In 2008, WWE made an era-defining switch to PG from TV-14. Fans had strong opinions on this shift, as did the wrestlers, including the heavyweight champion. In an act of defiance, Dave Bautista went against the rules set by his boss Vince McMahon.
It was a decision that would cost him a lot more than the $100,000 fine levied against him.
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Dave Bautista – A Victim of the WWE Switch From TV-14 to PG
WWE’s decision to switch to PG television came down to sponsors, among other circumstances such as a general shift in culture and the way television was being consumed. To get the big mainstream sponsors — the Mountain Dews, Coca-Cola’s, etc. — WWE had to be a family-friendly product and make the switch.
Today, WWE would say it’s been a success. They have attained many sponsors that wouldn’t go near them before making the switch to PG, and financially the company has never been better. Quality-wise, it’s a different story, and Dave Bautista would vouch for that.
The last WWE event under the TV-14 banner was The Great American Bash pay-per-view on July 20th, 2008. A little over three months later, Bautista felt the true effects of the PG environment.
With WWE going PG, the main change would be a lack of edgy television. There would be no more blood, at least not intentionally.
The language would be kept clean, a goodbye to bra and panties matches, and a shift away from sexual programming. And whilst not initially, WWE would also work towards banning chair shots to the head in 2010.
With blading (the practice of intentionally cutting oneself or an opponent during a match to provoke bleeding) now off the docket, Bautista knew there would be some challenges in telling a story with the same kind of violence as before.
He decided to go against the rules. He was going to blade anyway.
To portray the kind of match he desired on RAW’s 800th-anniversary show against Chris Jericho in a steel cage, blood was required. He just never imagined Vince McMahon would punish him as severely as he did.
The consequences sucked the life out of him, broke his heart, and he knew that things were never going to be the same.
RAW 800 and the Steel Cage World Championship Main Event Finish That Led to a $100,000 Fine
Nowadays, Monday Night RAW episodes are three hours long. In 2008, however, this wasn’t the case. The 800th RAW episode went for three hours in celebration of its anniversary.
This show’s main event featured the new World Heavyweight Champion Dave Bautista, fresh off defeating Chris Jericho for the title at Cyber Sunday eight days earlier inside a steel cage.
Before their steel cage rematch on RAW, Bautista discussed with Jericho that he would blade. There was no doubt from either of the competitors.
In the art form of going to war inside the ring, blood was needed if he would be hit with a steel pipe.
However, what they didn’t envision was the yelling and furious reactions backstage followed by having to wait a whole week to find out the brutal punishment.
Showing no reservation when sharing his thoughts, Dave Bautista discussed the incident with his opponent that night, Chris Jericho, on Jericho’s Talk Is Jericho podcast.
“This was a point where we weren’t shedding blood anymore,” Bautista began. “We were PG, and that didn’t make any sense to me. I didn’t want to hear that, especially when there’s a title match involved.
“I knew we weren’t supposed to do it. I knew I would get consequences, but I didn’t think they’d be as harsh as they were.”
Expanding his thoughts towards WWE’s switch to PG TV, Bautista admitted, “It was me being rebellious. It felt like the right thing to do. I was a little bitter with the direction the company was going. I wasn’t on board; I wasn’t a part of the program.”
The finish involved Jericho hitting Bautista with a steel pipe and then escaping the cage, winning back the World Heavyweight Championship and ending Bautista’s reign at only eight days.
Nonetheless, losing the title was the least of Bautista’s worries after the match had concluded.
It wasn’t just the fact that he was fined or the exorbitant amount that hurt Bautista. Others who weren’t nearly as involved, including Jericho, referee Mike Chioda, and producer Dean Malenko, were also punished, which upset Bautista greatly.
A Classy Gesture: Dave Bautista Reacts to the Fine
Vince McMahon was utterly furious after the incident. After the show, Dave Bautista was told he had to wait until the next episode of RAW the following Monday to await his fate for the punishment. During that period was a tour of Europe.
You can only imagine what was going through Dave’s mind as he was touring overseas with Monday’s fate lurking in his mind. Up until this point, Dave was fairly certain that only he would face the consequences. When that wasn’t the case, the situation became very ugly and upsetting quickly.
Jericho explains that Vince McMahon pulled himself, Dave Bautista, Dean Malenko (producer of the match), and Mike Chioda (referee) into a room.
“Vince is pacing back and forth like the detective, and we’re being interrogated,” Bautista elaborated, “and then they start playing the playbacks in slow motion with the highlights like it’s a space investigation!” Both laugh. “We know what we did, but what are the consequences?”
Bautista continued, “Then [Vince] started passing out fines. My fine was $100,000.”
“I will never forget that,” Jericho added.
“My heart dropped. I thought it would be like $25,000. When he said $100,000, I was just heartbroken.
“I literally think that [Vince] sucked the life out of me that day. I think that’s the day that I knew things were never going to be the same,” admitted Dave.
Vince was clearly using Bautista as an example to the rest of the locker room. The message was clear: We are PG, and it’s here to stay, so get used to it. It doesn’t matter how big a star you are. There will be consequences.
Although hurt by the fine, the message was heard loud and clear. That said, Bautista doesn’t regret what he did that day.
“I felt like I did the right thing. I did the right thing. It was good business. This was the stuff that was instilled in us, what we were supposed to do. This is what makes our business special. This is what makes us a brotherhood. We do this for our company; we do this for our fans.”
The pain in Bautista’s voice was evident.
“[Vince] just literally sucked the life out of me by punishing me for doing that. It broke my heart.”
Regarding the other fines, Jericho walks us through his perspective.
“I couldn’t believe when he said that, and honestly, from my perspective, [Vince] came to me next, and it was like the angel of death. I didn’t think I’d get the hundred grand, but Vince goes to me ‘and you…. five grand!’
“I remember I almost started laughing, five grand!” Jericho reflected.
However, Mike Chioda and Dean Malenko got the same fine as Jericho, five grand, and as a referee and a producer, they’re not making the same kind of money as the wrestlers.
Bautista admitted this was the part that broke his heart the most, particularly Dean Malenko, who knew nothing about the blading in advance.
Bautista couldn’t sit idly by and watch anyone else get punished for this, so he paid an extra $15,000 and covered Malenko, Chioda, and Jericho’s fines.
“I will say this man to man,” Jericho expresses to Bautista, “I gained so much respect for you that day because you paid everybody’s fines.”
Bautista concludes the discussion by detailing the pain he felt for Dean specifically.
“That hurt, man,” Dave started. “What really broke my heart was Dean. He was the one who knew nothing about it. That really sucked. It really hurt me because Dean’s a good dude. He didn’t deserve that. I felt like I stabbed him in the back. It really sucked.”
Bautista’s issues with the PG programming continued, and he would leave WWE shortly thereafter in 2010.
After an unsatisfying return in his own eyes in 2014, Dave finally got the closure and send-off he always wanted at WrestleMania 35 in a No Holds Barred Match against Triple H.
You have to respect Bautista for standing by his vision. He wasn’t comfortable with the direction, so he left and carved a new path for himself.
It all ended up being a huge blessing in disguise for “The Animal,” with his Hollywood career getting stronger by the year, especially with the success of Guardians of The Galaxy. And while his fine has been more than paid off since, the message it sent him remains painful to this day.
Watch Dave Bautista vs. Chris Jericho on RAW 800. The finish resulted in a $100,000 fine:
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