The year was 1995.
Before the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and D-Generation X would kick off the World Wrestling Federation’s halcyon “Attitude Era” in a few short years, the company remained in the midst of its “New Generation” period.
With some of the WWF’s most well-known stars like Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage leaving the promotion for World Championship Wrestling, Vince McMahon began pushing some of his younger talent like Bret “The Hitman” Hart and Shawn Michaels.
While this period brought with it an influx of new names to the main-event scene, there was one inexplicable byproduct of the era – the introduction of wrestlers with other full-time jobs. It was patently absurd. Duke “The Dumpster” Droese was a garbage man. There was the wrestling plumber, TL Hopper. Bob Holly would have a lengthy career with the company, but he was first introduced as Thurman “Sparky” Plugg, a wrestling NASCAR driver.
During a heated feud with Hart, Jerry “The King” Lawler introduced an associate of his to take out the Hitman once and for all – his dentist. A hulking man with a disgusting set of teeth, Dr. Isaac Yankem, DDS – the company was not big on subtly when it came to its performers’ names – arrived to rid the company of Hart…and probably rip out his molars, too. The gimmick was short-lived and the performer who wrestled under the Yankem gimmick, Glenn Jacobs, would later go on to superstardom as Kane.
Flash-forward to 2021 and there is another dentist in pro wrestling – only this time, she is an actual dentist. All Elite Wrestling’s Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D., is both one of the faces of AEW’s women’s division and a practicing dentist, who works out of the Orlando area.
While the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has altered her schedule in recent months, Baker’s typical week working two careers simultaneously is nothing short of hectic.
“Before COVID hit, I would work in the dental office Monday and Tuesday, grab the latest flight I could to whatever city we were wrestling in,” the 29-year-old Punxsutawney, PA, native told TSN.ca. “We would have AEW Dynamite live on Wednesday and then Thursday morning, I’m on the first plane out of there – sometimes it’s a redeye – to get back to the dental office and work Friday, as well. I very graciously welcome the weekend, that’s for sure.”
Baker’s entry into both of her fields happened right at the same time. After completing her undergrad at Penn State, Baker enrolled in wrestling school just as she began her first year at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 2014. Training to be both a wrestler and a dentist, Baker says she never considered that one day she might have to choose one of the two, but she certainly heard that from the people around her.
“My peers really, really pressured me with that sort of talk, that ‘Britt, you can’t do both of these. You have to do one or the other,’” Baker said. “And it kinda pissed me off. It fuelled my fire, and I would just say ‘Why? Why do I have to do one or the other? Why do I have to be just a dentist or just a wrestler?’ And I think because it kinda fired me up a little bit. I typically tend to go against the grain, so I would just put one foot in front of the other and take it one day at a time. I didn’t really have a long-term plan as to how I was going to figure it out or be successful in both.”
Baker believes her path is proof that you don’t have to have everything all figured out as you plot your life forward.
“I think just being super headstrong through all of the – not negativity, but just the doubting and people trying to rile you up is ultimately why I’m here now,” Baker said. “Just stick to your goals. You don’t have to have a master 10-year, five-year plan – just know what you want to do and keep taking those baby steps to get there.”
Just as her professional life has been atypical, so has her AEW career. One of the company’s early signings, Baker was initially pushed as one of the top babyfaces of the women’s division until her reinvention last spring as a paranoid heel, convinced that a vast conspiracy is keeping her from the AEW Women’s World Championship.
Baker is revelling in her change of character.
“I definitely love being a heel,” Baker said. “ I don’t wish to be babyface ever again. It’s so much fun to really dive into what really gets under other people’s skin – and what gets underneath your own skin – to bring out the traits you hate in others and the traits you hate in yourself. It’s fun! As sick and twisted as that sounds, it’s very enjoyable.”
Baker credits one of the early iterations of Chris Jericho as an inspiration for her current character – “the conspiracy victim” from WCW in 1998 – and says “Le Champion” has had a hand in its execution.
