A lot of fans were pretty excited to see Batista come back to WWE. I was on the fence about it: never enthused by his wrestling, but fond of his exit as the sassy Up In Da Club douche in the wheelchair. If he wanted to wheel right back into my sass-loving heart, fine. We had a lot of other cool things going on in WWE; if they wanted to throw The Animal back into the mix, well it could be worse.
Turns out, it couldn’t. Some things are better left a surprise, because their build to Batista’s return did not do him any favors. Maybe if he hadn’t been sniffing around NXT a few weeks prior - sending the dirt sheets into comeback hysterics - the company wouldn’t have felt inclined to circumvent the rumors by hyping his return. Maybe if he’d just come out without warning, the element of surprise would have compensated for how it all went down. From his ambitious pants to his ambitious championship dreams, Batista’s return felt like too much, too soon. When the now-notorious skinny jeans were blamed for his Reader’s Digest version of the Batista Bomb later in the evening, it appeared as if Dave had an uphill battle ahead of him.
However, I am a forgiving sort, and even though rumors swirled that Batista would win the Royal Rumble, I was willing to let it play out before complaining. Unfortunately for all of us, including Batista, his performance in the Rumble was underwhelming at best, and rewarded with victory. As I saw the pieces coming together, so awkward on Batista’s part and so valiant on the part of the other wrestlers, I felt the hope turn black in my sass-loving heart. Even I couldn’t explain this one away. Was this what they’d promised him? Did they expect a better reception from the fans? Had they overestimated/discounted his skills in the ring? There’s ring rust, there’s nervous anxiety, and then there’s just a plain old bad idea.
Batista’s given us a lot of memorable moments. I liked him a lot during WrestleMania 24, when he wrestled on behalf of Smackdown for the “Battle of Brand Supremacy”. In that moment, he was the perfect “big entrance guy” to face off against Raw’s “big entrance guy”, Umaga (so endearingly introduced by then-GM of Raw, William Regal, as “You-MANG-ga”). Both men had a great look and big moves. I always recognized Batista as a prototype WWE guy, a rip-tacular pyro-worthy dude. When he took the pouty microphone-throwing route to his departure, I was suddenly sorry to see him go. That was “Deal With It Dave”, the guy who had something to offer, but wasn’t being honored to his taste.
I respect that he got into martial arts, and landed some big-budget films outside the realm of WWE. But I get the feeling that pro wrestling has the effect of a siren’s call to certain people; that the lure of money and the spotlight and the pop of the crowd is enough to blur your memory as to why you left in the first place. It happens often enough that you cannot fault any particular person for doing it. Who wouldn’t want a taste of the glory days and be paid well for it?
His attempts to win over the crowd with passionate promos felt flat and disingenuous. His wrestling did not improve, and we could no longer point at ring rust as the culprit. The sincere attempts at winning everyone over were short lived (and yes, I was at the Royal Rumble in person and saw him give that fan the middle finger – the perfect image for the slipcover of the Rumble DVD). In what seems overdue, WWE is finally embracing the fact that Batista is an unwelcome guest. Batista’s own transition to the idea has been interesting, to say the least. I can relate: sometimes if a situation changes, it takes me some time for my expectations to adjust. He came back expecting fanfare, but for many reasons (some beyond his control), his expectations had to adjust as well.
In the meantime, Batista finds himself in the main event of a milestone episode of the company’s biggest show of the year – and in the aftermath of CM Punk walking out, possibly due to reasons like Dave Batista. Wacky times indeed. He’s got a reasonable track record and all the hype that money can buy, yet somehow his pants have stolen the spotlight. Those skinny jeans became a punch line as soon as his music hit back in January. They threw him into merciless waters and his trousers were not fit for swimming. We all laughed that those skinny jeans were so tight that he was unable to properly execute the sit- out portion of his Batista bomb later that night. Armchair wrestlers, one and all.
But I do ask that wrestlers to be able to achieve a seated position when they’re wearing their trunks, and Batista could still barely pull it off in a proper match. Meanwhile, his post-match celebrations were tempered with spitting off-mic remarks like, “Deal with it!” down to the fans who openly jeered him. He called it “being real”, a tactic that would catch like brushfire if he wasn’t being positioned against established heel Randy Orton. I could appreciate that Batista was working to adjust those expectations – at least showing his human side, a hard-to-like skinny jean guy trying to navigate his way through an unforgiving baggy jean world.
If possible, he found skinnier jeans. So fitted, in fact, that I found myself driven to distraction wondering how he got them on (and perhaps even more intriguing - especially when perspiration is taken into consideration - how he got them off). Was talcum powder involved? A third party, perhaps, offering words of encouragement and the strength required to maneuver Big Dave into the little slacks? When he came out on Smackdown last week, I felt a change in my sass-loving heart. He had found the skinny-jean equivalent to Wade Barrett’s ever-higher-towering Skyjack of Bad News.
