Dave Bautista is one of only a handful of pro wrestlers who have managed to break free from their character and parlay that fame into a successful film career — which is not to say that he ever left the wrestling world fully behind. He’s one of the top action stars in Hollywood and an in-demand actor recognized worldwide; to many, though, he’ll always be Batista — without the "U" — and if that’s his legacy, there are certainly far worse ones to have than being one of the biggest draws in WWE for years.
It’s easy to say someone like Dave Bautista has a good life, but a lot of that has been him finding the silver lining in tragedy. This is a man who grew up poor, had no direction in his life until wrestling, got into fights with his employer, and had a fraught personal life because of it. He’s had to overcome many obstacles to get to where he is, and that’s commendable, but those tragic details should not be ignored.
There was violence at his literal doorstep growing up
Saying that Dave Bautista watched violence from his front door isn’t a metaphor. He grew up in Washington, D.C., during the height of the ’80s crime wave. His entire neighborhood was dangerous, but that danger often found its way so close that he didn’t even need to leave his own home.
Through his window, a young Bautista saw a mob of people beat a man and almost throw him off an overpass. He also saw his own mother get attacked.
The final straw was when his mom found a man shot to death outside their home. She called the cops and, while waiting for them to arrive, noticed her children playing outside and completely unfazed by the murder scene. She realized that if her children could see a man die without getting upset, it was time to move. The family relocated to San Francisco shortly afterwards.
Backstage fight with Booker T
The year is 2006 and Batista is at the peak of his popularity in WWE. He was a one of the company’s top stars, served as the main event at the previous year’s Wrestlemania, and was always in the title picture. He was also, by all accounts, kind of a jerk. This led to a legit fight with veteran wrestler Booker T at a photoshoot for SummerSlam 2006.
News of the fight was originally broken by WWE themselves, which would normally be cause for skepticism, but enough people involved have spoken outside the auspices of the company to confirm that it actually happened. No two accounts agree on who won the fight, or if there was a winner at all, but most agree that Booker started it after he felt Batista disrespected him.
Most records also indicate Booker won, with Booker himself telling WrestlingINC that "[Batista] took a good beating, but he’s a man." Producer Fit Finlay told Sportskeeda that he arrived towards the end of the fight and saw Batista on top, but was more impressed with the fact that Batista no-sold a kick to the groin by Booker’s wife Sharmell.
In Dave Bautista’s autobiography, "Bautista Unleashed," he admitted his own fault: "[Booker’s] earned respect in this business. I didn’t show it, and I was wrong."
Batista returned to WWE in 2014 after a four-year absence. He was greeted as a hero before inadvertently becoming a heel through no fault of his own. It all went down at one of the most maligned pay-per-views in recent memory: the 2014 Royal Rumble.
Batista entered number 28 in the Royal Rumble. There was one problem: the entire building had their heart set on Daniel Bryan entering. As the rumble went on, the fans booed each new entrant, and Batista was no exception. Even when longtime fan favorite Rey Mysterio entered at 30, he was vociferously booed for the crime of not being Daniel Bryan.
It wasn’t long before the match reached the climax. With four men left in the ring, fans quickly turned against Batista — nobody wanted to see another part-timer take a spot from a workhorse. Alas, it was not to be: Batista threw Roman Reigns over the top rope and won the rumble, to a shower of boos.
It’s a moment known by fans as "Bootista," one of the most memorable Rumble endings for all the wrong reasons. Dave Bautista himself has seldom addressed it, if ever, but many of his fellow wrestlers felt bad that he was booed for something that wasn’t his fault.
As bad as this was, it at least led to a good ending: this was one of the key moments that led Bryan to the main event of Wrestlemania XXX, where he faced off against Batista and Randy Orton. Batista even tapped out to Bryan, giving the indie legend his first WWE championship.
He’s been accused of steroid use
Batista was king during the most musclebound era that the WWE has ever known. Bodybuilder physiques were necessary for main event pushes, where ripped men like Triple H and Batista were always in the title picture while smaller guys were mid-card at best. Maintaining that physique often takes a little more than a relentless attitude in the gym, which has led to several accusations of steroid use aimed at Batista.
