Musings of a Mark #16
The Biggest Little Man
March 29, 2009
By: Scott Webster of WrestleView.com
As regular readers ? I?m hoping you guys exist! ? would already know, my objective with each edition of ?Musings?? is to explore / evaluate a specific point in a performer's career. Such a reflective theme has been convenient, allowing this fan to investigate periods that have thus escaped his attention. But there remains two years f rom this decade that I?ve largely missed: 2005 and 2007. Therefore, the next set of columns (which could potentially exceed ten editions) will be directed at these years, and discovering what they had to offer.
Arguably the most significant years in the post-Brand Split era, both 2005 and 2007 saw the elevation and cementation, respectively, of the break-out performers that currently dominate the main-event landscape of World Wrestling Entertainment - alongside the lingering vets f rom the Attitude Era naturally. 2005 witnessed the first of these stars emerge with the double-whammy of Batista and John Cena at WrestleMania 21. Within the next twelve months, ?Rated R Superstar? Edge was also ready for his first WWE Championship. Orton has since joined their ranks, achieved after an extensive ?rebuilding? feud with Undertaker throughout ?05 after the horrid face turn as World Heavyweight Champion. But if 2005 can be viewed as the year these players were solidified as top draws, there's also the notable quality of side feuds involving such talented amigos as Shawn Michaels, Triple H, Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio (amongst others), which really positions the half-way point of this decade as one of its best pro-wrestling years.
So without further adieu, this week's topic is ?The Animal? Batista. Almost literally pushed from nowhere (four months prior to his Rumble win, Dave Batista had still yet to receive a large push beyond lower mid-card terrain), and possibly due to the overzealous pulling of Orton's trigger in the summer of 2004, ?The Animal? found himself across the ring f rom former mentor Triple H in the main-event at WrestleMania 21. Following his success there, and if I may add the feud as a whole, Batista spent the remainder of the year as World Heavyweight Champion. Although hit-and-miss for the most part (awesome when partnered with Triple H and Eddie Guerrero, tepid when facing JBL), 2005 saw the ?muscle? of Evolution firmly established as a main-event performer.
But how good
was he, considering his extreme lack of experience on any level remotely akin to main-event status? Is he more than a poster-boy for the supposed McMahon Muscle-Head Fetishism that underlies the WWE product? Read on ?
--- --- --- --- --- World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Batista vs. Triple H ? - WrestleMania 21?The beast has been unleashed at Wrestlemania 21?
At work beneath the surface of the main-event for Wrestlemania 21 is a wonderful ?unleashing? metaphor, as Jim Ross concludes in the quotation above. From the egotistical self-interest of Triple H as Evolution leader that resulted in this feud, which contains ?insider? political implications that members of the anti-Paul Levesque IWC club would undoubtedly notice, to his literal dominance during the match as he assaults Batista's lower back, there's a distinct thematic concern of overcoming oppressive forces for ?The Animal?. In other words, it depicts Dave shattering that ?leash? (Triple H) and breaking free f rom that holding him down.
The narrative itself, and Triple H's performance within it, crafts such an engaging (and surprisingly so, considering how relatively untested Batista was at this point) main-event. Naturally, their approach focuses on ?The Game? and how he manipulates the match dynamic accordingly to control Batista ? of course, this adds to the ?unleashing? metaphor as Batista subsequently overcomes it. A good ?testing the waters? process that doesn?t resort to meaningless chain-wrestling (I?d vomit if I did see Batista chain-wrestle ?) establishes a strength advantage to ?The Animal?, although it's not an excessive development i.e. Triple H held his own for a while. Nevertheless, his resultant shocked expression at being overpowered highlights Triple H's ?need? to alter the dynamic of the match f rom a power basis. In my view, this thought portrayal (of taking care in changing the pace and style to suit one's chances) is a fantastic use of the ?Cerebral Assassin? characterization.
The attempted brawl / slug-fest failed as well, leaving Triple H with having to dissect a weakness. I wouldn?t call it ?outwrestling? Batista, as there aren?t many tedious holds used. Rather Triple H pounds away, ramming the injured lower back into outside objects to finally ascertain control over Batista. A measured, perhaps methodical, pace is created that further communicates Triple H's 'strategic psychology?. (Please forgive my use of that term). However, Batista isn?t convincingly dominated, as opposed to being momentarily contained. It's never too long before there's a renewed struggle against the ?leash?, with each offensive burst growing in success. It effectively presents that theme of being ?unleashed?, as Triple H gradually loses his grip on control.
