WWE's Greatest Feuds Vol. 2: Triple H vs Batista
Welcome to the second edition of a new ongoing series that will cover the greatest feuds in WWE history.
Last week's edition focused on a rivalry that generated some classic in-ring encounters. This week will take a slightly different approach and look at a slow-burning feud that catapulted one of the participants to main-event stardom.
The simmering rivalry between Triple H and Batista was a master class in slowly building up the company's newest superstar. Expertly booked from start to finish, this is one of the most memorable feuds in recent years, as it carefully transitioned Batista from the enforcer of Evolution to World Heavyweight Champion and top star over the next several months.
Following a forgettable stint as Reverend D-Von's "Deacon," Batista was drafted to Raw in late 2002 and acquired Ric Flair as his manager. When the two men along with Triple H and Randy Orton attacked Scott Steiner on the January 23, 2003 edition of the red show, we witnessed the birth of the newest and most powerful stable in the business.
Despite serious injuries to both Batista and Orton in the group's infancy, Evolution nonetheless dominated Raw for the majority of the year, a period that even saw "The Animal" collect a $100,000 bounty by taking out Goldberg upon his return from injury in October. During this time, the stable also held every major title on the red brand simultaneously: leader Triple H was World Heavyweight Champion, Orton was Intercontinental champion and Flair and Batista held the World Tag Team titles.
Orton was kicked out of the group following his World Heavyweight Championship win at Summerslam 2004, and he spent the rest of the year feuding with his former allies. In fact, "The Legend Killer" was pinned by Triple H in an Elimination Chamber match for the vacant title at New Year's Revolution on January 9, 2005 after Batista had decked Orton following his exit from the match.
Benefiting greatly from his alignment with established stars Triple H and "The Nature Boy," Batista was often presented on an equal playing field with many of his more high-profile peers. And by the time of New Year's Revolution, a large part of the audience were roaring in approval for "The Animal."
Royal Rumble 2005
On the episode of Raw following New Year's Revolution, Batista lost a No. 1 contender's match for Triple H's title to Randy Orton. Sensing relief, "The Cerebral Assassin" tried unsuccessfully to dissuade "The Animal" from the Royal Rumble match.
Entering at No. 28, Batista found himself as one of the final two men in the match along with fellow rising star John Cena. "The Animal" emerged victorious in the match by eliminating Cena following a restart, and the seeds of a feud with mentor Triple H had been planted.
However, the match is better remembered for the botched finish. On attempting to throw Cena over the top rope, Batista slipped and both men went to the floor. The referees couldn't decide who to name the winner, so Vince McMahon made his way to ringside to announce his decision.
When entering the ring, Vince managed to tear his quad, leaving him stuck in a sitting position on the canvas as he announced the match would restart. Within seconds, Batista has legitimately eliminated Cena and guaranteed himself a world title match at WrestleMania 21.
Although the confusion surrounding the restart left the ending feeling rather flat, Batista was now solidly positioned for a main event push, and the unusual conclusion of the match did not harm his popularity in the run-up to WrestleMania.
On the February 8 episode of Raw, Triple H retained the World Heavyweight Championship against Edge. After the match, Batista raised the hand of "The Game" in victory and cast a longing glance at the belt before engaging in a staredown with his mentor. Locking eyes with "The Game," the intensity was palpable.
Batista's face turn was cemented in a memorable segment where we saw him eavesdropping on a conversation between Triple H and Ric Flair, who were concocting a plan to stop Batista challenging The Game for his title. They attempted to influence The Animal into going after WWE Champion JBL by staging a limousine hit-and-run involving the signature car of the Wrestling God.
Unaware that The Animal had gotten wind of his plan, Triple H confidently accompanied Batista to the ring for his WrestleMania contract signing on the February 21, 2005 episode of Raw. Mimicking Randy Orton's explusion from the group, Batista gave The Game a thumbs-down before powerbombing him through a table and signing the contract for the WrestleMania 21 clash.
The build-up to the match had been orchestrated perfectly, and Batista's subtle face turn was enormously popular with the audience. It is a testament to the quality of the booking that The Animal was almost unanimously cheered despite still being a member of the company's premier heel faction.
