By Mike Mooneyham

April 10, 2005

The results are in, and the journey has begun for Batista.

The WWE powerhouse, who dethroned former mentor Triple H for the world heavyweight title last weekend at Wrestlemania 21, hopes the trip lasts considerably longer than Randy Orton’s aborted one-month title reign last year. The pressure is now on Batista to live up to the company’s lofty expectations and become the major breakout superstar they had envisioned.

The mammoth 6-4, 290-pounder realizes that being champ is considerably more difficult than chasing the crown, and that he’ll have a lot to prove in the ensuing months if the title is to remain around his waist.

While his in-ring skills have shown steady improvement over the past year, his mic work will be severely tested. In today’s sports-entertainment business, being able to articulate a powerful message in a camera-friendly manner is as important as working like Chris Benoit inside a ring.

Dave Batista

Dave Batista

According to the new champion, he says he simply needs experience, and that comes with time. He also knows the most effective way to get over is by being himself rather than by merely reciting lines from a script.

“I’m not uncomfortable (on the mic). It’s just still very new to me and something that I’ve never done,” says Batista. “I think I pick up on it pretty well. If they want me to yell and scream like a maniac, it comes across unnatural because it is. If they let me be myself and be soft-spoken and say what I want to say in my way, then it goes very well. When I was able to start being myself rather than portraying this big goon who was always in a fit of rage, I think the crowd started connecting with that. Because it’s me.”

The 36-year-old Batista is somewhat of a late bloomer, having turned pro a little more than five years ago after training at the Wild Samoans wrestling camp in Allentown, Pa. In the past year he has gone from being the fourth member of Evolution to arguably the hottest star in the company. Despite a nagging injury early in his career, the tattooed monster doesn’t show the wear and tear of colleagues many years his junior.

“I don’t have a lot of that wear and tear,” says Batista, who once tipped the scales at nearly 370 pounds. “I think people thought I got injured a lot because I had one bad injury (triceps tear) that kept coming back. I had a lot of complications with it. Physically, though, I’m still very fresh. I wish I had started younger, but at the same time maybe I wasn’t ready for this when I was younger. I’m at the age now where I can kind of take it as it comes. I’m set in my ways, so I’m not going to turn into a different person overnight. I’m responsible enough to handle these heavy work responsibilities as they come.”

Batista, who grew up in the Washington, D.C., area, was a casual fan as a youngster and mostly followed the then-World Wrestling Federation.

“I didn’t get much NWA stuff,” he says. “Actually I wasn’t real familiar with Ric Flair. I was familiar with the stuff he did with the WWF, but I didn’t see a whole lot of his NWA stuff until recently. I’ve gotten an opportunity to go back and watch a lot of it on video. The (Ultimate Ric Flair) DVD set helped a lot. Ric’s incredible.”

Just mentioning the name of the 16-time world champion, with whom Batista held the WWE tag-team title in 2003, makes the big man smile.

“People have always asked me how much I’ve learned from Ric. I always tell them I’ve learned tons from him in the ring and tons about the business in general. But the biggest thing I’ve learned from Ric is to enjoy life. He just enjoys the hell out of life. There’s nobody like him. The party’s where Ric is at. He enjoys people and brings out the best in them.”

Batsista also credits his former Evolution teammate and current nemesis with his improvement in and out of the ring. Paul Levesque, whose mat monikers include Triple H, Hunter Hearst Helmsley, The Game and The Cerebral Assassin, was instrumental in grooming the sleeping giant, handpicking him for Evolution and putting him in position for a major push.

“When the time is right, we’ll kick him out of the nest and see how he flies,” Triple H said of Batista in an interview several months ago. “That was part of the whole thrill of doing Evolution. We took two guys (Batista and Randy Orton) who, if they would’ve kept doing the same things they were doing, they would’ve just been a couple of other guys, and it would’ve been hard for them to progress from that level. We literally took them out with us everywhere we went, talked business to them non-stop, and they watched matches with us, they wrestled with us and listened to our advice. I’m not trying to take credit for where they are, they are the ones who had to put in the work, but we gave them the platform to do it from.”

“Hunter (Triple H) eats and sleeps this business,” says Batista. “When I first started riding with him, it would drive me crazy because after a show we’d go somewhere and sit and eat. It’d take us 30 minutes to eat, but for the next 2ñ hours we’d sit there and just talk about the business. It would hurt me at first, because I was so exhausted I would just want to go to sleep. No matter what time we got to bed, we were still getting up at 8 or 9 in the morning to train. But now I’ve really learned to adapt to it and appreciate it. What I’ve learned is from sitting at the table and talking, or riding in the car and talking. Not in the ring, it’s always afterwards. That’s where you learn. You learn at the dinner table.”

