As we look ahead to WWE WrestleMania 39, I find myself surprised and somewhat melancholy as I reflect on the trajectories of LA Knight and Bray Wyatt. The initial pairing of the two men in late 2022 seemed to make sense on the surface. Wyatt, a cagey, paranormal, and a somewhat cult-like figure known for cutting his brooding and cryptic promos needed a verbal dancing partner to reassert himself upon his WWE return. Who better than LA Knight to call upon in that situation?
At the time their feud began, Knight had just finished floundering on WWE’s main roster as Max Dupri, the initial leader of Maximum Male Models, he was presented completely differently than he had been in WWE NXT. The character was reportedly the idea of Vince McMahon but once McMahon retired from his creative role, Paul “Triple H” Levesque wasted no time repackaging Dupri back to his LA Knight roots.
Knight being unleashed onto WWE’s main roster coincided with the end of Wyatt’s mysterious “White Rabbit Project.” Wyatt’s WWE return teases were over and it was time to see what the revitalized creole madman could do when paired in a feud. At first, things seemed to be going along well enough with Knight provoking Wyatt into a confrontation only to have Wyatt use mind games to elicit over-the-top responses from Knight, who is great with those kinds of reactions. The back-and-forth event resulted in Knight presenting a somewhat memorable parody of Wyatt’s old-school NXT-styled character in an attempt to even the score when it came to mind games.
All of the interactions between Wyatt and Knight were seemingly overshadowed early on by buzz around the match the two were set to have at the WWE Royal Rumble, a Mountain Dew Pitch Black match. The bout itself was not announced with any specific stipulations but an AEW-styled Lights Out match seemed possible. On its own, the stipulation seemed to have an edge to it but the weirdness of having it named after a sponsor’s product set a very odd tone. This is Bray Wyatt we are talking about, the anti-establishment demon sent to cause unrest in the world of WWE. So he’s inking deals with Mountain Dew? I suppose Mercy the Buzzard could be a legal beagle like Jimmy Hart making sponsorship deals but it seems off-brand.
A Pitch Black Disaster
The expectation amongst many heading into the WWE Royal Rumble was that Wyatt would pick up an easy victory and, hopefully, start to explain what is going on with all the characters in his orbit like Uncle Howdy and Alexa Bliss. The PLE started hot with the 30-man Rumble match getting the crowd going. Cody Rhodes came out at number thirty, battled off the menacing Gunther who had entered at number one to win and everyone was feeling great. Then came the Pitch Black match.
I was sitting in the press box for the Rumble this year and I can plainly tell you, the Pitch Black match sucked all the goodwill that WWE had built with the opener out of the stadium. The lights went out, the two men looked like they were at a rave and the Mountain Dew logo lit up the middle of the ring. It was a tough match to follow live because, you know, the lights were out, and thusly the fans in attendance lost interest quickly. It was that weird kind of dead air where no one is cheering or booing, it was just quiet and awkward. Eventually, Knight was hauled up to the foot of a scaffold where he was pounced upon by Uncle Howdy and the match was finally finished.
Looking around the press box I vividly recall everyone asking, “What just happened?” It was weird. From there, it got worse, as WWE immediately sent Alexa Bliss out to battle Bianca Belair for the WWE Raw Women’s Championship. After the Pitch Black match the crowd was not exactly in the mood to see what Wyatt could have in store for Bliss in her match, regardless of the weeks of teases that would seem to indicate she was back in his control. What fans got was a match with a very dead and skeptical crowd that was not really won back until midway through the women’s Rumble match an hour or so later. We did get a Wyatt tease with Bliss following the match but that was it and then WWE cut to an Applebee’s commercial, which seemed oddly appropriate.
Bray Wyatt Pivots To The Muscle Man Dance
Following the debacle at the Rumble, I really worried about LA Knight’s trajectory. Wyatt is an established name for WWE that they just paid a lot of money to get back into the fold. WWE will always find a way to work Wyatt into the mix but a guy like Knight, who is largely unknown on the main roster, could be more in jeopardy following a train wreck like that.
What I am watching transpire on WWE TV instead is seemingly the opposite. Wyatt does appear to have a WrestleMania match against Bobby Lashley locked in but the fans just don’t seem into it. Lashley’s match against Brock Lesnar at Elimination Chamber ended dirty and it looked like those two could be in line for a follow-up performance on the big stage. Instead, WWE has decided to pair Lashley with Bray Wyatt at WrestleMania, for some reason, and Brock Lesnar will be taking on Omos, again, for some reason.
The build to Wyatt and Lashley has already been really weird and I am not entirely sure why it is happening. Following a fiery promo from Lashley on Raw last week, Wyatt confronted him with a “Muscle Man Dance” video that literally had my wife questioning what it is that I cover for a living. The attack from Uncle Howdy on Lashley on Smackdown came across as equally flat and weird.
You Can’t Have An LA WWE WrestleMania Without LA Knight
Following the Rumble, Knight did not have much of a presence on WWE TV. He took the initial week after off to sell his injuries and was only featured in a brief backstage segment the week after before taking another week off. Two weeks ago, however, things began to change for LA Knight as it dawned on him that this year’s WrestleMania is being held in, get this, LA! Yeah!
Knight came to the ring with the kind of loose confidence that we had not seen since his time in NXT. He verbally battled with the crowd while making it clear you cannot have a WrestleMania in LA without LA Knight, a sound case to make. Sadly for him, the moment was quickly lost as Kofi Kingston made his way to the ring with Xavier Woods and a match between the two was made, which Knight lost.
Despite the loss, the intrepid Knight was back at it this Friday night on Smackdown getting into the face of Sheamus and Drew McIntyre who were arguing over who should get the next shot at GUNTHER’s WWE Intercontinental Championship. Knight made his case before Karrion Kross and Kofi Kingston entered the fray and a brawl broke out. The five men will now face off in a match on Smackdown to determine the new number one contender to GUNTHER’s title.
What Bray Wyatt Can Learn From LA Knight
I don’t know if Knight will win this match and go on to face GUNTHER, possibly at WWE WrestleMania 39, and I don’t care. We are watching a man have fun and try to assert himself on a WWE main roster with a lot of big names during the hottest time of the year. He’s not doing any goofy, stupid stuff and he’s seemingly starting to rebuild some of his heat and credibility in the eyes of the fans, something I can’t confidently say about Wyatt at the moment.
One thing that Knight certainly has going for him is a clear-cut goal, the WWE Intercontinental Championship. That kind of simple, easy-to-follow storytelling can do wonders when trying to get fans to invest or reinvest in a character. I have no idea what Bray Wyatt wants or why he wants to do it anymore. There are puppets that aren’t puppets and a mystical cowboy figure who looks to be Bo Dallas in a dusty mask but we don’t know and may never know.
Bobby Lashley has muscles and I guess that’s a reason to start a feud, I guess. I hope Wyatt can pick a lane and the right dancing partner soon because talent like Knight is not waiting for opportunities to move up the ladder. Much like MJF did in a cluttered AEW field, the right person with the right presence and the right promo can steal the spotlight on any given Sunday.