It's a Guy Thing

The Animal Unleashed

Many may know David Michael Bautista Jr. as the unstoppable WWE wrestler Batista, while many might be more familiar with his Guardians of the Galaxy character, Drax the Destroyer, but not many will be familiar with the story of how the son of a Filipino hairdresser became one of the most recognizable faces in the world. 

Born on the 18th of January 1969 in Washington D.C. to Donna and David Bautista Senior, a hairdresser in the DC area, Bautista grew up in one of the poorest and most violent areas in the U.S. at the time. Crack cocaine was a major problem on the streets and murder was a daily occurrence in the neighborhood. In his book Batista Unleashed, he talks about life expectancy for children at the time was worse than in many third world countries. He also casually mentions that three people died on his doorstep before he turned nine, he elaborates on one particular death where his mother found a man dying of a gunshot wound outside their house. She called for help, but the officials took too long and the man passed away. Meanwhile, Bautista, his sister, and several other children were playing in the street nearby. They were so accustomed to the violence that they weren’t surprised or upset about another dead body on their doorstep. This was when his mother decided she needed to save her children and move to San Francisco, a move that Bautista feels saved both his and his sister’s lives. Bautista’s parents would soon divorce though, with Bautista Snr. struggling to come to terms with being a father and the responsibility of raising the children would fall on his mother Donna. Yet the now single mother struggled with poverty and family issues of her own, and she sadly didn’t realize her son was slipping into a dangerous path of violence himself.

Bautista soon found himself in a gang, mostly specializing in petty theft, from stealing other kids’ clothes or taking their toys and reselling them. This soon turned more serious, as at the age of 13, Bautista turned his attention to stealing cars. Looking back on those days, a somber Bautista reflects on how most troubled youths ended up dabbling in some form of violence and crime. Things were not going better at school either, with his grades being way below average. In High School, however, he found lots of joy in wrestling and spent hours on the mat, however his grades were so bad that he was barred from wrestling until his grades improved. That’s when the disgruntled teenager turned his back on education and left school forever, never finishing his senior year. Bautista says not graduating from high school is something he regrets, especially because he knows he absolutely could have done it. If he had tried, whenever he bothered to apply himself, he got good grades and his teachers were perfectly willing to let him make up assignments. However, the young Bautista just didn’t care about education and it remains a sore spot in an interview with Sport Bible in 2018, Bautista admitted that if he could live his life again, he would focus on getting an education.

Without an education behind his name and not a penny in his pocket, a 17-year-old Bautista had a massive falling out with his parents and decided he needed to live on his own and make his own way in the world. Normal jobs were hard to come by due to his lack of education, so he eventually ended up as a nightclub bouncer, due to his intimidating size and his love to get into fights. Sadly, he would end up being too aggressive with various clientele and was eventually arrested after a brawl left two patrons seriously injured. He was charged and sentenced to one year of probation, narrowly avoiding a prison sentence. It was this incident that made him realize he needed to find a passion, something to live for. It was then that he discovered bodybuilding.

Bautista became obsessed with the sport, spending as much time in the gym as possible. However, he fell into a dangerous cycle as he would work at night as a bouncer, spend hours in the gym and sleep the rest of the time. His obsession with bodybuilding reached a point where he always felt he was too small, something Bautista came to call reverse anorexia. Despite weighing over 300 pounds and doing virtually nothing but working and lifting, he felt he was never big enough. Bautista would spend most of his 20’s on this schedule, which didn’t do any favors for his family’s financial stability. A father to two young daughters, he realized he had wasted a decade of his life and was in a situation where he had to borrow money just so he could buy Christmas presents for his children. He soon realized he had accomplished nothing and he had no future. The 30-year-old had a big decision to make, not just for himself but for his family. It would be a high school passion that would shape the next few years of Bautista’s life.