This theme is also magnificently realized in the Pedigree symbolism that occurs throughout the match. Each attempt to nail that finisher (by Triple H) conveys differing meaning. Firstly, it bears a message designed to unnerve Batista in the early goings suggesting that anytime, anywhere, Triple H could seal victory. Secondly, it's the final step in Triple H's game plan but it doesn?t connect. The third Pedigree attempt witnesses a change in the narrative, as having unsuccessfully put away ?The Animal? via focusing on the back, the ?Cerebral Assassin? turns to extreme measures to get the job done. More precisely, he looks to nail his finisher on the steel steps, but it's countered into a slingshot that consequently splits him open.
Following this is a fantastic ?comeuppance? sequence that depicts Batista lashing out, giving pay back as he rams Triple H's skull into the steps multiple times in retaliation for its use earlier. The scene presenting a kneeling, bloodied and battered Triple H being pummeled by Batista is amazing; blatantly telling of the forced passing of the torch from Evolution leader to Evolution prot?g?. Eventually, after a one or two near falls for both men, we arrive as the fourth Pedigree. ?The Game? locks it in, but prior to hitting the move his grip is broken by an overly powerful Batista, cementing that theme of lost-grip-on-the-leash.
The only criticism to befall this performance is nit-picking Batista's acting. Whereas he sells pain adequately and has the mind to portray an emotion or reaction, there's nothing substantial to its execution. He engages in ?bare bones? selling, grimacing when hit and clutching his back just enough to convey its troubling condition. The same applies to his acting in general, as we recognize the physical signs of intensity he employs. It lacks of effectiveness though, merely getting his point across without impressing extended investment in his character. It's not as terrible as his showing at The Great American Bash 2005, and it does do its job (not everyone can be expected to be phenomenal actors after all, especially someone elevated at such a rate out of the blue). Like I said, it's ?nit-picking criticism?, but it's one of those talents that, when deployed by others, it thoroughly entrances me in the match. World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Batista ? vs. Triple H ? Backlash 2005
The narrative here is an extension on the Pedigree symbol, as implemented in the original, making it the central motif of this performance. In theory, as it represents ?the end? / ?Triple H re-applying the leash?, its predominant presence should amp up its suspense factor. At points it succeeds, and it makes sense for Triple H to repeatedly attempt to hit it, but at other points ? where it's obvious it won?t succeed, and doesn?t serve any symbolic service ? it fails to achieve reaction, leaving a deadened response commonly felt when viewing an overzealous Ankle Lock marathon performed by TNA's Olympic Gold Medalist.
The manipulative characterization of Triple H shines through in an otherwise flat match, with the opening moments being the best part of the show. With raised eyebrows (supporting the content of his trash-talking, conveying confidence), and the slight nodding associated with each word grants weight to Triple H's speech, as he semi-consciously ?herds? (not necessarily an intended pun in reference to Batista's ?The Animal? moniker) the World Heavyweight Champion towards Ric Flair. With the ?Nature Boy? assisted distraction, ?The Game? swiftly pounces on his adversary. This sequence soon leads to a near-successful Pedigree, which becomes more a mind game device than a serious win attempt. What I enjoyed especially about this minute exchange (in the grander context of the match) is Batista's acting immediately afterwards. His reddened face and pain-induced watery eyes (which intermingle to create further expression of shock and nervous energy), combined with the hand clutching his jaw (recently punched by ?The Game?), the momentarily glance in the direction of Flair, before setting his widened eyes (though nowhere near his wide-eyed ?lashing out? expression thankfully) on Triple H; it effectively carries the point that the Pedigree is important. Not merely because it can end the match, but because somehow Triple H has supposedly unlocked this ?fear? in Batista through it.
