WWE is teasing that Alberto Del Rio will be Batista's first opponent when he returns, and that unexpected move is a wise one.
Twitter tension, an intriguing merging of styles and the freshness of the matchup make it an appealing feud. The company is certain to have other, bigger plans for "The Animal" at WrestleMania XXX, but Del Rio will serve as a worthy first foe.
Once WWE made the announcement that Batista was officially part of the 2014 Royal Rumble match, Del Rio took exception. After putting Sin Cara away, he grabbed a mic and told fans that they should be talking about him and not Batista.
He then promised to throw "that perro" over the top rope.
Their budding rivalry moved to Twitter, where Batista scoffed at Del Rio's comments:
Del Rio responded in brash fashion:
Whether this beef is worked or unscripted, it's firepower for WWE to use. There's a buzz around these two men's dislike for each other, something that will electrify their confrontations. Should they cross paths in the Rumble match, there's suddenly a lot more intrigue around the showdown.
If they get in the ring at some point soon, their match will benefit from this animosity.
On the Jan. 8 episode of Main Event, Del Rio showed that his challenge to Batista was no singular outburst. He brought up Batista again, expressing disgust and a hint of jealousy toward the former world champ.
Del Rio might be poking a bear with a stick, and it's only a matter of time before it swipes him across the face.
WWE is increasing the anticipation for Batista's return with this story, making the audience salivate at the thought of the powerhouse tearing through Del Rio. Even with Batista's many past accomplishments, he will need to deliver a major beatdown to begin his latest run.
Memories of his battles aren't crisp in many fans' minds, and for those who are newer to WWE, they haven't seen any of his exploits live.
Before Batista goes after Brock Lesnar or whoever WWE has in mind for him at WrestleMania, he's going to need an opponent who can challenge but ultimately fall to him.
Del Rio has had so much success recently, including two world title reigns in 2013, that he can suffer a loss and not be too damaged by it. He's at a high enough level that a win over him is meaningful yet doesn't send him tumbling down the WWE ladder. That makes him a smart choice as Batista's initial prey.
When they collide in the ring, the results are sure to be excellent.
Their match will be a fast-paced one thanks to Del Rio's speed. His superkick and cross armbreaker make him dangerous against any foe, regardless of size.
Expect a matchup similar to Batista's battles with Edge: a smaller, quicker opponent who looked to outwit his more powerful foe.
Del Rio, for all the talk of his lack of connection with the crowd and reputation as being boring, is a dependable in-ring worker who often gets the best out of his opponents. Against Rob Van Dam, Dolph Ziggler, Christian and John Cena last year, he helped produce high-quality matches again and again.
An appearance in the Rumble and a bout or two with Del Rio is a great way to ease Batista back into WWE.
Have him slug it out at the Rumble and toss a few guys over the rope before letting Del Rio do his best to make him look great. The Animal would then be primed to take on a more marquee challenge at WrestleMania.
Could he get another crack at Undertaker's undefeated streak at that event?
Besides, the newness of Del Rio vs. Batista is sure to draw interest.
These two have never met before, which will make their first match more compelling. Perhaps they'll have off-the-chart chemistry with each other.
WWE could have just gone with Cena and Batista one more time, but instead, it is heading down a path that few predicted. Del Rio is not the long-term answer for Batista's latest tenure, but he is a fine way to begin it.
When the company tosses two volatile elements together, fans can expect an explosive result.