Say what you will about The Fiend from a gimmick standpoint, but when it comes to storytelling and connecting threads of the past with the present, there may be none better than Bray Wyatt. Wyatt masterfully used past history with John Cena to craft an interesting-to-say-the-least match at last year’s WrestleMania 36 and now it appears, he’ll be doing so again. Only this time, it’s Randy Orton he has in his sights. For, as Wyatt has reminded us in his first tweet of 2021, his and Orton’s feud goes beyond the flames. Rather, it dates back to a moment that happened 10 years ago, on January 31st, 2011. It is that moment, that Wyatt is marking as the catalyst for this latest chapter in the conflict between the two.
New Nexus Runs Afoul of the Viper
To set the stage, Bray Wyatt debuted on the main roster in WWE in 2010 as a member of the dominant Nexus stable. Then Husky Harris, Wyatt’s Nexus was involved in high-profile feuds that left him in the crosshairs of all-time greats including John Cena and Randy Orton. As the Nexus transitioned from Wade Barrett‘s leadership to CM Punk‘s under the banner of the New Nexus, Harris remained a member of the stable. New Nexus’ association with Punk left them as collateral damage in Punk’s feud with Orton. Punk, still harboring resentment toward Orton for ending his first world title reign in 2008 due to injuring him, decided to cost the Viper his match against The Miz at the Royal Rumble in 2011. Orton had been trying to regain the championship but was unable to do so as Punk and his underlings made their presence felt. With interference from Alex Riley and the New Nexus, Punk was able to take advantage, hitting Orton with the GTS and dragging Miz, who had been RKO’d and likely would have lost as a result, on top of Orton for the 1-2-3. Punk and his group had stolen Orton’s opportunity.
Well, hell hath a Viper scorned.
Someday someone will break you so badly that you’ll become unbreakable.
— Bray Wyatt (@WWEBrayWyatt) March 23, 2021
Orton wasted no time in taking out the members of the New Nexus, picking them off one-by-one. And it all started with Harris on the January 31st, 2011 episode of WWE Raw. Harris and Michael McGillicutty had just failed in their attempt to capture the tag team titles but that wasn’t the end of their night. Immediately after the match was over, Orton added injury to insult, hitting RKOs on both men. McGillicutty rolled out of the ring to safety but Harris wasn’t so lucky. Left defenseless, even Punk’s pleas weren’t enough to cull the Viper from what he was about to do. Orton saw red and all he cared about in that moment was getting revenge on the men who had cost him his title match. After some minor hesitation, Orton charged from the corner to where Harris lay on the mat, hitting him with a devastating kick. Orton made it his mission to punt every last member of the group before getting to Punk, defeating him in back-to-back matches at WrestleMania XXVII and Extreme Rules. In the end, it seemed Orton, who would go on to not only regain his title but win a total of 14 world championships in WWE, had gotten the last laugh.
But rarely is life and wrestling ever so simple. While many probably forgot about Orton’s punt to Harris, one man has not, and now, he’s using that fateful event from over a decade ago, to build a story around a wrestling match that otherwise had little remaining reasoning or purpose. For 10 years ago, Randy Orton punted Husky Harris in the head, and if a recent tweet is any indication, the man has never been the same since.
The Birth of Bray Wyatt
Following Orton’s punt kick, Harris was moved off of the main roster and back to Florida Championship Wrestling to sell the angle as well as to begin the process of rebranding himself away from the Nexus for the first time in his career. It was in March 2012, that Harris wrestled his first match as Bray Wyatt, transforming himself from a faction follower to a soon-to-be cult leader. In July, the Wyatt character made his debut on the newly branded NXT, and just a few months later, the Wyatt Family was born. For the next year-plus, Wyatt and his “sons” ran roughshod over NXT as the most dominant faction not named Undisputed Era that the black-and-yellow brand has ever experienced. And they were just getting started.
