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The Quotable Animal: A career retrospective of Batista

Batista, you are no basketball.

“The Animal” Batista has long since earned his place in pantheon of professional wrestling. Whether it was fighting through poverty, violence, and other tragedies in his life to earn a WWE contract, the dedication and intensity he showed as he improved himself as a performer during his early tenure with the company, or the incredible and, bafflingly, understated catalogue of matches he’s had with just about every truly notable active wrestler in the past two decades, Dave Bautista can look towards his final match at WrestleMania 35 with a full heart knowing that wrestling fans will always remember him.

But of all the gifts this six time World Champion and Guardian of the Galaxy has given us, the ones we look most fondly on are his sometimes scathing, always hilarious one liners and promos he’s used to belittle and rattle his opponents en route to major matches and moments in his career. So join me as we look back at The Destroyer’s career from the scope of his most intense/ inadvertently hysterical moments.

Silence

Batista started his career as the silent muscle for D-Von Dudley. D-Von, or “Reverend” D-Von, was going through a preacher phase in 2002 and had set aside his love of breaking tables to follow a path of faith and was actually the one who introduced Batista to the WWE Universe. Batista, then referred to as “Deacon” Batista, would follow D-Von around with a lockbox, ask for donations as a preacher would during services, and then use the lockbox to hit D-Von’s opponents, which only made perfect sense. Batista himself hated this period in his career and refers to it as a low-point in his career. He was never allowed to say a word and his role was limited to lockbox-based endeavors and delivering spinebusters. Batista was grateful that he quickly moved on from the angle.

Unintelligible grunts and growls

Batista still chose not to speak after getting rid of the lockbox and making his first appearances on Raw in 2002. He was reintroduced using classic "big monster guy" method of introduction: squashing members of the undercard and fighting Kane. It was a clich√© move but was effective thanks to Batista’s athleticism and intensity, though it didn’t give him much time with the microphone. He just kind of screamed and shouted on his way down the aisle to reign upon the likes of Spike Dudley and Maven. However, it was clear that WWE creative had earmarked him for greater things as not only did he end up beating Kane, he was paired with Ric Flair who ushered him into the next phase of his career.

"I’m the man, I’m the predator, I’m the World Heavyweight Champion, and I’m the top of the food chain"

Batista joined Ric Flair along with Randy Orton and Triple H to form Evolution, WWE’s 2000s version of the Four Horsemen. The quartet was, initially, designed to solidify Triple H’s character as the top draw on Raw while advancing the career of Randy Orton by means of having Ric Flair play cannon fodder and Batista as the heater/muscle of the group but, plans changed. Orton had been given a shot at the top of the card but proved that he wasn’t ready to carry company yet all the while Batista was, silently, getting better within the ring and becoming more comfortable on the microphone.

Batista quickly drew more and more fan support till the creative powers that be gave him Orton’s spot. Batista successfully challenged Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship and, finally, Batista had the liberty and the confidence to inject his own personality into his work as illustrated with his first proclamation after winning the big gold belt: “I’m the man, I’m the predator, I’m the World Heavyweight Champion, and I’m the top of the food chain.”
It was simple, effective, delivered in tights, and perfectly encapsulated where Batista was in his career.

"Congratulations. I want my rematch"

Batista started his time at the top of the card by moving to the SmackDown brand and becoming its main fixture. He quickly built a solid portfolio of matches by defending his title against the likes of JBL, Eddie Guerrero, Mark Henry, Booker T, Finlay, and Ken Kennedy, and along the way proved that he was a performer the company can place their faith in to carry a show. However, what solidified his status as a made man, more than anything else frankly, was a series of matches with The Undertaker.

The Animal was challenged and defeated by The Undertaker at WrestleMania 23. He lost the World Heavyweight Championship in the process — however, it was at this point that fans began to take notice at just how far Batista had come in his career. No longer was he the silent muscle who could throw a decent spinebuster, he was a well-rounded performer who could be trusted to produce quality matches with any type or performer at any level.

And with that trust came not just confidence, but an obvious inevitability with his character. The SmackDown after WrestleMania 23, Batista simply marched out to the ring during Undertaker’s post-victory address and simply said to the Deadman, “Congratulations. I want my rematch.”

The Animal gave no time to explanation, or logic, or rationale, nor did he even bother to say hello to the fans. He simply said, “Congratulations. I want my rematch” and, literally, dropped the mic. It was thunderous in its execution, shocking in its effect, and hilarious in actuality because all Batista did was suit up, play his music and say literally five words to get a World Title match.

Theodore Roosevelt may have crafted an entire ideology on foreign relations when he said “speak softly, but carry a big stick,” but in this moment, Batista taught us that if you had the skills and a damn good suit you could fight for the World Championship anytime you wanted.

"Basketballs don’t hold grudges!"

And so, Batista began an unending cycle of winning and losing the World Championship. His segments on television were solely devoted to winning the belt, defending the belt, losing the belt, or demanding a rematch for the belt. In the midst of this perpetual state of championship defenses and rematches, Batista ran afoul of many who tried to take his place in “the food chain.” One such challenger was The Great Khali who, with tree-like stature and movements, had actually claimed the World Heavyweight Championship. Khali kept an iron claw on the famed belt by using a move appropriately called “The Iron Claw” that essentially saw him squeeze his opponent’s head till the passed out or they started bleeding from the mouth. It was a visually effective move if you disregard tenants of intracerebral physiology and actual durability of the calvarium.