After Batista suffered a bicep injury in 2009, Dave Meltzer of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter noted that the wrestler’s "new look raised a lot of eyebrows" and that biceps "will tear more frequently on steroids." Writer Irv Muchnick emailed Meltzer in an attempt to clarify whether this injury was indeed due to steroids, and Meltzer responded, "Obviously, it was steroid related, but in fairness, guys not on steroids also tear biceps and not triceps." Two years earlier, ESPN reported that Dave Bautista was a client of a pharmacy under investigation for supplying steroids, but he denied he ever took steroids and was never suspended by WWE for any violation.
So it’s on record: there’s no definitive proof that Bautista ever used steroids. But since he’s been able to stay ripped for decades, spent time in a profession with known predilection towards steroids, and can’t shake industry whispers that he uses them, it’s easy to see why people wonder.
He quit WWE the first time because they wouldn’t let him do movies
Batista left WWE in 2010, after losing an "I Quit" match with John Cena at Over the Limit. It was the last anyone saw of him in the company for four years, and at the time, his departure left more questions than answers.
During an interview on MLW Radio Writer’s Room, Dave Bautista claimed that WWE denying him opportunities to do movies is what pushed him away. WWE has their own movie arm, WWE Studios. It largely produces direct-to-video action movies and lowbrow comedy, but it’s also a way for wrestlers to take time away from the ring, hone new skills, and collect a different (and occasionally bigger) paycheck. Bautista got frustrated after Cena kept getting movies and commercial roles while he was left out, despite the fact that they were more or less the two faces of the company at the time.
After getting passed over time and time again, Bautista asked WWE if he could audition for outside projects. He claims they responded "You’re our property. Get dressed for the house show and get to work." It’s worth noting, as always, that WWE talent are technically independent contractors — but the terms of that contract are often so suffocating that it’s functionally full-time employment. In 2009, Batista gave WWE one year’s notice and left in 2010. What made his departure even sadder was, per his own claim, that few people backstage said goodbye or thanked him.
He was once directionless and had a gym addiction
Like many people in their 20s, Dave Bautista found himself directionless for a period of time. He spent a lot of that time working out, honing an already naturally intimidating frame. He told Men’s Health in 2017 that "I’m just so addicted to working out. Not only do I need it physically, but I need it mentally as well. It’s a therapy for me." When he was younger, that addiction may have been a lot more literal.
After spending time as a bouncer, doing the odd petty crime, and having two daughters with his first wife, he had no idea what he wanted to do with his life. During this time, he developed what he called "reverse anorexia" — he’d spend all night working, and then go to the gym for hours, never feeling he was ever big enough. "The next thing you know," he recounted to the Tampa Bay Times, "10 years goes by, and there I am trying to borrow money to buy my kids Christmas presents."
What ultimately got him out of this was enrolling at the Wild Samoan Training Center around his 30th birthday, with the tuition and living expenses paid for by a friend. Five years later, he was a world champion in WWE.
His signature glasses hid his stage fright
The signature item for both Dave Bautista, the Man, and Batista, the Wrestler, are his tinted sunglasses. As a wrestler, he’d wear them in the darkest of night, in any arena, and during any and all promos. These were more than just a fashion statement — they were a security blanket for a man who was terrified of public speaking.
Bautista revealed his fear on Michael Rosenbaum’s Inside of You podcast. Physicality was not an issue for him, but he knew that he’d have a low ceiling as a big scary man who can’t talk. "I really wanted to move up, if I wanted to progress in my career — I had to be a well-rounded professional wrestler. Which means you have to start speaking and acting; it was my nightmare." As such, he made some wardrobe choices to compensate: "people always ask me why I wore sunglasses and hats and stuff when I was doing promos in the ring — that was my pacifier, hiding behind those things."
His methods worked: he became a reliably solid promo guy, got a Hollywood career out of it, and picked up an identifiable feature.
