Big question remains before Dave Bautista's MMA debut

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Dave Bautista, better known as "The Animal Batista," is the biggest name to cross over from pro wrestling to MMA. He debuts on pay-per-view next Saturday, facing a number of questions, including who he's facing.

What we do know is that the MMA debut of Dave Bautista, the former World Wrestling Entertainment headliner, will be on Oct. 6 at the Dunkin Donuts Center in Providence, R.I., in the main event of a pay-per-view show called, "Feel the Pain."

With the show eight days away, who Bautista will be facing is still a mystery.

Bautista's original opponent was Rashid Evans, whose main claim to fame is that his name would be easily confused with one of the biggest stars in the sport. He was given the lottery ticket of being someone who had never had a pro fight, but was going to get to headline a pay-per-view. The downside is that Evans was incarcerated, but according to trainer Phil Dunlap of Advanced Fighting Systems in Mahwah, N.J., they were able to get him released based on the fact he was given this opportunity.

According to Dunlap, Evans violated the terms of his probation, when caught driving without his license, and then panicked when police tried to pull him over. He's back in jail and won't be out until after the fight.

The golden ticket was then passed to Bruno McKee, a super heavyweight at his gym that also would have been making his pro debut after a few amateur fights. But days ago McKee, a part-time fighter compared with Tank Abbott, pulled out, from a combination of nerves and feeling he wasn't going to have enough training time to get ready, according to sources.

Pat Sullivan, who is promoting the show for Classic Entertainment & Sports, Inc., said that there was a new opponent, but when asked his name, said he had to get off the phone and subsequent phone calls have not been returned.

Bautista would be the biggest worldwide pro wrestling star ever to compete in MMA. Under the name "The Animal," Batista, he was one of the signature stars in the WWE over the past decade. On April 3, 2005, he headlined WrestleMania 21 against HHH, at the peak of one of the company's best storylines in years. The show did 1,090,000 worldwide pay-per-view buys, at the time the largest non-boxing number for any pay-per-view event in history.

A number that names like Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Ric Flair and even Steve Austin never reached for their biggest matches, and topped numbers of celebrities like Mike Tyson, Lawrence Taylor and Floyd Mayweather Jr. when they were brought into pro wrestling. It is still the fourth biggest pay-per-view event in pro wrestling history. He left WWE when his contract expired in May 2010.

At the time he talked about getting into fighting. Since that time he has opened up an MMA Gym in Tampa, Fla., working with Cesar Gracie. He has also done a number of martial arts movies, working with Cung Le. He was in talks with Scott Coker to fight in Strikeforce, with another pro wrestler, Bobby Lashley, mentioned as a possible first opponent, talks which ended when the promotion was purchased by Zuffa.

Bautista was a bigger star as a pro wrestler than Brock Lesnar, Lashley, Ken Shamrock or Dan Severn. However, his debut has not gotten the attention Lesnar or Lashley's got, because of his age and lack of wrestling background.

Lesnar was an NCAA champion before pro wrestling. Lashley was a three-time NAIA champion and Olympic hopeful, so had credibility at a higher level of competition that Bautista doesn't bring. Bautista is almost 44, never competed at any significant level in wrestling, and was a huge bodybuilder, at 6-foot-4 and 320 pounds, when he got into pro wrestling. He slimmed down as a wrestler, and is significantly lighter as a fighter.

He did work as a bouncer, has had his share of street fight stories among wrestlers including taking care of some kickboxers trying to cause trouble at a hotel in Europe several years back. But that's very different from MMA fighting. He has two decades of studying martial arts. He was regularly training in various MMA disciplines during the last several years of his pro wrestling career.

Next week's show will only be available on pay-per-view in the U.S. to the 20 million homes that have DirecTV. The show, priced at $29.95, features a few fighters with previous UFC experience, including John Howard (16-7) facing Brett Chism (16-11); former middleweight title contender David Loiseau (20-10) faces Chris McNally (5-4), and former TUF fighter and Division I wrestler Marc Stevens (14-7) faces Luis Felix (7-6).

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