Guardians of the Galaxy star and mostly retired professional wrestler Dave Bautista made a surprise return to the WWE last night, popping up to ruin Ric Flair’s 70th birthday. As seen in the clip above, Bautista quite rudely interrupted Flair’s arrival to an in-ring ceremony in his honor, featuring WWE legends like Shawn Michaels, Ricky Steamboat, and Sting. Bautista is seen dragging a cameraman to Flair’s locker room before entering, presumably beating up the Nature Boy himself, and then dragging out a somewhat-alarmingly red-faced Flair by his shirt. Bautista then calls out WWE Executive Vice President Triple H, thereby setting up a feud that will almost certainly result in a match at next month’s Wrestlemania 35.
Bautista (styled “Batista” for WWE purposes) is by most measures the second most successful actor to originate in the WWE ranks. Unlike Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, however, it’s possible that many who know Bautista for his roles in Guardians, Denis Villeneuve’s Blade Runner 2049, and the upcoming Dune are unaware of his background as a four-time WWE World Heavyweight Champion, if only because, outside of a brief return in 2013-14, he’s mostly stayed away from the company (and has even had some unkind words about WWE’s creative direction).
But Bautista has previously indicated he would be interested in a return to the company if it meant a feud with Triple H, the two of whom once shared a storyline as members of a faction (along with Flair and Randy Orton) called “Evolution.” In an interview with the WWE’s Chris Jericho a few years ago, Bautista claimed he had pitched the idea to Vince McMahon but received little interest in return. Evidentially something—most likely the actor’s steadily rising profile—caused McMahon to reconsider.
While it’s exciting for Bautista to be back, his return and budding feud with Triple H is undoubtedly endemic of one of WWE’s biggest problems. In recent years, the company has frequently leaned on aging big-name stars to generate heat for its biggest annual event with mixed results. A headlining Wrestlemania match between Bautista and Triple H will ultimately be a match between a 49-year-old WWE executive and a 50-year-old movie star who has been out of wrestling for the better part of a decade. But, hey, it’s still better than the inevitable Hulk Hogan return that WWE’s doing soft runs for, so at least there’s that.