Batista limped away from the WWE, undoubtedly embittered, after both entertaining and annoying fans in 2014.
Thrust back into the spotlight, "The Animal" suffered from WWE's mistiming, the fans piling blame onto him and time spent away from the grind. Once he found the right role and got his legs back, the former WWE champ contributed to a number of classics, nailed some moments on the mic and improved emerging stars' resumes.
He won't get the credit he deserves, though. Too many will focus on the negatives of this time with WWE.
Batista's latest WWE tenure isn't strictly a failure or a success: It's a stretch one can both praise and pick apart. The following is a look at his promo work, the quality of his matches and the impact he had this time around.
Before WWE turned him heel, Batista's 2014 run felt awkward. Blame some of that on a supposed fan favorite getting a minimal reaction to begin with and then getting booed after that.
It was one of the most tepid exchanges between headliners Raw has ever featured. Fans didn't want to cheer for either man as they insulted each other. When Batista shouted, "I love this business," it sounded as if he was speaking as himself, not a character, pleading his case to disgruntled fanbase.
He teased a switch to heel status that came just days later.
The Animal has always been more compelling as a villain, which showed when he turned on the crowd on the Feb. 28 SmackDown. Embracing the angst thrown at him, he came off as smug, confident and dismissive of an entire era.
Insulting Daniel Bryan and bemoaning the lack of "real men" in the company, Batista slipped into the ideal character for him at that time.
This ended up being the peak of his promo work in 2014, though. He had solid work after this but nothing that will go in WWE's greatest hits collection.
On the March 28 SmackDown, he continued exuding a self-satisfied air as he met with Triple H in the ring.
He hit all the bullet points you'd like to see, from mocking "The Game" for his wife hitting harder than him to reminding folks that he had never lost to Triple H. He didn't have the same spark here that he did during his heel-turn promo.
A number of passable performances bring down his grade here somewhat. His showdown with Stephanie McMahon and backstage confrontation with Orton were both fine but offered little for the fans to latch onto.
Batista peaked once again, just as he stepped out the door.
Evolution split up after their second consecutive loss to The Shield. That implosion began with Batista quitting on the June 2 Raw.
He was intense and believable as he complained about not getting the title shot he was promised. His voice boomed, and rage emanated from him. He threw in a pageant-queen wave before he went, giving one more thing for fans to remember/mock.
Not surprisingly, Batista started slow in the ring.
It had been nearly four years since his last match, when he entered the 2014 Royal Rumble. Even in as good a shape as The Animal was, it was clear that charging between the ropes with fists swinging was gassing him.
Still, had the fans not loathed the fact that Bryan was not in the match and hated the idea of Batista winning it even more, there would have been less talk of ring rust and more talk about the highlights of the bout. It was an entertaining, fun Rumble, but it will always be remembered for the echoes of boos the babyface winner received.
After a forgettable clash with Del Rio at Elimination Chamber, Batista went on a stretch that included three stellar pay-per-view bouts.
Batista's critics will point out that those three matches featured several men at a time and not just the powerhouse and his opponent. It's not as if one could have just replaced Batista with Jinder Mahal in the WrestleMania main event and had nearly as moving a match, though.
His star power, physicality and presence elevated the WrestleMania bout and the two Evolution vs. The Shield matches. Seth Rollins and Company were the stars of those contests, but Batista wasn't just filler. By the time Extreme Rules arrived, he had all but returned to his 2010 form.
He ended up with some boast-worthy marks from Dave Meltzer of Wrestling Observer Newsletter:
|Event||Opponent||Match Rating (Out of 5)|
|Royal Rumble||30-Man Field||3.25|
|Elimination Chamber||Alberto Del Rio||.5|
|WrestleMania 30||Daniel Bryan, Randy Orton||4.5|
|Extreme Rules||Six-man tag against The Shield||4.5|
|Payback||Six-man tag against The Shield||4|
Wrestling Observer Newsletter, via ProFightDB.com
Add to that list some quality work on TV as well.
Batista took on Sheamus, Rollins and Orton in solid matches. His meetings with Dolph Ziggler were his best TV bouts in 2014.
On May 23, "The Show-Off" collided with him in a No Disqualification match that saw two exhausted warriors hit haymakers.
Ziggler inched closer to victory with each battle. This time out, he had Batista in his sights when he crashed into the ring steps, assuring defeat once more.
In retrospect, this is the match WWE should have gone with for Batista at WrestleMania. He wouldn't have been made such a scapegoat had he lost in the Rumble and had headed to the midcard of "The Show of Shows."
It was the decision to have him roost atop the WWE immediately upon returning that irked the fans, getting them to turn against him.
Boos drowned out some of Batista's hard work. The Rock and Brock Lesnar returned only to appear on an extremely limited schedule. Batista, though, dove right back into the WWE calender.
He worked every pay-per-view from Janurary to June, appeared on several episodes of Raw and SmackDown and worked house shows on top of that.
Tonight is what I missed about wrestling. I love house shows! Thank you Phoenix. #WWEPhoenix— Dave Bautista (@DaveBautista) February 16, 2014
While so many of Lesnar's and The Rock's time on TV was spent talking, Batista competed regularly. He gave new energy to SmackDown, bringing star power and fresh matchups to the show.
Batista also spent much of his time back lifting up rising stars. Bryan defeated him. Roman Reigns pinned him at Extreme Rules, and Rollins did so at Payback. Del Rio even got a win against him, albeit with the help of Orton's distraction.
Rather than just come back into the fold and tear through all the stars WWE had been trying to elevate, he assisted in that elevation process. That's not what his legacy will be, though.
Batista's story will be that he was a target of fan frustration.
The audience rejected him, resenting the fact that he was taking a spot at WrestleMania that many believed Bryan deserved. Bryan eventually slipped into that headlining match, but the stink of disapproval still stuck to Batista.
Fans called him "Bootista" and, after wearing blue trunks at Payback, "Bluetista."
I swear to god a flight attendant just pronounced my name Bootista!! Doh!!!! I just can't catch a break!— Dave Bautista (@DaveBautista) May 12, 2014
Being the butt of jokes, the center of controversy and reportedly one of the reasons CM Punk left the company was certainly not how he envisioned his return to WWE. After four years, he probably believed that the desire to see him powerbomb folks would be strong. A hero's welcome never came.
Being a part of the short-lived but exciting reformation of Evolution is one of many accomplishments that the negative reaction at the Royal Rumble will overshadow.
WWE misjudged its audience. It believed Batista to be on The Rock and Lesnar's level, men whom the majority of fans would allow to step right back into a top spot. Once placed into that position, the crowd booed him down.
He leaves the company having provided flops and successes, a mixed bag of memories.