How Dave Bautista went from WWE wrestler to Drax the Destroyer

When Guardians of the Galaxy hit theaters in 2014, audiences immediately fell in love with Drax the Destroyer. A tattooed alien with fast reflexes, the deadpan character was played to perfection by Dave Bautista. In fact, Drax was Bautista's Hollywood breakout, propelling the actor into high-profile films directed by the likes of Sam Mendes and Denis Villeneuve.

Of course, this wasn't Bautista's first taste of celebrity. Years before stepping into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), Bautista was one of the most famous wrestlers in the WWE. Known simply as "Batista," this musclebound behemoth went toe-to-toe with some of the biggest names in the business…but how did he go from the WWE to the MCU? Well, we'll try to avoid any complicated metaphors as we trace Dave Bautista's journey from wrestling powerhouse to Drax the Destroyer.

A rough childhood

Long before joining up with Chris Pratt and Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista grew up on the rough streets of Washington D.C. Abandoned by his dad, he lived in poverty with his mom in a neighborhood plagued by crime—at least three people were murdered on or next to his lawn.

In his autobiography, Bautista remembers the time a mob attacked someone outside his house. On another occasion, he and his sister had to run inside as bullets started flying literally feet away. Things were so dangerous that Bautista's mom wouldn't let her kids go outside on Friday nights; as the superstar later explained, "Even during the week, we were not supposed to go out of the yard."

"There were fights all the time," Bautista told News.com.au. "Stabbings were common. That's all I knew. … Yes, there was a dead body in the alley, but I was still out there, playing with my friends." Bautista credits his "incredibly strong" mom with pulling them through such difficult times, and she eventually took the family to San Francisco. After arriving in California, the family continued struggling, and Bautista was forced to use milk crates and wire spools for furniture. The young boy even had to tape cardboard inside his shoes to stop up all the holes.

Sadly, as Bautista grew older, he found himself involved with a pretty bad crowd. In addition to his failing grades, Bautista was stealing motorcycles by age ten and cars by age 13. A couple of decades later, he'd finally make it, but things would only get harder before Bautista finally found the professional wrestling spotlight.

Struggling to make it

By the age of 17, Bautista was living on his own, working as a lifeguard before winding up as a bouncer. As he neared 30, Bautista was earning $100 a night in LA nightclubs, handling angry drunks while trying to support his two kids. Of course, bouncing isn't exactly a peaceful line of work, and sometimes things could get out of hand. On one occasion, Bautista threw down with two unhappy customers, leaving one unlucky fellow bleeding in the street. As a result, the bouncer was sentenced to a year's probation.

Finally fed up with the way things were going, Bautista decided it was time to make some changes. Hoping to carve out a new future for himself, he got involved in bodybuilding—which he says helped turn his life around—but his plan didn't pan out. "I didn't have the build for it," he told Bodybuilding.com. "I was competing against guys that were the same weight as me but ten inches shorter." Frustrated, Bautista decided it was time to get in on the wrestling game, but even then, he hit another massive hurdle.

Even though he stood well over six feet tall and weighed in at 340 pounds, Bautista failed to impress when he auditioned at WCW's Power Plant. In fact, he was told he'd never succeed in the world of professional wrestling. It was yet another crippling defeat, but the man who would be Drax wasn't about to give up. Instead, he set his eye on a different prize: getting into the WWE.

Getting into professional wrestling

As someone who'd been getting into scrapes since age nine, tossing guys around in a cage seemed like a natural fit for Dave Bautista. So with a high school background in amateur wrestling, he dedicated himself to breaking into the big time. "After so many years," Bautista explained, "I just pursued wrestling with everything I had. My wife and I gave up everything. We borrowed money so I could train; it was do or die."

Thanks to his "tunnel vision," Bautista signed up with the Wild Samoan Training Center in Allentown, and after learning the ropes, he made his way to Ohio Valley Wrestling (OVW), a feeder system for the World Wrestling Federation (which would later become World Wrestling Entertainment, a.k.a. WWE). As a part of the OVW, Bautista played a character called Leviathan, basically "a demon raised from the Ohio River." The wrestler later described the role as "a little cheesy," but nevertheless, he thought playing the character was still a lot of "fun."

Finally, in 2002, the recently redubbed WWE came calling, transforming Leviathan into Deacon Batista, a suit-wearing henchman to a heel named Reverend D-Von. Admittedly, Bautista was upset about the outfit, as it covered his "strongest asset" (his body), although he later explained the suit forced him "to learn how to work in the ring." Eventually, he dropped the Deacon bit and became simply Batista, joining up with Triple H and Ric Flair to form the wrestling super group known as Evolution.

