Batista is enjoying the view from his enviable position atop the wrestling world. He's the WWE world heavyweight champion, is coming off a pair of monumental victories over The Undertaker at recent pay-per-views and is one of the biggest names in the sports entertainment industry.

But it wasn't always that way for the 38-year-old wrestling superstar, and the climb to the top took a heavy toll on his personal life.

Batista, whose real name is Dave Bautista, admittedly grew up on the wrong side of the tracks - in his case, the worst part of Washington, D.C., during the '70s and '80s, where murders were common, crack cocaine was just getting its start and homelessness was at its peak. It wasn't a good environment, but it was home for Batista, an admitted loner who shoplifted, stole bikes, fought regularly and ran away from home.

Three murders occurred in his front yard before he was 9 years old, and he would carve out his own criminal past that included a conviction on a drug charge and an assault charge that was later overturned. His parents split when he was young, and his lesbian mother moved coast-to-coast to protect him from violence and keep the family together.

A passion for bodybuilding and a desire to do something better with his life likely saved him. That desire would evolve into a love for professional wrestling which Batista, at 6-5 and 290 pounds, had the size and look for. Despite the obvious advantage, there weren't many good jobs in the business for someone starting out in his 30s, with very little training to his credit. The former bouncer discovered that harsh fact early on when he tried out at the WCW Power Plant but was told he would never make it in the wrestling business.

Batista, who has steadily climbed the ranks in the wrestling business since making his Ohio Valley Wrestling debut in 2000, persevered. The rest is history.

The painful truth

Batista would like to think he made the best out of a bad situation. He's more than candid about his shortcomings and flaws, and goes into painful detail in his new book, "Batista Unleashed," which he wrote with Jeremy Roberts. He comes clean about the choices he made and the devastating effects they had on his family.

"I've got a lot of them (flaws)," he jokes. "I've been pretty honest for the most part, which has gotten me in trouble a lot."

Batista has regrets despite his success in the wrestling business. He left high school two credits short of graduating.

"Education is the most important thing you can get. I always preach that to my kids. I don't want them like me ... making a living with my body."

But what about the fact that he's one of the most celebrated performers in the industry today?

"That's the thing. If I get hurt, I really don't have anything to fall back on," he says. "It's a regret of mine. I did well in school. I'm not dumb by any means. I'm very capable. But back then I was struggling. I was struggling with my family life. School just wasn't very important to me."

Batista acknowledges that he stayed away from drugs and other addictions for the most part. His drug of choice was women, and that addiction cost him his marriage, destroying a relationship that had helped him climb from poverty to the pinnacle of sports entertainment.

"But I've pretty much worked that out of my system," says the star of Greek and Filipino descent. "I can remember having a conversation with Chris Benoit. We were in a limo, and he was the first person in the world to ever point that out to me. I don't want to say I was bragging, but we were talking about guys who were getting hooked on painkillers and drinking way too much, and how lucky I was not to have any of those problems. He pointed out that I did have one problem."

"Everywhere you go, you've got a girl hanging around," Benoit told him.

"It kind of hit me in the face. I had never really noticed it before. But everywhere I went I was flirting with a different girl. I don't where all that started, because my wife was only the fifth woman I had ever slept with. I had never been promiscuous or a woman-chaser. I was actually pretty silent when it came to girls. It kind of hit me in the face then."

Love of his life

His first marriage was a total failure, he says, and his two daughters, who he eventually was awarded custody over, were the only good things that came out of it. He calls his second wife, Angie, "the love of my life," but he admits he made major mistakes. It was hard admitting his affairs and his marital infidelity, but it was easier putting his feelings down on paper.

Batista even dedicated part of the book to her.

In the beginning, before the big-money days, financial problems put a stress on the relationship, he says. He was rarely at home with his wife, and on the rare occasions he was, he'd be exhausted from the grind. She became distant, he says, and the relationship soured. They soon separated.

That was before the cancer.

By the time she received the diagnosis of ovarian cancer, which later migrated to her small intestine, she and Batista had split. The news of her condition, however, led to a reconciliation.