Now, there was just the formality of their headline match at WrestleMania 21.
Batista completed his meteoric rise to the top when he pinned Triple H following a Batista Bomb in front of 20,193 fans at Los Angeles' Staples Center.
With Motorhead performing Triple H's theme music live, the contest had a big-match feel to it, and the reaction to Batista making his way to the ring justified the company's decision to put him in the spotlight.
Although the match went on a little too long at over 20 minutes, it was an acceptable enough contest. A back-and-forth confrontation stacked with near-falls, the match asked a lot of Batista, and he did his best as the match built to the finish, with both men utilising all of their signature offence.
As the show went off the air, the company's newest superstar was front and center on the Grandest Stage of Them All, and the new World Heavyweight Champion.
On the April 11, 2005 episode of Raw, it was revealed that Triple H would invoke his rematch clause against Batista at the upcoming Backlash pay-per-view.
The following week, The Game found himself up against none other than Jim Ross in a no-disqualification match on the red show. Amazingly, The Cerebral Assassin ended up on the losing end of the contest following interference from The Animal, who cracked Triple H with a steel chair.
On April 25, Batista retained his title in a match against Christian. Following the finish, Triple H attacked Batista and dropped him with a Pedigree.
Despite this, Triple H once again came up short and suffered his second consecutive pay-per-view loss to The Animal at Backlash. Shorter and more energetic than their WrestleMania encounter, the match was also more entertaining, as any in-ring shortcomings were disguised with belt shots, low blows and ref bumps.
The following month saw the beginning of a No. 1 contender's tournament for Batista's World Heavyweight Championship. In the final of the tournament on May 23, 2005, The Animal retained the title against Edge.
After the match, Triple H attacked Batista with his trademark sledgehammer and challenged him to a Hell in a Cell match at the upcoming Vengeance pay-per-view.
The third and final encounter was fought inside Satan's Structure on June 25, 2005. Lasting over 25 minutes, this was an all-out brawl between the two men that featured plenty of blood and violence. Batista finally drew the line under the feud when he pinned Triple H with a Batista Bomb after delivering a spinebuster onto the steel steps.
Three straight pay-per-view wins over a talent like Triple H gave Batista the main event credibility he needed to legitimize his spot at the top of the card. It was most unusual at the time for The Game to put over an opponent cleanly in three consecutive events, and this endorsement gave Batista the momentum to dominate the main-event scene.
Four days after the feud-ending Hell in a Cell match, Batista and his World Heavyweight Championship were drafted to Smackdown as part of the WWE draft. The Animal was widely acknowledged as the top star on the blue show, and his first reign as champion would last 282 days before being cut short due to injury.
Remaining one of the company's top talents until his departure in 2010, Batista ended up becoming a four-time World Heavyweight Champion and one of the most popular stars of the decade.
Triple H remained on Raw as one of the red brand's top stars before slowly reducing his in-ring schedule as he paid more attention to his corporate duties.
The rivalry between the two men cemented Batista's place in the main event and directly led to him being trusted to carry the Smackdown brand despite being a relative newcomer and the top of the card. And much credit must also go to The Game for doing his best to present a largely-unproven talent as first his protege and then his equal, which was pivotal in slowly establishing The Animal as a top star.
In terms of in-ring action, the feud between Triple H and Batista wasn't the greatest. However, it earns its place on the list for elevating the unproven Batista from The Game's enforcer to world champion in a few short months. In fact, the Wrestling Observer Newsletter awarded the program Feud of the Year in 2005.
The chemistry between the two performers also generated some excellent promo work, with The Cerebral Assassin carrying the burden in these confrontations. The backstage segments that allowed Batista to almost-silently turn face were masterfully done, making audience support hit fever pitch by the time of their WrestleMania match. And three straight wins for The Animal gave him a huge wave of momentum as he was transferred to lead the Smackdown brand.
Do you have good memories of this rivalry?
Are slow-burning feuds like this the best way to build new stars?
Does Triple H receive enough credit for Batista's development?
As always, sound off in the comments below.