4 Reasons to be Optimistic about WWE's Firefly Funhouse

After a lengthy layaway, WWE's Bray Wyatt is back on weekly programming in pre-taped and post-produced segments that, on the surface, purport a drastic shift away from the swampy cult leader of Wyatt's recent past. There is plenty yet to be seen from the Pee-wee Herman inspired repackaging, and fans and analysts are split. Here are four reasons why we can be optimistic in the face of WWE's track record. I might have come up with a more traditional number by dwelling on other, smaller reasons I thought up along the way, but I didn't want to fource it (yowie-wowie, that was awful).

Update, 5/13: The fifth reason is that Tom freaking Savini's team designed the mask Wyatt revealed in the Funhouse's fourth outing (arguably an early reveal for such an intriguingly layered concept, but anything but reason to jump ship).

He’s still the same character
One of two fatal flaws in Wyatt’s prior incarnation was that it was steeped in mysterious layers, but maddeningly no single layer ever wound up getting peeled back so to tell its potentially compelling tale. Now with fresh layers we have a new chance to make good on such a rich concept. When the Funhouse debuted an initial point of concern was that Wyatt's name has remained (admittedly a more difficult amendment on the scale of the main roster now that it's not, you know, the 1980s anymore), and furthermore that his former likeness even showed up in cardboard form for ceremonial dismissal, but this new Wyatt in fact being the same person who has gone through a change may in fact be the most compelling aspect of the new framing. The Funhouse's merry children's show stylings seem to represent Wyatt trying to escape the one thing he can’t - himself. Implied is the idea that this new persona was the character's own chosen method for leaving his old ways behind, and from the beginning each segment thus far has centered around those old ways finding ways to surface and subvert Wyatt's apparent intentions.

It can absolutely translate to the ring
The other fatal flaw in Wyatt's prior incarnation was that his storylines rarely made sense being settled by a pinfall in a wrestling ring, and at first glance one indeed wonders if the new Wyatt faces that same issue. The Funhouse is Wyatt's safe space, even if the parts of his consciousness represented by the puppets are disturbed enough to still be hostile within that space. Say another wrestler is invited on the show the way someone like Jack Black shows up on "Yo Gabba Gabba!" and simply by being themselves their behavior disrupts that space. They don’t do things just the way Bray has cultivated for himself so not to get triggered. Funhouse or no, Wyatt and his contemporaries are still wrestlers, and it would make sense for Bray to take issue with those who pop his bubble and want to regain his peace by defeating through his trained methods. In a particularly in-depth feud, imagine he gets darker and darker over the course of the story. The theme song can become distorted. The bright set can have dark filters cast over it. Then once it’s over, Wyatt can bounce back playing in the Funhouse as he likes even though cracks in his masquerade have been revealed. If he loses the feud, perhaps new cracks form. We’ve seen just how well Wyatt flips from fun to creepy, and back again, and this dynamic could thrive in its new setting. What's more, one can imagine any number of signature pre-taped matches that could arise, a la the "Deletions" of Broken Matt Hardy. Perhaps as more segments are filmed, the Funhouse expands beyond the living room we've seen so far. These expansions could be bright and cheery, or dark and eerie, maybe depending on when they are introduced in a given angle.

The Funhouse could be a backstage interview setting
Like Beefcake's Barbershop or Piper’s Pit, Wyatt's set could be a place for its host to mediate promo segments between other wrestlers. Just imagine the looks on guests’ faces as they react to the scenery, Bray’s demeanor, the puppets, and how Bray might try to smooth over a feud perhaps similarly to Gollum talking to his own reflection. Granted this could be more of a fallback option depending on how well the new characterization gels going forward, but it puts out there how the Funhouse could be used even if its original intent reaches rocky shores.

