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Realignment: Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D., Brushes Aside the Conventions of Women’s Pro Wrestling

When the first woman signed to wrestle in AEW speaks, you listen. The IRL dentist/pro wrestler is redefining what it means to be a woman in the squared circle.

AEW/Ringer illustration

Certified professional wrestling superstars who’ve earned multiple college degrees before reaching the age of 30 are few and far between. With all due respect to the towering figure of Dr. Isaac Yankem, D.D.S., Britt Baker is likely the first authentic dentist to grace the small screen as a trained, full-time pro wrestler, and almost certainly the first to have embarked upon those two careers simultaneously. And with all due respect to the Hollywood Blondes tandem of Brian Pillman and Steve Austin, Baker has thoroughly redefined what it means to “get a brush with greatness” through interaction with a championship-caliber wrestler.

Baker has already achieved her dreams in the world of dentistry, obtaining an undergraduate degree from Penn State University, a dental degree from the University of Pittsburgh, and a job at a private dental practice in Winter Park, Florida. When it comes to pro wrestling achievements, being the first woman signed to All Elite Wrestling prior to the company’s 2019 debut on Turner Network Television is the career accomplishment of which Baker is most proud.

“When they called me and asked me to sign, I really took a leap of faith, and I helped form the foundation of this massive, ginormous wrestling company now that competes with the other largest wrestling company in the world, so I think that being a part of the beginning of all that is something that I kind of have to really take a step back sometimes and think about,” said Baker via phone. She wasn’t totally foreign to AEW when signing in 2019; on September 1, 2018, Baker wrestled in the first women’s match at All In, the inter-promotional pay-per-view dubbed “the biggest independent wrestling show ever” that was the true genesis of what eventually became All Elite Wrestling.

Baker’s decision to join AEW was not without its consequences, though. When Baker exercised that option, she did so understanding that she might be indefinitely separated from her longtime boyfriend Adam Cole in a professional capacity. Cole was a featured performer with World Wrestling Entertainment’s NXT brand at the time, and his Undisputed Era faction—composed exclusively of recognizable, respected, and highly experienced wrestlers—was running roughshod over what was still being addressed as WWE’s developmental brand, but only when the “developmental” adjective was accompanied by a smirk, eyeroll, or a wink.

“That was never a discussion that we had to have,” stated Baker. “My wrestling career decisions never revolved around his, just as his never revolved around mine. We’re very individual on that basis. … We both knew that it was either I signed with AEW, or I was still going to be working on the independent wrestling scene every other weekend until I got a TV deal. Even when the time came when I could have signed with NXT and he was still there, it never crossed my mind. I was really happy with AEW. I had so much growth that was happening at the time, and I was just so passionate about the women’s division and Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D., finally finding her footing as a popular villain and someone that fans were finally giving a shit about. … Of course him coming to AEW is always something I would have loved to have happen and I was ecstatic when it actually did happen, but it was never something I pressured him about.”

As the unquestioned cornerstone around which the AEW women’s division was initially constructed three years ago, Baker feels a deep sense of responsibility for everything that happens in the division going forward.

“My name is etched all over the history books for AEW right now. For the good, the bad, and the ugly, no matter what happens in the future, you can’t change what’s in the history books,” said Baker. “I want to hopefully be on the rocket ship that takes AEW into outer space. I definitely have a ton of responsibility. I want to grow this women’s division into the best women’s division in the world, and I think we’re well on our way.”

To those whose fandom of All Elite Wrestling has only recently manifested itself, you might be of the belief that Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D., was always a swaggering cauldron of charisma: mastering interview segments, wrestling opponents, cavities and tooth decay, all with equivalent ease. However, Baker was forced into a trial-by-fire situation on live television two years into her AEW tenure, and she believes that her unsanctioned lights-out match against Thunder Rosa on March 17, 2021, represented a turning point in the women’s division, as well as in her relationship with the fans.

“It was [AEW’s] first-ever female main event. It brought out such a different side of me,” explained Baker. “I felt the immense pressure of being in the first female main event. It came at a time when the women’s division was really under fire. Take it for what it is, but a lot of people wanted to see that match fail. They wanted to be able to point and say, ‘See? We told you: This division sucks.’ I’m so stubborn. I’m a Taurus. I was like, ‘Absolutely not. Over my dead body is this match going to fail.’ That really brought something out of me that I needed. I needed that pressure, and pressure makes diamonds.”

Not only was the women’s division under fire from critics at the time of Baker and Rosa’s bloody, furniture-demolishing brawl, but their match also came at a pivotal time for AEW as a whole.

“This was no longer the honeymoon phase of AEW,” said Baker. “People were picking and prodding and finding things they didn’t like, and the women’s division at the time was one of those things. This was a sink-or-swim opportunity. I told myself, ‘Britt, you need to go out there and kill it or everyone is going to talk their shit.’ All day, I was so determined. I said, ‘This is going to be a great match, and I will not let it be anything else.’ Thunder Rosa had the same attitude. I felt like I pulled bona fide star power out of myself that night that I didn’t even know I had.”

