Rise of the Rotundas

Imagine sitting around a dinner table with people named Blackjack, I.R.S., one of the Four Horsemen and the self-proclaimed “Eater of Worlds.”

For Taylor and Windham Rotunda, better known as the WWE’s Bo Dallas and Bray Wyatt, respectively, it is just another family dinner.
Rise of the Rotundas
Brooksville resident Windham Rotunda, wrestling in the WWE as Bray Wyatt, inflicts punishment on opponent Daniel Bryan during a recent match. Photo provided by WWE

“I don’t really know anything different,” Taylor Rotunda said. “This is how we grew up. I don’t know what it is like for them not to be wrestlers. To me it’s just a family dinner. It’s not normal but it’s my family.”

The Rotunda brothers are third generation WWE superstars and their rise to fame has been anything but traditional.

As Wrestlemania 30, WWE’s Super Bowl, takes place Sunday in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, these two Hernando County residents have made it to the “grandest stage of them all.”

Windham Rotunda has been on a meteoric rise to fame in the WWE this past year, going from unknown to headlining Wrestlemania with perhaps the company’s biggest household name, John Cena.

The Wyatt character is eerie to say the least, delivering some of the best promos the WWE has seen in a while. Dubbing himself “The Eater of Worlds” as Wyatt, Windham Rotunda hasn’t had an easy path to the spotlight but is now hitting his stride.

Due to the nature of his character, the WWE declined to make him available for an interview.

“I’m very happy for my brother,” said Taylor Rotunda, who is not recognized as related to Windham on camera. “He’s doing very well for himself. He’s developed this character and actually became him. It’s a crazy process watching.”

Both Rotundas attended Hernando High, where Windham won a state wrestling championship at 275 pounds in 2005, and upon graduation played junior college football at the College of the Sequoias in California for two seasons, earning second-team All-American honors as a sophomore offensive guard.

He would go on to earn a football scholarship at Troy University, where he played for two years before deciding to pursue the family tradition of being a professional wrestler.

After developing in WWE’s Florida Championship Wrestling territory, Windham Rotunda would debut on the main roster as part of a new stable of wrestlers called “The Nexus.” Under the name Husky Harris, he had a brief run on television before being written off and sent back to FCW, which was undergoing a transformation into NXT.

It was here he emerged as Wyatt, leader of the Wyatt Family, a backwoods cult. Wyatt believes himself to be a chosen one to rid this world of the “liars,” attacking those who claim to be heroes, reminding us that in the end, we are all monsters like him.

On July 8, Windham Rotunda and his “family,” comprised of fellow NXT wrestlers Luke Harper and Erick Rowan, made their debut on Monday Night Raw, attacking Kane.

Wyatt would feud with Kane throughout WWE’s SummerSlam, the company’s second largest pay-per-view event, culminating in him emerging victorious and the family abducting Kane.

That victory set the wheels in motion for Wyatt, establishing him as the company’s top heel, or bad guy. He would go on to face two more of the company’s top stars when he was involved in a feud with Daniel Bryan and C.M. Punk.

After defeating Bryan in a highly touted match at the Royal Rumble, Wyatt and his followers attacked Cena, setting up a match billed as a true test of good vs. evil.

While Windham Rotunda has had this fast track to the top, largely due to his character’s ability to get over with audiences, lost in the fray has been Taylor Rotunda’s success.

Upon graduating from Hernando in 2008, he signed with FCW to begin working on his lifelong dream.

“I knew my entire life this is what I was going to do,” the younger Rotunda said. “I knew right away. I used to watch it, and my family knew right away.”

His father, Mike Rotunda, wrestled under Irwin R. Schyster (I.R.S.), as well as one half of the U.S. Express, a tag team with his brother-in-law, Barry Windham.

Barry Windham was a member of Ric Flair’s famous stable, the Four Horsemen, and his father was WWE Hall of Famer Blackjack Mulligan.

“My grandfather, dad and uncles did it. In this family, wrestling was a profession,” Taylor Rotunda said. “My family had set protocols and goals I had to get done in life, though, before I could follow my dream.”

When an offer to play college football for Webber International University in Babson Park fell through, Taylor Rotunda knew it was a sign to chase his dream.

“Life is crazy sometimes,” Taylor Rotunda said. “A series of events led me into wrestling a lot sooner than I thought I was going to be able to. I took it and this is always what I wanted to do, and I’m just living a dream.”