Potential for a faction
Over time, once the new Wyatt has established every currently planned aspect of his refreshed character (which feels as though it has been permitted some creative autonomy with a whole lot of thought behind it, with speculation reasonably placing Matt Hardy and Bruce Prichard as influencers), new members of the Funhouse can be added. A Mr. McFeely-esque mail carrier, for example, who brings messages pertaining to angles or even championships. The incongruously grizzled Eric Young? Wyatt's goofier real life brother Bo Dallas, who excelled in his role as a motivational speaker who didn't practice what he preached? Alicia Fox, whose particular brand of kooky could be a perfect fit? Perhaps this mail carrier could interfere in matches on Wyatt's behalf, or even appear in various places to deliver messages (of written and physically violent kinds) from Wyatt to other wrestlers. Over more time, maybe even a regular co-host who Bray has taken in, or at least accepted into his bubble. The Baby Bop to Bray’s Barney the Dinosaur. The extremely talented yet bafflingly wayward Nikki Cross? The eternally bubbly Jessie Elaban? Or Lacey Lane, whose look could evoke Wyatt's past (not to mention his matching dyed dreads)? This sidekick could be a regular competitor in the women’s division, and introduce a whole new set of wrinkles to the Funhouse.

Though they have had monumental creative successes such as the Mega Powers' explosion and, on the NXT front, the Johnny Gargano and Tommaso Ciampa saga, WWE's history with complex storytelling is somewhere between not great and abysmal. As was the case with the old Bray Wyatt, maybe the new one is merely a merch-selling framework that will never lead anywhere substantial apart from $24.99 Mercy the Buzzard replicas. Maybe it's all a ploy awaiting expeditious reveal and Wyatt will be back to cryptic soothsaying in a lamplit butcher's apron before long. But maybe, just maybe, some of this extremely promising concept will pay off. In its earliest phases it already seems to have the makings of something different that could be remembered for years to come.


Report: Nerd Street Presents Pro Wrestling Orlando

Estimated attendance: 75

Englewood Neighborhood Center is the venue where NXT ran their Orlando live events before relocating them to the Orlando Live Events Jai Alai 10 miles north in Casselberry. The Nerd Street promotion's inaugural event was promoted as “The first wrestling event of its kind.”

Before belltime official Frank Gastineau and others could be seen setting up the ring. Leon Scott ran the ropes to test them. Other wrestlers including Leva Bates, Drennen, Effy, White Mike, Aerial Monroe, Odinson, Parrow, Timmy Lou Retton, and Aspyn Rose could be seen mingling and taking promotional photos. NXT official D.A. Brewer could be spotted in attendance. T-shirts depicting an illustration of Jim Cornette yelling at the Young Bucks, as well as shirts printed with the event card poster were being sold for $20 or as inclusions with $40 front row VIP passes. Generation admission was $12. At the door were advertisements for the return event, “Nerd Street Returns” on August 18, featuring images of Saieve al Sabah, Leva Bates, and Effy.

Sweet Charles welcomed the crowd and introduced himself as event host.

(1) Wolfe Taylor pinned Chance Rizer. Billed as “Deadbeat vs. Newcomer.” Rizer entered with his phone, whining that he has important tweets to send out and can’t be bothered to acknowledge the event personnel. Rizer responded to fan heckling during the bout, particularly in regard to his “Big Lebowski”-esque sweater. He dominated Wolfe, taking full advantage of official Frank Gastineau’s counts and declaring that he’s entitled to a count of “4.9.” Wolfe countered a suplex and drilled Rizer with a DDT, then found two on a lungblower. Rizer answered with two off a Blue Thunder Bomb. Wolfe then achieved victory with a rolling DDT.

(2) CJ O’Doyle pinned Francisco Ciatso (with Ron Niemi). Billed as an “Old School Hoss Fight.” The Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep till Brooklyn” played Ciatso in. Niemi demanded fans not cheer for O’Doyle, saying, “Don’t start that garbage!” Ciatso mocked the crowd, and O’Doyle said Ciatso must think it’s still the ‘80s. Ciatso protected himself in the ropes repeatedly, demanding the official call the match “right down the middle.” Ciatso walked away, loudly citing his prior accolades. O’Doyle wiped his rear with Ciatso’s jacket, drawing Ciatso back to the ring for a collar-and-elbow. The wrestlers slammed in to one another, neither going down. Ciatso flexed and shouted, “Stacked, jacked, locked, and cocked!” Ciatso took a powder and asked his manager for a lower back massage. O’Doyle slammed Ciatso, flicked his sweat on him, and shouted, “You see this hair on my chest? It means I’m a man!” He landed an elbow drop. Ciatso ran the ropes and got winded, opening himself up for an abdominal stretch. O’Doyle asked for the official’s phone, and took a selfie with the his agonized opponent in the hold. O’Doyle hit a dive through the ropes, then got two on a DDT when Niemi put Ciatso’s foot on the rope. As the official reprimanded Niemi, Ciatso tried to take advantage but wound up falling to O’Doyle’s finisher after nearly knocking his manager from the apron.

