Long before he became WWE superstar Bray Wyatt, the man behind the character was never shy about being boastful and then backing it up with his performance.
At Hernando High School in Brooksville, Fla., Wyatt made the Class 1A Florida state wrestling championships as a sophomore and junior. He suffered a severe ankle injury that was supposed to sideline him for his senior season, but he wasn’t going to allow the injury to stop him.
He returned to the mat too soon, was out of shape and lost his first match back. He told the local newspaper that he wasn’t going to lose again.
Weeks later, he won the 2005 state championship at 275 pounds.
And why not? Wrestling is the family business.
His real name is Windham Rotunda. If those two names sound familiar, it’s because of the superstar tag team of his uncle Barry Windham and his father Mike Rotunda from the 1980s that was in WrestleMania I. His father was a standout amateur wrestler at Syracuse University before a professional career that saw him go by his given name along with IRS and Michael Wallstreet at times.
Bray Wyatt will face The Undertaker on Sunday in one of the marquee matchups at WrestleMania in Santa Clara, Calif.
Windham Rotunda is a third-generation star. His grandfather is Blackjack Mulligan (real name: Bob Windham). His uncles are Mulligan’s sons, Barry and Kendall, and his mother is Mulligan’s daughter, Stephanie. His brother, Taylor, also wrestles for the WWE under the ring name Bo Dallas.
“From as early as I can remember, this was the only thing that I ever wanted to do,” Wyatt told USA TODAY Sports recently.
But the path to professional wrestling included his time as high-level amateur wrestler, but also his time as a standout high school football player on the offensive and defensive lines at Hernando. He was second-team all-state as a senior and finished his career with 147 tackles and 12 sacks. At the time, his dream was to play football for Georgia.
After high school, he went to the College of the Sequoias, a junior college in California, and was named second-team All-American as a sophomore guard.
His next step was Division I football at Troy University in Alabama. He redshirted his first year and was a backup his second year. Rather than play another year – he was 27 credits short of a degree – he decided it was time to get into pro wrestling, especially after Taylor had gotten into the business. Wyatt has said he had issues with the coaching staff and his heart was no longer into football.
“I found out at an early age that I was very good at just running into other people,” Wyatt said. “As a child, I craved competition and it’s always been that way for me. As I grew, I started to find that the only way I could channel my rage and the things that I would go through was that competition.”
The path up the ranks in sports entertainment is filled with false starts and potholes. For Wyatt, his WWE debut was part of an upstart group of young wrestlers, “The Nexus” and his ring name was Husky Harris.
He returned to the developmental system and debuted as Bray Wyatt in 2012 before re-joining the main roster in October 2013. These days, it would be hard to tell that Harris and Wyatt are the same man.
Dropping back into character during a conversation, Wyatt returns to the theme of WrestleMania and the big showdown ahead.
“It was an addiction for me from early on, but everything was always leading up to this moment,” he said. “This is the moment that I take on The Undertaker, and that was the plan from Day One.”
Contributing: Nick Schwartz