In a kayfabe sense, Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D., the former Women’s World Champion for pro wrestling upstart AEW, doesn’t stray too far from the norm. After all, there have been wrestling plumbers, wrestling garbage men, wrestling accountants, wrestling monks and even other wrestling dentists (the infamous Isaac Yankem, DDS) before. What makes Baker different, though, is that her Doctor of Dental Medicine designation is no gimmick. She is very much a real dentist, who continues to practice on the days she isn’t performing as one of the top female wrestlers in the world.
In that way, the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania native is a throwback to pro athletes from a bygone era who had to supplement their incomes through ordinary off-season jobs. Baseball Hall of Famer Jim Palmer, for instance, used to sell suits, while Yogi Berra doubled as a hardware salesman at Sears — and occasional waiter — when the Yankees weren’t winning the World Series. For Baker, however, dentistry isn’t a way to boost her meager earnings — she does quite well for herself wrestling — but because she loves it as much as she loves competing in the squared circle. It turns that out that her spiritual calling is violently knocking out your teeth and then politely reinserting them.
I recently caught up with Baker to discuss the looks she got when she told her fellow wrestling trainees that she was also studying to be a dentist (and vice versa); what she would do if she had to pick one career over the other; and why a broken wrist made it impossible for her to pull teeth.
When did you first decide you wanted to become a pro wrestler?
I was at Penn State University, and I got accepted into the dental school at the University of Pittsburgh. So I knew I was moving to Pitt, and I was watching wrestling with one of my friends. They mentioned that Pittsburgh had a big independent wrestling scene, so I did some research — and by “research” I mean that I just whipped out my trusty YouTube app and started searching for “independent wrestling.” I saw that people like C.M. Punk, Bryan Danielson and Seth Rollins — people who were some of my favorite wrestlers — all started by wrestling on the indies. That kind of got the wheels spinning, and it was a reality check for me that anybody could become a wrestler if they try out, work hard, get the right opportunities and if they’re good at it.
I found a couple independent wrestling schools in Pittsburgh and called one of them up and told them I wanted to do a tryout to see what goes into being a wrestler. I drove two-and-a-half hours to Pittsburgh to try out because I was still living in State College, and I absolutely loved everything about it. It was so cool. It was the first time that I got to peel back the curtain and see what goes into putting on these spectacular wrestling matches that I’m such a big fan of.
They said, “Okay! You start next week!” The problem was I still lived in State College, so for three months, I had to drive back and forth twice a week to get to training. But I loved it, and I wouldn’t have changed anything for the world. I even loved when we had to get to the shows early and set up the ring and take the ring down. I wouldn’t get home until 4 a.m. some nights because I was taking down a wrestling ring, but I loved it. It was the coolest thing ever.
I was the only girl training amongst these big guys. One of the promoters used to pick on me all the time and ask me, “How long until you quit?” It was tough love. I think most people thought I really wasn’t going to make it. It was nice to prove them wrong.
How long before that did you decide that you wanted to enroll in dental school?
It was in between my sophomore and junior year at Penn State. I was taking a bunch of science classes at the time because I liked science and was good at it, but I was one of those people who kind of coasted and didn’t have to try that hard to get good grades. Even when I didn’t try at all, I still got passing grades. I used and abused that element of myself until my dad said to me, “Britt, you’ve got to figure this out; you’re wasting a lot of money right now if you don’t know what you want to do.”
I spent that whole summer job-shadowing, and I discovered that I really liked the health-care field. So I job-shadowed everything from the finance department to nursing to different doctors. Literally everything. It was at my general dentist’s office in Punxsutawney that I decided dentistry was cool, and talking with my doctor more and hearing about the health-care aspect, the science and the art that went behind it, it was all really fascinating to me.