This bleak situation ultimately came with a silver lining as the impoverished Bautista decided to try his hand at wrestling. Dave Bautista entered the physically grueling world of wrestling at a relatively late age. Bautista first approached the World Wrestling Championship (WCW) and gave an audition at the WWC Power Plant but Sgt Buddy Lee Parker., who was working as one of the trainers there at the time, told him that he would never succeed in the professional wrestling business. Bautista then went to their biggest rival, WWE. After a successful tryout, WWE designated him to the Wild Samoan Training Center wrestling school to train under Afa Anoa’i. He also got lessons in Muay Thai and Eskrima. Bautista soon began to wrestle for Anoa’i’s World Xtreme Wrestling (WXW) promotion. Subsequently, Bautista signed a contract with WWE and started competing at one of their developmental territories, Ohio Valley Wrestling. In 2000, he made his debut under the ring name Leviathan and went on to win the OVW Heavyweight Championship. His rapid progression in the promotion convinced WWE to include him in the WWE main roster. However, his first tenure with the company was marred by injuries that sidelined him for months at a time. According to his book, Batista Unleashed, his first serious injury was a triceps tear that sidelined him for seven months.

In 2006, he was forced to vacate his WWE world championship because of yet another torn triceps in 2008, a similar tear occurred in his hamstring, sidelining him for what was supposed to be six to eight months. He came back in four and had just enough time to capture the WWE championship before a biceps injury forced him to drop the title. Despite his numerous injuries Bautista went on to become one of the biggest stars in the WWE, regularly featuring in main events and always being in title contention. He finally made it to the big time, he was a superstar and he was making good money. However, the life of a WWE athlete took its toll on his family life. Bautista admitted that the year-round grind of being on the road with the WWE didn’t do any favors for his marriage and ended up ruining two of his marriages while he was on the road. And it wasn’t just his constant absence that was the problem. The superstar admits he was a prolific cheater and while Dave Bautista didn’t drink or do drugs, he was no different from his wrestling peers who struggled with addictions. His drug of choice just happened to be a little different, although he didn’t realize it at the time he was addicted to carnal pleasures while touring with the WWE.

When the naturally shy and timid man became popular and suddenly had scores of girls interested in him, he was completely unequipped to handle it and dove in headfirst while he didn’t think it was a problem. At the time, he was eventually told that his constant womanizing was a problem. It would take years before Bautista realized this was becoming a serious problem and fortunately like most things in his life he was able to assess the situation and successfully move beyond it. He didn’t want to hurt his family anymore and decided that to become a good role model he had to sort his life out. Bautista decided he needed a break from the rigorous lifestyle of a WWE superstar and felt he could make it in Hollywood, much like his fellow wrestler Dwayne Johnson. Roles were hard to come by but he made his cinematic debut in an unaccredited role in Greg Glienna’s directorial venture ‘Relative Strangers in 2006. His next film appearance came about three years later, in the 2009 American-German film ‘My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done?’ He had his first starring role in the 2010 direct-to-DVD action film ‘Wrong Side of Town’. But it would be his outing as Ray Shane, an ex-vice cop who had just been released after serving five years in prison, in ‘House of the Rising Sun’, that earned him critical praise and made casting directors take note. It would be his next role that shot him into superstardom.

With the Marvel Extended Universe dominating the cinema landscape, Bautista was offered the role of Drax The Destroyer in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy. It was the role of a lifetime and one that Bautista completely threw himself into. This was his biggest role to date, yet the gentle giant was suffering from near-crippling anxiety when on set for the first few weeks. But thanks to the director James Gunn and his fellow co-stars, Bautista overcame his anxiety and stole the show with his performance as the very literal alien warrior. But his anxiety wasn’t the only hurdle the former wrestler had to overcome. Dave Bautista is dyslexic and has been quite open about it. However, this made auditions and table reads along with his fellow actors quite a challenge. However, he found an unlikely ally in his struggles. Guardians of the Galaxy co-star Zoe Saldana has also admitted to being dyslexic, a fact that made the two stars bond and help each other through the difficult times. The two have often been praised for their outspokenness on the topic and have helped millions of sufferers come to terms with it. Yet despite all the challenges Bautista has faced in his dream to become a Hollywood superstar, the former wrestler has shown that no matter what, one can still achieve their dreams. He is now a much sought after actor and has starred in major blockbuster movies from Skyfall to Blade Runner 2049.

The story of a Filipino hairdresser’s son has the hallmarks of typical Hollywood rags to riches story, a boy growing up in poverty, caught up in the violence and crime surrounding him, nearly losing everything, yet being able to rise to the top and become a better person for it. Dave Bautista had to restart his life at 34, a stage where most people are already set in their ways, yet the former WWE superstar and current Hollywood megastar proved that it’s never too late to run your life around.