‘Animal’ tamed: Why Batista is getting ‘X-Pac Heat’

Ryan Songalia

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Batista's return to the WWE hasn't gone as smooth as the company would've wanted. Rappler's sports editor Ryan Songalia examines the reasons why.

BOOTISTA. Fil-Am WWE star Dave Batista, shown here during a 2006 publicity photo, hasn’t gotten over so well in his return to the company. Photo by Tracey Nearmy/EPA

MANILA, Philippines – The World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is fond of referring to its global fanbase as the WWE Universe. This “Universe” is controlled by a small circle of executives with carte blanche over the creative process, giving them the power to decide all winners, losers and who gets to connect with the audience on the microphone.

What the creative team says is law in this Universe. The audience can only serve as a watchdog for their legislative process. But more and more, it seems as if they’re paying less attention to the crowd’s response, and doing what they feel is “best for business.”

When the WWE announced last month that former six-time world champion Dave Batista was making his return and would be competing in the Royal Rumble on January 26, many fans were excited. His return to RAW on January 20, where he interrupted a promo by unified WWE Heavyweight champion Randy Orton, ended with the crowd chanting his name.

After all, the two things that get WWE fans most excited are breaking the norm and nostalgia. But there’s something to be said about shoving a performer down the fans’ mouths. 

Most people figured that Batista, a Filipino-Greek performer who stands 6-foot-5 and close to 300 pounds, would emerge from the Royal Rumble on top, just as he did in 2005. With Wrestlemania 30 a little over a month away, and Batista a proven blockbuster attraction in years past, it made sense from a business perspective to have him on top.

The resentment stems from the reality that his win came at the expense of younger, more deserving talents. In the four years since he had been gone, smaller, more agile talents like CM Punk and Daniel Bryan had become the fan’s preference, as crowds forced the WWE creative team to acknowledge their popularity and push them (though inconsistently) despite their lack of the prototypical WWE physiques.

Bryan, who is unquestionably the company’s most popular star today, wasn’t even an entrant in the Royal Rumble. CM Punk was eliminated by an already-eliminated Kane after performing exceptionally well for most of the match. Both men have worked exceptionally hard night in and night out for the past few years and are due for a Wrestlemania-headlining match.

When Batista came in as the 28th entrant and threw Roman Reigns out of the ring to win the match and punch his ticket to the main event of Wrestlemania XXX against Randy Orton, the crowd booed emphatically. Photos emerged on social media showing a frustrated Batista mocking Daniel Bryan’s “Yes!” chants afterwards.

There’s only one problem there: Batista is currently being booked as a baby face, or good guy, and the crowd’s boos are their regurgitation of what is being force-fed to them by the WWE creative team. 

The crowd’s reaction is known as “go-away heat,” or more commonly “X-Pac heat,” which is a reference to the treatment the character played by Sean Waltman received during the Invasion angle in 2001. Despite being a baby face, X-Pac was booed mercilessly by the fans. There is no other way to describe what is happening to Batista than this.

Things got even worse for Batista the following night on RAW. He entered the arena to interrupt WWE Heavyweight champion Randy Orton (a heel or bad guy) to a chorus of apathy before acknowledging a fan’s sign that read “#Bootista.” Once inside the ring, Batista couldn’t get a word out of his mouth before the boo birds came out. 

Then came the most embarrassing part of Batista’s night: His promo on the microphone was drowned out by chants of “Daniel Bryan!” as he struggled to collect his thoughts to address Orton. Batista was forced to acknowledge Daniel Bryan during his promo, directing a resent-filled line towards the crowd.

As the fans have grown savvier of the programming they’re watching and the lines between fiction and reality have become blurrier, the public has begun to rebel against the direction 

While nostalgia may distort reality, let’s face it. Batista was never the greatest in-ring performer, relying on superior workers like Eddie Guerrero and The Undertaker in his best matches. He’s often-injured, and doesn’t seem confident when he takes a bump (falls). His microphone work has never been particularly good either, which leaves him to rely on his look and power.

In the post-CM Punk era, that isn’t going to get you over. 

Currently Batista has been paired up with Alberto Del Rio for a match on Sunday, February 23 (Monday in the Philippines) at the Elimination Chamber pay-per-view. Del Rio, a former WWE and World Heavyweight champion, is a heel who has minimal heat and won’t garner Batista much favor should he beat him up. What Del Rio lacks in heat, he makes up for in technical ability, and perhaps working an accelerated program with Batista would help shake off some rust.

Last Monday’s episode of RAW perfectly encapsulated Batista’s conundrum. As a way to build up Batista’s first singles match in years against Del Rio, Batista came to the aid of Dolph Ziggler, a popular if underutilized talent, whom Del Rio was assaulting post-match.

Batista did what he does best, using his power game to dominate and eventually powerbomb Del Rio through a table. Instead of cheering Batista for his efforts, the crowd booed him, as if to say “We’d rather watch Del Rio beat up one of our favorites than have Batista come out and save him.”

If the WWE really wants to be nostalgic, perhaps they can look back to Batista’s last run, when he was the badass heel that most had always thought he was capable of becoming. Batista was surly, aggressive and did his best work on the microphone of his career. His polarizing, arrogant demeanor elevated the performers he worked with like Rey Mysterio and John Cena, while defining Batista as a link to edgier times in this “PG” era.

Since the fans are going to boo Batista anyways, you might as well give them something to boo about. – Rappler.com

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