Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Still An Animal - What Could WWE do with the Returning Batista?

I'm guessing we've all seen the above video by now, 4 Time WWE World Heavyweight Champion and 2 Time WWE Champion, Batista is returning to WWE on 20th January episode of Raw. This was, of course, only announced after an error led to Batista being advertised for a number of house shows in February, so WWE had no choice to announce it a few weeks ago. But that's not what this piece is going to focus on, this is about speculating about what WWE could potential do with The Animal and whether this run will be successful almost three years after Batista's last wrestling match. 

There are a number of variables that are going to be involved in how this latest run plays out. The biggest one of these is the length of time Batista is going around for. It's been rumoured that this is more than "Road to Wrestlemania" type deal that we've seen The Rock work over the last couple of years, and that Batista is, in fact, here to stay, at least for a while anyway. If that is the case, then WWE has a lot more time to build up his persona again, with a number of interesting match ups possible along the way. BUT which Batista will we see? 

Inevitably, the former Leviathan will receive a face reaction up on his return on 20th January and most likely will be kept face for the Royal Rumble match at least, that would be the logical thing to do anyway. But arguably his most critically acclaimed performances came from his Heel run at the tail end of his first run with the company in 2010, opposite the likes of Rey Mysterio and John Cena. To get the most out of Batista, I imagine we'll see both sides of The Animal in this next run, as the heel Batista is just too good a character to pass on. 

The other variable that will effect Batista's run is his age. Currently at the age of 44, the same age as the semi-retired Triple H, and without having wrestled a match  in three years, will Batista be able to keep himself from getting injured? There's no doubt that Batista is still looks the part, and training for his October 2012 MMA fight with Vince Lucero, as well as demanding move roles in The Man With Iron Fists and Riddick, would have helped to keep the big man psyhically fit, that doesn't always translate to a successful time in the wrestling ring, especially on the schedule that WWE hands out to it's wrestlers. It would seem Batista will be working a number of house shows, and with high profile injuries to both his right tricep and hamstring in both 2006 and 2008 respectively, it would surely be in WWE's interest to have Batista on a reduced schedule for the majority of his run, saving him for money matches at the companies highest profile events.

So, let's look at who at who we could see Batista facing off against over the next couple of years and which matches or programs look the most appealing. Let's start off with some The Animals old enemies.

Randy Orton

These two have a long and storied history with each other, going back to Evolution, the stable that dominated WWE's television product in from 2002. Their first televised one-on-one contest came on 27th September 2004 episode of Raw, in a No Disqualification contest during the build to Orton's Taboo Tuesday bout with Ric Flair. After trading a couple of wins in 2005 on Raw and Smackdown, as well as featuring the opposing end of tag team bouts in 2005 and 2007, this rivalry came into full effect in 2008. 

Begining with some strange WWE booking meaning John Cena got a World Heavyweight Title shot against Chris Jericho at Survivor Series 2008, instead of Batista who was still owed a rematch, Orton quickly dredged up some old history and two led teams in a Traditional Survivor Series match, with Randy Orton and Cody Rhodes coming out as the survivors. The two then faced off in a Singles bout at Armageddon, with Batista getting his win back, however the feud was cut short by Batista's injured hamstring and he was written out of storyline, as Orton moved onto a Wrestlemania XXV encounter with Triple H. 

Upon The Animal's return the feud was reignited with a bizarre six man tag between Orton's faction The Legacy and the team of Batista, Triple H & Shane McMahon at Backlash 2009. The feud continued with Batista gaining Number One Contendership to Orton's WWE Championship, and after Orton intententionally got himself disqualified at Judgment Day, Batista would win the title from Orton inside a Steel Cage at Extreme Rules. Unfortunately, injury struck again for Batista, who would be stripped of the championship, whilst getting injured his arm broken by Orton in storyline. 

The two would never reignite their feud, although a few more singles matches would take place on Raw in 2009 and 2010. Their final battle being a 26th April 2010 WWE Championship Number One Contender's Triple Threat that also involved Sheamus. 

