Bray Wyatt has had quite a storied career in WWE after the company turned him from the comedic Husky Harris, during an early incarnation of NXT, into the intimidating leader of the Wyatt Family. He oversaw Erick Rowan and Luke Harper, feuding with the SHIELD, only to go solo with his ghastly act, still using his haunted rocking chair, an ethereal lantern and an army of fans he called his '"fireflies," who loved his grim and scary aura.
But after the "Fun House" segment, Bray's now going by The Fiend, a shadowy heel wearing a mask similar to the skin Joker worn in Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's New 52 run. Sadly, as cool as the Fiend looks, WWE's making a huge mistake by trying to force-feed him to fans as "The New Undertaker."
While not everything about The Fiend reeks of Undertaker 2.0, its originality is starting to grow slightly stale, or transparent. The way he teleports when the lights go out, appearing behind opponents and ambushing them, is similar to when the bell tolls and 'Taker creeps up behind his opponents for Tombstones. Even in his stoic physical presence and mostly silent (but terrifying) demeanor, The Fiend is clearly harnessing the Undertaker; but now, it's way more than anything so simple as an homage.
At Hell in a Cell, after Seth Rollins took the Fiend out with a sledgehammer, he stood over to finish the job, only for the Fiend to stick his hand up and shove the Mandible Claw (Mankind's old move) down the WWE Universal Champion's throat to incapacitate him. To make it worse, he does the "resurrected" sit up in a way similar to, but not exactly like 'Taker; for longtime fans, it's a clear lift of when a downed "Deadman" would grab someone by the throat, sit up and then chokeslam them. In the Fiend's case, he goes for the Sister Abigail to finish the job, all to warn Rollins he can't die. When you look at everything about that gimmick, you can see WWE recycling an act we've seen since the '80s.
Bray's new persona is such an interesting character, and the Fiend is intriguing enough with enormous potential to cut his own path. And as critics are noting, he can indeed become the next Undertaker without ripping him off. But by aping everything that came before, all the creative team may do is get fans to turn on The Fiend. Their vociferous boos weren't necessarily his fault at Hell in the Cell -- that was thanks to a DQ in a no-DQ match - but character fatigue may set in eventually.
Any backlash he may be receiving for his efforts, though, does not seem to be scorn or disdain for his efforts, but as always, is manifesting in disappointment with what WWE does to its own product. WWE creative does trust Bray a lot, allowing him to work on his look and unique vignettes, but we'd be surprised if he has any say in how his character is being developed.
While Wyatt's originality is often held in esteem by the community, especially in so stale a mainstream product, many of his fans would be shocked if he scheduled The Fiend on this trajectory. There is nothing wrong with The Fiend being a monster, nor in borrowing elements from Superstars past. He's done so to great effect with Doink, Mankind and now Kane, thanks to the match's perpetual red lighting. But comparing him to Undertaker, exploring the darkness not of his own nature, but in the Dead Man's shadow, is a match he's bound to lose.
HitC hurt many things -- Rollins' finisher, the legacy of the match itself -- but Wyatt's Fiend could still stand tall, as long as he does so on his own two feet.
WWE RAW airs Mondays at 8 PM/ET on USA.