His illness put things back in perspective for Batista who, up until that point, could see little past his wrestling career. Her sickness, he says, woke him up. In a way, he says, it saved their marriage. At least for awhile. The radiation and chemotherapy treatments were grueling. Angie lost her hair along with considerable weight. It devastated him to see her in that condition.

She gradually got better, and the two spent some time in Hawaii in between shows. But the problems with their marriage were still there. It was, says Batista, like acid eating away at them. She became more insecure, and he became more resentful. As Batista's stature in the company rose, he says her insecurity worsened, which led her to drink. Soon after they split for good.

Batista readily takes his share of the blame for the split. He says he'd like to have done things differently.

"My wife is just an awesome girl. She deserved better."

Closer than ever

In a totally unexpected way, he says, the book has brought them closer together.

"Since we had already talked about it and I had come clean to her, it wasn't as bad. She was the only person I ever felt like I needed to apologize to. I love her, and I can never repay her for what she's done for me. The funny thing is that we're really closer than ever now. I gave her an early copy of the book and she read it. She actually said she learned a lot about me in the book, and she also got to see things in a different light. There were things she had never really taken into consideration before because we were so angry with one another. It just helped us get past a lot. We're close again ... actually closer than we've been in years."

Barista rationalizes that being apart may be good for her. It may allow her to follow her own dreams. He's helping pay for her to go back to school, and claims to have gotten a very easy divorce settlement. He says he doesn't know what the future holds, but doesn't rule out them getting back together at some point.

Although his life has become a dream, it's not all perfect.

"I'd like to go back and correct the mistakes I've made, but I guess that's all part of living your life. You've got one life to live, and you've got to go for it. But I miss the simple days ... sleeping in your bed every night. I didn't realize how good we had it. It was awesome just getting paid to go work out, and all the guys had a good camaraderie. But I wouldn't go back."

The best part of Batista's job today is being a hero - someone who gives other people hope. In his book he recounts an experience in the Philippines where he was mobbed by thousands of fans as a car paraded him down the streets of Manila.

"It was a proud moment for me. And for them. Because I represent hope, good triumphing over evil, a guy overcoming bad stuff in his past to do the right thing and be successful at it."

In other words, a lot like Dave Bautista.

Relationship with Melina

The current woman in his life is WWE diva Melina (Melina Perez).

"I was heartbroken after me and my wife split up, and I started dating other girls. I really fell for Melina," Batista says.

Although he says his ex-wife thought he was sleeping with Melina right off the bat, while the two were still married, it wasn't true. "It did make me feel guilty being friends with her."

Batista ended up dating another WWE diva, Rebecca DePietro, who is no longer with the company. That relationship was short-lived, and he started seeing Melina again.

"I really fell hard for Melina."

Their friendship wasn't exactly a secret in the WWE locker room. "We've been open about it for a long time now," he says.

The 28-year-old diva had dated the former Johnny Nitro (John Hennigan) - now John Morrison - since joining WWE.

"He (Hennigan) knew everything from day one. From the day we started talking," explains Batista. "That was one of the things that a lot of people didn't realize and didn't bother to ask. Melina and John weren't together anymore. He was always aware of what was going on, and she was very honest with him. They split up and moved apart, and we started dating each other. She still considers him her best friend in the world. But he always knew exactly what was going on."

Batista also let Melina read beforehand what he wrote about her in the book.

"I still love her and am very in love with her. I wouldn't put that out there if it were hurtful to her. I didn't want to just throw her under the bus and put it out there without her knowing about it."

The business, though, has even put a toll on their relationship.

"It's been pretty rocky for us. A lot of it has to do with the business. It's very hard to date in this business. We still talk on a daily basis, and there's still a lot of love there. But we're having a really hard time.

"Trying to have a relationship with anybody is hard enough, but trying to have one with people in this business, knowing what goes on, is difficult. New guys and girls coming out and coming in ... it's really hard."

