Batista's Best Matches: A Primer for the return of The Animal

via WikiMedia Commons

With The Animal set to return on January 20th for the build to WrestleMania 30, we decided to put together a quick primer for newer fans, or those who lapsed during his 2002-2010 run.

Several newer fans of pro wrestling and WWE have been wondering what the big deal is with this Batista return. As a way to give you some background, and link to some WWE-released footage of the some of his best matchs, we've put together this little primer on The Animal.

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Dave Bautista is known in WWE as just Batista - although occasionally the "Dave" will slip into kayfabe; a little more often than when Triple H or The Big Show is called "Paul", but still mostly reserved for when real emphasis was needed.

A Washington, D.C. native, Batista started out in weightlifting before spending a few years in developmental (then Ohio Valley Wrestling) for WWE. In 2002 he was called up to serve as an enforcer for D-Von Dudley, who had recently been split from tag partner Bubba Ray by the first extension draft between the separate Raw and Smackdown brands. That run was short-lived, and by the end of the year he had completed a feud with D-Von, signed with Raw and was being mentored by Ric Flair.

That lead to what was probably the most important moment of his pro wrestling career, as he and Flair joined Triple H's new Evolution stable along with Randy Orton. The quartet ran rough shod over the Monday night show for the better part of two years. When Batista began to grow weary of Hunter and Naitch's villainous ways, he became a fan favorite. Partially due to the length of time he spent in the group, he avoided the fate of Orton, who had been turned too soon and failed to connect with the audience as a babyface.

His face turn was executed just as The Game and The Nature Boy had seemingly convinced him to jump to the blue brand and leave HHH's World Heavyweight Championship (WHC) scene. But in a riff on how the group had turned on Orton, Batista gave The Cerebral Assassin the thumbs down.

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Amazingly, considering Triple H's reputation at the time, The Game did the job for his former protege at WrestleMania 21 and again at 2005's Backlash. When he became the first man to pin HHH in a Hell in a Cell match at Venegeance, he was cemented as a main event player.

After an injury he drifted around for a while, winning tag titles with Rey Mysterio and chasing but not obtaining singles gold. In 2007, he managed to defeat Booker T for the WHC, and that run would lead to some of his best matches. He faced Royal Rumble winner The Undertaker at 'Mania 23, and while we all can figure out how that ended:

it was still an amazing match.  Their program continued throughout 2007 and included a relatively clean win for The Animal at Cyber Sunday and a Hell in a Cell win at Survivor Series that was aided by a con-chair-to to The Dead Man by Edge. The blow-off was an Edge win in a triple threat at Armageddon.

After a key role in the Ric Flair retirement story (Batista feuded with Shawn Michaels over the latter's "disrespectful" retirement of Naitch at WrestleMania XXIV), he kicked around in programs with Chris Jericho and former stable-mate Randy Orton for a while. For his last gasp as a good guy, he even played foil to a younger CM Punk and his diabolical Straight Edge Society.

Finally, in 2010, Big Dave got involved on Vince McMahon's side of his ongoing dispute with the recently returned Bret Hart. That didn't sit well with John Cena. But Vince repaid his debt with a WWE title shot, and Batista defeated the champ for his second go-round with that belt. He was defeated by Cena at WrestleMania XXVI, and after being unable to reclaim it at subsequent pay-per-view (PPV)s, he quit the company rather than jump through hoops to earn another shot.

Since then, there's been some low-level mixed martial arts, and a couple of pretty big movie roles (opposite Russell Crowe in RZA's The Man with the Iron Fists and the upcoming Marvel cinematic universe picture Guardians of the Galaxy).

And now he's back. As you can see by this brief overview, he has plenty of history from which to build quick feuds with Orton, Cena, Triple H or The Undertaker - just to name a few. While he was never the best worker in the company, he could go for a big man (Roman Reigns is not a bad point of comparison) and he grew to acquit himself very well on the microphone by his final heel run with company in 2010.

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So, Cagesiders. Does that answer some questions for you? Or just raise more of them? What are your favorite Batista matches and moments? And what would you like to see him do in his return?

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