WWE star, wife team to fight ovarian cancer

April 01, 2005|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,SUN STAFF

To make it to the top in World Wrestling Entertainment, an intriguing story line is even more important than the requisite bulging biceps.

The freakishly massive wrestler known simply as Batista, for example, has become professional wrestling's hottest fan favorite because of a story that has been months in the making on the WWE cable show Raw: Batista, part of a group of wrestlers he believed were mentoring him, breaks away on his own when he realizes they were instead holding him down.

The story arc will climax at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, as Batista faces off against one of those "mentors," world heavyweight champion Triple H, in the main event of WrestleMania 21, WWE's annual pay-per-view extravaganza.

But it is away from pro wrestling's bizarre world of choreographed violence, however, that his most compelling story line, a real-life one, is unfolding.

For Dave Batista, a father of three, the rush of sold-out crowds chanting his name has been tempered by his wife's three-year battle with ovarian cancer. Angie Batista is currently in her third remission.

"It's definitely made me realize what was important in life," says Batista, who has a tattoo with "angel" in kanji script on his left arm for his wife. "Sometimes you take people for granted, and things like that just really put things in perspective.

Right around the time that Batista, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and Arlington, Va., was making his WWE television debut in May 2002, Angie began experiencing pain in her upper abdomen.

By the time she received the diagnosis that October of ovarian cancer, which later migrated to her small intestine, she and Batista had separated, their marriage collapsed by the strain of his hectic travel schedule. The news of Angie's illness, however, led to a reconciliation.

While undergoing chemotherapy, Angie says, she tried to shield her husband from the grim realities of cancer.

"There were a couple times my husband saw me ill, and he was very emotional," says Angie, 30. "I lost about 30 pounds in about 3 1/2 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," she adds, "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 is WWE's leading candidate for breakout-star status, filling the void created by the departure of The Rock and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in recent years.

Since Batista gained a more prominent role on Raw in December, the show's ratings are up, as are sales for arena shows, according to Wrestling Observer Newsletter.

"I think the current increase is entirely due to Batista getting hot," says Dave Meltzer, editor and publisher of the Observer. "He hasn't put up numbers like The Rock or Austin, but he's put up numbers, which no one has done in a couple years."

With his chiseled, 6-foot-5, 285-pound physique, steely glare and elaborate tattoos, Batista, 36, certainly looks the part of wrestling's next big thing. Nevertheless, he contends that he "just kind of fell into" the wrestling business after spending most of his 20s working as a bouncer in D.C. clubs and training as a bodybuilder.

While competing at a bodybuilding show in Minnesota in the late '90s, he was encouraged to try out for World Championship Wrestling, a now-defunct company that rivaled WWE in popularity at the time.

"That's when the light bulb went off over my head," says Batista, who lives in Ashburn, Va., with Angie and his daughters, ages 12, 14 and 19, from his first marriage. "So I did go for a tryout, which didn't pan out very well. They pretty much just ran me into the ground and told me I'd never make it in pro wrestling."

Undaunted, Batista contacted WWE less than a week later. The company directed him to a wrestling camp in Pennsylvania. So Batista and Angie picked up and moved to Allentown, where he dedicated himself to learning the ropes under the tutelage of former wrestling star Afa "The Wild Samoan" Anoai.

"He was told to eat, sleep and breathe wrestling, and that's what he did," recalls Angie, who has been married to Batista for 6 1/2 years.

A year later, Batista got a WWE tryout and was signed in March 2000.

As Batista's popularity continues to grow, though, so do the demands on his time.

"It's difficult being married to someone who's never home and who's part of a world that you're not a part of or can even understand," his wife says. "It's a challenge and it will always be a challenge as long as he's in the business. But I think he's doing what he was meant to do. I'm so proud of him and so psyched for him for WrestleMania."

To read a Q&A with Batista, go to www.baltimoresun.com/batista.

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