That’s when I went to my advisor at Penn State and told her I wanted to be a dentist. She pulled up her computer, looked at my grades and said, “You’ll never get into the dental school. You have to pick something else.” That really pissed me off, really motivated me and got the fire burning. I said, “Okay, thank you,” and then spent that year and the next summer studying hard to bring my grades up. I had straight As, brought my GPA up to a 3.7, applied to dental schools and then sent my advisor every single dental school acceptance letter that I got just to prove a point because I’m so stubborn.
If the wrestlers you were training with knew that you were also planning to enroll in dental school, I can see why they’d think that you’d eventually quit wrestling. What was it like balancing dental school with training to become a pro wrestler?
Those worlds don’t go together whatsoever! They don’t complement one another. It’s very much oil and vinegar. I was kind of an outcast in both worlds. In the wrestling world, it was all these grungy guys who wanted to be wrestlers their entire lives. Some of them didn’t even finish school because wrestling was all they wanted to do, and I was someone who loved wrestling like they did, but I also had worked my way into dental school. Some of them kind of snubbed me a little bit for that. They said, “She’s too good for this. She’ll never make it. She doesn’t take it seriously.”
Meanwhile, Pitt is one of the top dental schools in the nation, and if you weren’t eating, sleeping and camping out in the library every night, they’d look down on you and ask, “Why aren’t you studying? You should be studying right now.” When my fellow dental students found out that I was training to be a wrestler, I was automatically the outcast. I was the weirdo. Dental students don’t think it’s cool if you’re a wrestler; they think it’s cool if you get straight As and become an oral surgeon. That’s how you impress them. So it was a hard time socially because I was the clear weirdo in both worlds.
I imagine that’s probably totally flipped today.
Completely. Now people admire and really respect me in the wrestling world because I’m also a dentist, and people in the dental world think I’m the coolest person ever because I’m a professional wrestler on TV. These days, people love to talk about what I do in both worlds instead of snubbing it.
What does it look like, though, balancing those two careers in real life?
Monday and Tuesday I’m at the dental office. On Tuesday, I’ll work as late as I possibly can, which is usually until around 4 or 5 p.m. Then I go home, grab my suitcase and go straight to the airport. Wednesday is when Dynamite airs, which is our main TV show. I’m usually up pretty late that night until about 2 a.m. on Thursday morning. I might get one or two hours of sleep before I have to catch the 5 or 6 a.m. flight back home to get to the dental office. I land at the airport, go straight to the dental office, and then I work all day until 7 p.m. at night. I’ll go home, eat and then find some time to train. I’m usually at the gym pretty late on Monday, Thursday and Friday. I keep very late training hours.
On some Fridays I have to work at the dental office, but some days I don’t. That day is always a good day for me if I want to train in the wrestling ring or get a couple good workouts in, do some yoga or run a lot of errands. A lot of weekends I do appearances and signings. So I might leave home on Friday night, go do an appearance and then get home Sunday night. But every now and then, I get my weekends off, which is absolutely fantastic because I can finally catch up on the ton of laundry I’ll have sitting at home.
Aside from the time commitment, what have been some of the toughest obstacles you’ve faced with respect to pushing yourself in both careers and making sure you’ve gotten everything you wanted out of each?
I feel silly complaining about anything because I get to do my two dream careers. Still, when you have two careers, you generally miss family events, weddings, birthday parties and stuff like that. That’s never going to get easy for me — missing out on family time. I live so far away from my family now. When my life gets to settle down again, that’s the thing I’m looking forward to the most: Spending more time with my family.
Prior to the 1970s, professional athletes often worked day jobs to make ends meet and remain busy throughout the year. Have you ever thought of yourself as a throwback to a prior era of professional athletics?
I haven’t really thought about it! It’s pretty much unheard of now. It’s not that I need to have two jobs; I make great money as a professional wrestler. As far as financial success goes, I’m in wonderful shape. I just choose to be a dentist on the side. A lot of people think I’m crazy because of that. A lot of people don’t want to work a 9-to-5 job, but for me, that 9-to-5 job keeps me grounded and keeps me in a good headspace. It also keeps me humble because I go from being a rock star on TV on Wednesday to being in the dental office on Thursday with elderly people yelling at me that their dentures don’t fit or kids biting my fingers off. They don’t care who I am in the ring. So I appreciate it on that scale.