Upon arriving at the FCW, Taylor and Windham would team up and win the FCW Tag Team Titles under the moniker “The Rotundo Brothers” – a version of their last name once used by their father during his career. Windham initially was identified as Alex and later Duke Rotundo, while Taylor took the name Bo Rotundo.

“It was awesome and really cool to be able to do that and we had a lot of fun with it,” Taylor Rotunda said. “I loved tagging with my brother; it was a dream of ours growing up to do that one day. Being able to ride together, it was awesome.”

When FCW changed to NXT, Taylor Rotunda would go on to compete in singles as Dallas, where he won the first-ever Royal Rumble Fanfest, an eight-man, single-elimination NXT tournament where the winner would earn a spot in the 2013 WWE Royal Rumble.

“That was one of the best experiences of my life,” Taylor Rotunda said. “Winning the Fanfest, I keep coming to the phrase, ‘It’s a dream come true,’ and it is. It didn’t feel like reality. I hear my music hit, realize I’m living my dream and from that moment everything felt like it’s moving in fast-forward.”

Taylor Rotunda would enter the Royal Rumble as Dallas and last more than 20 minutes, eliminating then-Intercontinental Champion Wade Barrett. Barrett would return to the ring in a rage and eliminate Dallas, starting a feud between the two.

The next night on Raw, Dallas would defeat Barrett in a non-title match, leading to a backstage beating of Dallas by Barrett.

Upon returning to NXT, Dallas would team with Joe Hennig, son of hall of famer “Mr. Perfect” Curt Hennig, who was using the moniker Michael McGillicutty. They would lose a tag-team match to Harper and Rowan of the Wyatt family due to interference from Wyatt, sparking a feud between the real-life brothers.

“How many people can say they wrestled their brother?” Taylor said. “I mean we thought about it as kids before it happened, and it was just really cool. We had a ton of fun working against each other as well as teaming together. Both experiences were great in their own way.”

When his brother departed to the main roster, Taylor Rotunda’s character underwent a heel turn, going from good guy to bad guy. He then captured the NXT Championship from now WWE Intercontinental Champion Big E Langston.

After defending his title against the likes of Antonio Cesaro and Langston, who are now on the main roster for WWE, Taylor’s career seems to be moving in the direction he always wanted.

“Being in the ring with superstars like that, you just try to get as much experience and knowledge as you can,” he said. “Being in there with talent like that you’re always learning. Every time I step in the ring I learn something new and it’s definitely furthered my development.”

With the recent launch of the WWE Network, Taylor Rotunda got a chance to headline the first live-streamed event: the NXT pay-per-view Arrival.

He dropped his title in a ladder match to Adrian Neville, but the loss of the title isn’t keeping him down; if anything it has made him more focused on his goals.

“Since the Royal Rumble, I’ve taken many steps forward. Now it looks like everything is looking very bright,” Taylor Rotunda said. “I’d like to reclaim the NXT Championship and one day work my way up the ranks to become the WWE Champion.”

The transition from wrestling at Hernando to main-eventing a pay-per-view in front of a packed audience might unravel some others, but for Taylor Rotunda, it’s a spotlight he welcomes.

“I always kind of thrived in those situations. Inside the ring I feel very comfortable,” he said. “When you used to make the finals at Springstead, they had this huge spotlight on the mat and it was just you and your opponent in front of a crowd. I’ve always wanted to be in that.”

Being a WWE superstar is a full-time job, though. Traveling the country and world for up to 300 days a year can take a toll on one’s mental and physical state. For Taylor Rotunda, staying humble and a student of his craft is key.

“You’ve got this opportunity in front of you and you get to be here every day and live out a dream,” he said. “So no matter how hard it is and how much work you have to put in, it’s all for it.”

As far as his fans go, he just wants them to keep believing in him.

“I’m a firm believer in everything happening for a reason, and everything connects. It’s just crazy the way the world works,” he said. “I can only be Bo Dallas, and I want all of my Bo-Lievers to Bo-Lieve in me.”

He keeps that mentality through every match, even when faced with adversity.

“You never know when the last time you step in a ring will be. I’ve had very serious injuries on a night I wrestled Wade Barrett in Canada,” Taylor Rotunda recalled. “I lacerated my kidney and the doctors told me I might never wrestle again.”

Since that day his outlook has changed.

“Now, every time I step through that curtain I tell myself, ‘Just live in the moment,’?” he said. “Soak it all in, because you never know.”

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