Tuesday, 8 July 2014

WWE Batista - The Animal Unleashed DVD Review

WWE's Batista - The Animal Unleashed is out now on DVD and Blu Ray, available from www.wwedvd.co.uk.The three disc set, features a near 40 minute documentary, following Batista around as he embarked upon his return to WWE in January of this year. There's also a selection of bouts spanning Batista's entire career in WWE (and OVW) with clashes against the likes of Shawn Michaels, Chris Jericho, Edge, CM Punk and Finlay included.

January 2014. It was a strange time, wasn't it? Batista returned, CM Punk took his proverbial ball and went home and the WWE fanbase booked it's own WrestleMania main event. If it wasn't clear before, this documentary makes it crystal that Batista was set to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from Randy Orton at WrestleMania XXX, why else cut the documentary short at 40 minutes, just after Batista has returned to win the Royal Rumble? If this is indeed the case and WWE had planned to do a much longer documentary then I do wish they'd have continued, as it would have been truly fascinating to see Batista's life during the three months that followed.

For what it's worth, the fourty minutes left of the documentary are a fairly entertaining watch. Batista comes across as good humble chap, talking of his nervousness upon his return and his involvment with both Gracie Jiu Jitsu and the Imperials Low Riders group. The mixture of documentary and interview footage is nicely put together, with the sit down interview segments providing some nice insight into Batista's original departure. The documentary charges on at quite a pace, with plenty of cool backstage footage, like Batista getting ready for his Royal Rumble return and his candid thoughts on how the crowd reacted to him and Daniel Bryan. It's also nice to see Batista hanging out with some of the younger wrestlers on the roster, even calling out Ryback as the "New Batista". Like a Randy Orton cutter, the ending appears to come out of nowhere, as it felt like the documentary was just warming up. 

The match selection is baffling at points, as instead of classic bouts against the likes of Triple H and The Undertaker, this set presents bouts mainly from Raw or Smackdown. Maybe this is because of Batista's previous DVD I Walk Alone, which did feature a lot of The Animal's big time PPV matches, maybe it's because of the WWE Network which currently houses all of Batista's PPV matches, but very few bout from Raw or Smackdown? Still I would have liked to have seen at least on bout with The Undertaker included here, as for me that is still Batista's strongest feud to date. 

 The matches start with a look at Batista's time in ,then WWE developmental promotion, Ohio Valley Wrestling, with a bout against a young Brock Lesnar. Taking place in July 2001, this bout is interesting only because it showcases just how green both men were at this point their careers. The action is messy and dull, with little to no psychology (even if the vapid commentary team continue to say there is). For example Batista hits a decent looking DDT...then locks in a Chinlock. 

Remember when Batista was Deacon and teamed with D-Von Dudley dressed as a Reverend? Well for those that don't or those that fancy a trip down Nostalgia Boulevard, there's Batista & Reverend D-Von vs Faarooq and Randy Orton from a June 2002 episode of Smackdown. I was surprised by this match, as it is a decent slice of tag team action with Orton especially looking very crisp in the ring, working most of the match with the two veterans. The bout is designed to show off Batista's strength, as he spends most of the contest on the apron before demolishing Orton. In hindsight this is fascinating encounter, between two future World Champions.

A very short stop at Batista's days in Evolution, see's The Animal team with Ric Flair to take on Booker T and Rob Van Dam from a March 2004 episode of Raw. How awful was that Booker/RVD theme mash-up? Search it out, if you haven't heard it. Just awful. This is another decent bout once Flair and Van Dam are in the ring for an extended period, after an awkward exchange between Booker and Flair. Batista is made to look like a complete star throughout the match, it's clear that WWE had big, big plans for him. 

Those plans included defending the World Heavyweight Championship on a September 2005 episode of Smackdown, against John "Bradshaw" Layfield in a Bullrope Match. I'm neither a massive fan of WWE's version of the Bullrope Match or JBL, so this bout wasn't for me. Honestly, nothing at all happened, apart from JBL get accidentally busted open by the cowbell. The finish to this one makes absolutely no sense, and was reused recently for the Mark Henry vs Sheamus Strap match, but the crowd absolutely loved it and the match as a whole. Batista is now a mega star, and hugely over, after his recent run it was strange to hear a crowd so into what he was doing in the ring. 

We get a six man tag team match from the short-lived revival of Saturday Night's Main Event from July 2006. Batista teams with then World Heavyweight Champion Rey Mysterio and current TNA World Heavyweight Champion Bobby Lashley to take on King Booker, then United States Champion Finlay and Mark Henry. It really is a nothing match, with the entrances lasting longer than the match itself. It's clear to see why Saturday Night's Main Event isn't around anymore, if this was the content on offer. Also, Rey Mysterio's first World title reign was rubbish, wasn't it? 

The only repeat from Batista's first DVD, is a triple threat bout that see's Batista defend the World Heavyweight Championship against King Booker and Finlay on Smackdown from December 2006. This one has it's moments with an enjoyable story, but is at least five minutes too long and Finlay and Booker have absolutely no heat. Luckily a fantastic false finish involving Hornswoggle, and sizzling finish, chock full of psychology, save this match right at the end. Not sure it deserved a repeat though.

Fatal Fourway action is next on the menu, with Batista tangelling with Kane, Finlay and Mark Henry on a May 2007 Smackdown for the oppurtunity to face Edge for the World Heavyweight title. It's a passable television main event, that makes it clear who is going to win from the outset. Edge on commentary is a complete diamond, playing the Rated R Superstar character down to tee.

Edge and Batista then face off on June 2007 episode of Smackdown, with the story being that Batista isn't allowed another shot at Edge's World title, so he takes his frustrations out on him during the match. It's another passable TV main event, with a slick finish. It's a shame Edge suffered an injury soon after, as I would've been interested to see where they went with this storyline. 

