Saturday’s WWE Extreme Rules show featured the delivery of the biggest teased return in more than one year, with Bray Wyatt showing up in a heavily orchestrated segment at the end of the show.
The Wyatt return had been teased for several weeks. Reminiscent of AEW’s return of CM Punk in Chicago last year, it was never directly advertised, but teased through a number of clues to where everyone was expecting it to happen.
As the show was signing off after the conclusion of the Matt Riddle–vs.–Seth Rollins main event, the lights went out. The crowd knew exactly what this was as cellphone lights lit up the arena, as was done when Wyatt was formerly in the company. Then there was a rendition of “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,” a song that Wyatt used to sing when he first became a major star in WWE.
The crowd erupted and suddenly people dressed as characters from Wyatt’s old Firefly Fun House segment showed up in different corners of the arena, as well as The Fiend, the last character Wyatt played. Then another masked man was shown on the screen, and he took the mask off, revealing Wyatt.
WWE had dropped a series of clues for weeks at every arena show as well as during commercials at television tapings. At times during the television shows QR codes would appear, and clicking through would lead to more teases.
The first tease hinted at Sept. 23, the date of the SmackDown show on Fox. People believed the tease meant he would return on that show.
The tease made it clear just how big a name he really is. An audience of 2,535,000 saw the episode, the largest number for a WWE television show in years. The last time SmackDown hit that number was Dec. 25, 2020, and that show’s number was drawn based on starting directly after the conclusion of an NFL football game on Fox.
Most if not all of the 400,000 additional viewers above the usual number expected to see Wyatt.
But he didn’t appear, nor was he mentioned on the show. There was a clue so subtle that unless you were watching closely you would miss it, teasing people to watch Raw the following monday.
But the gimmick worked only once. Even with more teases, the audience for all WWE programming since the Sept. 23 shows went back to normal levels, with Raw lower, but not surprisingly, since it now goes against the NFL on Mondays.
The stronger teases were for Oct. 8, the date most expected his return. The building was sold out with more than 13,000 paid. It was tracking towards being a sellout even without the Wyatt tease, but it did have a lot of late interest, and secondary market prices were strong.
The fans got to see a strong show overall, but when it appeared they were signing off, you could feel disappointment, since the return of Wyatt was the most anticipated thing on the show.
Wyatt last appeared in WWE in April 2021 and was released in July of that year, in a shocker since at the time he was the company’s third- or fourth-highest-paid performer and one of its biggest merchandise sellers.
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Shortly after being released, Windham Rotunda, who played Wyatt, the son of 1980s and ’90s wrestler Mike “IRS” Rotunda, started going by a new name on social media and implied that he would wrestle elsewhere as just Windham. The Windham name is famous in wrestling circles since his uncle was Barry Windham, one of the best wrestlers of the ’80s, and his grandfather was the late Bob “Blackjack Mulligan” Windham, a major ’70s and ’80s name.
Shortly after Wyatt’s release, there were feelings sent and interest from AEW, Impact and AAA in Mexico, but no deals were ever reached. Windham never appeared in the ring anywhere, and then suddenly on social media he changed his name from Windham to Wyatt6, using the name that is WWE intellectual property, which was the first hint of his return.
More big names rumored to be making returns
The Wyatt return is one of three names heavily rumored to be returning to the national stage.
Bandido, a high-flying powerhouse from Mexico who was a free agent and one of the top independent stars, appeared without a contract on AEW Dynamite in the television main event on Sept. 28. He lost an ROH title match to current champion Chris Jericho. Jericho was and still is doing a story line where he vowed to beat all of the former holders of the title that dates back 20 years. Bandido tore down the house in losing, getting a standing ovation after his match. After the show went off the air, AEW president, CEO and creative head Tony Khan came out with him, and they hugged. Khan then backstage offered him a full-time contract, with Bandido saying Khan told him that he needed him.
The idea of putting someone not under contract in a television main event is a big risk. WWE would never do it. AEW did, and WWE, as expected, then contacted Bandido. Bandido did an interview this week acknowledging both offers, and said he was leaning towards AEW. He went to Japan this weekend to wrestle without agreeing to terms with either side.
While it may come down to who offers the better deal, one advantage for him with AEW is that he loves working in Japan and Mexico, and with AEW, he would be allowed to do so. He has his own promotion in Mexico called Big Lucha, which runs out of his gym. With WWE he would not be allowed to work in Japan or Mexico. But WWE has the ability to offer major money if it sees someone as valuable to its future. Plus, in a wrestling war, WWE could make AEW look bad for exposing someone on national television, where he looked impressive, and then having him sign with the opposition. That makes him even more valuable, really, to both sides.
