Throughout Dave Batista’s three-and-a-half year absence from professional wrestling, he had noted that before he returned to the squared circle there were some changes he’d like to see in the product. After witnessing his underwhelming return on January 20, I think it’s safe to say that it would’ve been better if he kept on waiting.
While the WWE’s continued reliance on part-timers and returning stars is a problem in and of itself, at least previous returns were handled well, as my colleague Jeff DeHaan pointed out previously. The first name that comes to mind when discussing part-timers is The Rock, whose consecutive Wrestlemania main events were unprecedentedly successful for the company. Lesser-known stars such as Chris Jericho and Rob Van Dam have also enjoyed successful runs with the company in recent years, even if they weren’t on the same level as “The People’s Champ”.
The problem with all of this is that Batista is being treated like The Rock, where he’s in fact more on the level of Jericho and Van Dam in terms of outside of wrestling popularity (and in the case of Jericho, he’s probably less well known). Part of the joy in watching Y2J and RVD return was that they, for lack of a better term, “knew their place.”
They both won their fair share of matches and were featured in title programs, but in the end used their time with the company to give the current stars of the company the veteran rub. Even Brock Lesnar, the man responsible for some of the most successful pay-per-views in history during his tenure as UFC Heavyweight Champion, has yet to fight for a title since returning. This is what Batista should be doing, but if current internet speculation and last night’s segments are anything to go by, “The Animal” is here to reclaim the Wrestlemania spotlight for himself, skinny jeans and all.
From the opening salvo of “I Walk Alone” to his utter decimation of Alberto Del Rio (the man RVD spent several months of his run trying to build up), the 45-year-old staked his claim to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship. He was presented as a threat to incumbent champion Randy Orton in a way that the champion’s previous opponents (see: Bryan, Daniel) never were. The fan reaction, however, wasn’t as gracious as the WWE had most likely hoped.
The fans chanted “The Animal’s” name in anticipation of his arrival, and he did receive quite the ovation when his music hit. But the WWE Universe is known for granting returning stars, including everyone from Hulk Hogan to The Miz, with a hero’s welcome. The pop for Rock’s return back in 2011 is discussed as being one of the best in history; Batista’s wasn’t even the loudest of the night.
That honor belongs to Daniel Bryan: the “B+ player” deemed unfit by The Authority, who just so happened to throw their support behind Batista last night to be the face of the company. The crowd showed more enthusiasm, chanting in unison as they threw their hands in the air and exclaimed “YES!” repeatedly, for a middle-of-the-show Bryan promo than they did for the extensively promoted return of “The Animal.”
Therein lies the problem with WWE’s purported plan to have Batista win the Royal Rumble and headline Wrestlemania. When The Rock did it, those disappointed by the company’s lack of faith in their current superstars, myself included, were forced to acquiesce that the move made sense on a business level. The Rock is, with no exaggeration, the biggest movie star in the world. The highlight of Batista’s career is an upcoming ensemble role in what will quite possibly be the lowest-grossing movie in Marvel’s Avengers universe.
Batista did some great things with the industry back when he was an active wrestler, and he’s earned the right to carry the belt again at some point, but that time is not right now. If his long awaited return couldn’t even eclipse the roster on a week focused on him, not even taking into account last week’s incredible ending, the WWE loses any reasonable justification for focusing the title picture on Batista.
Is there a better man for the job? YES! YES! YES!
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Photo courtesy WWE.com