Soon, Batista was throwing down with Triple H at WrestleMania 21, where he defeated his opponent to claim the World Heavyweight Championship in 2005. In addition to setting a record by holding the belt for 282 days (we're keeping it kayfabe, okay?), Batista would regain championship glory five more times. And if that's not enough to impress you, he also won two Royal Rumble Matches and got the best of stars like the Undertaker and John Cena. But while Batista was making a name for himself, not everything was quite so happy behind the scenes.

Leaving the WWE

Despite his rise to stardom, Bautista wasn't completely happy with his newfound fame. Sure, he loved wrestling, but near the end of his career, he started butting heads with WWE owner Vince McMahon, and grew unhappy with the promotion's new PG Era. The company brass wanted to tone down the sex and violence, but Bautista preferred keeping things edgy. So when he squared off against wrestler Chris Jericho, things got a bit grisly when Bautista was whacked across the head with a metal pipe.

On the podcast Talk is Jericho, Bautista implied that he used an actual razor to draw a little blood to make the pipe-bashing routine look more realistic. But when the cage match was done, he found himself in trouble with Mr. McMahon, who allegedly fined the wrestler $100,000. "I was just heartbroken," Bautista said. "I literally think he sucked the life out of me that day. I think that's the day that I knew things were never going to be the same."

In addition to his problems with the PG Era, Bautista didn't feel like the WWE was giving him enough opportunities outside the cage. He wanted to score some acting gigs like his WWE coworker John Cena, but the company supposedly wasn't interested in giving him any juicy parts. "Certain guys were getting opportunities that I wasn't getting," Bautista explained, "and I wasn't real cool with that. So I left to accomplish certain things…"

Feeling unloved by the promotion, Bautista called it quits in 2010, and while he returned for a few guest appearances, it seems he's largely put his WWE days behind. And once he stepped away from the ring, Bautista set his sights on making it in Tinseltown…but first he wanted to see if he could make it in the world of MMA.

His short-lived MMA career

After years of sticking to a script, Bautista decided to try his hand at something a little more real. Hoping to follow in the steps of someone like Brock Lesnar (who became the UFC heavyweight champion), Bautista started training in mixed martial arts, working on his standup and training in jiu-jitsu with the respected Cesar Gracie. Initially, Bautista hoped to sign with a promotion called Strikeforce, but the company was bought up and dissolved by the UFC. The burgeoning brawler was heartbroken by the news, but fortunately, a little promotion called Classic Entertainment and Sports (CES) stepped in, offering him his first MMA bout.

Originally, Bautista was scheduled to throw down with first-time fighter Rashid Evans (not the legendary UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans), and he started training with UFC light heavyweight Stephan Bonnar. Unfortunately, Evans was arrested shortly before the fight, so Bautista was given a new opponent—Vince Lucero, a man with over 40 fights on his record. Physically speaking, Bautista and Lucero were as different as night and day. Bautista looked like Hercules, and Lucero looked like a sumo wrestler in the making. But when the two stepped into the ring in 2012 for Bautista's first and only fight, Lucero tagged the wrestler with several shots, stunning Bautista in the early seconds of the fight.

Fortunately for Bautista, he managed to take Lucero to the mat where he started in with ground and pound, forcing the ref to call the fight. True, it wasn't exactly an impressive fight, but it was still one for the win column. "I think it's obvious after tonight that I won't be a world champion," the 43-year-old Bautista admitted. However, he then went on to explain that he wasn't in MMA for the belts or the glory. "I do it because I love it. I have no ulterior motives."

Getting started as an actor

Before joining the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Bautista started popping up in random films and TV shows, playing himself in Australian soap opera Neighbours and appearing in an episode of Smallville, starring as a supervillain with a taste for bone marrow. He's even credited as a police officer in Werner Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? But the acting bug didn't really bite until he played a role in the straight-to-DVD action flick Wrong Side of Town.

According to the budding thespian, he absolutely loved working on Wrong Side of Town, saying "it was so cool being part of the magic." But Bautista also had one little problem. "In the first scene," he told Birth.Movies.Death., "I realized how bad I was. I thought since I had done on-camera stuff in WWE this was going to be the same…but then I realized…how hard it was.'"

Deciding he had to get better, Bautista hired himself an acting coach. "If I even get an audition for a role," he explained, "the first thing I do is call my acting coach. We start going over it, we start going over the dialogue, we start going over the mindset. It works." In addition to taking lessons, Bautista started learning on the job. Working on The Scorpion King 3, he watched as Billy Zane would "throw stuff out there," think about his work, and then attack the scene again. Actor Dominic Purcell taught him about how subtle things like breathing could affect an entire scene, and while working on Riddick, future Guardians co-star Vin Diesel gave the wrestler a few pointers.