For his relatively short time in the business, Batista has endured more than his share of adversity. Sidelined on three different occasions due to a triceps injury, Batista also has dealt with his wife’s three-year battle with cancer. Angie Batista, 30, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer that spread to her small intestine just months after the two separated in 2002.

Batista’s job, ironically, is what brought them back together. News of his wife’s illness led to a reconciliation and made him realize what was important in life. It put things in perspective, says Batista, who sports a tattoo with “angel” in kanji script on his left arm for his wife, who currently is in her third remission.

“There were a couple times my husband saw me ill, and he was very emotional,” Angie Batista recently told the Baltimore Sun. “I lost about 30 pounds in about 3ñ weeks, and I lost my hair. My concern was that he needed to be focused on his job, so I worked it out with my doctors that my treatments were on days that he was gone … There are times when you want your spouse to be there, because no one else can provide that comfort that you seek. But I’ve never been bitter about it. His job, I think, is what kept him together.”

Batista, who has three daughters (ages 12, 14 and 19) from his first marriage, has come a long way since signing a developmental deal with WWE in the spring of 2000 and debuting with Ohio Valley Wrestling as the monster Leviathan. He arrived in WWE as Deacon Batista, an enforcer for “Reverend” D-Von Dudley, in May 2002.

Batista realizes that fame is fleeting, and that one Wrestlemania main-event does not guarantee a path to pro wrestling immortality. He also understands that his physical attributes brought him to the dance, and that he’ll have to live up to the hype in order to maintain his spot on top. When his time is up, though, he hopes he’ll still be physically intact to enjoy the finer things in life.

“(In five years) I’d like to be sitting on the front porch of my house with my kids and still be in decent enough shape to pick them up and play with them. Professionally I’d still like to be involved in this business, but I probably won’t be in the ring at that point. I’ve signed a five-year contract. I told them I was concerned about my age and whether I’d be able to hold out. I’m no Ric Flair. I’m not trying to fool anybody. My strong point is my body. I don’t know how I’ll look in five years. I don’t know if the crowd’s going to buy into me as much if I don’t look like this.

“If I can hold out physically, I’d love to be in this business in another five years just because I love it so much. I don’t want to be forced out of the business for the wrong reasons. I would like to be involved in some way, shape or form. I don’t know if I’ll ever have the talent to be a road agent. I’d love to be able to help the younger guys, especially the younger, bigger guys, and show them a big man psychology. Maybe I could help with that, or if not, maybe with training people. I’m still very close to Afa the Wild Samoan. He’s just awesome with kids and training them. That’s how I got my start, and I’d love to be able to give somebody that same opportunity and get that foot in this business. It’s a hard business.”

Don’t expect Batista to forego his wrestling success, however, and hit the movie trail like many of his colleagues have done in recent years.

“Reporters have been asking me a lot about that lately, but I don’t have any interest in that. That’s not where my focal point is. I’m very passionate about this business. This is what I do. This is who I am. This is all I want to do. I want to be the best at this. If I can ever reach the status of a Ric Flair or a Triple H … they’re my inspirations. They are the total packages. I may never get there, but dammit if I’m not going to try.”

– Rhyno (Terry Gerin) has been released by WWE due to an incident following the Wrestlemania pay-per-view. The former ECW TV champ reportedly got into an argument with his wife at the Universal Sheraton, the site of an after-show party, and broke a large ceramic flowerpot in the lobby.

WWE management was said to be very upset because the incident occurred in front of a large group of fans, and the hotel had hosted the party.

– It was made official last week with the announcement that Raw will leave its current home, Spike TV, for USA, which launched the show back in 1993. Raw has been on Spike since September 2000.

WWE had been looking for a new TV home since mid-March, when Viacom-owned Spike TV announced it would end its relationship with the franchise at the end of its current contract in September.

“This will help us get to No. 1 status,” USA chief Bonnie Hammer told the New York Daily News.

In addition to the weekly Raw show, USA will air a one-hour weekend program. NBC Universal’s Telemundo network will air Spanish-language versions of Raw, and also committed to airing two WWE specials on its NBC broadcast network.

WWE, however, will lose about $13 million in net income, or $37 million in revenue, as a result of lost advertising under the new deal. Under the arrangement, USA will sell all advertising in the programming and retain all ad revenues, with WWE no longer retaining the rights to sell ads on Raw. Under the existing agreement with Spike TV, WWE sells the majority of the advertising in its cable programs.

– Bill Goldberg is scheduled to marry model-turned-movie stuntwoman Wanda Ferraton today in the Florida Keys. They met while Goldberg was doing the movie “Santa’s Slay” in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The two will honeymoon in Hawaii.