These days Orton is running around as the current WWE World Heavyweight Champion, having unified the titles in TLC bout with John Cena at last year's Tables, Ladders and Chairs event, as well as having a strained relationship with, the pairs former Evolution stable mate, Triple H, in the Authority. It would seem logical that Batista will be crossing paths with Orton in some way or another over the coming months, whether this leads to a full blown rivalry, a partnership or simply a few glancing moments on Raw, is still to be seen, although a storyline that plays on Orton's insecurities as The Face of the Company could lead to some entertaining moments. 

Triple H

I spoke a little about Triple H above, and this is another rivalry that finds it's roots in the Evolution stable. From 2003-2004 the two would often team up in tag team action, against duos like Kane & Rob Van Dam, Booker T & Scott Steiner and Chris Benoit & Chris Jericho, but it wasn't until New Year's Revolution 2005 that they would have their first bout on opposite sides, in a Elimination Chamber bout that also featured Benoit. Jericho, Edge and Randy Orton, with the story being that Batista was there to help Triple H gain the World Heavyweight Championship, eliminating Benoit and Jericho along the way, before succumbing to RKO from Orton. 

With Batista winning the 2005 Royal Rumble match, the course was set for a Wrestlemania 21 bout with his old buddy Triple H, in a well crafted storyline that made Batista into a main event player. The rivalry would continue The Animal retaining the title against The Game at both Backlash and Vengeance, the latter inside Hell in a Cell, to bring the feud to a close. The two would be shown to have reconciled their differences in later years, teaming up on a number of occassions, firstly on the 15th Anniversary episode of Raw in 2007, before joining forces in their feud against Randy Orton in 2009. Minus the Royal Rumble matches of 2008 and 2010, the two haven't been on opposing sides in a match since the aforementioned Hell in a Cell match at Vengeance 2005.

Personally, while I think we will see some interaction between Batista and Triple H in the coming months, I'd suspect that a match between the two is unlikely, with neither man having much to gain from facing each other and Triple H only working a handful matches a year, it would be difficult to rekindle the magic that their feud had back in 2005. 

John Cena

Both Batista and Cena were in Ohio Valley Wrestling at the same time, with promotion hosting the pairs first ever encounter (with Cena as The Prototype and Batista as Leviathan) with Cena winning the OVW Heavyweight Championship from Batista on the 23rd February 2002 edition of OVW TV. Apart from 2003 and 2005 Royal Rumbles, the two wouldn't be involved in the same bout until September 2006, when they teamed with Bobby Lashley against King Booker, Finlay & William Regal on Friday Night Smackdown, with the pair continue to team in late 2006 and into early 2007, against King Booker and different partners. In the build up to their respective Wrestlemania 23 title defenses against The Undertaker and Shawn Michaels, the pair would find themselves on opposite sides for the first time since 2002 at No Way Out, with Cena & Michaels picking up the victory, before Batista & Undertaker got a return victory on 26th March edition of Monday Night Raw. 

After Batista won a Fatal Four Way bout that also included Kane and JBL to become Number One Contender to CM Punk's World Heavyweight Championship on Raw in July 2008, the wheels where set in moton for SummerSlam 2008 bout between the pair. In Batista's World Heavyweight Championship rematch with Punk on Raw, Cena ended up hitting Batista thanks to John Bradshaw Layfield's interference, in a typically overbooked finish. The two would end up brawling and having to be pulled apart. With the two pretending that nothing was wrong, they would team on numerous occasions in the build up to their contest, even winning the World Tag Team Championships from Cody Rhodes & Ted DiBiase on Raw, before dropping the belts back the week after. Their SummerSlam bout was one of the strongest on the show, with Batista eventually coming out on top. The bout would prove damaging for both men however, with both ending up having to take time off shortly after. 

The two would team up again on a few occasions in 2008 and 2009 against teams like Legacy, but it was Batista's 2010 heel turn that would lead to a fully fledged feud between the two. Batista would be Mr. McMahon's hand picked opponent for Cena, after Cena had defended his WWE Championship inside the Elimination Chamber at Elimination Chamber 2010, with Batista picking up the WWE Championship in thirty seconds.  In the build up to Wrestlemania 26, the pair would bicker over who was the true "Face of The WWE" (sound familiar?) with Cena winning the WWE Championship back at the Shows of Shows. After the two had failed in attempt at Show-Miz's Unified Tag Team Championship on 5th April episode of Raw, they had two more rematches, first at Extreme Rules in Last Man Standing match, followed by the feud blow-off, a "I Quit" match at the inaugural Over the Limit pay-per-view, both of which saw Batista come up short against the Cenation Leader. With Batista "quitting" the WWE the day after their "I Quit" match, this ended up being The Animals last match for the promotion.

