Batista headlines Wrestlemania…whether you like it or not

Nissi Icasiano
Batista headlines Wrestlemania…whether you like it or not
For the second time in his career, Dave Batista will appear in the main event of Wrestlemania on Sunday (Monday PH time), but this time under less celebrated circumstances

Since its inception in 1988, World Wrestling Entertainment’s Royal Rumble has become one of the industry’s premier events, catapulting numerous promising grapplers into the main event picture, including “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, Shawn Michaels, Bret Hart and Chris Benoit.

Initially, winning the 30-man Rumble earned the victor bragging rights alone, but the stakes became even greater when Ric Flair won the free-for-all elimination match in 1992 to become the WWE Champion. A year later, the WWE changed the prize to a title shot at Wrestlemania, widely recognized as the Super Bowl of pro wrestling.

At this past year’s Rumble, former six-time world champion Dave Batista, who had returned the previous week from a four year ring absence, was the marquee entrant. The Filipino-Greek behemoth’s advantage was in full throttle as he entered at No. 28. Batista would go on to eliminate four men  including runner-up Roman Reigns – to claim his place on the top bill of “The Grandest Stage of Them All” on April 6 (April 7 in the Philippines) at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, Louisiana against WWE World Heavyweight champion Randy Orton.

The victory marked Batista’s second Royal Rumble triumph, earning him entry into an elite cast of multiple-time winners comprised of Austin, Hulk Hogan, Shawn Michaels and John Cena.

Yet, despite the win of a returning favorite, Batista’s victory wasn’t met by cheers but rather boos, making it one of the most disappointing returns the company has ever experienced.

It was a surprising turn of events for Batista, who was greeted with “Ba-ti-sta!” chants on his return to Monday Night Raw on January 20. After winning the Rumble, those chants turned to “Bootista.”

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

The WWE Universe’s bitterness is rooted in the fact that his Royal Rumble conquest came at the expense of persevering talents, like CM Punk, Roman Reigns and Daniel Bryan, who wasn’t even an entrant in the Rumble. 

It aroused more anger from avid followers when CM Punk left WWE, with much speculation circulating around Batista’s immediate main event push as being the catalyst.

The people’s disgust pushed the WWE creative team to alter Batista’s image from superhero to full-blown heel. The turn gave Batista a chance to cut loose and air his grievances for the world to hear.  

The backlash forced WWE’s hand in another manner as well: A match between Bryan and real life WWE COO Triple H was added to the card, with the stipulation being that the winner joins the Batista vs. Orton main event as the third competitor in a Triple Threat match. The possibility of Bryan crashing the main event has quelled the outrage…for now.

Double-edged sword

Bringing back a popular former star is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, some will cite recent part-time players like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Brock Lesnar, whose returns occupied the spots of full-time wrestlers who zealously work their butts off every week. The Rock bannered two previous WrestleManias and ended CM Punk’s historic 434-day championship reign, while Lesnar’s contract reserves the option to choose when he wants to show up and perform.

Still, just as in boxing, name value drives pay-per-view sales.

However, Batista is no part-timer, as he has signed a lucrative two-year deal with WWE and works on a full schedule.

Most of us did not expect Batista to win the Royal Rumble this year. Had we anticipated it, we would not have welcomed him with open arms. Everybody was abuzz with the news of his return, but a single move changed the entire take.

Having turned a deaf ear to the clamor of the outraged hooligans, would it not be better to ferret out the other side of his upcoming WrestleMania run?

The man born David Michael Bautista Jr., 44, is no longer the disciple of Reverend D-Von or the henchman of Evolution. He is not just one in a menagerie of wrestlers, but he is a full-fledged superstar, having appeared in a number of major movies since leaving the company in 2010.

Batista, who stands 6-foot-5 with one of the most muscular builds the company has seen, was once equated to a modern-day Ultimate Warrior. Ten years ago, groups rallied behind him to give him the biggest push of his career. He did everyone justice in 2005 when he got into the headliner of WrestleMania XXI and bagged the world heavyweight strap for the first time after pinning Triple H.

Secondly, Batista cannot be blamed for CM Punk’s departure from WWE. If Punk did in fact walk away because he disagreed with Batista’s position in the company, he is defying an existing contract, which is both unprofessional and unethical. It’d be reminiscent of what Austin did in 2002 when he left the tour because he did not want to put Lesnar over. A year later, “The Texas Rattlesnake” realized his mistake and eventually returned to the stable.

Many will rebut that Batista pushed a lot of deserving wrestlers down. Presently, WWE has a pool of outstanding athletes, especially in its developmental territory NXT Wrestling. Conversely, opportunities opened up instead of getting obstructed. Punk’s dispensable spot lodged him at a losing end if you have competitors such as Roman Reigns, Seth Rollins, Dean Ambrose, Sami Zayn and Adrian Neville waiting in line.

Thirdly, Batista will make Daniel Bryan more interesting. It is necessary for an esteemed protagonist to have a despicable antagonist. Austin needed Vince McMahon for everyone to look up to him as their hero. Edge brought out the best in John Cena. Triple H ended up being a footstool to several wrestlers on their way to stardom. Batista is a muscle-bound bully who fits the traditional mold of a villain.

His evil persona brought him his greatest success from late 2009 to mid 2010 when he toyed with baby-faces like Rey Mysterio and John Cena. With the possibility of Bryan being thrust into the WrestleMania main event, Batista is the perfect rogue for a highly-touted underdog. He has absorbed various resentments as a result of Bryan’s mistreatment.  For every loud “Yes” chant, there are even louder “Bootista” verbal jabs. The passionate heat that he accepts from the wrestling multitude is similar to the type Billy Graham received when he thumped Bruno Sammartino.

Lastly, Batista should have the belt around his waist at WrestleMania XXX. I am not saying that 70,000 plus fan screaming “Yes! Yes! Yes!” would not be stupendous, but Daniel Bryan’s underdog journey comes to a close if he wins. Having his WrestleMania moment ripped away will further whip the WWE Universe into frenzy. 

The present plot that involves Bryan is one of the smartest and most interesting storylines ever conceptualized because it has kept everyone tuned in. Ironically, a happy ending for D-Bry will return matters to status quo.

The Royal Rumble is no spin-the-bottle game where players leave the odds to chance. The traditional match is not perfect and is vulnerable to make mistakes in its selection for worthy grapplers to star at Wrestlemania. But with all the chemistry we now see, the bar is set high that the right choice has been made. –

Manila Ring Fight Promotions, in partnership with Epic Wear Store and WWE Interactive Philippines, will host a WrestleMania XXX viewing party on Monday morning, April 7 at Googel Bar and Grill in Mandaluyong City. Manila Ring Fight Promotions is the parent entity of Philippine Wrestling Revolution.

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