Happy Friday TJR Faithful! Has anything big gone down this week? Between the Royal Rumble and the CM Punk news that broke this week, there is a lot to digest in the world of the WWE. Having watched the Rumble last Sunday, I can honestly say I’ve never watched a less satisfying Rumble. It’s not even simply that Bryan was left out, it’s that the surprises were all pretty lame. The only fun thing that happened was Kofi’s leap, but even that was pointless because he had no shot at lasting deep into the match. Down to the way that Batista eliminated Roman Reigns to claim victory, nearly everything about this Rumble was unsatisfying.
Which brings me to the events that reportedly transpired mere hours before Raw was set to go live from Cleveland. Apparently CM Punk, feeling frustrated and annoyed with the creative direction of the company, told Vince he was going home, and proceeded to do just that. Now I’ve read a lot about Punk walking out on the WWE, and several different reactions to it. My reaction is simple: I’m sad to hear that he won’t be on my TV for a while, but I’m 100% behind his decision, and am actually pretty glad that he did it. Do I think it will change things? It might, but in all honestly I support the decision simply because it’s what I would want to do in a similar situation. I get burnt out just listening to people’s bad ideas, but having to pour your sweat into decisions that you know are piss poor must be incredibly frustrating. If I could afford to, I would have done the same thing CM Punk did. And for those saying he should have been professional and worked through till ‘Mania, I don’t know about you, but if I had a problem where I worked, I wouldn’t put my body on the line or go out of my way to make anything easier for them. Two weeks notice is a courtesy, one extended out of respect, and CM Punk’s abrupt exit simply shows how much he doesn’t respect the higher ups in the WWE right now (as I currently do not as a fan).
The Rumble match and CM Punk’s unceremonious exit are emblematic of the problem with the WWE right now, and that is that they simply have no grasp on the storytelling medium. Case and point is the highly touted, yet to this date incredibly underwhelming return of The Animal, Batista. When I heard the news that Batista was coming back, I was a little excited because when he left he was doing some of the best work of his career. When it became apparent that he’d be brought back as a babyface, my excitement dissipated, and upon realizing that he would be thrust in the middle of the WWE’s main event Title picture, my excitement turned into frustration. This week I will look at the Big and Ultimately Bad Batista Return, and detail why it simply isn’t working. Let’s Do This!
Mistake #1: They Foolishly Overestimated the Caliber of Star Batista Is
Let’s get this out of the way; Dave Bautista is simply not Dwayne Johnson. Batista is not The Rock, and even The Rock didn’t walk in, without a story to tell, and Main Event Wrestlemania. The Rock definitely has the cache and the brand power to come back to the WWE and do just about anything he wants, but instead of planting him right in the thick of things, The Rock returned and gradually worked his way into the biggest rivalry of this decade. At the end of the day, The Rock is an exponentially bigger start than Batista, in and out of the WWE, and to think the fans would be clamoring for Batista upon his return (which it seems they anticipated) was to be blunt, moronic.
Mistake #2: He Returned Without an Interesting Story To Tell & Usurped The Payoff of Another (Wildly Popular) Man’s Story
When The Rock came back and was revealed as the host of Wrestlemania 27, he brought up some comments that John Cena made about him during an interview. From the moment I heard those comments I imagined how great it would be to have The Rock come back and address John Cena, leading to a match, and to have it happen was pretty exciting. Furthermore it created a solid narrative to follow for three years. From hosting Wrestlemania 27, The Rock went on to beat Cena one year later at Wrestlemania 28, and the year following lost the WWE Championship to Cena at Wrestlemania 29, the through line being The Rock and Cena’s mutual distaste for one another which began with Cena’s disparaging comments years earlier. Say what you will about The Rock taking a Wrestlemania spot away from a full time guy, The Rock is a mega star, and this narrative was good storytelling. It was warranted.
Batista’s return has none of these elements. There was no fanfare, no pre-existing narrative, and honestly no sense of a bigger picture. It’s tantamount to introducing a new character just before the climax of an action flick, who proceeds to mow down all the villains instead of the hero we’ve been following the whole film during the climax, and having that character say he showed up because “I wanted to fight”. It’s egregiously unsatisfying, as is Batista’s sudden and forced involvement in narratives that have built up to a crescendo without his involvement for 75% of the year. Add to that that Batista isn’t ¼ the star that The Rock is, and everything about the decision can only be chalked up as a fundamental misunderstanding of the storytelling medium.
