Bray Wyatt vs. Randy Orton (WWE, Payback 2017)

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This was bad and it was never-fucking-ending.

It was a ‘House of Horrors’ match, which is the latest attempt to parlay Wyatt’s character into something other than plain old rasslin’ matches. Ironically, his plain old rasslin’ matches with The Shield and Daniel Bryan are some of his most highly regarded battles, unlike his reviled ‘spectacles’ such as the ‘Ring of Fire’ match with Kane, the compound brawl with The New Day, and Wrestlemania 33’s embarrassing spooky-slideshow, also featuring Orton.

There’s a certain pretentiousness that permeates everything WWE does with Wyatt, like they think there’s a depth or cleverness there that might break through to ‘casual’ audiences. The video package for this match had a whisper-y cover of ‘Ring a Ring o’ Roses;’ akin to Hollywood’s current obsession with breathy covers of kids’ songs for their trailers. I feel like they expect a prime-time Emmy for this.

The match was divided into two segments; a pre-taped vignette in a creepy Blair Witch-like house, and then a brawl in the arena.

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The haunted house section was entirely based on editing and theatrics. There was spooky music, frequent camera cuts, an abundance of colourful lighting, all the clich├ęd haunted house imagery you would imagine and, scariest of all, they added THUD sound effects to every single punch either man threw. There really wasn’t much actual brawling – if you expected this to at least be a violent, prop-heavy backstage fight, you were wrong.

This basically served as the ‘heat’ of the match, with Wyatt having the jump on Orton as they went room to room. When Orton tried to fire back, Bray would bail.

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It’s WWE, so of course the whole affair was too campy to take seriously but, and this was the real failing of the match, they played it 100% serious.

As more time passes, and more people try and imitate it, you come to realise how on-point Matt Hardy’s wacky ‘short films’ were. They didn’t turn around TNA business, but they knew exactly what they were and they reinvigorated his career.

Because WWE is so unwilling to laugh at itself, and so cocksure about the ‘genius’ of the Bray Wyatt character, they doomed this match before it ever started.

Wyatt crushed Orton with a dirty-ass refrigerator and stole his limo (oh yeah, Randy Orton showed up in a limo, in slacks, with no shirt on) to end the first segment of the match. The crowd loudly booed as the commentators tried to act completely serious and recount what they just saw.

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After the Seth Rollins vs. Samoa Joe match, Wyatt returned to yet more booes. He then did his FULL ENTRANCE. I was begging for this to be a one-move/quick pinfall deal once he hit the ring, but no joy. When the lights came up at the conclusion of Wyatt’s drawn-out saunter, Orton was already in the ring. They brawled for another five excruciating minutes. Orton was in control before the Singh brothers and Jinder Mahal interfered, allowing Bray to get an utterly meaningless win.

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I went into this match sick-to-death of Bray, and very unimpressed with Orton’s level of effort since January. I came out of the match pretty sympathetic to both, as there was nothing they could do to save this. Both guys at least tried their best to show intensity in the house brawl, and it came across, but it was such a doomed segment that it didn’t matter.

I’d love to be the contrarian and say this was actually a lot of fun, but even in this era of endless hot takes, that would be too disingenuous.

This was absolutely painful to watch.