Tumultuous, chaotic, disappointing are among words that can be used to described Dave Batista's return to WWE. Since returning to the company on the January 20, 2014 episode of Monday Night Raw, it's been a rough road for the former WWE/World Heavyweight Champion. Actually, Batista's problems started a month before "returning home" to WWE after leaving the company in June 2010.
News broke on December 20, 2013 that Batista was returning to WWE before the company had a chance to start running vignettes for him. The slip-up was a result of WWE sending advanced promotional material to venues that included Batista's name. The mistake infuriated WWE officials and left the Public Relations department telling us they had "no clue" about Batista's status with the company.
With the secret already spoiled, WWE began running for vignettes for Batista's return on the December 23, 2013 episode of Raw, announcing The Animal would be back on January 20, 2014 - less than a week before Royal Rumble and the official start of the Road to Wrestlemania 30. The secret was spoiled and the announcement was made but the controversy only continued.
During an exchange on Twitter with Alberto Del Rio, Batista drew heat for the following statement on January 8, 2014:
Seems 2 me that some C level stars in a B level star era have bought into their own hype. Don’t turn a work into a shoot. #realitycheck
January 20, 2014 finally came and Batista made his long-awaited return to the company. In the show's opening segment, Batista told Randy Orton he was back to win the Royal Rumble and the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania and that he could just "deal with it."
The response was anything but positive and even though Batista finished up with WWE nearly four years earlier as a successful heel, the company was intent on making him a babyface. The reactions upon his return weren't great and Vince McMahon was none too pleased with Batista choosing to come back in skinny jeans.
The Animal made good on his promise to Randy Orton, entering #28 and winning the 30-man Royal Rumble. The problem is Daniel Bryan was running red hot and wasn't even an entrant. The crowd turned hard, highjacking the show and leaving the match one of the worst in WWE history. The following night on Raw, WWE was in "damage control" mode as they lost the crowd on one their biggest nights but that wasn't their only problem. CM Punk decided he'd had enough and quietly retired from the company, leaving fans with the following cryptic Tweet:
Batista did little to nothing to quell controversy coming his way, Tweeting the following on January 23, 2014:
Just wanted to thank everyone who supported my return. I missed you guys!! All you other negative Smarks can suck my balls! Haha!!! #onelife
The Road to Wrestlemania continued with Randy Orton successfully defending the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Elimination Chamber, setting up a title match against Batista at Wrestlemania XXX.
WWE did everything they could to get Batista over as a babyface -- even a last ditch effort against Alberto Del Rio -- but were unsuccessful. Reluctantly, Vince McMahon turned The Animal heel on the February 28, 2014 episode of Smackdown.
A legitimate fan incident notwithstanding and plans for Wrestlemania 30 were finally changed and Batista vs. Randy Orton for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship was changed to a triple threat match involving either Daniel Bryan or Triple H. The possible addition of Daniel Bryan in the title match at Wrestlemania 30 helped tame the audience but did little to nothing for Batista. Problems continued at a rate that only a picture could describe:
Batista refused to shy away from talking about how he was being received and even clarified he didn't make any major demands upon returning. He even admitted to warning WWE officials about bringing him back as a babyface.
None of it mattered. The hits kept coming even after Daniel Bryan overcame the odds by beating Triple H and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Wrestlemania 30.
The Animal Tweeted nearly a month later he looked forward to the day without the negativity.
A new direction led Batista into the spring as WWE decided to resurrect Evolution, ultimately leading to the breakup of The Shield. Surely Batista "doing the honors" for Roman Reigns in a main event match pitting Evolution against The Shield at Extreme Rules would alleviate some of the heat? Not exactly.
Batista -- fully protected by fellow heel performers Triple H and Randy Orton -- decided to wear bright blue ring attire on the program's blowoff at the company's Payback pay-per-view, only fueling jokes and ridicule. Rather than The Shield over Evolution being the key talking point, the Internet was abuzz with a new term used to describe Batista. This time, the guy that told critics to suck his balls, ended up being infamously known as #Bluetista.
Finally, Batista was written out of storylines by "quitting" WWE on the June 2, 2014 episode of Monday Night Raw. In reality, he was granted time off so he would be freed up to do media for the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy film in which he plays the role of Drax the Destroyer. He'll continue to make summer appearances on behalf of WWE but the company will have to find a new way to re-introduce him to their audience.
While one can make a clear and valid argument that Batista has been unfairly used as a scapegoat for fans unhappy at the overall direction, there's not much positive to say about his return to WWE in 2014. The Animal will look for the mainstream spotlight and the reliance on fans having a short memory to help rejuvenate his position in the company. At a time when WWE is in need of top talent, one has to wonder what it will take to get Batista back to that level.