Throughout a pro wrestler’s career, they’re bound to see through various evolutions of their character’s gimmick. Take any of your favourites from history, chances are you can map out a series of key changes in their persona, maybe signposted by a heel/face turn or a tag run. Perhaps one of the most multifarious of characters from wrestling lore is none other than Matt Hardy, a name that has cropped up several times when discussing recent innovations in today’s industry.
Since Hardy brought his services and many different gimmicks to All Elite Wrestling, fans have been able to witness all of Matt’s most iconic characters as he waged war with The Inner Circle. Arguably his most popular gimmick, ‘Broken’ Matt Hardy helped pave the way for performers to indulge in the more wacky side of the wrestling world, making way for the cinematic universe that WWE are just starting to exploit.
Matt’s original take on a fantasy universe allowed him to throwback to previous successful gimmicks, making for some pretty hilarious cameos from Matt Hardy ‘Version 1’ and the daredevil Hardy Boy from the late 90s. Not only has his multi-dimensional self made him one of the most unpredictable and entertaining performers on the AEW roster, but it’s also inspired certain WWE superstars to explore their own histories and revive a few elements from the past within their current characters.
Bray Wyatt’s latest shenanigans on SmackDown Live lent credence to this new fad, claiming that he’s been granted the powers of necromancy before unearthing his original Wyatt Family cult leader persona to further draw the ire of Universal Champion Braun Strowman. Although this is likely a short-term feature of Wyatt’s gimmick, if WWE were allow him to slip in and out of his Funhouse/Fiend persona, it could certainly lead to him creating buckets of career longevity.
Wyatt echoes Matt Hardy’s limitless creativity by creating numerous characters for him to delve into. Last year saw his newest incarnation become a massive hit, with The Fiend going on to capture the Universal title from Seth Rollins in Saudi Arabia and later being featured in a marquee match with John Cena at WrestleMania. Even though fans seem to be losing faith in the Mr. Rogers inspired gimmick, nobody can take away what’s been Bray Wyatt’s most successful run to date.
Now that Bray can dip back into his days as the manipulative backwoods pariah, maybe he can breathe new life into his singles career by getting back in touch with his roots, letting the Fiend get some R&R before the gimmick gets too stale. Even though ‘The Eater of Worlds’ persona failed to generate much in the way of wins or momentum after his first few months on the main roster, perhaps now a reinvigorated Wyatt could turn things around for his past self and right a few wrongs.
Bray seems to be edging towards a new cinematic match with his former ‘Black Sheep’ in Braun Strowman, perhaps one which brings us back to the mysterious Wyatt Family compound that once saw the Family battle with The New Day before being burnt to the ground by Randy Orton. WWE don’t seem to be in any rush to take the title off of Strowman, but providing this is a non-title match, this could definitely swing the momentum back in Wyatt’s favour before a big conclusion at SummerSlam against The Fiend.
Ultimately, being able to call-back to previous characters easily adds another few months onto any given feud. Matt Hardy’s ability to switch from Broken to Big Money to Party Hardy on a weekly basis helps keep his character fresh on TV, opening up the possibilities for several new feuds that he might perhaps never get the chance to enter if was tied down to just the one gimmick.
Several of WWE’s biggest stars could benefit from this same adaptability. Those that have seen through different iterations of their character might just be able to justify the sudden jump from one gimmick to another: Seth Rollins, Daniel Bryan and even Jeff Hardy all spring to mind. In order to achieve this however, WWE needs to start taking themselves less seriously, start allowing their superstars to have freedom of expression and creativity with their characters rather than keeping them trapped with ‘realistic’ characters.
Looking back to the Attitude Era, even those that weren’t considered supernatural or comical were less rigid. Performers could have fun with their characters and turn them on their heads whenever necessary. It’s what made the majority of the roster back then so memorable, because they had this freedom to entertain the audience and innovate their personas to better suit whichever crowd they were in front of. Everyone was over because they were allowed to get over.
Take Mick Foley, for example. His three faces became three massive individual hits. Foley was able to flick between Mankind, Dude Love and Cactus Jack as he saw fit, depending on the feud that he was in. If his blood-feud required him to get back in touch with his hardcore days, then he could easily justify bringing out Cactus Jack for a round of chair shots, or Mankind if the odds were stacked against him. Nobody questioned whether it was a sensible or realistic booking decision to have Foley switch between his three faces. If anything, it made watching his matches even more exciting, because you never quite knew which persona was going to make an appearance.
Providing WWE aren’t just letting Bray get away with this for the sake of giving him something to do before feeding The Fiend to Strowman Express, this could be the start of something very special for him and the current roster. Wyatt could certainly be on his way to forging his own three faces, a career-move that could easily take him to the next step towards a Hall of Fame career. Giving him the same longevity as that of Matt Hardy, Chris Jericho and Mick Foley is without doubt a huge nod to his star power.
Perhaps WWE have been inspired by the amount of creative control AEW performers are being given on episodes of Dynamite and Dark. Maybe this is finally the boot up the backside WWE writers need to allow certain gimmicks to snowball into something marketable.
Wyatt might be in the process of becoming pro wrestling’s newest multifarious character, who else could join in him taking a trip back to the past? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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