These days, Dave Bautista is more known for playing Guardians of the Galaxy‘s Drax than he is for wrestling, but before Big Dave hit the big time in Hollywood, he had a long and varied career in WWE that followed in the footsteps of Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and other wrestlers-turned-actors before him.
Long before Bautista took on his first acting role as a Zoner in Smallville, and yes, before he cameoed in classic Aussie soap, Neighbours, Bautista made his debut in WWE as Deacon Batista, the sidekick-slash-muscle of Reverend D’Von (formerly known as D’Von Dudley). Both were rocking a Catholic priest/Evangelical preacher gimmick at the time, something which presumably wouldn’t fly in today’s religious climate.
Now, to avoid confusion, there’s a difference between Batista the wrestling character, and Bautista the actual guy. “Batista” was a wrestling name given to him by WWE, because by changing the name of a wrestler, the company is able to copyright the name, own it and therefore make money off it.
Where I refer to ‘Batista’ the character, it’s spelled that way, and when I refer the ‘Bautista’ the man, it’s spelled another way. Now without much ado, feel free to gaze on in horror at Batista’s initial debut.
Batista’s start in wrestling was hardly glamorous, but thankfully, the silver-chained-lock box and cut-off cassock look and ‘Deacon’ name was quickly abandoned after Batista broke away from D’Von and set out on his own.
WWE had big plans for the wrestler, and he rose up the ranks of the company to become one of its core players in the mid-2000s.
Like many other kids of my generation, I grew up watching and loving Batista, and cheered him on against long time rivals Triple H, Booker T, Randy Orton and John Cena (who’s also just started his post-wrestling renaissance as an actor).
In 2003, Batista ascended to wrestling royalty, becoming part of legendary wrestling stable “Evolution” alongside wrestlers Triple H, Ric Flair and Randy Orton. But dissent soon began to grow over Evolution’s cowardly tactics for winning matches, and Batista made a swift exit after Triple H became jealous of his success and popularity, and plotted to have him murdered. He even tried to frame fellow wrestler JBL for it.
You’d really be surprised how often this exact plot crops up in WWE. Can’t beat a rival? It’s simple — you just… kill them. They can’t win any championships when they’re dead.
In any case, Batista heard about the planned deed and quickly turned tail on Evolution, facing off against Triple H at Wrestlemania 21 in 2005 and winning the WWE World Heavyweight Championship from him. His success continued from there, with Batista later becoming a double champion after claiming the WWE Tag Team Championships with Rey Mysterio.
Several injuries waylaid Batista’s career along the way, but he nearly always remained at the top of the ladder, and circulated the WWE Championship scene for a solid five year run. In 2010, he left WWE, stating that he “didn’t like the direction the company was going in.”
During his brief absence from WWE, he experimented with acting in films like Riddick and The Man With The Iron Fists, as well as mixed martial arts. He’s technically since gone undefeated, having only had a single match.
And despite his misgivings about WWE, he returned sporadically throughout 2013 and 2014, before “finally, actually” quitting in late 2014 over “creative differences” — a common refrain in the strict world of wrestling. To say that this return was turbulent would be understanding facts, but suffice to say, wrestling fans did not take kindly to the man they thought had abandoned them for the Hollywood spotlight, and let him know exactly how they felt.
Luckily, Bautista went on to bigger and better things, finally finding a place in Hollywood via his pitch-perfect performance of alien mercenary Drax in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, and later earning a role as sidekick to Christoph Waltz’s Blofeld in James Bond adventure, Spectre. It must have been a familiar position to be in. Things were settling down for Bautista, and it looked like he’d successfully escaped the world of professional wrestling.
But in wrestling, retirements never last long, and despite legitimately quitting in 2014 to focus on acting, Batista returned in 2018 for a cameo in SmackDown’s 1000th episode, before reappearing in 2019 to jaw at Triple H and set up a final, marquee match at Wrestlemania 35.
According to Bautista, this match marked his retirement from professional wrestling — but if we’ve learned anything from his wrestling career, it’s that retirements never last, and more than likely, we’ll see Batista back in a wrestling ring before too long. I, for one, would be glad to see it happen.