A crippling, painful injury left WWE Champion Batista with a difficult and important decision this weekend: whether or not to get surgery on his back and leave his post as champion for what could be months or just simply rehabilitate it and possibly return to action in the company with his championship.
The injury was sustained in an unspectacular encounter with Kane and Big Show on the Smackdown tapings Tuesday but resulted in a compromised latissimus dorsi muscle. The large, triangular back muscle that controls arm movement tore in his back. It is said to be a painful, but common, sports injury.
The fate of both David Michael Bautista, the 39-year-old whose meteoric rise to the top of professional wrestling culminated earlier this year at WrestleMania, and the WWE Championship will be ultimately decided at a taping of both RAW and Smackdown Sunday night in Minneapolis. Batista will defend the title against Eddie Guerrero and Randy Orton, now considered the possible heirs apparent to the title in a limited landscape of qualified contenders on the Smackdown brand.
Guerrero is immensely talented and has held the title for an extended period of time before but the company has not positioned him with Batista lately, instead focusing them both on a developing Survivor Series feud against the RAW brand team. Guerrero has a rapport with fans but may have lost confidence with WWE brass due to a set of emotional problems he exhibited that was only maximized when he was given a stressful spot. Conversely, Orton is not part of the Survivor Series team and could be in line for a title shot if only to lose soon after to the Undertaker. The veteran is being advertised to return later this month and has often been relied upon in the top spot when few other options were available.
Batista flew to Birmingham Wednesday and had an MRI done on his back. Dr. James Andrews, the orthopedic surgeon who treats many of WWE athletes’ most severe injuries, gave him the option of either rehabilitating his back through training and exercises or reattaching the muscle through surgery. Though the latter procedure would increase the chances of proper healing and comes highly recommended, it would take Batista out of action until mid-February in the midst of his title reign.
Cast in a similar situation, several wrestlers have been asked to consider and choose between the pressures of career and personal health. In large part, wrestlers have historically chosen the business first and personal welfare second. Wrestlers working a long tour, such as the annual WWE schedule, typically work with injuries that have been diagnosed or not. Paul Orndorff, for example, sustained nerve damage to his neck at the peak of his career in the mid-80s. Against medical advice to fix it, he continued wrestling and made excellent money. His left arm eventually atrophied as result, causing it to be smaller than the other.
Batista’s injury could have also been complicated by a spinebuster he attempted on Vader at Taboo Tuesday last week. Vader has been accused of not physically performing well and sabotaging the move by not lifting himself up fully so the move could be properly executed. It is said that with moves such as this, the onus is upon the person being lifted to get enough height while the other person protects them in the fall.
Another issue that complicates the situation is Batista’s age. While a new star in wrestling, Batista is 39, which is comparably old in wrestling. All injuries threaten to complicate his long-term physical health in a more serious sense than for his colleagues and set back his gradual career progress. Batista only recently became a star in WWE in taking a role originally planned for Randy Orton two years prior when he became a babyface against Triple H. The turn was seriously planned starting late last year. Earlier this year, he was given the unenviable position as lead star on Smackdown when, in a hastily planned switch, John Cena was moved to RAW.