The fact that Baker routinely ducks, sidesteps, and occasionally wrestles with harsh fan feedback is ironic in light of how she got here. Bearing witness to the rise of one of the most crushing waves of fan support in recent wrestling history is what birthed Baker’s passion and belief that this was a career worth pursuing.

“The first story line that made me immensely obsessed with wrestling and gave me the bug to want to do something like this and want to do this because of how the story made me feel, it was the Bryan Danielson storyline at WrestleMania XXX,” recalled Baker. “How the fans really decided the story line. To me, that was one of the coolest things in the world—that the entire wrestling universe got behind this one wrestler who was a massive underdog and should not have been in the spot he was in, but the fans made sure of it. That was the coolest thing in the world to me, because there’s no other sport where the fans decide. In football, whoever has the most points wins, but in this sport, it’s really cool to see the effect that the fans have. It’s magical, really.”

Despite the inspiration provided by Danielson during his ascent to the top of WWE, Baker is quick to point out the female wrestling stars who laid the foundation for her to become a star.

“Trish and Lita obviously were the first females that were breaking down the barriers,” insisted Baker. “Obviously Mickie James deserves credit as well, but to me Trish and Lita were the first main-event stars who were perceived as equal as the men. Women really worked hard to keep that momentum up for years to come, but they were the first.”

More to the point, without Trish and Lita presenting wrestling as sport during the era that followed the era of WWE Divas in bra-and-panties matches, or TNA Knockouts whose ring entrances often featured thorough explorations of female backsides that were only slightly less graphic than full-blown colonoscopies, Baker believes she and several other women would not have had viable positions awaiting them in modern wrestling.

“Seeing women wrestlers presented in a respectable format is the reason I am where I am today,” stated Baker. “I wouldn’t have fit into an era where women weren’t almost at the same level of respectability as the men, if not totally equal. Every era of women’s wrestling was important and influenced the next, but I really think Trish and Lita, and after that Saraya, Sasha Banks, Bayiley, Charlotte Flair, and Becky Lynch, those girls made me determined to be a female wrestling star because I wanted to be like them, because they were the biggest stars on the show to me. As a female, that’s so empowering. When you see another female absolutely running the show, and taking center stage in the main event, that’s such an empowering feeling. I want to make other females feel that way.”

In order to maintain that level of respectability, Baker has steered clear of presenting herself in an overtly sexual way.

“It’s my opinion that sexuality can be pushed too far on live TV,” said Baker. “You have to respect the limits of what the show’s rating is. If it’s TV-14, we can’t be running around naked in the ring. You have to respect the wants and desires of the network you work for. With that being said, that’s not everybody’s cup of tea. Some people like when women are extremely sexualized, and that’s awesome and great for them, but I cater more to what I relate to. I’m not as comfortable going out there and being this extremely sexy supermodel. I don’t perceive myself as that. I feel like I’m just the nerdy doc who went to dental school. I want girls like me to relate to me. A little girl who’s a nerd and on academic teams and the track team. That’s who I hope I can reach out to and inspire.”

With that being said, Baker also affirmed that she doesn’t think the whole of women’s wrestling should be epitomized by just one appearance type.

“As a woman wrestler, ultimately you need to be confident in yourself,” said Baker. “If you’re not confident in yourself when you come out of the curtain, then no one else is going to believe in you, and no one else is going to get behind you one way or another. So you need to make yourself happy. You need to be the best version of the appearance that you think you need to have. When I come through the curtain, I look very different from what Abadon looks like coming out of the curtain. That’s two totally different worlds of professional wrestling, but it still works for our audience because of what they want to see.”

Despite the diversity in appearance amongst women in wrestling, Baker pointed out that there are some staples of the presentation of women in wrestling that their male peers simply don’t have to contend with.

“Adam Cole can throw his hair in a messy bun and he’s the most handsome man on the planet, but if I throw mine in a bun, people are going to think that I’m sick or something, or that something is wrong with me that day,” joked Baker. “So I envy men in the amount of time it takes them to get ready versus the females. Even going down for a wrestling match, guys put on their gear, put on their boots, spray some body oil on themselves and make their hair soaking wet. Girls have to sit in the makeup chair for an hour and a half, make sure we have our spray tan right, and make sure we have our gear taped on right so there’s no wardrobe malfunctions. It’s a lot! I do think that’s one area where men have it easier.”

In Baker’s experience, the fact that the presentation of women in wrestling is often accompanied by an elevated element of scrutiny has frequently magnified how everything about a wrestler—from their appearance to their performance—invites comments and criticism. In fact, the one thing Baker wishes she could go back in time and tell herself prior to making her television debut for AEW would have been to not make herself as accessible to fans as she has been on social media.