Steroids

Batista made the decision not to tackle the hot-button topic of steroids in his book.

"It's a real touchy subject right now. We were afraid of what people would read into it. I thought it would be a better discussion for people to have with myself rather than reading it (in a book)."

And, for the record, his take on the steroids situation is that the issue is overblown.

"It's become somewhat of a witch hunt. Our company has done everything it can to take care of it. Our wellness program is no joke and it's serious," says Batista, who has been tested at least a half-dozen times this year.

Batista, who is nicknamed "The Animal" due to his physical wrestling style and explosive fury in the ring, is fully aware that his chiseled physique has led a number of critics to paint him as a steroid abuser.

"They should have seen me 10 or 15 years ago when I was bodybuilding," he laughs. "I don't think I'm extraordinarily massive. If you put me next to a pro bodybuilder, you can see the difference in species. I'm a muscular guy, but I've been training with weights for a long time. There's always going to be those people. It's just one of those things you have to deal with."

While he agrees that the steroids issue is an important one, he points to painkiller-type drugs as the source of many wrestling-related deaths.

"The wellness program is for the better. I think for the better not even so much as far as steroids. What scares me so much in our business is all the painkillers. They're causing guys to overdose and die. That's why I think this wellness program is such a great thing. The steroids is one thing, and I understand that they're bad for you, but the main thing I think is causing guys to die young are those damn painkillers the guys are getting hooked on. I don't use that stuff, mostly because I don't like not having my wits about me, because I don't want to be some zombie walking around and half out of it. I think you'd get that same sentiment around the locker room. It's a lot more high-risk nowadays, and I don't want to be in the ring with somebody who's high."

The Nature Boy

Few people have had as significant an impact on his life as 16-time world champion Ric Flair. Batista's meteoric rise in the business really took off in 2002 when he was noticed by Flair. He says Flair's mentoring turned him from a bodybuilder at heart to championship material.

Flair, his former Evolution stablemate with whom he shared the WWE tag-team title in 2004, schooled him on the intricacies of the business. Along with Triple H, he says, Flair put him on the fast track to becoming champion.

"The biggest thing I always tell people about Ric, and you know this to be true, is that's he one of those guys who enjoys every second he's alive. I've learned more about life than I have about this business from Ric. He taught me how to have fun on the road. A lot of times you just get stuck in airports, and you go to towns that, if it weren't for wrestling, you'd never be there. I guarantee you he can find something good in any town he goes to anywhere in the world. He's great with people. People gravitate to him, and he's got such a strong life force. He's someone you constantly want to be around. He just makes you feel good."

Batista says Flair is in a class all by himself.

"He's just got that special thing. It's just magic what he's got. I don't think he even realizes what he does for people. I once wrote to him in a card that he taught me more about life ... I just love him to death."

And Batista believes there's a great storyline and at least one more major run for the "Nature Boy." Flair is scheduled to return to WWE this week on Raw emanating from his hometown of Charlotte.

"I sure hope he doesn't retire, because he's got an awful lot of people who still want to see him perform," says Batista. "I'd love to see Naitch get one more title run. I've sure been pitching for it. People will always pay to see him. He's that good."

WWE will bring Monday Night Raw to the North Charleston Coliseum on Dec. 3. Ticket prices are $51, $41, $31, $26 and $21 (plus applicable fees) and are available at the North Charleston Coliseum box office, all Ticketmaster outlets or charge by phone at (843) 554-6060.

Old School Championship Wrestling will hold a show Dec. 9 at Weekend's Pub, 428 Red Bank Road, Goose Creek. Main event will be an elimination match for a chance at "King of the Ring." Semifinal will be pit Josh Magnum against Roughhouse Matthews. Bell time is 6 p.m. Adult admission is $8 (kids 12 and under $5). For more information, call 743-4800 or visit www.oscwonline.com.

Reach Mike Mooneyham at (843) 937-5517 or mooneyham@postandcourier.com. For wrestling updates during the week, call The Post and Courier Info Line at (843) 937-6000, ext. 3090.