When Animals attack

When Animals attack

On April 3, 2005, Batista ended Triple H's tenth World Championship reign at WrestleMania 21, and officially transformed himself from Evolution's Animal into "The Man." Yet his beastly metamorphosis into a World Heavyweight Champion meant first enduring a substantial series of growing pains, not to mention pursuing The Game through the mean streets WWE.com would ultimately regard as its No. 10 Most Rugged Road to WrestleMania.

Since 2003, Batista had understood his place in the four-man faction that included Randy Orton and his mentors, Ric Flair and World Heavyweight Champion Triple H. He was the group's muscle, there to ensure The Game remained on top of the mountain. In return, fame, fortune and girls would accompany him everywhere; furthermore, he and Orton would "take over" the reins of sports-entertainment once the Cerebral Assassin and the Nature Boy were prepared to step down.

All of those plans changed at SummerSlam in August 2004, when Orton shocked the world by defeating Chris Benoit for the World Heavyweight Title. The following night on Raw, as Batista hoisted the new champion up onto his shoulders, Evolution's covetous leader gave the thumbs-down, signaling The Animal to drop Orton hard and subject him to a vicious beatdown. Triple H would recapture the World Heavyweight Championship from Orton at September's Unforgiven, while Batista's enforcer role would grow in a now-smaller Evolution. A seed, however, had been planted—if Orton could aspire to the top spot, why couldn't Evolution's Animal?

That seed would sprout leaves and branches come November, after controversy vacated the World Heavyweight Championship and Batista earned a spot to compete for the title in a Six-Man Elimination Chamber Match at New Year's Revolution. Despite Orton advising his opponent to go for the gold for himself, The Animal opted to have his mentor's back, saving Triple H from almost-certain defeat several times. Yet when the Cerebral Assassin found himself in a position to aid his powerful protégé, he chose to sit back as Orton flattened Batista with the RKO and pinned him.

Triple H reclaimed the World Championship gold that January evening, but in the weeks building toward the Royal Rumble, that earlier-planted seed was growing into a fully rooted tree on Raw. Orton's video footage of The Game's inaction at New Year's Revolution clearly rubbed Batista the wrong way, and Triple H wasn't helping his own case; instead, he was getting on his enforcer's, even calling him "selfish" for focusing on the Rumble more than on keeping the World Heavyweight Title around The Game's waist. By this point, The Animal started wondering if Evolution's leader truly wanted him to succeed—especially after he won the Rumble and earned the opportunity to face a World Champion of his choosing at WrestleMania 21.

The Game proudly insisted that he would be "honored" to face his protégé at WrestleMania. But there was nothing honorable about the way he manipulated taped comments or orchestrated an attempted limousine hit-and-run, all in an effort to convince Batista that JBL was calling him out. By inciting The Animal to defect to SmackDown and challenge for JBL's WWE Championship, Triple H believed his title would remain secure and Evolution's influence would control all of WWE.

Too bad the plan only partially worked. Batista was incensed, judging from the way he obliterated JBL's Cabinet members at February's No Way Out. But on the following night's Raw, before he was to contractually choose his WrestleMania opponent, he overheard Triple H review his entire "Game plan" with Flair backstage and say, "Batista needs to do what's right for Evolution, and what's right is for him to go to SmackDown." The WWE fans, knowing this as well, looked momentarily dumbfounded when the big moment arrived, as they watched Batista hold up the SmackDown contract, tell his fellow Evolution-aries, "I've known what I was gonna do for a long time," and give them the big thumbs-up.

Then, like Triple H had done to Randy Orton six months prior, The Animal turned the gesture southward.

Unleashing his unbridled fury with a Batista Bomb that sent The Game splintering violently through the contract table, Batista signed the Raw contract and officially declared that he was going after the World Heavyweight Championship. He'd re-emphasize his statement a week later by putting a world of hurt on the Nature Boy, then forcing Triple H's trademark sledgehammer from his hands and actually breaking the equalizer over his knee. Desperate to "put The Animal down" before WrestleMania, Triple H maneuvered him into matches with Snitsky and Kane, yet Batista refused to be denied. He was hell-bent on making sure that come April 3 in California's Staples Center, WWE fans around the world would be saying, "The Game got played."

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