It was immediately clear when Frank Sinatra’s voice began crooning “My Way” over the Dunkin Donuts Center’s loud speakers that this was not going to be a typical Dave Bautista show.
Making his professional mixed martial arts debut at Saturday’s CES MMA “Real Pain” event in Providence, RI, the former WWE star entered the cage without all the thrills and theatrics his fans have become accustomed to after his many years of entertaining inside the wrestling ring. And while Bautista’s overall performance was pedestrian at best, critics need to look at the bigger picture before listing their grievances with the event.
“Batista’s” first round technical knockout win over journeyman heavyweight Vince Lucero was showered in boos by the crowd as the ex-pro wrestler, in all honesty, didn’t put on that great of a show. He was even almost knocked out by the overweight veteran of over 40 fights. However, Bautista’s decision to test himself in actual combat comes from his sincere love for the sport and has led to a lot of good outside of the cage.
“I don’t have any ulterior motives, I’m not going to get rich off the sport, obviously,” Bautista said during the post-fight press conference. “Maybe it’s even more obvious after tonight that I’m not going to be a world champion. But I do it because I love it and I want to promote it as much as I can and give other fighters the opportunity. It seems like when I attach my name to something, then a lot of people will come and see it and a lot of very good fighters will get paydays.”
In that regards, the former WWE champ was very successful.
Without Bautista’s star power, fighters such as middleweight prospect Chandler Holderness may have never received the opportunity to showcase his dangerous striking skills as the co-main event feature on a nationally televised pay-per-view card. Journeymen such as Chris McNally and Brett Chism may have never have gotten the chance to take on seasoned UFC veterans in front of such a wide audience.
Sure, the promoters may have went a bit heavy on letting the public know about Bautista’s upcoming film The Man with the Iron Fists, but the publicity also opened up fans to some fantastic regional fights that don’t always get the attention they deserve. And as a longtime combat sports entertainer, Bautista can sympathize with these up and coming fighters’ frustrations.
“MMA fighters are the best athletes in the world,” Bautista said. “A lot of them, because they don’t have places to fight, they can’t make a living. Training is a full-time job and how bad does it suck if this is what you do for a profession and you can’t get a goddamn job? That sucks man, everybody deserves to make a living at this.”
Beyond the world of cage fighting, Bautista’s debut also shined a light on some philanthropic causes that are very dear to his heart.
The former WWE star followed-up his victory by donating his entire purse to charity in order to help children suffering from cancer. Even in the middle of fight week, Bautista took the time to accompany friend Carter Lay, heir of the Lay’s potato chip fortune,who gave a sizeable donation to the Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence.
“It’s great to team-up like this,” Lay said at the post-fight presser. “It’s okay to have but it becomes your responsibility to give back at that point and that’s exactly what we are doing.”
Bautista and Lay—who has also suffered from leukemia and is now in remission—have a history of collaborating for this good cause, recently raising over $20,000 for the St. Jude’s Research Center this past April.
The pro-wrestler turned MMA fighter is personally invested in helping cancer patients in need.
“Cancer, in particular, is something personal for me. My ex-wife suffered with cancer for years,” Bautista said. “She’s in remission, she’s healthy—and not speaking to me anymore—but after we went our separate ways, I kept up the fight that I had started and it’s very near and dear to both of our hearts. ”
Bautista’s ex-wife Angie battled with ovarian cancer for many years before going into remission and has inspired the star to advocate against the disease, with a particular interest in helping children. Bautista stated that he hopes to do even more work with kids and plans on starting a children’s martial arts program at his training facility in Florida.
Still, critics are quick to call “Batista’s” MMA debut an underwhelming and laughable affair, lambasting his venture into the cage as nothing more than another avenue to further his fame. But the 43-year-old Bautista has the complete opposite outlook on the matter, stating that he only wanted to challenge himself in the sport because he’s a fan who wanted an inside look at how tough it is to be a real fighter.
“He could have just about any woman, all the money—he has the life us guys dream of,” fellow headliner Lucero said. “Us guys dream about having his publicity, his money, his fame and he has the balls to get in there and fight. Not for money, not because he has to. That’s respect, that’s honor.”
I think that former UFC middleweight top contender David Loiseau, who also fought on Saturday’s card, summed up Bautista’s debut the best.
“I’m proud of what he did after the fight, giving his purse to charity,” Loiseau said. “To me, it’s just respect. He loves the sport so much and doesn’t do it for the money. You can’t show nothing but respect for Dave Bautista.”