In May 2013, vignettes began to air on Raw that promoted the arrival of the group, who formally debuted in July. Wyatt went on to win his first five matches in WWE, including on PPV at SummerSlam against Kane and Battleground against Kofi Kingston. 2014 though, was really the year of the Wyatt Family. The group continued to be a force and Wyatt continued to collect big wins including against Daniel Bryan at Royal Rumble, and alongside Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, against The Shield at Elimination Chamber. With just a few losses (all of them by DQ) to his name, Wyatt headed on the road to WrestleMania XXX for a feud with Cena. Despite his best efforts, over one year after his debut, Wyatt suffered his first pinfall loss on the main roster, at Cena’s hands. And things really all started to go downhill from there.
In fact, it was Wyatt’s loss to Cena at WrestleMania XXX that served as the basis for the feud the two would have six years later, at WrestleMania 36. In the lead-up to Cena and Wyatt’s cinematic affair, Wyatt lamented how that loss started the beginning of a downward spiral, one he had never truly recovered from. Wyatt, Cena, and WWE writers masterfully wove together a story that was built on that one moment changing everything. And now, Wyatt looks to be doing it again.
As mentioned above, when Orton punted Wyatt, it wrote him off of TV. But what wasn’t mentioned was that the match that preceded Orton’s punt was the last time anyone saw Husky Harris on the main roster. By the time Wyatt debuted a year later, Harris was long gone, a relic of Nexus’ past. Gone, but perhaps not forgotten. Upon Wyatt’s tweet taking fans back to that day in 2011, @richjfoster80 pointed out that “I’ve always thought ‘Bray Wyatt’ and, therefore, ‘The Fiend’ could be the result of brain damage caused by this very moment.” That moment of course being, the punt. It’s a fascinating take and one that speaks to the long-term storytelling that Wyatt has mastered in his career, constantly connecting seemingly innocuous moments from the past and giving them significant meaning years later. While Wyatt did not specifically reference in his tweet the idea that the punt caused a mental break and that Bray Wyatt and The Field are merely personas, he quoted Batman’s Joker in saying, “Someday someone will break you so badly that you’ll become unbreakable.” This quote accompanied the photo of Orton preparing his punt.
And just like that, a new and borderline interesting layer to this seemingly unending Orton/Fiend feud was born.
A New Wyatt Family Member
Wyatt’s insinuation that Orton’s actions made him “unbreakable” fits perfectly in with the narrative of The Fiend, a character that seemingly won’t die, even at the hands of gasoline and a lit match. A character that was in part the result of actions Orton committed four years ago when he burned the Wyatt Family Compound to the ground with Sister Abigail’s bones and soul trapped inside. For many, it was probably the lead-up to that moment that marked the beginning of Wyatt and Orton’s animosities, though as Wyatt tells us, things go well beyond that. But from an in-ring standpoint, 2015 really did establish the on-again-off-again feud of these two wrestlers. Orton dislocated his shoulder in October of that year and was forced to miss nearly eight months of action. Prior to the injury, however, in September 2015, Orton had begun a feud with Wyatt, their first-ever official program. The feud was meant to carry through to Hell in a Cell but the injury caused the card to change. And while Orton’s injury was a legitimate one that occurred outside of the ring, the Wyatt Family took pleasure in giving themselves credit for the Viper’s prolonged absence with Wyatt telling Michael Cole, “bad things happen to bad people.”
Orton returned in July 2016, and after a program with Brock Lesnar, picked up where his feud with Wyatt had left off. The two had their first PPV match against each other at that year’s No Mercy, where Wyatt won thanks to a distraction from the returning Luke Harper. Wyatt and Orton continued to feud for a bit before Orton shockingly succumbed to Wyatt’s manipulations and joined the Wyatt Family. Together, he and Wyatt actually even won the SmackDown tag titles. Orton remained with the Wyatt Family until the lead-up to WrestleMania 33 where the Viper revealed that he only joined the family to take them down from the inside. And he did just that when he set the compound ablaze, an action that Wyatt would later allude to in an early episode of the Firefly Fun House. At WrestleMania 33, in a match that was widely panned, almost universally hated, and featured odd projections in the ring, Orton defeated Wyatt to win the WWE Championship. A House of Horrors cinematic match at Payback a month later ended Wyatt and Orton’s feud for the time being. But then, three years later, Wyatt would target his rival once again.
