “If you have a voice like mine, that I want to project and I want people to hear, millions and millions of people watch this every week. If you have a childhood dream to change the world, it's the perfect outlet."
As wrestlers have skewed away from the big gimmicks of the Eighties and Nineties, and closer to the shoot-style characterizations of MMA, Wyatt is a glorious throwback. The sheer scale and intensity of his persona, with his apocalyptic cry of “Follow the buzzards!”, has connected with fans of wrestling’s high gothic like no performer since the Undertaker. Wyatt said, "If you look way back, to the day that we debuted, we essentially did something that you could regard as a horror movie. A reporter came to the compound, and he never went back."
That horror component has always been there in the Wyatts (not least, every time the 6’ 3”, 285-pound Wyatt does an upside-down crabwalk across the ring, a la The Exorcist). Yet it came back in full force recently when their happy-go-lucky adversaries, WWE tag team champions the New Day, came to the compound to challenge the family and nearly got an axe in their collective heads. It was one of the high points of recent WWE programming, and something Wyatt would love to do again. He said, "The compound fight was something I'd looked forward to, and I wish it was something we'd spent longer doing."
Last month, the WWE, the biggest promotion in professional wrestling, split its two flagship TV shows apart. Rather than one roster of wrestlers working both Monday on Raw and Tuesday on Smackdown, now each has its own list of performers.
The split also means a new competition between the two shows. For years, there has been the perception that the three-hour Raw was the promotion’s "A" show, and Smackdown, which was taped and edited down to two hours, was the "B" show. With the split, Smackdown is now broadcast live, and that’s put some fire in the belly. "Over here, we're not going to sit on our couch. The mantra is war."
The big difference is the roster size. For every draft pick, Raw got two picks to Smackdown's one. Yet Smackdown ended up with some of the most recognizable names, like multi-time WWE champions John Cena and Randy Orton. “They have more people,” said Wyatt, “but we believe that we have the better roster."
That means the spotlight is a little brighter on Wyatt now. "It’s the mindset of opportunity. Everybody wants to be the man." Like everyone on the Tuesday roster, Wyatt has his eye on WWE World Heavyweight champion Dean Ambrose. “I have a rap sheet with him a mile long,” he said, and with a smaller roster, there are fewer places for him to hide. Yet the champ is far from Wyatt’s only target. “My mindset is, eradicate everyone."
The brand split does mean that there are names off Wyatt’s hit list, due to them being on the other show. For example, the New Day are on Raw, so no more trips to the Wyatt compound for them. Wyatt will also have to wait for his shot at Monday night's demon, ascending high-flier Finn Bálor. Yet topping off the list of targets out of range is undeniably former WWE and UFC champion Brock Lesnar, “and I still believe I'll have my chance for that," said Wyatt.
Then there are the top names in NXT: Nominally WWE’s developmental promotion, the online show has attracted some of the top international talent and a rabid fanbase. Wyatt himself came out of NXT, and he’s got his eye on two of the division’s heaviest hitters as potential adversaries in the ring, when they finally head to the big leagues: Japanese superstar and self-proclaimed king of strong style Shinsuke Nakamura, and the Samoan Submission Machine, NXT champion Samoa Joe. He’d be happy to take them on singly, or at the same time. Wyatt laughs, that unnerving belly laugh that has become part of his trademark. "Triple threat, I'd be down with that."
It’s a changing landscape for the Wyatt family since that defining London show. But then, the Wyatt family has changed as well. The trio added the monstrous Braun Strowman, but with the brand split, he’s gone to Raw. Harper’s out with an injury, and so it’s just Wyatt and Rowan – oh, and all those fireflies. "That's a huge advantage I have over most, that I always have someone with me. It's not just me, or me and Rowan, it's me and the legion."
WWE Smackdown Live
Tue., Aug. 16, 6pm
Frank Erwin Center, 1701 Red River
Tickets at www.uterwincenter.com.