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Batista returning to WWE ... but what do they do with him?

"The Animal" will roar once again in WWE. But has the business left Batista behind?

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Batista is back and before he's even stepped foot inside the ring, I've already suffered one major disappointment.

WWE flat-out announced his return because it quickly became the worst-kept secret in professional wrestling and kayfabe is dead and blabbity-fucking-blah. Whatever. I was honestly hoping for a surprise return -- even a veiled surprise -- because they still work.

Even when we see them coming (proof).

That's not happening, but I'm sure Batista will get the requisite "welcome back" pop from the WWE fans because he was a legitimate main event star during his heyday. But that leads us to an interesting conversation about his place in the annals of WWE history.

In the grand scheme of things, he wasn't around very long.

Batista debuted in 2002 and was gone by 2010. He also missed a significant amount of time due to injuries and didn't really get hot until his run with Evolution in 2005. Business-wise, I think it's fair to say the former Deacon had a solid five years as a top draw at a time when many fans (like this one) were tuning out.

He was good, but not great.

It's not like he was previously doing work at the top of the cards in WCW, or carving out a memorable body of work in ECW. Batista started in Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW) and got the call-up to WWE because he had a great look and was a hard worker. Sure, he was a little rough around the edges, but he managed to hit his stride during the second half of his run.

But he debuted at 33 years old and will make his return at 44.

There have been rumblings that Batista will win the Royal Rumble, hold a major WWE title or even challenge for The Undertaker's coveted streak. Any one of those scenarios would mean "The Animal" is taking a bite out of an existing spot on the roster, possibly at the expense of an up-and-coming talent.

Blame WWE, as it likely wants to extract some juice from Batista's role in "Guardians of the Galaxy."

That's unfortunate, too, because I'm not sure he's done enough in his career to justify a main event spot simply by showing up. The Rock can get away with it because he's a major movie star and one of the greatest faces of The Attitude Era. He's also one of the top workers -- and talkers -- of all time.

Batista is not The Rock.

In his defense, no one is. But as far as coming back and getting the Hollywood treatment, I would much rather see him follow Brock Lesnar's path. "The Brockness Monster" managed to get expedited to a spot at the top of a pay-per-view (PPV) against a major star, but it didn't require him to hold the belt hostage.

Nor did he have to monopolize television time.

The counter-argument to that, of course, is that WWE is already suppressing its younger stars in favor of established veterans anyway, as evidenced by Creative's decision to jettison Daniel Bryan in favor of a Survivor Series main event featuring Big Show and Randy Orton.

Why not add Batista to the mix and have some fun with it?

I guess there really is no right or wrong answer insomuch as there is personal taste. I feel like I've been spoiled this past year by the impeccable work from guys like Daniel Bryan and The Shield, while Cody Rhodes, along with CM Punk and they Wyatt Family, continue to dazzle inside the squared circle.

And outside it.

This is a new era in professional wrestling -- one Batista has been openly critical of -- and I can't help but wonder if he's become a square peg trying to fit into a round hole. I do believe there will always be a place for him inside the WWE ring. But to what degree?

We'll find out on Jan. 20.

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