Monday 20 January 2014

Still Walking Alone?

There were several reasons for Batista leaving WWE in 2010. He was unhappy with the changes that had been made to make way for the PG rating, feeling that wrestling and wrestlers need more leeway than the rating allows. He also wanted to try his hand at shoot fighting and acting. For their part WWE seemed to want to keep him around but also unwilling to make the concessions doing so would need. Understandably so. Nobody is bigger than the WWE Team Effort.

Since 2010 Batista has achieved his goals. He won his sole MMA match against Vince Lucero (… me neither) in the first round, failing to take a second match because of the physical toll, the training schedule, and his desire to look for acting work. That was probably for the best: Batista is not a young man and making it to the top of the MMA world always seemed unlikely for him.

The acting was a better bet. Being a WWE headliner had helped Big Dave develop a surprisingly diverse range. His WWE run had seen him play everything from an intimidating henchman to an entitled prima donna to a dapper hardcase in a suit to a demonic deacon. On top of that he was used to hanging around sets for hours on end (Mondays are not short days for WWE’s Superstars) and understood how to present and carry himself. He was better suited to acting than fighting.

Being a big, muscled-up fella wouldn’t have hurt either. His muscle mass has gone up and down since leaving WWE, mostly due to the dietary and training requirements linked to being an aspiring MMA fighter, but he’s closer to his traditional wrestling physique than not right now thanks to his role as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.

It’s that that’s considered ‘The Animal’s’ breakthrough role. It’s hard to disagree. He’s had no bigger roles since deciding he wanted to crack Hollywood. The closest he came was either his casting in Vin Diesel vehicle Riddick or playing Brass Body in The Man with the Iron Fists, depending on your point of view. Neither was insignificant but landing a Marvel gig is, for a man building an acting career, the big time.

With that in mind it’s hardly surprising that it’s now that he’s returning to wrestling. WWE is a company that always likes extra press coverage and cross-promotional opportunities. Having someone coming and going who’s on their way to becoming a genuine success in Movie Land is something that will clearly be embraced. He may not be The Rock but Batista will stand enough of a chance at bringing fresh eyes to WWE to make working with him worthwhile.

A beast soon to be unleashed 
Not that WWE were ever against working with him, of course. He was an established main event name when he left and so WWE would have wanted to retain his services. That’s the case with anyone who adds value. I suspect that the return is down to Batista seeing that the PG approach is not going away and also that it’s not as constrictive as many believed it would be five years ago.

His real life friendship with Triple H would have helped, naturally. And it’s that real life friendship that helps to make Batista’s return so interesting. Their on-screen history from Evolution through to their successful 2005 feud is remembered vividly by most who watched it. There’s just something about the two that makes a backstage friendship particularly believable, and that’s something WWE can have great fun playing on.

Batista is obviously going to return as a babyface. That Alberto Del Rio has decided to target him makes that obvious. They will almost certainly interact on RAW and definitely tangle during the Rumble. Their dispute may even be spanned out until Elimination Chamber next month.

But beyond that it’s not clear what ol’ Batsy will be getting up to. The relationship between Triple H and Batista should be acknowledged and used to hint that ‘The Animal’ might be working for The Authority. Keeping that going for long enough could create a great revelatory moment on a RAW or at Elimination Chamber. If he’s sticking around after WrestleMania then a heel turn could even work on ‘The Grandest Stage of Them All’ setting him up for a lead villain role in the traditionally dull period.

He’s not even back yet, not officially anyway, so it’s impossible to know how frequent his appearances will be. I’d expect it to be something akin to Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam’s routines when they appear, working a few months before being written out of storylines until there’s a way and-or a need to bring them back. With that in mind I’d expect Batista to be around until the late spring or early summer.

Other than his schedule the big question hanging over the big fella is who he’ll be wrestling. As I’ve already noted an ADR programme is all but guaranteed. After that things depend on whether or not WWE decide to link him to The Authority. Aligning with them could lead to matches against Daniel Bryan or CM Punk. Working against them could see him enter matches with Randy Orton or possibly Sheamus (who I expect him to return to TV as an antagonist). Either direction could lead to a bout with Brock Lesnar, something that probably wouldn’t be especially enjoyable but I think would be compelling.

The final thing I’ll note is that Batista will return with his tried and tested theme music I Walk Alone. An alternate title that fits just as well with his character and the lyrics is I Wore Cologne.

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