Welcome to the second edition of "What If?"
I'm trying something a little bit new based on suggestions I've gotten from some folks. I will use headlines to designate and divide the article into two parts: "Backstory" and "What If?" For the seasoned wrestling fan who doesn't necessarily need the backstory of Taker, Batista, the Royal Rumble match, TLC, etc., then they can skip that and move right down to the meat of the article: The "What If?"
For the younger wrestling fan, the new wrestling fan, or anyone who wants to read a 22-year old English teacher's ramblings about a bit of WWE history, there is the Backstory. Taken together or separately, I hope you enjoy!
The much-hyped return of Batista happened on Monday (I'm still crossing my fingers for Deacon Batista), so what more appropriate time is there to take a look at the impact Batista has had on WWE history?
We are all familiar with "The Animal," Batista. He is a dominator, and has always played that role (I mean, look at him). His big break came when he teamed up with Ric Flair, HHH, and another rookie by the name of Randy Orton to form what became MY favorite stable of all time: Evolution.
Batista was growing rapidly in popularity with the crowds, and WWE management knew it was time to turn him face and let him emerge again as a singles competitor, free from the stable. Randy Orton had long since turned his back on Evolution, refusing to hand over his hard-won title from...from that guy we don't talk about...and spitting in the face of Triple H on Raw. Triple H would eventually win the title back.
Batista, meanwhile, emerges victorious in the 2005 Royal Rumble, ensuring that he would have a world title shot and a main event at Wrestlemania. Due to a precedent set just a year earlier by...(dammit, this guy keeps coming up in this article), Batista was technically able to choose to challenge the world champion from either the Raw or the SmackDown! brand. Batista could easily move to SmackDown! and challenge JBL for the WWE Championship...or he could stay on Raw and challenge Triple H for the World Heavyweight Championship.
Batista had a decision to make. And he made it by powerbombing Triple H through a table at a contract signing on Raw.
But WHAT IF Batista had taken the other route? What if he had challenged JBL for the WWE Title instead? It would be almost impossible to predict the long-term ramifications of such a move, but we can absolutely look at the short term for those directly and indirectly involved.
1. Evolution Reigns Supreme
With the momentum Batista had going into Wrestlemania (the man won the Rumble, after all, and was getting huge pops from the crowd), and with JBL's title reign winding down, there was no way that he would be booked to lose at the show. Batista would gain the WWE Championship from JBL and would unite in celebration with Triple H and Ric Flair. The three would make appearances on both SmackDown! and Raw, operating with the same pompous authority by which they had come to be known. How long this superiority would last would be up in the air, but it is safe to assume that with the excommunication of Randy Orton, that Batista emerging as a dominant singles competitor could only be held off for so long. Batista turning on HHH and Flair was almost inevitable, regardless of which brand's champion Batista chose to challenge.
2. John Cena's Meteoric Rise Postponed
So...if Batista challenged JBL, that means that the competitor who would have otherwise challenged for the title would have been removed from the match (the idea of a Triple Threat for the title due to a Rumble win had been done the year previous -- can't rehash ideas THAT soon). That competitor today is a little-known mid-carder named John Cena. This was John Cena's first WWE Championship reign, and it gave birth to The Chain Gang, the new WWE title, and began the new chapter of WWE that is currently ruled by King Cena. If Batista had taken that spot, then how long would Cena have had to wait for HIS chance? How many storylines would have passed before Cena could climb the mountain? This was Cena's moment, no doubt. Batista had every chance to muddle that up.
3. Who Would Fill the Challenger Void Against HHH?
Obviously, without Batista vs. Triple H headlining Wrestlemania, someone else would have had to step up and fill that void left by Batista jumping ship to SmackDown!
Like any good researcher with a degree in Political Science, I get most of my serious research from video games. As such, I consulted my personal copy of "SmackDown vs. Raw: 2005." I've narrowed it down to the Top 5 wrestlers that could put on a suitable main event against Triple H based on the roster at the time (for our purposes, I have disregarded their feuds at the time or their brands, since this was the era in which we first saw brands becoming "flexible" with their rosters). These competitors were Randy Orton, John Cena, Kane, Kurt Angle, and Shawn Michaels. We had just come off of an Orton feud, John Cena has had no television interaction with Triple H OR Evolution, and Kane was running as a heel at the time, and a turn that quickly and for no reason would just be too difficult for a character like Kane. This leaves the two most likely replacements to be Kurt Angle or Shawn Michaels. But wait...if EITHER of those competitors stepped up to fill the void, then...that means that...
4. No Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle
Exactly. Maybe the greatest tragedy of all that could have emerged from Batista choosing to jump to SmackDown! would be preventing the Shawn Michaels vs. Kurt Angle matchup at Wrestlemania 21, perhaps one of the best matches of all time, and one of my personal favorites. (I'll never forget Kurt Angle holding Michaels's face in his hands and screaming "Tap! Tap dammit! Why won't you tap?!" and then Michaels bringing a Superkick out of nowhere.) But the next two most likely competitors (at least in my opinion) would be these two, and even if you don't believe they would be the ones that would be written into the storyline, you have to admit they would be on the short list, so the possibility exists, and it's scary and I don't want to think about it.
Suffice to say that Batista's choice was, I believe, "Best for Business" (I used the catchphrase from the show?! Get it guys?! LOLZ). All the dominoes fell exactly where they needed to, and the writers were right for playing their hand the way they did. But it's always fun to consider what might have happened had one decision gone the opposite way.
"I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one toward Triple H,
And that has made all the difference."
- Robert Frost