So, if Batista wants to prove himself again in WWE, he's surely going to have to go through the man who defeated him three times in succession, right? Cena is currently attempting to get his WWE World Heavyweight Championship back from Randy Orton, so it's very possible that we'll see at least some interaction between Cena and Batista in the first few weeks of The Animal's return, possibly making up their past differences to team up against The Authority, with a potential rematch later down the line. Whilst a rematch doesn't quite have a Wrestlemania feel about it, it could easily headline a PPV like SummerSlam, or, if Batista is busy promoting his new film, Guardians of the Galaxy over the summer, help an ailing Survivor Series event garner a few extra buys. 

The Undertaker

This rivalry was personal favourite of mine, and began shortly after The Undertaker won the 2007 Royal Rumble match. 'Taker would eventually to challenge for Batista's World Heavyweight Championship, over John Cena's WWE Championship and Bobby Lashley's ECW Championship, and their rivalry began to fall into place. As they were both faces at the time, they spent a lot of their time teaming up in February and March of 2007, against the likes of Rated-RKO and King Booker & Finlay on Friday Night Smackdown, whilst also trading victories with John Cena & Shawn Michaels at No Way Out and then Raw, all the time teasing a competitive rivalry bubbling underneath the surface. Of course, 'Taker came out of their 'Mania bout as World Heavyweight Champion, keeping The Streak intact, in an impressive contest.

The rivalry would continue, with the pair teaming up twice against Finlay & Mr. Kennedy in the build up to a brutal Last Man Standing bout at Backlash, which disapointingly ended in a draw after Batista speared The Deadman off the stage, meaning Undertaker retained his title. After a Steel Cage match on 8th May edition of Friday Night Smackdown also ended in a draw, the rivalry was cut short by an injury to Undertaker, with Edge cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase to take the Championship. 

With The Undertaker returning in September, it wasn't long before their paths would cross once again, with Batista defending his World Heavyweight Championship against 'Taker at Cyber Sunday, with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin being voted Special Guest Referee ahead of Mick Foley and JBL with 79% of the vote. This time Batista came out the victor, after a pair of Batista Bombs, to retain his title in another stellar encounter. After teaming up on Smackdown and Raw in October and November against The Great Khali & Mark Henry and Lance Cade & Trevor Murdoch, the Survivor Series would host what looked to be the blow off of their feud, in side Hell in a Cell. Thanks to returning Edge disguised a camera man, Batista picked up the victory in a brutal bout. 

However, their feud would not end quietly, with the pair being involved in Triple Threat encounter with Edge at Armaggeddon that would see The Rated R Superstar take The Animal's World Heavyweight Championship. The duo would cross paths again in 2008 Royal Rumble, as well as inside the Elimination Chamber at No Way Out 2008 with Big Daddy V, Finlay, MVP and The Great Khali also involved. It reignited rivalry was teased as the two had back to back main events on Smackdown in April 2008, with the first ending in a No Contest, before Undertaker retained the World Heavyweight Championship in a No Disqualification bout. 

'Taker was involved in the bout where Batista turned heel at Bragging Rights 2009, a Fatal Fourway that also included CM Punk and Rey Mysterio, and it wasn't long before the heel Batista would set his sights on The Deadman once more. With a new attitude, Batista challenged The Undertaker for the World Heavyweight Championship at TLC: Tables, Ladders and Chairs, and after defeating Kane in a Number One Contender's bout on Smackdown was granted a Chairs Match at the PPV. After initially winning the bout with a low blow, pesky Smackdown General Manager Teddy Long had the bout restarted with Undertaker picking up the victory with a Tombstone Piledriver and retaining the World Heavyweight Championship. This bout was the last between the two, with Batista moving into a feud with John Cena for Wrestlemania 26.

