With apologies to The Undertaker, there may not be a single WWE superstar more committed to his gimmick in every possible way than Bray Wyatt.
“You have no idea,” Wyatt told CBS Sports, before letting out a hearty and evil laugh.
From the standpoint of preserving the integrity of his character in interviews and public appearances, the WWE champion and sadistic former leader of The Wyatt Family is currently in a class by himself.
What’s not exactly certain after talking to Wyatt, whose real name is Windham Rotunda, is whether his words are a throwback to the days of protecting kayfabe or the man playing Bray Wyatt isn’t always necessarily playing a character at all.
As he enters the most important match of his career on Sunday at WrestleMania 33 opposite fellow third-generation superstar Randy Orton, it’s clear the last thing Wyatt wants to be asked about is articulating exactly where Bray ends and Windham begins.
“I despise that question to be honest,” Wyatt said. “People ask me all the time that exact thing and it’s like the thing they don’t know about me is there is only Bray, there is no Windham. Windham is fiction. Windham is a shell of a man that was never real at all. There’s only Bray. There has always been only Bray.”
Wyatt may not be all that interested in declaring it, but at 29, he’s doing the best work of his career in this current feud with Orton. The attention to detail from WWE creative has been incredible with both superstars having been given seven full months to tell a dark and twisted tale that has taken on a number of shocking turns.
“Since day one, my inception, when I came into the world -- I had my eyes on power,” Wyatt said. “The WWE championship is power. So I think just from that standpoint, yeah, [this is my best work]. But who is to say?”
Wyatt called his current feud with Orton “by far the most intimate” of any other in his career. With a storyline that has included betrayal, arson and a series of outright Satanical undertones, WWE has routinely positioned the angle as one of its top priorities since it debuted on the Aug. 23, 2016 episode of SmackDown Live.
Orton was defeated by Wyatt in a singles match in the main event of No Mercy in October. After Wyatt brainwashed Orton into becoming his tag team partner, the two were the last men standing for Team SmackDown at Survivor Series in November. Two weeks later, they captured the SmackDown tag team championships at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs.
Then, after Orton won the Royal Rumble in January, Wyatt captured the WWE championship two weeks later at Elimination Chamber. But everything changed during a March 1 episode of SmackDown when Orton ended their on-screen partnership by setting Wyatt’s evil prayer shack (and the ashes of Sister Abigail buried below) into flames, kicking off a series of incredibly dark segments to follow which belied WWE’s current PG rating.
“We have really taken a lot of time and painted a beautiful picture for people and I think it will result in just a horrifying match,” Wyatt said. “I think [from a standpoint of darkness] we can go much, much further. I don’t really pay attention to PG. I don’t go, ‘Oh, is this not PG?’ That is a thought that literally never crosses my mind.
“I think you could give someone the same material of things that I’m doing and the other person, when they do them, would come off as very PG. But just the way I am, and just the way I do it makes it non-PG somehow, just by nature of me. There’s no limit really, and I love the darker stuff because that’s who I really am on the inside. I’m not a PG guy.”
While Sister Abigail has long been the name of Wyatt’s finishing move and something he regularly made cryptic reference to, it was revealed in recent weeks as a spirit which allows Wyatt’s character to connect with the dark side. Wyatt has gone as far as creepily spreading Sister Abigail’s ashes over his face and skin during vignettes.
“[Sister Abigail’s meaning] is not something that can be given in a few words,” Wyatt said. “But to me, she is not my sister, first of all. That is a common misconception. She is basically not my God, she is my way to finding God. Hope when there was nothing to hope for. The only thing I really had.”
Wyatt admits he’s a huge fan of the horror genre and has long felt a connection to villainous and vile movie characters like Leatherface from the “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” series.
“It’s easy to model myself after him because just the way he was built alone, like the size and the speed of the guy,” Wyatt said. “I think I’ve got some demented ideas from them all but I’m my own horror now and hopefully when I die, I die as a horror icon.”
Wyatt comes from an incredibly decorated wrestling family. His late grandfather, Blackjack Mulligan, is a WWE Hall of Famer. His father, Mike Rotunda (a.k.a. Mike Rotundo, Irwin R. Schyster), and uncles Barry and Kendall Windham also had memorable careers with Barry Windham joining the WWE Hall of Fame as a member of the Four Horsemen. Wyatt’s younger brother is WWE superstar and former NXT champion Bo Dallas.
As a child, he remembers looking up to his grandfather and Uncle Barry as gods and feeling like he was meant to follow in their footsteps. Despite encouragements from his entire family to pursue other options, Wyatt says he isn’t sure where he would be right now had he listenend to them.
“It was always, ‘Do your own thing. You don’t need [wrestling]. Do something. Go to school, learn,’” Wyatt said. “School is not for me. I’m volatile and hate being told what to do.”
Wyatt believes he acquired a perfect mix genetically of what his family members offered as sports entertainers: He’s aggressive like Blackjack, he can move like Barry, and he’s physically built like his father.
“And I’m mean like him,” Wyatt added.
Wyatt’s WWE success didn’t happen overnight. He initially debuted in 2010 as Nexus member Husky Harris, a character he never quite connected to that quickly failed. But his frustration after being sent back down to developmental is what set the foundation for the Bray Wyatt character he would reemerge as on NXT two years later.
“I was so sick of being told what I should be like because I didn’t walk in the door and someone went, ‘Hey, we should make him champ,’” Wyatt said. “They always pick the muscular guy or the professional athlete or whatever. I’m different and I’m interesting in my own right.
“[As Bray Wyatt], I didn’t really have to try. I talk like this; I think like this. I just am this, so I never really clicked with anything else. The only thing that clicked is that I felt comfortable finally.”
Suddenly confident in his own skin, the native of Brooksville, Florida, saw his career instantly take off. In many ways, he has never looked back. Days before the Royal Rumble in January, Wyatt added a new tattoo to his collection on the inside of his right wrist.
“It says, ‘Fear is a liar,’” Wyatt said. “To fear nothing is to be completely free and I wanted to remind myself of that going into this WrestleMania season. There is no pressure. I’m confident in myself and my approach. This is who I am and this is my reminder.”
It’s not that Wyatt was necessarily in need of a reminder, however. Overcoming fear, he said, has never been an issue because of the way he’s wired.
“I think there’s obviously something wrong with me,” he said. “I don’t think I think things through like regular people would. I could be a real hateful person and I also don’t really care about my own well-being, I guess. I just kind of have that knack about me. I just don’t care.”
Where, exactly, does that lack of concern come from?
“Stupidity? I have a genius IQ, believe it or not. But like I said, fear is a liar,” Wyatt said. “I’m not afraid of death. I’m not afraid of anything.”
While Wyatt enters Sunday at the very peak of his young career, we aren’t too far removed from a stretch where fans flooded social media with complaints that WWE was burying him, citing his poor win/loss record in PPV matches. His brief appearance at last year’s WrestleMania 32 card only added fuel to the fire, as the entire Wyatt Family was sent out to job to The Rock with Erick Rowan losing a previously unannounced match in six seconds.
Reminded of those days and asked what the impact was on his overall motivation over the past 12 months, Wyatt could only laugh with disgust.
“I’m the WWE world heavyweight champion,” he said. “I mean, what do you want? It is what it is. I’m about to go main event WrestleMania as the world heavyweight champion.”