“I wish I would have prepared myself three years ago to not have Twitter,” said Baker. “Just to not allow the trolls and the nasty, toxic chitter-chatter on social media to affect me or my coworkers. Even in the locker rooms today, we talk about all the horrible things that fans say about us. They’re not even criticizing the characters they see on TV; they’re talking about what they think they know about us as human beings, or what they think they know about what’s happening in the ring. They think they have it all figured out, and they don’t. There’s nothing I can do to control that except to make myself not care. I need to just completely wipe my brain from having any emotional connection to the trolls, because they don’t matter. The trolls are not the fans.”

However, Baker is clear to point out that fan criticism over physical attributes isn’t isolated to female wrestlers.

“Honestly, in my circle of friends, I see some of the men getting it just as bad as the women, if not worse,” confirmed Baker. “They’re getting body-shamed, height-shamed, hair-shamed, or whatever. The trolls don’t discriminate. They go after the men just as bad as they do the women. At least there’s some equality there, I guess! But seriously, I think we’re in a generation now where nobody is safe. Everybody is under fire, and they will come for you at one point, whether you like it or not. You could do everything right, but at some point, some troll is going to throw a match and start a fire about you, or about something you did or didn’t do. There’s nothing you can do. You just have to remember that fire doesn’t burn your life. It doesn’t burn your career. It’s just one small narrative that you can’t let get to you.”

One of the reasons Baker has learned to downplay much of the criticism she has faced is because the sources of the criticism often takes root in whether or not the fans support AEW or WWE, as if they can’t somehow bring themselves to support both companies.

“You have to understand in your mind that for these people, AEW can do no right, and WWE can do no wrong,” said Baker. “It’s the law to them, and you can’t break the law, and there’s nothing you can do to change these people’s minds. You can try forever, but you’re just going to be disappointed in yourself because you cannot change their mindset.

“I think AEW has made WWE a better product,” Baker continued. “Competition is good for everybody and everything, and if they don’t like AEW, they should at least be thankful that AEW came along because it made WWE’s product better.”

Despite the battle lines between the companies, Baker is prepared to take up for women wrestling on both sides of the AEW-WWE war if she believes the comments are grossly unfair.

“I think there’s power in numbers, and I think when women unite together, it is a lot more powerful than when there’s just one individual or another,” she said. “I try not to respond to toxicity on Twitter that much, so when I do, it must mean that I’ve reached a certain breaking point. I think women wrestlers—no matter what brand you belong to, or what country or continent you live on—if you band together against whatever the obstacle may be, that is the most powerful thing in the world, as opposed to just one person with status taking it on themself.”

Criticisms about ring mastery, muscle tone, or mascara notwithstanding, there is one thing that will inflame Baker’s ire with the same scientific reliability as mercury’s response to heat.

“Any time somebody says or suggests that I don’t care about the women’s division, and that I’m very selfish and I only care about myself,” she said. “I have been with AEW since day one; my name is etched all over these history books. I am the women’s division and I care more about the division than anyone else, because if the division rises, so do I. And if it sinks, so do I.” And just to let you know she’s serious, Baker drops this truth bomb: “That’s as offensive to me as someone suggesting that I somehow don’t care about the Pittsburgh Steelers. That’s how passionate I am about the AEW women’s division.”

Despite the passions of Baker and other women wrestlers, there are some pressures they face that are somewhat unique to them, like motherhood and marriage. In fact, the wrestling organization routinely credited with providing the best in-ring action in the world during the 1980s—All Japan Women’s Pro-Wrestling—had a mandatory retirement age of 26 for its stars, ostensibly so that they could get married, settle down, and raise families. If such anachronistic regulations were still in place in Japan (or were ever instituted in the U.S.), careers like Baker’s could never even have gotten off the ground, let alone achieved the comparable completeness of their male counterparts’ in-ring resumes.

“I didn’t even start wrestling until I was 25, and that’s later than most, and at 31 I’ve only been a TV wrestler for three years,” said Baker. “I don’t really care about age. I think age is a number. Some of the best women wrestlers in the world are 10 to 20 years older than me, and that’s fine. I think if there is an added pressure about age with women that it’s ridiculous, and that should be discredited immediately because if you are talented, and you’re at a point in your life where you feel you can make a difference in women’s wrestling, then you should definitely get in the wrestling ring. I don’t think age should matter. I don’t think there should be a pressure for women to get married or have kids according to where they are in their wrestling careers. I think all decisions should be made on an individual basis depending on where that person is at in their life.”

Barring an unforeseen set of circumstances, a confident bet can be placed on Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D., continuing her unchallenged run as the lone pro wrestler who can violently remove your teeth, and then expertly reinstall them for you.

Ian Douglass is a journalist and historian who is originally from Southfield, Michigan. He is the coauthor of several pro wrestling autobiographies, and is the author of Bahamian Rhapsody, a book about the history of professional wrestling in the Bahamas, which is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter (@Streamglass) and read more of his work at iandouglass.net.