Rising from the Ashes
Following a slew of main event feuds with the likes of Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and Matt Hardy in 2018, Wyatt fell into the category of “we have nothing for you,” and was off TV for about four months to start 2019. In April, Wyatt returned in pre-recorded segments, debuting the Firefly Fun House and with it, the character of The Fiend. Wyatt, as The Fiend, resumed his feud with Balor, aiming to coax the Demon out in a monster vs monster showdown. But Balor decided not to unleash his alter ego, a move that ended up being a mistake. The horror movie-inspired Fiend character made quick work of Balor, defeating him in a three-minute squash at SummerSlam. The match was exactly what The Fiend needed to look strong and credible as he headed into his next program, again against someone who had defeated him in their feud a year prior in Seth Rollins. Then champion, Rollins, and the Fiend wrestled to a no-contest at Hell in a Cell which was followed by a showdown at Crown Jewel, which the Fiend won. This marked Wyatt’s second world title reign and first with the Universal Championship. The Fiend defended his belt against Daniel Bryan at Survivor Series, The Miz at TLC, and Bryan again at the 2020 Royal Rumble, before losing it to Goldberg at Super ShowDown in February. This match also marked Wyatt’s first loss since adopting The Fiend gimmick a year prior.
Continuing a quest to face old rivals, The Fiend next targeted Cena for a rematch of their WrestleMania XXX clash. While the match was anything but traditional, The Fiend ended up getting his revenge, defeating Cena in what marked Wyatt’s first-ever WrestleMania victory. Wyatt/The Fiend returned to the title picture shortly after, taking another trip down memory lane to take on Braun Strowman, the former Wyatt Family black sheep. The two faced off in a trio of matches that saw Strowman win the first and Wyatt win the next two. The third match, won by Wyatt, allowed the former champ to regain his title. At Payback in August, The Fiend played second fiddle to a returning Roman Reigns, who defeated both Wyatt and Strowman to win the Universal Championship. The Fiend returned to TV in October and after a few one-off matches, began his latest program with Orton.
Burn the House Down
With Wyatt and Orton once again on the same brand, their feud could reignite and that’s exactly what happened when Orton was a guest on the October 26th episode of A Moment of Bliss. Alexa Bliss, who had previously aligned herself with Wyatt shortly after his feud with Strowman, welcomed the new WWE Champion to her show, where the topic of The Fiend was addressed head-on. In fact, the entire night was leading up to the main event talk show as Orton was interviewed backstage several times about what The Fiend had to say about him on an episode of the Firefly Fun House from earlier that night. Bliss made reference to how Orton “burned the house down” to win the title at Hell in a Cell, a not so veiled reference to him burning the Wyatt Compound to the ground in 2017. Still believing himself to be the master of the mind games, Orton called out The Fiend, but when the lights went out and the summoned one stood behind him, Orton wanted no parts of the man who would become his recurring nightmare.
For the next five months, Orton found himself in the Fiend and Bliss’ crosshairs, constantly outmaneuvered by the duo, who always seemed one step ahead. Orton lost the WWE Championship in November on Raw and while The Fiend wasn’t outright responsible, the champ mentioned having too many distractions before going into that match. Little did Orton know that his distractions were just beginning. Over the next month, as Orton attempted to re-enter the title picture, The Fiend lurked around every corner. Orton lost a match that could have given him a #1 contendership opportunity due to The Fiend’s very presence only to succumb to The Fiend again, shortly before the two were set to face off at TLC. Orton decided to challenge Wyatt – not the Fiend – to a match but when the lights went out, he found himself covering The Fiend and not Wyatt. On the go-home show for TLC, Orton finally thought he’d get one over on The Fiend. Much of the show was dedicated to the two playing a game of hide-and-seek, in which Orton trapped Wyatt in a box and set it on fire, only for The Fiend to emerge unharmed. That led into TLC’s firefly inferno match, and Orton finally getting the advantage in his ongoing war with Wyatt. With gasoline and a lit match, Orton brought an end to The Fiend…or so he thought.