Whilst that exchange does prove Batista has the potential to act out a scenario impressively, it doesn?t last throughout this sequel. His selling of certain moves are, once again, grounded in ?bare bones? adequacy, whilst some moments (specifically when being suplexed from the crowd onto the cement at ringside) are nigh-on ridiculous in execution. Despite this, Batista's lingered selling of his back injury has improved slightly on Wrestlemania 21, which at this point highlights his development as a solid main-event performer. Perhaps I?m being harsh, or even contradictory, in my review here. However, there's no denying the flatness that surrounds much of this performance, and regardless of some shining touches and signs of improvement by ?The Animal?, Backlash 2005 ultimately remains the third wheel in the trifecta of matches these two had. World Heavyweight Championship Hell in a Cell Match:
Batista ? vs. Triple H ? Vengeance 2005
Without sounding like a drone caught within a craze of hype, as I?ve watched this twice over the past week or so, this conclusive chapter in the Batista / Triple H series blew me away. It's a difficult choice, but I?d choose this in preference over the Wrestlemania 21 encounter.
There's always dispute over the use of ?Hell in a Cell? as the final gimmick in a feud, usually concerning the nature of the feud itself. General consensus holds that only blood feuds should warrant such a consistently brutal / demanding end. Series based on competition (Undertaker / Batista), or even comedy (McMahons, Big Show / DX), simply can?t justify the kinds of violence often displayed in this match type. In the case of Triple H / Batista, it's my belief that the feud matched the gimmick. Triple H couldn?t defeat ?The Animal? under normal circumstances, so he changed the playing field (much like he kept altering the dynamic of the match at Wrestlemania 21) to one he hasn?t lost in. The extreme levels of brutality may be familiar to the pronounced sadistic streak of Triple H, who's also driven by his maniac need / lust for the championship, but can Batista become accustomed to the environment enough to survive?
As the match progresses, one can identify a theme that addresses the above question. Batista's almost always retaliating to the major spots of the match as Triple H, in a portrayal of his experience in such an environment and his sadistic side, introduces the weapons of destruction. To provide a truly horrible pun, he plays Triple H's game better. The chain, the barbed-wire wrapped steel chair and sledgehammer are all innovations on the part of ?The Game?, but after torturing Batista the tables are turned. And more often than not, in more brutal fashion that how they were used on him. In a reinterpreted state, it's all about Batista overcoming Triple H again but within his own domain, as opposed to just beating him.
Of particular interest is the high quality acting by both performers. This match highlights an arc of improvement by Batista in this department, finding a grove in his conveyed intensity that, although it deteriorates in his series with John ?Bradshaw? Layfield, suggests his greatest weakness isn?t too restricting when on form. His pacing, taking the time to emphasize lost fatigue and in general his portrayal of emotion (the anger as he roughly and remorselessly punishes his former friend on the steel steps to be specific, and the furious punches to a kneeling HHH at another point) and pain, is far superior to that of previous performances. Anything involving Triple H is fantastic, from the spaghetti legs to drained energy due to loss of blood; he magnificently captures the physical effects of enduring such damage.
Perhaps an under-appreciated performance, whereby the fact that this isn?t even widely regarded MOTY ?05 suggests that that twelve months possessed quite a large range of quality pro-wrestling indeed. I?ll leave my comments there, as much of the appeal of this match is to witness what it provides without having it spoiled beforehand. World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Batista ? vs. John ?Bradshaw? Layfield ? The Great American Bash 2005
World Heavyweight Championship ?No Holds Barred? Match:
Batista ? vs. John ?Bradshaw? Layfield ? SummerSlam 2005
To be honest Batista's initial series with John ?Bradshaw? Layfield was lukewarm, especially compared to the far superior encounters with Triple H and Eddie Guerrero. Neither performance develops enough tension (whether it's respectful and competitive, or intense and furious) between the characters, which resultantly doesn?t build to any sort of peak, or ?pay-off?. The match at SummerSlam 2005, in particular, is shorter than most opening contests! The fact that it's of improved quality to their showing at The Great American Bash 2005 grants an impression of how this feud delivered ?
Enough of stating the ?poorness? of these offerings though: What makes them so disappointing, besides the worrying length of the sequel and the absence of engrossing tension? The first showdown had an interesting set of chapters to its progression, depicting Batista's power and explosive stamina prevailing initially before JBL's rough-neck brawling and experience ascertains dominance, but ultimately they failed to establish an escalating sequence of events that drew in the audience, both live and at home (at least in my case). The ?dramatic? disqualification climax, therefore, lacked the suspense or intensity to overcome the disappointment of pro-wrestling's version of the cliff-hanger ending ? i.e. the inconclusive conclusion. It could be the less than ?up tempo? pacing, or simply to lack of any interesting 'spots? (not as in the car-crash HOLY SH*T~! moments, but merely any point of interest in a match), or even the ludicrously unconvincing acting of ?The Animal? (his shocked / angered expression following to DQ is priceless!) that creates such an effect. Those who demand perfect and consistent selling will be quick to notice Batista's inability to conform to such criteria here. I don?t support such a view on pro-wrestling, but I do expect appropriate (and competent) acting overall, just like any television programme or filmic text, and the World Heavyweight Champion flounders notably when the performance is trying to convey a significant point, such as the aforementioned surprise and frustration at being disqualified which fails to convince, and instead provides something of a more comedic quality.