These days The Undertaker works an extremely reduced schedule for WWE, with appearances on Raw and Smackdown in London (I was there!) in April this year being extremely rare, with Taker usually only showing up for the run up to Wrestlemania and only wrestling on The Grandest Stage of Them all. Could Batista be a potential challenger for The Streak over the next few years? I'd say it's doubtful with so many worthy challengers waiting in the wings for a shot at immortality to give Batista another chance would be a wasting the rub that any competitor gets when facing The Demon From Death Valley.

Rey Mysterio

This rivalry stemmed from a real-life friendship, with the pair beginning to team together in August 2005, firstly in Six Man Tag action with Chris Benoit, and then as part of Team Smackdown alongside JBL, Lashley and Randy Orton at Survivor Series 2005. After a victory over JBL & Orlando Jordan on 4th December episode of Smackdown, they earned WWE Tag Team Championship shot against MNM on 13th December and picked up the victory in a solid tag team encounter. This was essentially to give then World Tag Team Champions Big Show & Kane, a big name tandem to go over at Armageddon, as they quickly dropped the belts back to MNM on the 27th December Smackdown, with MNM retaining the belts inside a Steel Cage the week after, because Batista had slept with Melina, yeah, that happened.

After a couple of six man tag team matches on Saturday Night's Main Event and Raw in July and October of 2006 with Bobby Lashley as their partner, the pair had their first one on one bout on Smackdown in August 2008 in the Semi Final of the Championship Competition Tournament, with Mysterio winning by Disqualification and going to defeat Finlay in the final on the same show. After Batista saved Mysterio from an attack from The Great Khali on 7th September, he was somehow added to the bout at Unforgiven for the World Heavyweight Championship, which of course, Batista won in about five minutes to win back the title.

It was a whole year until Batista and Rey Mysterio would be involved with each other again, with both being involved in a Championship Scramble for the vacant World Heavyweight Championship, with Chris Jericho picking up the win, in a bout that also included Kane and JBL at Unforgiven 2008. The team was back in September and December, in multi-man tag bout on Smackdown - All Star Kick Off and Tribute to the Troops, coming out the victors on both shows. 

They were somehow granted a Unified WWE Tag Team Championship bout with Chris Jericho & The Big Show at Hell in a Cell 2009, in a time when WWE was chucking any random team together and breaking up solid teams like Cryme Tyme for no particular reason, with Batista and Mysterio coming out on the losing side. In the build up to Bragging Rights, Batista and Mysterio had their second singles encounter on 13th October episode of Smackdown, with Batista picking up the victory this time round. The week after they teamed up to defeat Kane & Chris Jericho, which would prove to be their final match as a tag team. 

After both coming up short in the Bragging Rights Fatal Four-Way that also involved CM Punk and was won by The Undertaker, Batista turned heel on Mysterio, with a vicious attack on Mysterio, blaming Mysterio for the defeat and claiming that The Master of the 619 had been holding him back. The two would go on to have a number of contests between November 2009 and January 2010, starting off with Batista winning by referee stoppage at Survivor Series. The two would then trade victories on Smackdown, whilst both receiving title shots against The Undertaker at TLC and Royal Rumble, respectively. Mysterio came out with the victory in their final contest inside a Steel Cage on 12th January 2010 edition of Smackdown.

Rey Mysterio has been floating around doing nothing over the last couple of months, an after a short-lived partnership with Big Show, it would seem that WWE once again have nothing for Mysterio. So could a rehash of his programme with Batista prove fruitful for The World's Biggest Little Man, of course it could. I suspect that Mysterio probably doesn't have much left in his tank, and that retirement is probably just around the corner, usually this would lead to a "Farewell Tour" kind of programme as seen by a lot of WWE's top stars over the last few years (including Batista himself) and if that were the case, surely if that were the case then Batista would be high on the list of potential opponents. If both men can stay fit for long enough, I imagine we'll see them either clash or team together over the course of Batista's next run.