Mistake #3: They Should Have Kept Batista As Far Away From The Authority As Possible
Another misstep in the Batista return is not having him address where he stands with the Authority. If you want him to be cheered, he should have told Triple H and Steph on night one that he doesn’t like the way that they’ve been doing things, and that he’s not interested in coming back to play their games. In this scenario you’ve clearly painted him as an adversary of The Authority. What they’ve done instead is painted him as a friend of The Authority, despite supposedly being a babyface going after The Authority’s Champion. It’s needlessly confusing; and let’s say that it leads to a heel turn and with him having been an agent of The Authority the whole time; you’ve completely shown your hand and at the end of the day, what purpose does it serve? It’s a narrative nightmare. There is no satisfying way to bring about the payoff of the angle they’ve currently set up. Maybe if he hadn’t won The Rumble, but that single decision binds you in an awful place narratively speaking. The WWE has now stuck Batista into the climax of another character’s yearlong journey, and the execution has been nothing short of awkward and clunky (much like Batista’s performance in the Rumble match itself).
Mistake #4: Ignoring Batista’s Natural Ability To Be an Effective Heel
As far as I’m concerned, Batista is a fantastic heel, and the last time we saw him was as a heel feuding with John Cena. I don’t know what happened in the 4 years between then and now, but I’d imagine that the two of them would still have issues. Why can’t Batista’s return be part of The Authority’s efforts to keep the WWW WHC on Randy Orton? In doing so, why can’t Batista rekindle his rivalry with John Cena? To me, the Authority should simply be the corporate evolution of Evolution. John Cena should be feuding with Batista heading into Wrestlemania, and Daniel Bryan should be poised to conquer his yearlong battle with the Authority at the biggest PPV event of the year.
Batista’s return has been an utter mess (I give it Two Thumbs Down) and the fans rejecting him is emblematic of every problem I have with the WWE right now. They have demonstrated an inability to craft and present a cohesive and well thought out story. Between the constant start and stop pushes, the pathetic state of their mid-card (one of the biggest weaknesses of this year’s Rumble was the lack of star power. There are no mid- card acts I truly believe that the WWE will get behind, other than The Shield who are arguably already upper card players), and outright poor decision-making, the WWE’s creative team’s awareness and creativity are at an all time low. The have set course for one of the worst Wrestlemania Main Events in history, and they are stubborn enough not to change course.
You don’t always have to give the fans what they want, but when they want something this badly, it’s simply egotistical to refuse it. The fact is, the rumored Wrestlemania card even with Punk’s involvement, is mediocre at best. Seeing the way that Daniel Bryan and CM Punk elicited more buzz this week by not appearing in the Rumble Match, and walking away from the company in frustration respectively should show that these two guys move WWE’s core audience emotionally more than anyone else on the roster can dream of at the moment and arguably should be facing one another at Wrestlemania for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. It would be the culmination of both guys overcoming The Authority and taking their places at the top of the card, where The Authority never wanted them.
Wrestlemania (at least to me) used to be a celebration of the year in wrestling, a night where the year’s narratives were settled (at least in part), but has now morphed into a part-timers exhibition. I look at the top proposed matches and I see Brock Lesnar, Triple H, The Undertaker, Batista, all in the pole positions at the top of the card, while workhorse like The Shield, and Daniel Bryan, were reportedly set to be in matches that would be considered the lower mid-card of the show. It’s upsetting, but I’ve come to realize that Wrestlemania isn’t the show that I once thought it was. The creative team has given up on sensible and meaningful storytelling, and while there are good matches, and guys that I want to see and cheer for (Daniel Bryan, CM Punk, The Shield), the fact is that nobody new or fresh will be given the opportunity to really shine at Wrestlemania XXX now that it’s become a showcase of nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. The days of boyhood dreams coming true at Wrestlemania, where HBK, John Cena, and other future top stars won their first titles and first stepped into the spotlight are over, because the WWE refuses to let past stars step out of it.
There you have it, but as always, I want to know what you think? Do you think I’m being too hard on Batista’s return? Is his return emblematic of the WWE’s current (and poor) mindset? Has Wrestlemania’s meaning changed or have I been wrong about it the entire time?
Until next time folks, I’m Matty J. Douglas saying thank you to CM Punk for the years he put in to entertaining the hell out of me. Any unexpectedly creative and interesting wrinkles in the WWE’s narrative over the last few years had his fingerprints on in it some capacity, and I truly thank him for making wrestling narratives more interesting, in a time where most of what I saw was pretty paint by numbers. Have a great weekend everybody!