It’s Day One of #BatistaWeek, the 19th installment of our (patent-pending) Juice Make Sugar Wrestler of the Week Series. As always, we’ll start by making Batista a Wrestler You (Should) Probably Know Better.
Before his reappearance at tonight’s RAW, the last time we saw Batista he looked like he did above. Well, not exactly like that. That’s an illustration (thanks, 30-day Adobe Illustrator trial/copyright laws!). But, in some ways, that depiction is even more accurate. Because Dave “The Animal” Bautista represents not just the cartoon world that Vince McMahon’s sports entertainment inhabits, but the Platonic ideal of it. For all the Warriors, Warlords, Hulks and (ugh) Lugers, no athlete has ever straddled the line between athlete and entertainer more perfectly.
That’s because he is an amalgamation of all of those men. There’s the obvious, like the habitual rope shaking of the Warrior or the impossible physique of the Warlord (who the man himself names as one of his favorite performers and largest influences.) And the more subtle: his morally ambiguous in-ring style of doing whatever it takes to win, so reminiscent of Hogan’s run as the most over heel worker — seriously, watch a WM with him and count the eye gouges and back rakes — in history during the Hulkamania era.
However, although Hogan and Warrior may have been incredible specimens, they were bound by different laws of physics than men like Batista. And unlike those closer to him on the “Greek God” spectrum, like Warlord, or (again, ugh), Lex Luger, Batista is what we call around JMS HQ a 50/50 guy: he can be 50% of a great match, even if he can only meet you exactly halfway. But not every match can be a great one, and while Batista may have never produced a five star classic, he could certainly work with nearly anyone to put together a match that at the very least made the fans in attendance care. When coupled with his otherworldly look, it makes anyone who beats him — or even just gives him a run for his money (and ours) — shine brighter simply for being able to go toe-to-toe with him.
While there are any number of reasons why Batista should be a WWE Hall of Famer, it’s this connection with the crowd he generates while playing either half of their heart strings which sets him apart from nearly everyone else who has come before him. Whether it’s leveraging his charm and natural charisma to masterfully play the role of conquering hero overcoming odds despite being build like he was made entirely of those very same odds or allow this cartoon look peppered with just the right amount of entitled smugness ground him as a person worth hating in the brilliant runs he had on bad side of the karmic ledger, Batista was built for success.
Thankfully for Batista, and presumably for us, like a gifted young QB, he was lucky enough to be surrounded by a group of men who turned the machine into a performer, giving him time to develop not just as a worker, but as a character. During his run with Triple H, Ric Flair and his likely WrestleMania opponent, Randy Orton as a member of Evolution, he was given the opportunity to flash the moments of the “it-factor” that has lead him to a successful and burgeoning career in Hollywood. That all of this was without ever requiring him to do things he was incapable of, is perhaps the most important part, however.
It’s important because it set a precedent for men with his very specific kind of potential. Instead of the kind of pushes to the moon that required the performer to be outfitted with rocket shoes which had become prevalent in the ratings hungry 90’s, Batista’s long hard road out of Evolution harkened back to a time where storylines were able to develop without fear of competitors stealing its thunder. But it was its incorporation of the episodic nature of the modern wrestling game on television that set the new standard.
Since the end of the Monday Night War meant that there was no longer a need to push someone in one direction or another just a ratings pop, companies could stand to develop characterization. When coupled with the proliferation of quality non-linear editing programs and importance of highlight packages that came as a result of technological advances and competition for PPV buys, it allowed for storylines like Batista slow burn and turn (which we’ll cover in more detail tomorrow) to become successful formula to build into incredibly successful main event programs like the one that drew so much money at WrestleMania 21. It’s also one that’ll likely put Roman Reigns into one in the very near future.
And, of course, while there is significantly more to the wrestling business than drawing money, it’s hard to argue that while the match may have arguably been underwhelming (ARGUABLY), there is more to matches than workrate or selling, no matter how unsettling that may sound to some. There is more often than not, especially in the WWE, a story to be told, and Batista, no matter what the circumstances, has always been able to tell an interesting story in the ring. When he is healthy, that is.
Because, if there is one legitimate criticism of The Animal, it’s that he is but a man. A man who gets injured a lot. In fact, in discussion with Andy (who was surprisingly not that angry about it) about #BastistaWeek, a point stuck out to me, and it’s perhaps the biggest fear of his entire return, the one thing that must genuinely be taken into account when discussion not just Batista in the past, but his future with the company as well: What happens if he gets hurt?
With the plans that the WWE seemingly has for him — putting the WWE WHC title on him, after pushing him into a major star-making program with Alberto del Rio from the jump, all while working essentially a full-time schedule for much of the next two years — how can they put their eggs anywhere near a basket so likely to breakdown at least once during the next two years. Even those performers lucky enough to find themselves relatively free from major injuries, like the Rock, have found themselves suffering devastating injuries when they decide to come back after long hiatuses. So for someone with such a long track record of injuries that can be tied directly to their body and body type, why risk it?
The answer, of course, is complicated, and it involves office politics, merchandise sales and all the thing that people who love the medium often hate to talk about because it takes away from the “art”. But, like any other art from, money is the driving force in the marketplace. And, at the very least, when these decisions are made for that reason, they so rarely give us so many different reasons to give them such a resounding thumbs up.