I absolutely loathe Batista.
Big surprise, right? A member of the IWC claims to hate Batista. I assure you, arrogantly, that it’s much more than the average case of current online venom directed at the man. My hatred expands far, far past disgust at the fact that he’s returned in 2014 unfit to wrestle a midcard match on SmackDown, much less the main event of WrestleMania. My abhorrence stretches past the fact that his inclusion in the main event of WrestleMania compromises the chances of even the appearance at said show by the deserving Dolph Ziggler, Alberto Del Rio and Damien Sandow. My loathing doesn’t even include the fact that he won the Royal Rumble instead of Daniel Bryan.
Excepting the bulk of 2005 – and let’s be honest, who didn’t like Batista during his emergence from Evolution and first World Heavyweight Championship reign? – I’ve always had a distaste for the Animal. What others may have viewed as a cool, collected demeanor I’ve almost always seen as a lofty, smug arrogance that reeks of an undeserved sense of entitlement. He’s always seemed to strut around with a ridiculous “I’m such a tough guy” aura, despite being legitimately beaten by a smaller physical specimen in Booker T. His in-ring abilities have been plagued with sloppiness for years and years – what was a Sit-Out Powerbomb in late 2002 became, consistently, a Powerbomb followed by a clumsy fall on his ass.
Even some of his most lauded work, particularly his exit run heel program in early 2010, is vastly overrated to me. His mockery of John Cena, hypocritical and moronic, could very realistically be lobbed at the character Batista represented for nearly the entirety of his babyface run. None of his matches post-2007 struck me as anything greater than average, and in some cases, they were a chore to watch. To cap things, his promos are terribly hit-and-miss. When he hits, it’s passable but not extraordinary. When he misses, it’s like listening to a man fall down a ladder. Frequent pauses betray an obvious case of a man scurrying through his head, attempting to figure out what to say.
In 2014, things are even worse. His biggest assets at the peak of his career, his look and credibility, aren’t what they once were. As he wheezes through virtually anything, which I presume includes putting on tight jeans unbefitting of a 25 year old, much less a 45 year old, his spot near the top of the current wrestling food chain is palpably his due to a past reputation that’s a whisper of those similarly vilified – The Rock and Chris Jericho, for instance.
As you can see, my opening statement may even be a little understated. I purely and actively detest Batista.
A thought struck me, though, while I was watching Batista and Daniel Bryan bicker on the most recent episode of SmackDown. Isn’t that the desired reaction for a heel?
For years, the on-screen designation of hero or villain has factored little into the average IWC member’s perception of a superstar. I’m no less guilty of that than the next guy; Wade Barrett, Damien Sandow, and Bray Wyatt, heels their entire WWE careers, are on my favorites list. Most of us value a sports entertainer’s ability to perform his role much more than we value an on-screen character’s virtues or morals. While it would be inarguably troublesome to see 15,000 people applaud an abduction, the cheers heard in the crowd when the Wyatt Family drag a defenseless babyface into the unknown reflect appreciation for their performance as members of a dangerous and mystical cult.
While the attitudes of “smarky” fans, which can include but isn’t limited to the cheering of ostensible heels, isn’t a new concept, its influence in live crowds has become more and more rampant over the last handful of years, and is arguably at its highest point yet. Vocal majorities of crowds have been gifted with or polluted by, depending on your perspective, the independence of directing positive and negative energy to those of our choice, regardless of their characters’ alleged alignment in the scope of morals. Babyfaces Batista and Rey Mysterio were heavily booed at the Royal Rumble. The Wyatts and the Shield, villains, received “This is awesome!” chants before even engaging in action at Elimination Chamber. It’s no longer limited to select cities, nor is it even a relatively uncommon phenomenon.
Though they don’t bat 1.000 in their efforts, WWE has, in large, been extremely successful recently in creating elaborate characters and casting the correct individuals for the parts. It’s almost as if they’ve been too good. Their heels are devious (the Wyatts), pompous (Sandow), and destructive (the Shield) – yet we cheer them anyways. They’re creating characters to be booed, and we’re not booing them – at least not all of us. Earlier, I said that they’ve been too good at it, but through another lens...well, it’s actually a failure.
So what does WWE do?
“Just when they think they got the answers, I change the questions.” – ‘Rowdy’ Roddy Piper
I’ve long maintained that WWE, being the vastly successful business that it is, is not full of senility and obliviousness, despite what some might say. They’ve undoubtedly made their fair share of mistakes and even head-scratchers, but I’d say that those comprise the minority. What I believe WWE has done with Batista is…not completely redefine the heel, but add another dimension to the term. They’ve made it more ductile. In essence: “You wanna cheer our heels? Fine. Here’s our heel now. Cheer him. I dare you.”
To some, it may sound juvenile. I consider it adaptation. Crowds have changed, and the WWE has been forced to mimic said change. Who was universally booed in the 80s? A guy who manipulated little kids into almost earning a grand prize before kicking the ball away at bounce 99. Who, if the theory stayed consistent, ought to have been booed in early 2014? Three efficient hitmen who had spent months carrying out the dirty work of a corrupt dictator, showing no shame in 3-on-1 attacks of some of the fans’ most beloved underdogs. But were they booed? If they were, it certainly wasn’t universal. I reiterate – I’m as guilty as the next guy. The Shield are so good at being bad that we marvel at their Anthony Hopkins rather than revile at their Hannibal Lecter.
So WWE changed the questions. They gave us Batista. When he drew what many refer to as X-Pac heat, they adapted and even exacerbated that reaction by allowing Batista to be the unbearable ass that he is. With crowds’ vocal majorities flexing their smarky independence, WWE scrapped the attempted qualities of Batista that some might have cheered and capitalized on the qualities that so many despise. They focused on the common denominator with which nearly every fan can connect – the love of professional wrestling – and they portrayed Batista as being above that.
He came back after four years away, which included an ambitious but ultimately feckless MMA “career”. A successful fight, but a feeble career. He returned and arrogantly expected his seat, which was not exactly vacated to an arena full of tears a la Ric Flair or Edge, to still be warm. He won the Royal Rumble in favor of deathly loyal, untouchably hardworking, and much more talented wrestlers. His expectation of coasting to the mountaintop of the business after four years off subtly undermines the entire company. It’s beneath him. That we, wrestling fans, feel perturbed by this ruffles none of Batista’s feathers. “Deal with it,” he states.
Furthermore, he wears the rose colored glasses of a man floored by what this company has become. “What the hell has happened to this business? I mean, where are all the real men? What happened to the attitude?” His claim that the WWE was better when he was last around completely undercuts every star that’s in the business today, and worse, it’s at a time when a lot of fans are sinking their teeth into a lot the WWE’s doing. To insult that insults those enjoying it. Demeaning the business yet riding to the top of it is a pot shot to the business by a man who considers himself above it. That’s something almost every fan will despise.
And while my genuine repugnance with Batista is possibly even stronger than ever…I have to tip my hat to WWE for their exploitation of a poor situation into something good. WWE is the doctor using a leech for medicinal purposes.
In an age where fans hijack shows, cheer heels, boo babyfaces; in an age where X-Pac heat doesn't only exist, but is more and more prevalent than ever, WWE has had to change the questions. Maybe what we’ve, for years, called X-Pac heat is now WWE’s heel reaction. Maybe WWE has made a heel for 2014’s crowds.
I absolutely loathe Batista. And maybe that’s precisely what WWE wants.