The sequel, with attached gimmick, doesn?t improve much on its predecessor. With such a constraining time limit, there isn?t much room for both characters to generate / build towards anything interesting to warrant re-viewing for pure enjoyment reasons. An aura of ?randomness? exists for the majority, as both performers appear to kill time (and ironic observation considering the restricted time they were allowed to begin with!) as they approach to one or two 'spots? of the match. Even then, some 'spots? are sold as almost glancing blows, rather than an act causing immense damage (a spear through a barricade doesn?t even earn Batista a control segment, as JBL is back bringing the pain literally a minute later). Of value in JBL's viciousness once both men actually enter the ring, as well as the neat theme of comeuppance that strings together most of what is displayed in the squared circle. But having such a small duration, and the issues with selling and ?focus?, this performance simply can?t succeed in improving substantially on the forgettable first outing. World Heavyweight Championship No Holds Barred Match:
Batista ? vs. John ?Bradshaw? Layfield ? SummerSlam 2005
World Heavyweight Championship Match:
Batista ? vs. Eddie Guerrero ? No Mercy 2005
Having reviewed this performance in a column two editions ago, I figured it to be too soon to deserve a relook. In any case, for those who missed that particular column, here is what I thought:
?Following the steel cage triumph [over Rey Mysterio], Guerrero loosened his character slightly. This progression is displayed via notable expressive signs (awkward smiles, small examples of showboating etc.), but it never signifies a complete return to the outgoing Eddie Guerrero of old. There's this feeling of something not being quite ?right?, and it's achieved through non-explicit (though not hidden) inclinations, such as the awkward air of his movements, an un-natural twist in his grin, uncharacteristic (compared to pre-obsessive Guerrero) restraint in his signature shuffle / dance and, of course, those sporadic loathing glares. This merger of expressive and un-natural body signs actually presents much of the narrative itself for the contest; which Eddie Guerrero will emerge once the World Heavyweight Championship is at stake? Purely through his acting, Guerrero communicates this sense of mystery and doubt, marrying contrasting signs to craft an unsettling aura for his intention without revealing too much.
The scripted moments of internal conflict (whether or not to use a weapon, or take advantage of the incapacitated referee etc.) are made more entertaining by Eddie's depictions of frustration and indecision. Like the choice made on the steps at the end of the cage match above, these moments aren?t creative strokes of genius by ?Latino Heat? but it's the manner of his presentation of them that makes them great examples of effectual narrative. Moreover, Eddie invests classic stooge-ness in the match (during his reactions to Batista's anger, bumping around comically for the champion's offense etc.), and trademark attention to detail (flailing legs conveying desperation in escaping a small package, the fantastic portrayal of effort in escaping a standard headlock ? yes, a mere headlock! ? etc.) to deliver in what would be his final pay-per-view appearance.
I?m surprised this specific match wasn?t better received during initial broadcast as it's easily one of the best of 2005. Similar to Edge / John Cena at SummerSlam 2006, which saw the Rated R Superstar struggle with his naturalistic tendencies to cheat too, Eddie Guerrero / Batista is arguably superior because of the subtle nuances within the challenger's portrayal. In other words, Eddie Guerrero's ambiguous body signs suggest greater ?non-actedness? than Edge's (still very good) exaggerated displays of desperation and conflict.?
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With his matches featuring JBL being mostly mundane, and No Mercy 2005 largely being the Eddie Guerrero show, it's easy to say that overall Triple H brought the best out Batista. You can trace a line of improvement in Batista's overall performance throughout that particular series, despite Backlash 2005 being inferior to its predecessor. It's hard to believe that neither the main-event of Wrestlemania 21, nor the climatic ?Hell in a Cell? showdown, is widely considered the top match of 2005. What kind of year did I miss anyway?! In any case, I look forward to exploring 2005 further in the coming weeks.