By Mike Mooneyham
Dec. 5, 2004

Randy Orton may be the heir apparent to the WWE crown, but former Evolution cohort Batista is rapidly gaining ground.

Batitsa, who overcame a succession of injuries early in his WWE career, has “the look” Vince McMahon likes in his top stars and has developed into a solid worker. He also has shown marked improvement on the mic and appears to be on the verge of rounding that elusive corner to superstardom.

Batista’s rise has paralleled a decline in Orton’s status as the company’s franchise player. Although relatively sound in all facets of the game, Orton’s babyface turn has not resulted in the Rock-like fanfare WWE officials had hoped for, and some critics have pointed fingers at the creative team for pulling the trigger far too soon on the Orton turn. The third-generation star, who was more effective in his role as a heel member of Evolution, has lost some of his cocky edge as a fan favorite and has not been able to shake unfair comparisons to wrestler-turned-movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

Dave Bautista

Dave Bautista

Batista, whose real name is Dave Bautista, was born in Arlington, Va., and grew up in the Washington, D.C. area. Working as a bouncer at various clubs, he broke into the business after meeting Road Warrior Animal (Joe Laurinaitis) and Curt Hennig at a bodybuilding show in Minneapolis. After being overlooked in a WCW tryout, he hooked up with Ohio Valley Wrestling, where he headlined as monster heel Leviathan.

He made his official WWE debut in November 2002 as Deacon Batista, but suffered three triceps injuries in five months that kept him out of action most of his first year with the company.

Since joining the heel stable Evolution last year, the 6-4, 275-pound powerhouse has slowly but surely shown signs of becoming a breakout star. Working alongside a legend considered the greatest ever and a world champion regarded as the most politically powerful performer in the business hasn’t hurt.

If there’s a downside to the physically imposing Batista, it’s his age. Bastista, who didn’t begin wrestling until 1999 at the age of 30, is now 35, 11 years older than Orton and six months older than WWE heavyweight champion Triple H (Paul Levesque).

There’s little doubt, though, that Batista vs. Triple H for the title is a bigger money match at the present time than Triple H vs. Orton, which the company is looking at as a possible headliner for next year’s Wrestlemania.

– Here’s hoping that no one invites Bob “Hardcore” Holly and Rene Dupree to the same Christmas party. The 20-year-old Dupree, widely regarded as one of the most arrogant and unlikable figures in the Smackdown dressing room, recently was served a measure of comeuppance from resident WWE bully Holly.

The series of events began when Holly (Robert Howard) offered Dupree (Rene Goguen) the use of his rental car. Dupree later was ticketed for a driving offense and failed to tell Holly about the incident. Holly later learned of the infraction from his insurance company and had to fly back to the city where the violation occurred after being served with a bench warrant because he didn’t respond to the ticket. Dupree reportedly had discarded the ticket and downplayed the incident when questioned by Holly.

Sources say the hot-tempered Holly hit the ceiling and decided to take out his anger on the 6-4, 240-pound Dupree, who began wrestling at the age of 14 in his father’s promotion in New Brunswick, Canada. Instead of settling up with the youngster behind the scenes, Holly instead delivered payback inside the ring during a tag-team match at a house show Nov. 21 in Syracuse, N.Y. The 41-year-old Holly pelted the unsuspecting Dupree with a stiff chair shot and legitimate, non-worked punches to the face and head, causing one of Dupree’s eyes to swell shut. The other participants in the match, Charlie Haas and Kenzo Suzuki, quickly went to the finish, with Holly chasing Dupree down the aisle back to the locker room.

The Talladega, Ala., native reportedly was harshly reprimanded by WWE owner Vince McMahon and fined $10,000 for his unprofessional conduct. Sources say Holly, who also had to job in a dark match for a developmental wrestler, faces possible termination for another similar offense.

The locker-room enforcer earned a measure of notoriety in 2002 for his manhandling of Tough Enough III entrant Matt Cappotelli as a way to show the rookie “respect” for the business. Holly, who was a guest coach on the show, defended his actions at the time, saying “I’ve never seen a bigger bunch of babies in all my life. This isn’t ballet. People are going to get black eyes and busted lips.”

And while working uncooperatively with then-rookie Brock Lesnar in a match three years ago, Holly suffered a cracked bone in his neck when Lesnar dropped him awkwardly while delivering a suplex. The injury required neck fusion surgery and kept Holly out of action for more than a year. More recently, newcomer Carlito Colon suffered a separated shoulder at the hands of Holly during a match on Nov. 7, with that injury being considered a ring accident.

Although the office has taken a tough stance on the Dupree incident, the locker room reportedly isn’t shedding too many tears for the victim, who has considerable heat backstage.

Dupree has since apologized to Holly and has offered to pay all of his legal fees.

– The 55-year-old “Nature Boy” Ric Flair, returning to the ring after a brief layoff, helped Jerry “The King” Lawler celebrate his 55th birthday last week on Raw by making the Memphis legend tap out to his patented figure four leglock.

