Dave Bautista talks MMA, leaving WWE
Dave Bautista can't go too far down the street without someone asking him what he's been doing since leaving WWE earlier this year.
"I just tell them I'm unemployed," he laughs. "They look at me kind of funny."
Nothing could be further from the truth. There's a film role with Russell Crowe in the works and a probable MMA debut with Strikeforce. That could happen in late March-early April, and the fight everyone wants is Bautista (spelled Batista during his WWE days) against fellow former WWEer Bobby Lashley.
The 41-year-old Bautista knows his window for MMA success is short, but he's used to it. He didn't debut in pro wrestling until he was 30, but found fame and fortune as part of the Evolution stable alongside "Nature Boy" Ric Flair, Triple H and Randy Orton.
And even though he's left WWE, he says he's still good friends with chairman Vince McMahon.
"I didn't agree with the direction the company was going in," Bautista said, even though he admits the squared circle pays a whole lot more than the cage. "It was geared more toward the PG rating. I fell in love with wrestling again in the late '90s with 'Stone Cold' Steve Austin and 'The Rock' Dwayne Johnson It was edgy, and that was the kind of wrestling I knew and loved. It wasn't like that anymore, and my passion for it died a little bit."
But even though he's trying his hand at MMA, Bautista hasn't closed the door on wrestling.
"I'm hoping the cycle will come around again, and it'll get a little edgy and it'll be my time to come back and shine a little bit," he said. "I love kids. I'm not anti-kids. I just don't think kids are going to relate to me the same way they're going to guys like John Cena, guys who are, to me, more bubblegum. There's nothing bubblegum about me."
That's probably what rapper/movie producer RZA saw when he cast Bautista alongside Crowe in the kung fu-beat'em up "Iron Fist," due out next year, and what Strikeforce saw in recruiting him so aggressively.
"I think it [Lashley vs. Batista] should happen," Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker told MMAFighting.com in early October. "If we sign Bautista, why not make that fight?"
Negotiations are ongoing, and Bautista turned up at a Strikeforce event on Oct. 9 to show his support and continue talks.
"I know there's ongoing dialogue between [Strikeforce matchmaker] Rich [Chou] and Bautista, and they are trying to come to an agreement of the minds," Coker said, "but right now Bautista has a couple of movie offers and it's just tying up his time."
Although he says he'll never wrestle for anyone else -- "WWE is the top of the food chain, man. If you're wrestling anywhere else it's an undercard" -- in Strikeforce he likes the idea of working for a company trying to steal share from top dog UFC.
"If you look at Strikeforce's heavyweight division, I think it's way tougher than UFC's heavyweight division," he said. UFC heavyweight champ Brock Lesnar is another former WWE star.
Anyone who feels that staged combat doesn't prepare for life fighting in a cage needs to look down a little further on Bautista's resumé.
"I was also a bouncer for 10 years, so I've been punched in the face," said Bautista, who's being trained for MMA by Cesar Gracie. "I've punched people in the face. It's nothing new to me."
Between that and being "stretched," wrestling's term for brutal initiation, by "The Wild Samoans," he feels he can take whatever comes in an MMA dojo.
"As long as somebody doesn't send me into having surgery," Bautista says of sparring, "I'm fine with it."
Josh Stewart is a freelance writer for Sports Media Exchange, a national freelance writing network.