Honourable Mentions

Some of Batista's other old rivals are still knocking around WWE, as well. Kane is currently working for The Authority, so if Batista were to get involved in that angle, then the potential for another show down would be high, but with Kane rarely wrestling these days, a bout could be unlikely. Another of Batista's old rivals The Great Khali is currently dancing and prancing in a bizarre programme with Damien Sandow, if Batista needs someone to squash on Raw, Khali could be a good candidate (No, I don't want to see that match!) Mark Henry has been fed to Brock Lesnar over recent weeks, we could potentially see a similar thing happen with Batista, although Henry would need building back up which could take time. Big Show is booked to face Lesnar at Royal Rumble, although I'd imagine Lesnar is going to come out victorious, so whether Show will still be knocking around at the time Batista is free for a programme is debatable. Rob Van Dam is expected to return at some point in the near future and could offer a different kind of opponent for Batista, with the two familiar of each others work, whether they'll both be in the company at the same time will be a key to whether they collide on screen.

Fresh Opponents

Brock Lesnar

Considering that both were involved in WWE around the same time, these two had relatively little interaction with each other. Both came through Ohio Valley Wrestling at the same time, facing off against each other at NWA OVW on 28th July 2001, with Lesnar coming out victorious over the then Leviathan. The two were then on opposite sides of a Six Man Tag with Lesnar teaming with Mark Jindrak & Shelton Benjamin to defeat Batista, Damien and Payne at OVW on 16th October. In February 2002, the two formed a short lived team working a House Show and a dark match before an episode of Jakked, firstly defeating Randy Orton & Shelton Benjamin, before coming out on the losing side against Spike Dudley & Tazz. The pairs only one on one contest for WWE would come on Raw House Show, on 2nd February 2003, with Lesnar once again coming out victorious. 

Lesnar is currently being booked like a beast, after recent victories over Triple H & CM Punk at Extreme Rules and SummerSlam, and with a Royal Rumble encounter with Big Show on the way, could we see Lesnar move on to contest with Batista at Wrestlemania 30? It is becoming increasingly likely that this could be the case, it would give WWE the chance to advertise a "First Time Ever" (sort of) contest which was lacking from last year's 'Mania, whilst also allowing them to use the delectable "The Beast vs. The Animal" tag line. Surely, this collision will be two big an oppurtunity for WWE to pass up on?

Daniel Bryan

Bryan was just coming onto WWE's main roster as Batista was heading out of the door. The pair did however have one encounter on the 3rd May 2010 edition of Raw, with Batista picking up a quick victory in a Beat the Clock Challenge bout. 

Since then however, Bryan's star has sky rocketed, with the former American Dragon proving that he is one of WWE's most over stars in 2013. Unfortunately for Bryan this popularity didn't relate to much success, as after a blistering SummerSlam encounter with John Cena, his subsequent feud with Randy Orton, whilst producing some decent in ring action, was let down by lack lustre direction and Bryan ended up slipping down the card and being placed in a feud with Bray Wyatt and The Wyatt Family. Bryan continues however to prove that he is one of the best proffesional wrestlers today when allowed to show what he can do in lengthy contests on both Raw and Smackdown, and has shown that he can get the most out of even the most technically challenged opponents, Ryback's name springs to mind. So could Bryan do the same for The Animal? It's likely that Bryan could hand Batista some of the best matches of his career, and a programme with Demon from the Deep could help Bryan prove his worth to WWE, but would WWE simply feed Bryan to Batista to keep their star investment looking strong? Quite possibly and the internet will EXPLODE! 

CM Punk

Punk and Batista did have a number of encounters, so this one is kind of cheating, I guess, but Punk was no way near the level that is he is today within the company, so I'm gonna say it anyway! Their first interaction came in 15 Man Tag Team battle royal, as they teamed up as part of Team Raw alongside John Cena, Triple H and Kane, on the losing side to Team Smackdown on Raw - Draft 2008. The first one on one contest between the two came at The Great American Bash in 2008, with Punk defending his World Heavyweight Championship in a poor bout that ended in a Double Disqualification, after Kane attacked both men, the two would have a rematch on Raw the night after which also ended in a No Contest. Both would feature in a Battle Royal on the 31st August edition of Raw, which was won by Kane and also featured JBL.