(3) Leva Bates pinned Aspyn Rose. Bates cosplayed as Captain America, and handed out Taco Bell to fans for Dia de los Muertos. Bates shimmied on Sweet Charles as Rose’s entrance theme played. The wrestlers shook hands at the bell, and Rose beelined straight for Bates’ leftover tacos. Bates commanded Rose to focus, but Rose opened herself for pinning combinations as she couldn’t resist. Rose took a bite of a taco and sucker punched Bates for two. Rose shouted “I want Taco Bell,” and slammed her rear in to Bates’ face. Bates responded in kind, and referenced recent Internet memes about Captain America's (Chris Evans') enviable posterior. Rose continued to voice her craving for Bates’ tacos. She couldn’t take her eyes off the box of food in the corner even when kicking out of a Northern Lights Suplex. Rose propped the box on Bates in the corner and went for a double knee attack that was dodged. Bates hit Rose in the face with a taco for the win as shredded lettuce and ground beef flew everywhere. Bates offered the still eager Rose one final taco after the bell (the ring bell, that is). Official Frank Gastineau swept the strewn ingredients to cheers.

(4) Drennen (c) defeated Dick Danger, Leon Scott, and Jamie Senegal Leon Scott to retain the Internet Championship. Danger entered to Steppenwolf’s “Born to be Wild” dressed as a blend of Peter Fonda’s Captain America from “Easy Rider” and Evel Knievel. Senegal gave the official a kiss on the cheek and complained about the “nasty” taco ingredients lingering on the canvas. He then asked the crowd, “should I eat it?” Drennen rolled out of the ring at the bell and took a seat with the fans. Danger and Senegal tried but could not fell Scott. Drennen tried a sneak attack, and Scott took him out after shouting, “I’m gonna give you 56k reasons why that was a bad idea!” Danger hit a beautiful airplane spin on Senegal. He brought Scott to his knees with punch after punch but was flattened by a slam from the big man. Scott went for a powerslam on Senegal but was countered into a DDT. Drennen slid back in to pick the leavings, snap suplexed Senegal, and hit an elbow drop from the second turnbuckle. He verbally harassed Senegal, who leapt up into a kick to his head. Danger broke up the subsequent pinfall as Drennen wailed in pain. Scott powerlifted Drennen and hit a burning hammer, and again Danger broke up the fall. Scott propped Danger on a turnbuckle and caved in his chest with thick chops, then Danger rallied with a DDT from his elevated position. Danger sent both Scott and Senegal over the top rope, and went for an aerial attack on them but before he could launch Drennen caught him in a schoolboy for the win.

During a ten-minute intermission wrestlers including Leva Bates, Effy, Chance Rizer, Aspyn Rose, and Wolfe Taylor held a meet-and-greet. Bates apologized that she was out of tacos. Effy made sure to pay extra attention to one of his young fans in the audience.

(5) Saieve al Sabah pinned Treehouse Lee. Billed as a “Florida Dream Match.” Both wrestlers entered to the best reactions of the event to that point. Possibly of note, within the past week al Sabah posted to social media that he is no longer accepting bookings. A good competitive energy marked the opening feeling out phase. Lee hit a crazy leaping head scissors then a beautiful cross body for two. Al Sabah crotched Lee in the turnbuckle for two of his own, and clapped at official Frank Gastineau to count the pin faster. He put Lee in a chinlock and commanded the crowd to stop clapping to encourage Lee to fight out. Al Sabah stood on Lee’s neck then flipped on to him for two. Lee rallied and soared over the top rope on to al Sabah, his momentum carrying him into a cool strut over the cleared chairs in the audience. Al Sabah hit a running powerslam and back-to-back springboard moonsaults for a close two. Lee dodged a running attack and spun into a superheroic head scissors for two. Al Sabah snuck a low blow and quickly found three afterward. He shook Lee’s hand after the bell, and the wrestlers celebrated together.