“I was actually watching those exact WCW clips one night and I texted Chris and said ‘Hey, I have this awesome idea. I think it can kinda work with my real-life story of being a dentist and a wrestler,’” Baker said. “Because at that point, the dentist babyface ship had sailed – people were sick of hearing it. So why not turn the tables on them and shove it down their throats even more and gloat and brag about it? It’s been really fun and kinda surreal to be able to work with Chris on developing this character, but also [AEW president] Tony Khan is heavily, heavily involved with every single thing I do in AEW – as well as [executive vice-presidents] Kenny [Omega] and Cody [Rhodes], too.”
As far as criticisms of AEW’s women’s division go – that matches are too short, angles aren’t featured prominently enough, and a women’s match has yet to main event Dynamite – Baker believes patience is a virtue and the division will get where fans want it to be in time.
“At AEW, we’re a new company – we’re an infant company, babies,” Baker said. “So people are very quick to judge, but they need to be a little bit more patient and realize we’re learning on all fronts of wrestling and entertainment. For a long time with the women’s matches, the numbers would drop off. When we have heavy competition on Wednesday nights, that can’t happen. So we’re trying to get to a point where people aren’t turning the channel when the women are on so we can book more and more women’s stuff. We want to keep the ratings up. We need to keep the ratings up and the viewership, and I think everybody can understand that it’s a business at the end of the day.
“So we’re not trying to hurt any feelings, but we’re getting there. I think Tony and Kenny have been doing exceptionally well, especially since the pandemic [hit], in just really showcasing the women more and bringing in a different variety of women or switching roles around like for me going from a babyface to a heel. I just think that in another year or so, this conversation is going to be done and nobody will be asking the question anymore about the weaknesses of the women’s division.”
The competition that Baker speaks of comes from the WWE’s NXT show that airs opposite Dynamite on the USA Network. Baker’s insight into the competition is greater than most others’ – her longtime partner is NXT star Adam Cole. She says the rivalry between the two is a friendly one.
“I am far more competitive than he is about the ratings, I guess because most of the time we always win, so I have more to gloat about,” Baker said. “But in all seriousness, it’s a very healthy, friendly competition. I make sure I watch everything he does. He watches everything I do and at the end of the day, we just want each other to be successful.”
Success for Baker entails living out some of her dream matches in 2021, including another go-around with the AEW Women’s World Champion Hikaru Shida.
“I think every woman in AEW is going to tell you that they want Shida because they want the belt,” Baker said. “There’s no better way to say that you’re the best at what you’re doing, the best in the division, best in the game, than having the championship title around your waist, so eventually it’s definitely going to be Shida. I’d also really like to lock up with Serena Deeb – just with her experience, her knowledge, she brings so much to the table and it’s very admirable that she’s still doing this. Like a year ago, she was a coach at the [WWE] Performance Centre and now she’s a star on AEW, bringing some of the best matches of the night sometimes. So she’s super inspiring and it’s kinda annoying me a bit because it’s too inspiring.”
As AEW embarks into its third year of existence, it does so without one of its key roster members – Jon Huber, who wrestled as Brodie Lee, died late last month at the age of 41 after being diagnosed with a degenerative lung condition in the fall.
The outpouring of grief from the wrestling community was immense and AEW’s final Dynamite of 2020 was a touching tribute show to a man admired by so many in the industry.
Baker says that AEW’s performers and crew are leaning on one another to move forward after tragedy.
“I think the loss of Brodie was a huge reality check to all of us about how life is precious, because a lot of times we feel like we’re invincible, both inside and outside of the ring,” Baker said. “I just notice that people are really taking their time now to make sure you tell everybody you care about them and you love them. And it’s unfortunate that something so tragic had to happen for little changes like that, what everybody should be doing every day, anyway – just appreciating life, appreciating each other and appreciating everything we have because Brodie is sorely, sorely missed.”