Punk would then be part of Batista's Survivor Series team to take on Team Randy Orton, alongside Kofi Kingston, Matt Hardy and R-Truth, with Punk being eliminated by Cody Rhodes and Batista being taken out by Orton. The pair would have another singles contest on the 6th October 2010 edition of Smackdown, with Punk coming out victorious via count out, to build to the Bragging Rights Fatal Fourway bout with The Undertaker and Rey Mysterio. Their final encounter would on the 2nd February 2010 edition of Smackdown with Punk once again picking up the victory this time by countout.

So, we've never really seen a definitive winner between The Animal and The Best in the World, with the majority of their previous bouts ending in No Contest or Countout. Punk was also no where near the level that is on today's card, so a contest with Batista could prove fruitful for WWE. A heel Punk going against a face Batista could prove interesting with Punk having plenty of ammo to drop a couple of pipebombs on The Animal, which would make for some entertaining television. Whether the two would be able to click inside the ring could prove difficult, as we've seen Punk have difficulty working with bigger opponents in the past, so maybe this one would be better off a little further down the line once Batista has gotten back into the swing of things.

Roman Reigns

One group that rose to promince after Batista left WWE is The Shield. The Shield have been running through some of the top names in WWE for the last year, with Dean Ambrose, Seth Rollins and Roman Reigns putting on some of the most entertaining matches on WWE television in 2013. It would seem that the group will be coming to an end soon, with tension being teased between the members of the group and jealousy looking to set in over who is the real "star" of the group. Many have said that Reigns is going to end up as the Breakout star of the group, and Reigns even won ATPW One to Watch 2014 (alongside three other awards!). 

It's undeniable that their are similiarities between Reigns and Batista, with both looking physically impressive and being protected by WWE in their roles in dominant factions. If WWE continue to go the way they are with Reigns I would imagine that he will become a major player for the promotion in the later half of 2014, heading into 2015. By this time Batista will be looking to wind down his time with the company, so could we see a programme between Reigns and Batista heading into Wrestlemania 31? If Batista is wanting to give something back to the industry then allowing Reigns to go over in close thought feud could be just the ticket. 

Big E Langston

Similar to Roman Reigns, Big E Langston is expected to have a succesful 2014 and the current Intercontinental Champion is going strong on television at the moment, going over the likes of Dean Ambrose, Fandango and Curtis Axel. Langston was runner up in the ATPW One to Watch 2014 category, and continues to impress with his combination of strength and agility, as well as strong mic work when given the opportunity. (Anyone who watches NXT knows that Langston can cut an entertaining promo) 

There's no doubt that a programme with Batista could do wonders for Langston, in terms of exposure, however I'm sure if Big E is quite ready for such a major spotlight to be put on him. Langston is still relatively young for WWE's main roster at 27 years old, and personally I'd like to see WWE do a nice slow burning push to the top for Big E, and rushing him into a programme with Batista could potentially damage his future, especially if WWE does what WWE does best, panic and have Batista steamroller the upstart.

Honourable Mentions

It looks like Batista will have some interaction with Alberto Del Rio in and around the Royal Rumble, although I'd expect to see Batista simply feed on Del Rio before moving onto to better things. Other Shield members Dean Ambrose and Seth Rollins could get involved with The Animal at some point, although it's yet to be seen how WWE will be dealing with either man once The Shield folds. Antonio Cesaro could prove an interesting opponent for The Animal if WWE ever decides to give the former US Champion a well deserved push. Sheamus is another name that was coming to prominence when Batista was heading out the door, and beyond a Triple Threat bout with Randy Orton the two have never met. Depending on how Sheamus is handled upon his return from injury he could have an intriguing programme with The Animal. Looking at the current NXT roster guys like Alexander Rusev or Corey Graves could potentially have solid matches with Batista, but WWE would most likely just have them job to The Animal, which would be a real shame.

In Closing...

I'm probably more optimistic than most about Batista's return, he could potentially do a lot of good for the company, especially with some extra exposure from his film in the Summer, whilst helping a lot of the younger competitors to get over with the audience. I think we'll definitely see some interaction between Batista and The Authority, as well as the ever-present John Cena, before Batista moves in a Wrestlemania programme with Brock Lesnar. The potential of rekindling a partnership with Rey Mysterio is high, in my opinion, with new feuds with Daniel Bryan, CM Punk or Roman Reigns also looking to be on the cards over the next two years. 

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