As a result of his dedication, Bautista felt that whenever he finished a film, "I feel like I've gotten better." And all that hard work eventually paid off when director James Gunn started assembling a ragtag bunch of space heroes to guard the galaxy.

Landing Guardians of the Galaxy

If you land a major role in the MCU, you've pretty much got it made in the comic book shade. Just ask Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Pratt, or the WWE superstar himself, Dave Bautista. So it makes sense that the former wrestler was really anxious about landing the part of Drax the Destroyer, the super-literal bruiser who really wants to get his hands on Ronan the Accuser. Bautista even admitted to Wired that he was "terrified" when trying out for the part. After all, this was the biggest project he'd ever auditioned for. "Each time I was called back," Bautista said, "it became more nerve-wracking and more real."

But while he might've been nervous on the inside, you wouldn't know by watching his screen test (see the video above). Auditioning alongside Peter Quill himself, Bautista appears pretty chill and incredibly natural as the otherworldly assassin. Of course, he was storing up a lot of anxiety, because when he finally got that fateful phone call, the waterworks started flowing. Talking to Collider, Bautista revealed he was going to the gym when he learned the good news…and that's when he just "broke down."

Even when he finally started working on the film, Bautista couldn't believe he was part of the MCU. "There's a point where I got to set every day," he explained to Hero Complex, "and I still can't freaking believe I got this job. It's something that I wanted more than anything I ever wanted in my life. When I got it, I broke down and cried like a little baby."

Becoming Drax

Despite his long show business career, Bautista was still pretty nervous when he showed up for work on Guardians of the Galaxy. "I came into shooting about two weeks after everybody else started," he explained to Wired, "so I turn up and everyone was in work mode while I was trying to get caught up, get in the groove with everybody else…." Bautista described that first day as "nerve-wracking," but eventually, he started feeling at home with his Marvel co-stars, describing Zoe Saldana and Chris Pratt as "world-class actors," which made it "easier to bounce off of them."

All in all, it was a "great learning experience" for Bautista, although he did face a few small speed bumps along the way. For example, he found some of Drax's prose to be a bit challenging, telling Hero Complex, "I don't have the best grammar, so it was a bit of stretch for me. There was a line in there—it's one simple word—but it's where Drax goes, 'Behold.' I've never said, 'Behold,' in my life….It was really challenging or me to get that one word out."

The actor also spent nearly three months training for a fight sequence that was scrapped at the last second. Just a few days before shooting the scene, director James Gunn decided the choreography didn't look right, so Bautista had to learn his new moves in about 24 hours. But really, that's nothing compared to the makeup sessions. After all, Drax is a bluish-gray alien covered in tattoos, and it usually took four to six hours for the makeup crew to get Bautista ready for the day. Even worse, he had to stand up for almost the entire time, although he leaned on a little perch to make things easier.

Bautista didn't really mind the long hours, but he wasn't crazy about spending day after day in all that makeup. Eventually, it would start to irritate his skin, and made him "constantly feel dirty." On the other hand, he loved putting on the contact lenses to complete Drax's otherworldly look. "Once they put the contacts in," he said, "all sense of Dave Bautista was gone." As for the finished product, Bautista said he wasn't crazy about his performance at first, but as he watched the film unfold, he was totally drawn into the movie. "It was awesome," Bautista later said. "I loved it."

Life after Guardians

Since he saved the galaxy from an army of Kree terrorists, Bautista has been keeping himself pretty busy around Hollywood. Naturally, the actor reprised his role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Avengers: Infinity War, fighting alongside the likes of Iron Man and Captain America; he's also expected to be seen in Avengers 4 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.

But Bautista has been doing a lot more than just Marvel work. In 2015, he played Mr. Hinx in Spectre, Blofeld's terrifying henchman who gives James Bond one of the best brawls in the entire 007 franchise. The man also put his martial arts skills to work in Kickboxer: Vengeance, playing an undefeated baddie by the name of Tong Po, and put in a supporting turn in Blade Runner 2049 before co-starring with Sylvester Stallone in Escape Plan 2.

Looking ahead, Bautista is set to return for the third Escape Plan, and his list of upcoming projects also includes the action comedy Stuber, about an Uber driver who gets more than he bargained for when he picks up a fare. In other words, the WWE's loss was Tinseltown's gain, and it looks like Bautista will be winning hearts and bashing skulls on the silver screen for a very long time.