You pretty much had to be offline, or at least away from any wrestling sites or follows, to not have Dave Bautista’s return on the Feb. 25 Raw spoiled for you. Speculation turned into backstage reports turned into full-blown headlines… the rumors were true, and the Animal is back for what will probably be his last WrestleMania run.
Even if you had his comeback spoiled, however, I didn’t see anyone predicting or reporting he’d return as he did – kayfabe assaulting his friend and mentor Ric Flair, ruining WWE’s planned celebration of the Nature Boy’s 70th birthday to get Triple H’s attention, and presumably the ‘Mania match he’s long wanted as his farewell to wrestling.
How he was written back into the storyline wasn’t the first thing that crossed my mind when watching last night, though. Hell, it was probably third, after “F*** YEAH, BATISTA!” and “Blue nose ring and matching sunglasses, huh? Never change, Big Dave.”
But, while I know this is probably an example of me being a typically negative wrestling fan/blogger, my third probably was, “it’s pretty amazing that when no one wanted him back, they made him a babyface, and now when the audience is chanting his name, they have him beating up a beloved living legend.”
It’s a sentiment I’ve seen a fair amount of since last night. His success in Hollywood, especially as the goofy badass/autism icon Drax in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, has fans who booed him out of Pittsburgh at the 2014 Royal Rumble when he was “a part-timer stealing a spot” fired up to see him do anything in a wrestling ring. This story also, at first glance, casts Triple H as a babyface. Which is fine when he’s kicking off NXT Network specials, or in comment section discussions about Vince McMahon’s retirement, but is a tough sell on Raw and SmackDown.
Based on what we know outside of the storyline, this is what Dave Bautista wants. He prefers playing a heel, and not being allowed to from the start during his last run was something for which he was openly critical of WWE. The 50 year old also wants to wrestle Triple H at ‘Mania as his goodbye to in-ring performing. The company may think Trips needs to be a fan favorite with D-Generation X’s Hall of Fame induction happening the night before WrestleMania 35. And the narrative is that the Animal is the one man the Game has never been able to beat. It’s the kind of tale wrestling usually ties up by having a hero finally vanquish a villain, not the other way around.
Twists and turns are probably yet to come between now and April 7 at MetLife Stadium. In the ‘Reality’ Era, I’m expecting the interviews Bautista’s given about Hunter and Stephanie McMahon doubting Guardians of the Galaxy would be a success, or WWE not returning Dave’s calls even after he had several box office smashes on his resume, to be introduced into kayfabe as reasons why attacking Flair was necessary to get Haitch’s attention. The audience might insist on popping for him, just as we insisted on jeering him on the road to WrestleMania 30. A tweener “Hollywood star who refuses to be disrespected by WWE brass and doesn’t care whether you cheer or boo him for it” would work as a compromise.
It certainly helps that heel Batista is awesome, and has always been more interesting than babyface Batista.
And while I’m not sure how much the performer’s satisfaction should factor into my enjoyment/evaluation of the end product, wrestling is weird, and I am a fan of Dave Bautista the man as much as I am of Batista the character. So if taking a bow in a business/artform he loves and going out on his terms means the story doesn’t match the one I had written in my head, I can – to steal one of his catchphrases – deal with it.
Even if it means sitting through a 20 minute Triple H ‘Mania epic, complete with run-ins by D-X, Steph, Randy Orton and D-Von Dudley.