DEAL WITH IT: An appreciative look back at Batista's 2014 WWE return

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It started out comedically bad as a face that we didn't need or want, and ended with WWE losing one of its best heels. A look back at how The Animal turned it around to save his return to pro wrestling.

It's been roughly six months since the first "The Animal Returns" promos rolled during WWE Raw last December.  In that time, he was an unwelcome hero, became a two-time winner of the Royal Rumble match, a reluctant heel, a WrestleMania main eventer and finally embraced his inner douche.

Last night, Batista, or Boo-tista, Douche-tista and most recently Blue-tista, exited the WWE again when he quit due to not getting his one-on-one WWE World Heavyweight Championship shot that he claimed Triple H had promised him.  In reality, he is off to promote his biggest movie role to date, the superhero/science fiction mash-up vehicle from Disney/Marvel, Guardians of the Galaxy.

Regardless, we're sad to see him go.  And it seemed like it was just yesterday that we were bemoaning him as the epitome of a part-timer trying to cash in on past glory with nothing to bring to the table.

What happened?

He returned on January 20, 2014 in a ready-made mid-card feud with Alberto Del Rio based on a Twitter beef in which the two men engaged.

The skinny jeans.  The complete lack of hair on his head.  The middling (at best) crowd response.  The inability to perform his finisher properly due to the aforementioned skinny jeans.  The labored breathing after (sort of) delivering said finisher.  JBL's announcement of what we all feared when he accidentally tells us we're "looking at this year's Royal Rumble winner" before he corrects himself.

It's all here.  We knew it was bad while watching it, but in retrospect...wow.

He'd go on to confront then WWE World Heavyweight Champion Randy Orton, teasing the showdown between old Evolution frenemies that it was rumored Vince McMahon and Triple H wanted for the WrestleMania 30 main event.  Fans were "meh" on it, the internet wrestling community (IWC) largely used it as joke fodder.  Everything changed six days later...

At Royal Rumble, the Pittsburgh crowd and the greater WWE Universe revolted against everyone not name Daniel Bryan, but especially against Batista's ordination as a 'Mania main eventer.  It's worth remembering that Roman Reigns was still a full-blown heel at the time, but was cheered lustily when the thirty man battle royal came down to he and Big Dave.

In a testament to how stubborn WWE can be, they spent the next month continuing to push The Animal as a fan favorite, despite blatant evidence to the contrary.  It didn't help that (1) he came back clearly out of ring shape, laboring to perform the most basic maneuvers after his entrance, and (2) that the man he was programmed to feud with was Del Rio.  As solid a pro wrestler as you'll find, the former luchador had flipped from heel to face and back to heel in the past year himself, and never really connected with U.S. audiences as either despite numerous pushes.

Their match at Elimination Chamber largely died an ugly death, which what little crowd response it did generate mostly taking the form of ironic pop for Del Rio.

Then, on the February 28th episode of Smackdown, everything changed again:

The skinny jeans are still there, but almost everything else is different.  Big sunglasses and jaunty tweed newboy stay on while he restates his love of the business mission statement but tweaks it to run down the current state of that business, and then goes after Daniel Bryan, ridiculing the "195 pound wannabe" and the fans for supporting him.

It doesn't hurt that his first opponent as a heel is Dolph Ziggler, a performer beloved by many a smark and someone like Bryan that many fans thought was being squeezed out by part-timers like The Animal.  The Show-Off could also bump like crazy for the still getting into shape Batista.

With five weeks to WrestleMania and the spotlight shifted off of him and onto the YES Movement and the Bryan vs. Triple H program that would lead to the New Orleans main event, Batista had time to settle back into his rudo character, and to regain his conditioning.

So while many of us expected him to get knocked to the side and play a small role in the title match at 'Mania, he was integral to the three-way dance (it was booked to the gills and everyone got a chance to catch their breath, but still).  Then, in the move that may have done the most to ingratiate himself to the IWC, he was the man who put the titles on Bryan in a definitive way, tapping to the YES Lock in the middle of the SuperDome ring.

Batista agreed to play second fiddle to The Game the night after The Showcase of the Immortals, teaming with Orton to go after the tag team champs, The Usos.  That match ended in a disqualification, and an attempt to help Triple H win the belt from Bryan was thwarted by The Shield.  After another attempt to go it alone without The Authority's aid ended in interference from Dean Ambrose, Roman Reigns and Seth Rollins, he agreed to get the band back together, and Evolution was on the scene for their two month program against The Hounds of Justice.

Two months...for the iteration of Evolution that included Batista and the one of The Shield that included Rollins, anyway.

Throughout that program, Dave held his own in a couple of great pay-per-view (PPV) trios matches.  He wasn't the best worker in them; he was probably among the bottom three.  But there's no shame in being ranked below guys like Rollins or Orton, and high workrate was never Batista's calling card.  But he was a valuable piece of a complex puzzle that was put together to make those bouts what they were.

He also honed and then owned his cocky-but-weary veteran schtick. Back were the thousand dollar suits, a villainous, pitch black beard and the "I could kick your ass and sleep with your woman if I weren't so bored by it all" delivery that he had rocked the first time around in Evolution (and that a guy like Reigns worked a version of as heel just recently).

Which all culminated with a beautiful, melancholy princess wave last night...

I tip my douchey cabbie cap to you (while keeping my oversized expensive sunglasses on), sir .

I was at the head of the "$#%& this $#%&ing guy" posse a few months back.  I wouldn't call the run you've put together over the last quarter of 2014 an all-time classic, but it had some real high points and demonstrated a real humility and love for the business that I didn't think you had in you.

Good luck with the flick, and I honestly am excited for your return later this Summer.

Heck, if you come back and go after those bastiches Hunter and Seth, I might even cheer you this time.

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