(6) Aerial Monroe pinned Effy. Billed as the main event. Monroe wore black braided hair extensions, a notable aesthetic change from her short, dyed style. She blew a kiss to her daughter who was in the audience waving a miniature Leva Bates flag. "The Feminist Icon" Effy vaped on his way to the ring. Effy mocked “Big Swole” Monroe's signature pose then smirked and said to the official, “I’m trying so hard to be a bad boy and it doesn’t work!” Effy tested Monroe’s strength and Monroe withstood, punctuating the early phases with a superkick that sent Effy through the ropes. Effy slammed Monroe hard on the ring apron. Effy held Monroe in a gutwrench, and she spanked him and said, “Put me down!” Effy slammed her and shrieked, “You’re making it worse by spanking me!” As Monroe attempted to get up, Effy said, “Is it lonely here in Orlando with your man on 205 Live? Or do you have a friend backstage?” Monroe clotheslined Effy nearly out of his boots. She punched away at him until she fell over from exhaustion. Effy kicked Monroe to the mat and demanded, “Is this the hill you die on?” He said the Orlando independent scene belongs to him. Monroe fired up and went to town with strikes and a headbutt. Effy raged with power moves including a big boot in the corner but Monroe would not stay down. Effy took a vape break, and Monroe clocked him with a huge headbutt for the decision. Monroe received a standing ovation as fans chanted her nickname.

(7) The End (Odinson & Mike Parrow) defeated the Gym Nasty Boys (White Mike & Timmy Lou Retton) via pinfall. Recently returned from a tour in Japan, The End sprayed chrome on their teeth a la the War Boys in “Mad Max: Fury Road”. Having to face the massive Odinson and Parrow, the Gym Nasty Boys sulked on their way to the ring to the sounds of the “Family Matters” theme. They tried to hype up the way The End does by slapping each other, but White Mike yelled, “Stop, it hurts!” Odinson asked the official about the taco ingredients at ringside, and the official said, "Long story." Before the bell White Mike ran away screaming. Parrow caught him and rubbed his face against the concession stand glass. Odinson carted Retton along the front row and beat him to a pulp in the fans’ faces. The End continued to put the hurt on the Gym Nasty Boys until rolling them into the ring to finally start the match proper. Retton tried to rally as he evaded Odinson’s offense. White Mike dropkicked Parrow out of the ring after a miscommunication between the big men. He asked for a spritz of The End's chrome, but when Retton obliged he begged off as the spray stung his eyes. Odinson pulled White Mike’s hair in a surfboard stretch. Some fans protested the maneuver so Parrow shot them a look and they shut right up. White Mike kicked out of a powerslam, and loudly gagged as Parrow tagged in and held his face to the turnbuckle with a boot. White Mike pleaded, “That’s all I got” before Parrow slapped him to the mat and stood on his head. White Mike tried to power up, shouted “Kiai,” and was clotheslined flat by Parrow. White Mike continued to kick out over and over after Odinson tagged back in and went to work. Parrow tagged back in and White Mike offered to pay him $20 to call a truce. He then shouted “Sike” and went for an ineffective chop. Retton got the hot tag and briefly took it to both members of The End before Parrow caught him in a chokeslam for a broken up two. The End went for a team move but Retton countered and went for a moonsault. Odinson dodged and bowled both Gym Nasty Boys down. The End hit their team finish for the win, with Parrow pinning White Mike after the climactic assisted backstabber. Parrow left his wrist tape on the felled Mike as Odinson quoted the War Boys' pledge from “Fury Road” on his way out. When Mike came to he asked, “Did we win?” The crowd answered, and he said, “But did we win your hearts?”

Sweet Charles plugged the August 18th return date as the event came to a close. A half of a taco shell could still be seen at ringside as fans filed out.