Bandido became an underground star in PWG in Los Angeles as well as other companies. After appearing in the main event of All Ina show put together by The Young Bucks and Cody Rhodes in 2018 that turned out in many ways to be the prequel to the formation of AEW, he had interest from every major company.
Surprisingly, the best offer came from Ring of Honor, which made him its champion. When ROH essentially shut down, before Sinclair sold the intellectual property and library to AEW, he was back as a free agent. It felt unfathomable that WWE or AEW wouldn’t want him, because he was one of the most charismatic young wrestlers. As more and more Mexican Americans come to the US, the value of a young Mexican wrestler who has the ability to be a top star is strong now and even stronger for the future.
Another name rumored over the weekend to reappear soon is announcer Renee Paquette, better known to wrestling fans as Renee Young, who worked for WWE from 2012 to ’20 before making the decision to leave. She’s also the wife of John Moxley (Jonathan Good), the current AEW champion. After leaving she made a few one-off appearances on WWE shows, as well as hosted her own interview podcast and a second podcast with UFC star Miesha Tate. She also gave birth to a baby girl in June 2021.
WWE had contacted her to return as it shook up its announcing teams this past week for the new television season, which started Friday night. When she turned down the offer, those in WWE noted that they believed she was headed to AEW.
Since she left WWE, there had always been some talk of her in AEW as part of the announcing team in some form, mostly because of Moxley. She was generally considered the strongest backstage interviewer in wrestling for years.
Neither she nor AEW has confirmed her arrival, but on Friday AEW did announce that Moxley had signed a five-year deal with the company. Moxley had signed a three-year deal just before AEW ran its first show in 2019 and had been a free agent since July, at a time when he was the company’s interim champion.
The press release regarding the contract stated that he would work exclusively for AEW and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
The deal, as we are told, allows him to work independent shows. But he said it will be different from how he has worked the past three years. Before, he would agree to do shows and be the key drawing card those shows were built around, since he was the biggest name doing such events.
Now, unless it’s AEW or NJPW, his other shows would be more along the lines of surprises. If he feels like doing shows, he will find people he likes to work for and show up as a surprise, without being advertised. The idea is he won’t have any commitments, nor any long-term obligations outside of AEW or NJPW. But if he wants to wrestle somewhere or against somebody for fun, he does have the ability to do it on his days off. No star of his caliber in history has had the mindset like that. He compared it to being a comedian who pops up at a club unadvertised to have fun and try out new material.
Over the past three years, Moxley had worked a number of independent shows around the country and had been known to enjoy doing the different styles. But he doesn’t want the pressure or commitment of being advertised on shows often, as he feels if he is advertised for an independent show they are counting on him and he would feel guilty pulling out if he’s banged up.
On paper, putting the championship on someone who was not under contract, which Khan did, does not seem like a smart move in a take-no-prisoners wrestling war. But perhaps Moxley was the exception. Moxley had said numerous times that he would never work in a company where he was handed a script to do interviews, which seemed to rule out WWE. He was also very outspoken in his autobiography regarding WWE and his frustration working there for years as Dean Ambrose.
But many of his issues are related to Vince McMahon and his creative vision, and McMahon is longer running creative, nor does he have an executive position in the company, although his son-in-law and daughter share his former positions. Not to mention, with a lot of backstage turmoil in AEW, Moxley would have been perhaps the most valuable person for WWE to sign in wrestling right now. He is a strong favorite to win Wrestler of the Year honors and is almost certainly scheduled to headline the company’s next pay-per-view show on Nov. 19 in Newark, NJ, at the Prudential Center.
He agreed to five years because he has no interest in working for WWE and has no interest in even pretending to have interest.
With AEW losing so many of its top stars for a variety of reasons, Moxley and Jericho have become the two key players carrying the company, and, if he were to have left, it would be a devastating blow at any time, but worse now due to the current roster depth issue.
CM Punk, who had been the company’s biggest drawing card, is out with a torn triceps, and, due to a backstage fight that also involved The Young Bucks and Kenny Omega, there is the question of whether Punk will ever return. In addition, Omega and the Bucks, who were executive vice presidents, remain under suspension from the fight after the All Out show on Sept. 4 in Chicago. In addition, Adam Cole has remained out of action since the end of June with a serious concussion.
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