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Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Dave Batista and the circus circuit

By Jake Rossen

Dave Batista is a former bodybuilder, former lifeguard and former bouncer. In 2002, he was enlisted into Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Entertainment, which routinely rolls out the red carpet for 6-foot-6, 300-pound men with body fat in the single digits.

The next eight years are a bit of a blur, mostly because reading synopses of wrestling storylines could give me an aneurysm. It's probably safe to say he enjoyed lots of success and a nice cut of merchandising.

Now Batista's WWE contract has expired, and despite his previous jobs not giving him a lot of leeway, he appears interested in pursuing a career as a professional fighter. He told TMZ.com over the weekend -- in a vague, sleepy way -- that he was headed to Strikeforce, though he left out important qualifiers like "I have signed" or "I have a deal." Like Kurt Angle before him, Batista might simply be enjoying the attention that comes with having intentions to fight.

If he chooses to, Batista will be joining a pretty ignoble group of sideshow attractions that appear to be multiplying. (When the sport needed to pull this kind of stunt in the 1990s, they were nowhere to be found. Go figure.) Herschel Walker, serious as he appears to be, is still a guest star on a show he doesn't really belong on; Kimbo Slice, Jose Canseco and James Toney all have reasons never to set foot inside a cage.

If you're a real purist, their participation can almost be seen as a perversion of the sport's blue-collar mentality: work hard, fight hard and earn something. Bringing and using notoriety from another industry almost seems like a cheat.

In this way, the MMA business of 2010 is beginning to mimic what Japan had relied on for years -- hiring recognizable faces to fight with the expectation that the attention they bring will have an effect on the rest of the roster. Fans despise Nobuhiko Takada, the pro wrestler who engaged in alternately suspect and horrible fights in Pride. But without his participation, it's unlikely the promotion would've ever survived long enough to introduce a talent like Kazushi Sakuraba or Wanderlei Silva to a wide audience.

And just as Takada against Rickson Gracie sold more tickets than any "legitimate" fight possible with two qualified athletes that same night, Fedor Emelianenko versus Fabricio Werdum would be dwarfed in the ratings by Kimbo Slice against Batista. It's nauseating, but what opportunities could those two provide for everyone on the undercard?

Batista, naturally, is far less equipped to compete than even Takada, who -- along with Sakuraba and dozens of others -- benefited from a stiffer pro wrestling style in Japan that had athletes learning real catch wrestling and striking moves, even if the goal was to pull back on them in a match. In terms of matchmaking, he's as fragile as glass. But I doubt fans would care much.

It's a forgivable concession to the attention span of casual viewers, but these are all names that paint the competency level of mixed martial arts in a suspicious light. Batista would probably never dream of entering professional boxing, football or any one of a dozen sports. But MMA is some kind of refuge for amateurs.

At least he's being pragmatic about his chances. When asked by the TMZ camera operator what he thought about fighting Emelianenko, he didn't have to think.

"I want nothing to do with that dude," Batista said.