“The fans have not been kind since Batista won the Royal Rumble,” explained Michael Cole, perhaps to someone who’d accidentally happened upon pro wrestling for the very first time. WWE was finally acknowledging the negative crowd reactions, and using them to inform Batista’s cocky attitude. He’s just here for the championship, and doesn’t have to please anyone but himself. He loves wrestling, and was willing to love us, but we ruined it. It works because it’s true. They didn’t tell us to hate “something” about Batista; we just did (even if that hate was misplaced).
And it has aroused all of Batista’s deep-seeded distaste for the WWE Universe. “Do you honestly think that your heroes are as good as me?” he asked on Smackdown. “Everything about me screams WWE World Heavyweight Champion.” He then removes his tiny tank top, to demonstrate his idea of championship material – specifically in contrast to Daniel Bryan, who Batista says we must cheer for because we can identify with scrawny losers. Textbook heat-seeking promo.
But then Batista tells us that we’re living in a fantasy world, and need to go back to reality, “back to your jobs at Hot Topic.” TJR writer Zac Soto joked that it was a pretty rich statement coming from a guy who looked like he’d just walked out of a Hot Topic himself (Hot Topic is a chain of American stores that outfits the purposefully cool – I’ve gotten wrestling shirts and jewelry from there, but think AJ Lee, rock-star Chris Jericho… and Dave Batista). Alas, Batista is so self-unaware that he doesn’t realize he’s being ironic. He has to take his shirt off to prove his worth, and dress young to be cool, and that’s not what wrestling’s about any more. PRECISELY why “Deal With It Dave” has the potential to be a brilliant heel.
About one hour into Raw this week, you may have actually heard the Battleship-style explosion of the internet when Batista got on the microphone. Viewers who fancied themselves super observant (present company included) were furiously, delightedly typing that Batista was insulting fans for reading too many comic books and watching too many movies, when the man himself is starring in a comic book movie this summer! HahahahahaHEY wait a minute. Is this a trend? Is Batista going to insult people based on things that he also personifies, but doesn’t realize it?
What if he comes out next week, bragging that he will destroy any Superstar that gets in his way of the title – and out comes The Great Khali. Batista will plough through a few moves, then end it with a Spear. After the bell rings, he’ll take the mic and say, “GREAT KHALI [GASP COUGH GASP] IS NO MATCH [SPITTLE FLIES] FOR THE ANIMAL [WINCE GRUNT] BATISTA! YOU CAN’T EVEN [BRIEF CLUTCHING OF THE CHEST] KEEP UP WI-[DOWN TO ONE KNEE] WITH THE NEXT WWE WORLD HEAVY WORLD WEIGHT WWE [GAAAAAASP] BELT CHAMP.” The next week, he'll make fun of Randy Orton for getting so many trendy tattoos. The week after, he'll grow a beard.
Batista will be his own Ghost of Wrestling Future: he’ll start to see himself as the fans do. Not liking what he sees, and feeling quite helpless, he’ll cope by getting only angrier. All jokes aside, that resonates a lot more with me than “Hey, Batista’s back, cue applause”. I really don’t think the guy saw “give a fan the finger” in his fantasy highlight reel when he thought about coming back to WWE. We make “yikes” expressions and say “45 years old!” but the fact is, he looks better than any other 45-year old I’ve ever met. How could he possibly come back as a perfectly-preserved-with-improved-moveset version of himself? This is the hand we’ve all been dealt. We’ve got an over-hyped returning hero with so much heat that they can’t find anyone – anyone! – to put beside him who won’t automatically get cheered because they’re not Batista. Turn that into gold, baby!
Not long ago I grieved for the sad state of the bad guys on this roster, so few and so ineffective. Now we’ve got the heel upon whom we pin our grievances. And in return, he’s going to give it all right back to us! I love to see Batista insulting the fans. It’s such a heel trait, seeing horrific things in others that you fail to recognize in yourself. His refusal to take ownership of his own flaws makes him so unlikable, and his “deal with it” mantra puts the onus on the fans to react accordingly. Who doesn’t love a good BOOOOO? It’s been a long time.
Scroll down down down for the Comments section, and add your thoughts on Batista! If you’re a tweeter, come find me @kickyhick or by email at email@example.com. No skinny jeans were harmed in the writing of this column, because I wrote it standing up. On a serious note, thank you to the person who offered me his WWE Network login info, in hopes of helping a locked-out Canadian to see NXT ArRIVAL (I know I can get access to it illegally, but I’ll just wait). And thank you to the person who listened to me fret about writer’s block, and offered a wealth of topics. I’ve never met either of these people, and I’m moved by their kindness. See, the internet can be nice. Thanks again!