But intracranial pressures and reflexes aside, Khali sought to demonstrate the power of the claw with a basketball. Khali simply came before Batista brandishing a basketball, crushed the basketball in his hand, and looked at Batista menacingly. Batista was irate.

Batista, with thoughts of malice and a spirit of brimstone, fired back at his foe and the basketball that laid before him and said “BASKETBALLS!! Don’t hold grudges!”

It’s hard to know what Batista was thinking in this moment. Was he thinking of his friend, Ric Flair, that Khali had previously decimated with the claw? Was he thinking of how he felt that Khali didn’t deserve that championship? Or was he angry because he thought Khali was calling him a basketball? Regardless, Batista took the offensive to remind the world, a world that never thought as such, that he was NOT a basketball and that unlike a basketball he would fight Khali and take his title.

“YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE MY FRIEND!”

Batista defeated Khali in September of 2007 to continue the seemingly eternal cycle of Ragnarok and reigns with the World Championship. But despite his dominance and his continued improvement as a wrestler, the fans grew weary. They had now seen Batista in his current incarnation for four years and met Batista’s efforts with ambivalence.

Batista, to his credit, kept his composure. He knew he had to evolve and redoubled his efforts in the ring and performed exceptionally with the likes of John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Chris Jericho, and Umaga but still, the fans were no longer clamoring for him the way they did in 2005. Frustration festered within The Animal till the fall of 2009 when the stress of his fruitless effort led him violently attack Rey Mysterio. He delivered stiff kicks to the head and torso of the legendary luchador, flung him around the ring, propped his once friend against the guard railed, choked him, and yelled “YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE MY FRIEND!!!!!”

It’s been 10 years since that moment and we still don’t know if Batista was attacking Rey Mysterio or the fans. Despite continuously proving himself with his performances and being a good ambassador for the brand in the public realm, he was beginning to lose stature with the audience at large. After all, we “…WERE SUPPOSED TO BE [his] FRIEND!!!!”

Batista continuously lashed out at the audience for the remainder of 2009 and into the summer of 2010. He haunted Rey Mysterio and challenged and won the WWE Championship from John Cena all the while berating the audience. Each week he would ask fans “WHERE’S MY SPOTLIGHT”, remind them that he only cared about “money, money, dollar signs, dollar signs, dollar signs,” and that he was “tired of kissing babies and hugging fat girls.”

“Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast, I would catch it.”

Batista’s frustrations led him to leave WWE in May of 2010 and embark on a movie career. He found his big break in 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy as Drax the Destroyer where he was met with wide acclaim! As a relative novice, Batista turned a relatively obscure comic character into a pop-culture phenomenon with nothing more than his natural charisma, imposing frame, and, of course, one-liners. It was a new platform for the big man and he used his newfound fame to good effect by promoting his humble beginnings to inspire legions of fans and just being a positive role model on social media. But the ring called to him still.

Batista returned to WWE in 2014 and was immediately inserted into the main event picture for WrestleMania 30. But while he was likely grateful for the opportunity, Batista, like Drax, doesn’t allow anything to go over his head and knew prior to returning that his reception would be lukewarm. WWE was in the midst of voicing their displeasure that hard-working, full-time stars like Daniel Bryan were being pushed aside for returning stars and nostalgia acts. Batista anticipated this and even went as far as to request to be brought back as a “heel” act but WWE insisted that their audience would be happy to see him to return. Unfortunately, Batista was right and his return to the ring was short-lived.

“GIVE ME WHAT I WANT”

Batista was away from WWE from then till 2019, when he stormed his way onto Raw to attack Ric Flair and demand a final confrontation with Triple H. Batista had been quite vocal in the interim period between 2014 and 2019 about wanting one final match with Triple H to end his career and WWE, strangely, played coy with Batista. WWE seemingly treated him as persona non grata as they never so much as invited him to make any appearances or cameos on their programming, never promoted his Hollywood projects despite their popularity, or embraced him as a member of their extended family — much less entertained the possibility of a return.

Regardless of the legitimacy of Batista’s claims, WWE has used the situation to fuel a match between Batista and Triple H and had Batista appear on Raw to formally challenge Triple H. The promo reached a Shakespearian crescendo when Batista roared, “GIVE ME WHAT I WANT” in regards to match at WrestleMania. Triple H responded in the negative but Batista, with the same conviction he used when asking for his countless rematches, shouted “GIVE ME WHAT I WANT” for several minutes till Triple H relented. It was poetry, really. What is Batista’s story, if it is not about a man who never gave up?

The stage is set for this swan song at WrestleMania 35. Jokes aside, I will be in attendance and am greatly looking forward to his match. And though his time in the ring is coming to an end, he will be remembered not just for matches and one-liners, no. He will be remembered as a gifted performer who found hope in the midst of great hardship, proved that hard work and determination can help you create a better life for yourself and your loved ones, all the while being a positive role model in a time where they are few and far between.

Batista, you are no basketball. You are champion in many ways and thank you for all the memories.

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