The circus that is WWE is often a showcase for athleticism, showmanship and speed, but Erick Rowan is thriving by perfecting the craft of brutality.
Watching the least talked-about member of The Wyatt Family go to work in the ring is a trip backward, to a time where bruisers enthralled audiences with simple, violent offense. His use of yesteryear's moves and his straight-forward bulldozer-like approach to wrestling is increasingly becoming a fun sight to watch.
When Bray Wyatt first appeared on Raw, Luke Harper and Rowan seemed like faceless goons and nothing more. Wyatt was the larger-than-life character, the one with the crackling star power and the dark poetic ramblings capable of making folks set their remotes aside.
A long line of red chests later, Rowan is earning our attention even in Wyatt's shadow.
In a series of bouts against Daniel Bryan to close out 2013, Rowan showed himself to be a compellingly destructive force. Go back to their clash on Dec. 30, for example.
Rowan smashed his head against Bryan's, clocked him with realistic punches and pounded on him like a drum. This was no mat wrestling clinic or Shawn Michaels-like display of skill—it was a beatdown of the attention-grabbing variety.
He's since done well to impress in tag team matches against Cody Rhodes and Goldust. He and Harper will remind fans of hard-hitting duos like The Crusher and The Bruiser or Stan Hansen and Bruiser Brody as they make a case to become the next Tag Team champs.
Listed as 6'8'' and 315 pounds, Rowan comes off as a monster, a man looking to wreck his opponents more than defeat them.
Borrowing from the past has elevated Rowan. He's recently become more interesting as he culls violent tools from wrestling's archives
Sgt. Slaughter has clearly inspired him. The Hall of Famer used to stand behind his opponents and grind his fists into their temples.
Rowan now carries on that tradition. It's a simple but unsettling weapon that adds to the sense that he is a dangerous man who enjoys torturing his foes.
It's no surprise, then, that Rowan is also bringing back the claw, a move that is rarely used today.
The claw hold has the attacker wrap his hand around an opponent's head or face and squeeze. It's one that requires someone convincingly intimidating to deliver it and some good acting on the victim's part.
Fritz Von Erich employed it in the '60s and '70s. Killer Kowalski did it before him, using the hold on his victim's gut beginning in the '50s. Baron Von Raschke famously used the claw hold to finish off foes in the American Wrestling Association and elsewhere.
Now it's Rowan's turn to strike fear with the claw. He's thrown it into his matches in between backbreakers and big boots.
Beyond his affinity for throwback moves, Rowan is showing off a sadistic side in the ring and convincing us that he loves to inflict pain. His move set is not an expansive one, but just about everything in it is something that adds to the idea that he's a beast toying with his prey.
He causes the hero to suffer, which only makes the audience cheer harder and appeals to that same part of us that can't help but look at a wrecked car on the highway.
Rowan twists and wrenches his opponents' body parts and seemingly has a blast doing it.
That makes him him a great contrast for the likable Rhodes brothers or the speedy, flashy Uso twins. It makes him a believable threat and strengthens The Wyatt Family's perception as a whole. With as family friendly and glossy as WWE has become of late, a nasty battering ram like Rowan is a welcomed change of pace.
WWE has worked to add facets to Rowan's and Harper's personas, including the disturbing image of Rowan's expression when his partner takes his mask off for him.
This, combined with his aggression, move set, power and size, is making fans take notice of the least-hyped member of The Wyatt Family. Wyatt's ceiling is higher, as he's been pegged as a future top guy, per F4WOnline, via WrestlingInc.com. Harper is more athletic than Rowan, and his indy resume shows off an ability to work at a high level with a varied set of opponents.
Still, the mask-wearing brute is not one to be overlooked.
Rowan is making an art out of clobbering folks, and his growing portfolio is one to pay attention to. For all the success his "brothers" will have, he will be a valuable asset for WWE as well.