When AJ Styles lost to The Undertaker in the boneyard match at WrestleMania 36, WWE gave off the illusion for a while that Styles was experiencing PTSD at the thought of being buried alive again. Well, the same could be said for Orton. With The Fiend in his rearview mirror, Orton looked to move on but he couldn’t. Because there was Bliss at every turn, espousing that The Fiend would return and when he did, it would be unlike anything Orton would ever be prepared for. As the weeks and months went on, Bliss tempted and taunted Orton, even throwing a fireball in his face. Projections of The Fiend haunted Orton, costing him title opportunities, and soon, he found himself vomiting black goo. All of it was to set up WWE Fastlane, where Orton finally decided that in order to put away The Fiend for good, he had to eliminate the monster’s conduit in Bliss as well. So Orton planned to do that, but he received the surprise of his life when The Fiend, clearly showing signs of the toll of being burned alive, emerged from the ring apron and helped Bliss to get the pinfall victory. The following night on Raw, Bliss made her and The Fiend’s intentions clear. They wanted Orton in a match at WrestleMania 37.
Well, ask and ye shall receive as WWE confirmed the match later that night.
Orton vs The Fiend
While WWE has not said as much, at this point, it’s hard to imagine Orton vs The Fiend is going to be anything other than a cinematic match. Especially given Wyatt’s tweet connecting their past in much the same way he did with Cena to build to their cinematic affair. Because before that tweet, this feud was focused on Orton’s actions in 2017, when he burned the Wyatt Compound and subsequently did the same to The Fiend. But with Wyatt’s tweet, there is a whole new avenue to explore, an additional seven years that WWE may use to explain why Wyatt is the way he is. To explain that Orton created the monster he sees in front of him and now, it’s up to him to erase his creation once and for all.
Of course, fans will remember that the Cena match was as much about Wyatt as it was about Cena himself. And when it comes to Orton, there is no shortage of controversial moments to delve into. Now in his 21st year as a wrestler, Orton’s career is marked by good and bad. He’s been, in his own words, suspended and fined more than any other WWE superstar. He needed to outgrow an attitude problem and has often been accused of phoning it in or simply coasting at times. But he’s also a third-generation wrestler, 14-time world champion, grand slam champion, two-time Royal Rumble winner, multi-time sole survivor, and like it or not, one of the greatest of his generation. He was a member of arguably the most successful faction of all-time and then went on to lead his own, much less successful group, but one whose feud with the McMahons helped define the end of the 2000s in WWE. Orton has had no shortage of successful gimmicks/personas, with the Legend Killer still evoking fear and sadistic behavior all these years later. There is so much there and Wyatt can and hopefully will delve into all of it. Because while Orton may look to end his creation, The Fiend will want to end his creator.
— WWE (@WWE) March 23, 2021
The benefit of a cinematic match is the gloves come off a little. Now, the last time Orton and Wyatt fought in a cinematic style bout, it was the House of Horrors. No one needs reminding how much of a failure that was. Their WrestleMania match also left much to be desired. From an in-ring standpoint, it’s easy to not get excited about the prospect of these two facing off again. They simply don’t have chemistry and truth be told, neither are the right kind of opponent to bring out the best in each other. But in a cinematic match, WWE can cover these flaws. They can use the story to guide the action. And as the above demonstrates, the story is already building and it has layers beyond what we’ve seen so far.
10 years ago, Randy Orton punted Husky Harris out of existence. Emerging in his place was Bray Wyatt and later, The Fiend. Now, we’re about to learn just how deep the psychological damage from that moment is. Actions have consequences, and Orton seems set to learn just how impactful those consequences can be. If nothing else, on the Road the WrestleMania, at least Orton and Wyatt seem primed to have a build worth tuning in for.
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