The WWE can make stars — but it can also grind them down. For every Dwayne Johnson, John Cena and Sasha Banks, there are numerous other aspiring multimedia celebrities who never transcend the wrestling ring. That was Dave Bautista’s experience when he got into the wrestling game as a 30-year-old in search of a major lifestyle change. In a new interview with Men’s Health, the breakout star of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise and the upcoming sci-fi spectacle Dune reveals that he lived in fear of getting fired from the WWE before he could make a name for himself.
“It was just a very toxic atmosphere,” he says of the wrestling industry that he joined in the early 2000s. “Wrestling is very competitive. It’s very cutthroat. You’re put in a position where you have to posture up all the time, and it’s exhausting. It’s just exhausting.”
Bautista also confesses that he felt out of place during his first years in the WWE, worried that he wasn’t winning fans either inside or outside of Vince McMahon’s media goliath. “I couldn’t get comfortable, people didn’t like me, I was doing something wrong, the company wasn’t going to do anything with me, they didn’t know what to do with me, they didn’t know where I fit in.”
Bautista did ultimately find his place amidst the WWE hierarchy, earning six World Heavyweight Champion titles during the course of his in-ring career. But the toxicity he felt within the industry steadily seeped into his personal life. Bautista admits that his second marriage failed in large part because of the demanding commitments required by his career. “She wanted a husband who was going to be home, and I was like, ‘Make a choice,'” he admits. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to say, but admittedly, I chose my career, because it was the only shot I had.”
By his own admission, Bautista made other “cliché mistakes” as well, including spending his sizable paychecks on “stupid stuff” including fancy cars and lavish homes. “I wasted all that money, and I could’ve done a lot of good things with that money. I could’ve helped people; I could’ve helped animals. But honestly, I was miserable and I was just trying to buy happiness.”
That unhappiness led Bautista to part ways with the WWE in 2010, citing a lack of opportunities to pursue career paths outside of the company, including acting. (He returned to the WWE in 2013 and again in 2018, finally making his retirement Twitter-official in April 2019.) In 2014, James Gunn personally handpicked Bautista to play Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy and after the movie grossed nearly $800 million worldwide he jumped into his acting career with clear eyes and a full heart, appearing in such varied movies as My Spy, Blade Runner 2049 and Army of the Dead.
And despite the toxicity he experienced in his former industry, he does credit the WWE with helping to shape the kinds of roles he excels at playing on the big screen. “I found out in wrestling that I like being the bad guy,” he tells Men’s Health. “I don’t know why this happens, but there’s something about me that people like as a bad guy.”
In reality, Bautista’s personality is light years removed from the “bad guy” parts he’s played in wrestling and in movies. At the same time, he’s also not shy about expressing his opinions, even when they might be unpopular. Case in point: Bautista considers himself a Second Amendment supporter who is also strongly in favor of gun reform. After the 2018 Parkland, Fla., shooting, he tried to give his AR-15 to his local police department, believing that private citizens should no longer own assault rifles.
“It’s one extreme or the other,” Bautista observes of the nation’s increasingly polarized debate over gun rights vs. gun control. “People think you should abolish the [right to carry arms], or people think that you should be able to buy a bazooka. I don’t think that’s healthy.”
Bautista also says that he’s come to view social media — specifically Twitter — as unhealthy, despite the fact that he’s also an active user. “I wanted to walk away from Twitter years ago, because it’s just such a hostile place ,” he explains of his inability to quit tweeting. ” But I saw what a bad political environment we’ve come into. I stayed on because I want to be an opposing voice to all those assholes who are out here being racists and bigots and polarizing our country. So I stayed on to spite them.”