He regrets never having gotten a formal education
During an interview with SPORTbible, Dave Bautista spent a fair amount of time speaking about his regrets. He went over his failed marriage, his injuries, and lots of the sacrifices he had to make. One point has stuck in his craw all these years: he never got a full, formal education. He was living on his own by the time he was 17, and wasn’t able to finish his senior year of high school.
It’s a decision that continues to haunt him, and it was a point he hammered home in his interview: "If I could go back and do it again, I know this sounds cliche, but I would go back and focus on education. I always preach that. I preach that to my kids and I believe that because that’s something that you can take with you no matter where you are in your life or where you are in the world."
His womanizing damaged his relationships
During his wrestling days, Dave Bautista could hardly control himself around women. While Bautista has never outright admitted he cheated on his wife, there have long been persistent rumors that his relationship with Melina was part of what caused his divorce. Bautista even developed a reputation for sleeping around with the Divas roster, with rumors connecting him to names like Layla El and Rosa Mendes.
While the specifics are fuzzy and often just wrestling scuttlebutt, he’s been open about the time he spent womanizing while wrestling. "I didn’t drink or do drugs. Women were my drug of choice," he told news.com.au. "I would have 10, 20, 30 girls throwing themselves at me. I wasn’t equipped to handle it. So I took advantage." Although as he pointed out, he dodged developing any kind of drinking or drug addiction, he eventually realized that he did indeed have his own problem.
He cleaned up his act not long after this realization, wanting to be a good role model for his daughters. "I don’t have a lot of regrets in my life and I haven’t been an angel," he reflected. "But if I could change anything, it’d be the chapter with all the women. It hurt the people I love."
He had a no-show father and his grandparents shunned his mother
The Bautista family was not a particularly stable environment for young Dave. His father, a hairdresser, was a non-presence. His mother Donna Ray’s conservative Greek-American family shunned her — a little bit because she was a lesbian who openly dated women, but mostly because she was a Democrat and had liberal leanings. She raised her children during the day and worked at a shop developing photographs at night. The family was so poor they’d reinforce their shoes with cardboard to avoid getting their feet wet.
Adversity can forge strong, lasting bonds, and Bautista loves his mom, who always cared for him and was courageous enough to be open about her sexuality in an era when that wasn’t common. He told news.com.au that "I never had an issue with my mother’s sexuality. She loved us, she cared for us and that’s all that mattered. She was with my dad for a small part of my life. After that, I don’t remember her having anything but girlfriends. And I never thought of her as ‘my mom the lesbian.’ She was Mom, an incredibly strong woman who always did her best to keep me out of trouble and keep me alive."
His many, many injuries
Before becoming one of Hollywood’s most bankable action stars, Dave Bautista had a series of careers that just screamed "injury prone": bouncer, bodybuilder, wrestler, MMA fighter. Indeed, as a pro wrestler, Batista developed a reputation as one of the more injury-susceptible men on WWE’s roster. It’s not even bad luck — it’s just the natural byproduct of being the face of the company. Wrestling that much, at that high a level, while maintaining that physique, meant that injuries were always going to be a risk for him.
Batista’s most notable ailment was a tricep injury in January 2006 that ended his record-setting World Heavyweight Championship title reign at 282 days. He’s torn his biceps and triceps several times. Batista also claims that he was dealing with an injury when Booker T picked a fight with him, saying on the Inside of You podcast that "We got into it anyway but I always thought it was really, really low of him to start a fight with me when he knew I was injured. Even if he was pissed at me or not, you don’t fight a guy who’s dealing with an injury."
Dave Bautista has experienced dyslexia, ADD, and depression
During an interview on Talk is Jericho promoting "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2," Dave Bautista spoke about an issue that plagued him for years: slight dyslexia. He states that it’s been especially difficult since he became an actor, since it makes table reads that much more difficult. Even so, he’s been open about his condition, once using it as a humorous way to hit back at a troll on Twitter.
By coincidence, Bautista is far from the only person in his orbit with some degree of dyslexia. WWE chief Vince McMahon has made overcoming dyslexia part of his own brand, and fellow guardian of the galaxy Zoe Saldana has it as well. Some sources indicate that Bautista has ADD as well, and he’s also been open about his struggles with depression.