Lawler made non-wrestling headlines in his hometown recently when two police officers were charged with conspiring to burglarize his East Memphis home.

The suspects allegedly were under the impression that Lawler, a former mayoral candidate, had $200,000 stashed in a jukebox. A 21-year-old female accomplice, who had befriended Lawler after the break-up of his marriage to Stacy Carter, also was charged. Conversations between the woman and one of the officers about the robbery were recorded on wiretaps, officials say. The suspects were arrested before the planned burglary could happen.

“This young lady is somebody that I knew two years ago. And obviously, unbeknownst to me, when she was here basically cased my house,” Lawler told a local television station.

Reports say that one of the officers was captured on an FBI wiretap discussing the burglary, telling the female suspect that he had the floor plan and that the owner wasn’t home on Mondays. He said he was prepared to fit the woman with a bulletproof vest because he believed the homeowner was armed and said he planned to wear a Pizza Hut uniform to case the place.

Lawler said he has a jukebox in his home, but it doesn’t have $200,000 hidden in it. Lawler said his jukebox has about 100 CDs in it, “but not the kind you can take to the bank.”

“These guys sound so brazen,” Lawler told The Commercial Appeal in Memphis. “It’s shocking, the fact that some of our police are that corrupt. … What kind of person would shoot somebody for $66,000?”

Lawler said he owns only an old 22-caliber rifle, and has very little of value – other than sentimental – in his home. “All they would have gotten is practice,” he said.

The officers also were charged with driving FBI agents posing as prostitutes to Tunica, Miss., to sell sex to high-rollers and with having a stash of Ecstasy tablets.

– WWE has never professed to be a bastion of highbrow entertainment, but last week’s diva display on Raw seemed like a stretch. Having women strip to their underwear for the sake of … well, stripping to their underwear, smacks of a lack of creativity on part of the writing team. Certainly the talent of the five female performers could have been put to better use during the show’s segment.

It also seemed a tad uncomfortable having diva Stacy Keibler, a former Baltimore Ravens cheerleader who was in her hometown for the event, strut her stuff in front of her mother seated in the audience.

The stripping display awkwardly followed a segment in which comedy act Eugene (Nick Dinsmore) brought a group of children into the ring.

– Dandy Jack Donovan, a headliner in the Southeast during the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, passed away last weekend just days after his 76th birthday.

Donovan, who had survived a bout with lymphoma cancer in 1988 and triple bypass surgery earlier this year, died in a construction accident when he fell off a ladder and was killed instantly. The longtime Montgomery, Ala., resident was working at a mall site when the accident occurred.

Donovan, whose real name was Jack Dunnavant, began wrestling in the college ranks at the University of Florida and broke into the pro ranks during the early ’50s as a referee. He also worked as a handler for the original Gorgeous George (George Wagner) in 1956, driving him from town to town and making sure he got to the arenas in a somewhat sober state. Although the arrangement didn’t work out, Donovan was able to glean some invaluable tips from the “Human Orchid” on how to draw heat.

“The only thing he forgot to tell me was, when you make those people mad, you’d better be ready to fight them,” Donovan told Whatever Happened To? magazine several years ago.

Later bleaching his hair blond and changing his name to Dandy Jack Donovan, he parlayed that experience into a full-time gig and became a respected hand in the business for more than two decades. Donovan, who worked his last match in 1979, ran a paint contracting company for the past 27 years and served as music director at various churches. He was honored by his peers at a Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in April 1999 in Newton, Iowa.

“He was such a skilled worker that he once wrestled with a bear (Terrible Ted) and was able to take a body slam and make the bear look good,” recalled former wrestler Burrhead Jones, who traveled with Donovan in the Gulf Coast and Tennessee territories during the ’70s. “He was one heck of a nice guy.”

– Billy Spears, another Southeastern star who headlined in Georgia, Tennessee and the Gulf Coast during the ’70s and early ’80s, passed away recently at the age of 72 in his hometown of Jacksonville, Fla.

Spears, whose real name was Bill Spearman, was a top heel as both a wrestler and a manager. Spears was Hulk Hogan’s first territorial heel manager in the late ’70s when Hogan was billed as Terry “The Hulk” Boulder in Alabama. A classic angle on Dothan TV saw a villainous Hulk, with Spears as his manager, attack Andre The Giant following an arm-wrestling contest.

Spears also was noted for his ’70s feuds with Roberto Soto in Georgia and Ricky Gibson in the Gulf Coast territory.

– TNA will run its second Sunday night pay-per-view tonight. Turning Point will feature a six-man match pitting Randy Savage, Jeff Hardy and AJ Styles against Kevin Nash, Scott Hall and Jeff Jarrett.

– Carolina Pro Wrestling Association will hold a free tryout for wrestlers, ring crew and managers at 6 p.m. Wednesday at Twin River Lanes, 613 Johnnie Dodds Blvd., Mount Pleasant. For more information, call 532-9924.