As a pro wrestling purist, I’m a big fan of the fact that you actually live your gimmick. No one decided you were going to be an evil dentist one day like Isaac Yankem, DDS. You’re a dentist in real life and didn’t need to have that gimmick assigned to you.
Yes. Dr. Isaac Yakem was DDS, and I’m Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. Same degree, different letters. I never really had a gimmick or a character that wasn’t me. My name is my name: I’m Britt Baker, and I’m a dentist, so I don’t really know what it is to play something that I’m not. I guess in terms of being a heel or a villain, it’s pushing the limits more than I ordinarily would in terms of smack talk, or just being an ass for lack of a better word. But I have so much fun doing that.
How does your pro wrestling fame influence your interactions with your dental patients?
It does get tricky sometimes when more and more fans come into the office because I want to be a professional. I’m a health-care provider and a physician when I’m in the dental office. I’m not there to entertain you; I’m not there to elicit a love or a hate reaction. I want you to trust me as a provider, and not be bamboozled into a gimmick or a character. It’s a really gray area there, and I’m still trying to navigate those waters. If anything, I think being a dentist helps me interact with people and fans more as a wrestler because people usually don’t like to come to the dentist. They don’t like you. You have to really win them over and earn their trust, and that helps with interacting with people in general.
Dentists need skilled, stable hands in order to do their jobs effectively. How concerned are you about an in-ring injury to your hands hindering your ability to function optimally as a dentist?
That’s my biggest fear. In fact, I think I feared it so intensely that I manifested it when I broke my right wrist this past year, and I’m right-handed. That was tricky. I had just become AEW Women’s Champion so I didn’t want to take any time off. I didn’t want to let the fans down, my boss down, the women’s division down or the roster down, so I fought through it. I didn’t take time off. I didn’t get surgery. I just had a brace on my arm that I took off way more than I should have so that I could work in a dental office.
For that reason, it definitely delayed the healing, and I had to delay a lot of appointments with extractions and heavy-duty dental office stuff. I was still able to do fillings and smaller stuff because you don’t use your wrist as much as you think you do; it’s a lot of fine movements. Because of how my wrist was fractured, I was able to still work in the dental office. I just had to be choosy about what I could do or not do. That was hard. It was an eye-opening experience that in the blink of an eye something you love can be taken from you, so we need to be thankful and we need to be careful.
Is there anything you can imagine short of an injury that would get you to choose one career over the other?
I think that could happen if I fell out of love with one of my careers. I have to be true to myself and be true to what I like doing. I don’t ever want to do something that I don’t have my heart in 100 percent because I wouldn’t be giving it my all, and I wouldn’t be 100-percent Dr. Britt Baker, D.M.D. If I’m not doing that, I won’t want to do it.
I hope that never happens, but if for whatever reason my wrestling schedule really picked up and I had to take some time off, it would break my heart, but I’d do it. I know that I can always come back to dentistry. That’s my forever career; I can do that until I pretty much can’t walk anymore. Wrestling I can’t do forever.
What are your ultimate goals in both professional wrestling and professional dentistry?
One day I want to have my own dental practice that I own and manage, and hopefully someday I can hire another dentist that I can teach, show the ropes to and pass on everything I’ve learned from dental school and being in practice. In the professional wrestling world, I just want to have a lasting legacy — and not just women’s wrestling, but in all of wrestling.
If I can, I’d also love to cross over into mainstream media, because I really love professional wrestling, but I also love playing a character. I love acting and everything that goes along with it. I’d love to be a major female name who gets to cross over into Hollywood or mainstream media. But at the same time, I want to be somebody’s favorite wrestler even 15 or 20 years from now. When I’m not wrestling anymore, I still want to be on someone’s list of favorite wrestlers. I don’t want to be someone who was only relevant when they were an in-ring competitor. I want to have those matches, promos and moments that people study years from now.