Kane is Batista's next opponent, this time in a Last Man Standing bout from Smackdown in December 2007. As you'd expect with a television bout, this is a set up for other stories to be advanced with Batista set to face Undertaker and Edge in a Triple threat later that month. It's not a bad match, and is difficult to criticise as both men do put a decent shift in, there's just nothing spectacular that you would expect from a Last Man Standing match. 

Finally, we get our first PPV clash, as Shawn Michaels stands across the ring from The Animal for a Stretcher match from One Night Stand 2008. I'm not a massive Stretcher Match fan, but this might be the best outing for the gimmick that I've seen. Bucket loads of storyline, both calling back to HBK's bout with Ric Flair at WrestleMania and looking forward to Michaels' dazzling feud with Chris Jericho. Credit to Shawn Michaels for allowing Batista to look like an absolute beast throughout this match. The finish is an interesting one, for sure. 

We're forced to remember CM Punk's dire first World Heavyweight title reign, with a bout from The Great American Bash 2008. It's an awkward babyface vs babyface dynamic that never quite clicks, with the crowd not really giving a shit for either guy. The finish is absolutely terrible, even in hindsight, making me wonder why this match was included at all. Was it simply because CM Punk is made to look like a complete loser throughout?

Cyber Sunday 2008 presents us with the option to choose the referee for Batista's World Heavyweight title contest with Chris Jericho, but it doesn't really matter because all the possible referees are involved anyway. As you'd expect with Jericho there's plenty of sound psychology as he works Batista's leg after it get's caught up in the ropes early on. This bout was becoming a very good main event, until it became on over booked, run in fest. Shawn Michaels, John "Bradshaw" Layfield and Randy Orton all get involved, before Batista forgets his leg injured and stamps his feet repeatedly. I guess that's what you get from B PPV's like Cyber Sunday. Still not a bad match.

There's a little bit of follow up as we see Batista team with Shawn Michaels to take on Chris Jericho and John "Bradshaw" Layfield on the Raw following Cyber Sunday. JBL viciously attack Michaels backstage before the match, making the match two on one. It's pretty much paint by numbers from that point on. 

Remember when Batista teamed up with Shane McMahon against Cody Rhodes and Ted DiBiase? No neither did I! But it happened (on a April 2009 episode of Smackdown) and it's presented here. The match feels like a house show encounter, with Rhodes and DiBiase building some nice heat on McMahon. I thought the finish was quite clever and fresh, again making Batista look like a beast. 

It's back to PPV action as Batista challenges Randy Orton for the WWE Championship at Extreme Rules 2009. I thought the story worked very well for this one, with Orton constantly trying to escape the cage and retain his title. The finish is a lovely twist on the story, that allows both men to look good without damaging the quality of the bout. 

Another encounter with CM Punk, this time from Smackdown in October 2009, is again disapointing. Why these two Punk matches are included I have no idea. They really aren't very good at all.

We get a look at villainous Batista, as he battles former buddy, Ron Masterio at Survivor Series 2009. It was superb move that freshened up the Batista character that had become stale over the two year priors. This match serves as a way of setting up the new character, with Batista allowed to look like an absolute beast. 

There's a rematch against Mysterio, this time in a Street Fight on a November 2009 episode of Smackdown. This bout is infinitely better than the original with Mysterio able to get in more offence as the match goes on, using weapons to take down the big man. The use of chairs, the steps and a monitor cable, help to get over the fierceness of the rivalry, as well as continuing the progression of the heel Batista. Surprisingly there is a single chair shot to the head at the end of the bout, although it is quite possibly the safest headshot of all time!

A triple threat match from an April 2010 episode of Raw, see's Batista face Randy Orton and Sheamus for the chance to face John Cena for the WWE Championship. I really didn't enjoy this match, it's a typical WWE triple threat, with most of the action coming in the form of one on one encounters whilst the other man takes a breather on the outside. It's slow and they probably could have cut five minutes without effecting the quality of the match.

Batista's final match of his first WWE run see's him face John Cena in an "I Quit" Match at Over the Limit 2010. In comparison with the last match, I really enjoyed this contest. It's a fun heavyweight brawl, with penty of WWE melodrama throughout. A superb spot that see's Batista fall of a ledge in the middle of the crowd is a personal highlight. There's plenty of good storyline action thrown in as well, with the finish being a perfect way to send off The Animal. 

Batista's 2014 Royal Rumble return is also present, as he enters at Number 28. Three early heel eliminations are a great way to start, but then The Animal is down on the mat for a long time, and gasping for air. In hindsight, this is a well booked bout, made to make Batista look strong, it's just a shame that the fans didn't want to see Batista booked in this way and desperately wanted Daniel Bryan to enter and win the bout. WWE would have a major clean up operation following this bout. 

The final match one the set is a Elimation Chamber 2014 clash with Alberto Del Rio. It was a storyline that was always centered on making Batista look good, and it does just that. With Del Rio feigning injury at the start and then working the arm throughout, this is a surprisingly entertaining clash that is kept short and sweet. The crowd also make for an entertaining listen. It's clear from this point that WWE will have to turn Batista heading into WrestleMania XXX. 

Overall, I did find this to be an enjoyable three disc set. For what it is the documentary is strong, if not a little short, and whilst the match selection doesn't feature a lot of Batista's big hitters, there are a few forgotten gems and most of the matches are passable contests. I would have like to have seen more of those big matches, in place of duds like the two CM Punk bouts, which would have improved this set a whole lot. I'd reccomend this set to any Batista fan out there, and even those a bit scepitcal about the Animal, as whilst this isn't the best showcase of his work, it is for the most part and entertaining couple of hours.

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