July 16, 2024

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Dentist By Day, Pro Wrestler By Night | Bleacher Report

Dentist By Day, Pro Wrestler By Night | Bleacher Report

Rest assured, Dr. Brittany Baker, D.M.D., is both a professional wrestler and an exceedingly professional dentist. Just ask her patient, Thomas Berlin.

Berlin, an executive with the AdventHealth Central Florida network of healthcare facilities, recently started seeing Baker and her staff for routine dental work. Baker herself had restored one of his damaged teeth with a crown. 

“She spent a considerable amount of time making sure that everything was right,” he recalls, adding that he initially had no idea about her dual life as All Elite Wrestling women’s world champion. “She makes you feel really at ease in that chair. It’s just an enjoyable dental practice to have to go to—if you have to go to the dentist.”

Of late, Baker has been filling up her practice’s client roster nearly as assuredly as she’s putting butts in seats at AEW events around the country. 

In what’s been a whirlwind 2021, the Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania native has captivated wrestling fans on the strength of her gift for gab and go-for-broke bloodletting between the ropes. Her now-legendary “Lights Out match against Thunder Rosa in March made her the overnight, crimson-stained face of the industry’s hottest company.

This has also made the tightrope of balancing her two careers even trickier.

“Our office manager’s always saying the different goofy emails he’s being sent, and patients are driving from all over Florida to come here,” Baker says in a phone conversation during her lunch break between appointments. “And sometimes they just come in for their exam and ask for a picture and then we never see them again, which is not ideal because we want to do treatment on these patients.”

via Sam Baker

Baker’s longtime boyfriend, AEW wrestler Adam Cole, has seen firsthand the way she’s kept plates spinning in her life and counts himself in awe. “I’m so stoked to talk about this, because she has such a nuts life,” he says, promptly reciting a typical Dr. Baker daily itinerary as if it were an ode:

“Monday, she’s up at the crack of dawn, and she’ll get ready and she’ll go into the [dental] office and work between a 10- and 12-hour day lots of times, because she doesn’t have the chance to work every single day. She comes home, she’ll eat something really quick, and then she’ll head right to the gym. Then she comes back and does whatever odds and ends that she has to do that day—laundry, what have youand then she’ll have an hour or 45 minutes to just kind of chill, and she’s adorable, because she’ll go, ‘Oh, it’s so nice, now we can finally spend some time together; let’s watch a movie or TV show.’ And 90 percent of the time she’s out. And of course she is, she’s been working her tail off.”

And Mondays are days when Baker doesn’t have to run to the airport straight from cleaning teeth and affixing crowns for 12 hours so she can be in Dallas or St. Louis or wherever AEW TV is making its hay the following night. 

“I don’t know how she does it,” seconds her hygienist, Shayda Cullen.

Cullen has worked with plenty of dentists but reserves particular affinity for Baker, who she playfully dubs “Dr. Hottie,” among other nicknames.

“She comes from the flights right to the office,” she says. “Then she gets on a plane and goes to another [show]. She’s young and beautiful and full of energy, and the patients love her. And her dentistry is amazing. Many people go to dental school, but they don’t have the hands. It’s like an art. She has great hands, and she cares about patients.”


The Making of a Multitasker

That Baker has made such good use of her hands—whether filling cavities or making opponents tap to her asphyxiating Lockjaw submission—owes a good deal to the leg up afforded by encouraging parents.

Her mother, Mary Ann, is a longtime elementary school teacher. Her father, Sam, is a healthcare finance executive. They still live in Punxsutawney, where they raised Brittany alongside her younger brother, Dane, who’s currently pursuing a residency in surgery in Michigan. 

“We’ve always been supportive of her and our son in whatever they wanted to do,” Sam says in a three-way phone chat from their home. “We were the parents who were driving two-and-a-half hours to watch a 20-minute cross-country meet.”

“And we lived on chicken nuggets for years,” adds Mary Ann, to a knowing chuckle from her husband.

via Sam Baker

By the time she graduated from Punxsutawney High School in 2009, Baker—whose parents concur has always been a “multitasker” and “free spirit”—had participated in not only cross country but also basketball and track-and-field, where she particularly excelled at the 800 meters and triple jump.

So, in theory, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that after earning her undergraduate degree in behavioral medicine from Penn State and enrolling at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine in 2014, a restless Baker soon began moonlighting at nearby Iron City Wrestling Academy (thus also marking the point at which her wrestling persona would be inextricable from its Pittsburgh roots, with fans now unofficially referring to the modest metropolis as “Brittsburgh”).

Alas, as Baker recalls: “My parents did not want anything to do with wrestling when I first told them that’s what my little heart desired, as any logical parent would. To risk possibly hurting myself and not being able to use my degree because I’m training in a warehouse with strange men is definitely not the easiest news to break.”

That’s precisely why she waited a year and a half into her training to mention it. Sam describes that first conversation about her side hustle as “almost a red-line moment” testing the limits of their previously boundless backing. Mary Ann, putting it more succinctly, says: “I was petrified.”

“It was a little bit of a discussion to say, you know, do we give up one for the other?” Sam continues. “And she was determined that she wasn’t giving them up, that she was going to do both of them. So that was sort of the bridge that helped us get across that red line, I guess.”

Today, Baker laughs at her hubris. “I’m definitely a minor control freak,” she says. “I don’t want anybody to think that I can’t handle it all.” Before long, she’d have her chance to prove she could.

via Sam Baker

Baker seized on her feel-good story to become a local favorite in front of crowds for local Rust Belt promotions, including Iron City, Atomic Championship Wrestling and International Wrestling Cartel (which, despite any global connotations, was based in tiny West Mifflin, PA, 11 miles southeast of Pittsburgh).

As she neared the finish line of her studies at Pitt, Baker started getting booked for high-profile indie opportunities, such as her mixed-gender tag match with Cole against future Impact Wrestling headliners Jessicka Havok and Sami Callihan for WrestleCircus in Austin, Texas. That was two weeks after she won the Iron City women’s title from Penelope Ford.

Things were happening fast, but as Baker will tell you, competition at that point was fierce, and everyone was working toward a singular goal of one day reaching WWE, then the only off-ramp from fighting in gyms and rec rooms to main-eventing arenas. 

“I always say my generation was the real-name girls,” she says. “Because it was Chelsea Green, Deonna Purrazzo, Rachel Ellering, Tessa Blanchard and myself.” She speaks of them all with deep respect and admiration but also notes: “Whether they were trained at a more prestigious school or had the TV experience or Ring of Honor experience, I didn’t have any of that and was one of the last ones in the mix, so of course it’s an uphill battle.”

As so many AEW wrestlers do, Baker pinpoints All In, the record-shattering 2018 independent show promoted by eventual AEW co-founders Cody Rhodes and The Young Bucks, as a proving ground. 

“I was the girl who nobody knew who she was,” Baker says. “Madison [Rayne], Tessa and Chelsea had all been on multiple TV shows by then. They had traveled the world. I had graduated dental school; that was my claim to fame at the time. So that was really a test for me. I was the underdog. It’s kind of funny, after that, that I’m one of the top girls at AEW now, so it’s kind of cool that it’s come full circle.”


A Heel Emerges

Veteran AEW performer Chris Jericho remembers exactly when he realized that Baker, who was the company’s first female signing upon its launch in 2019, was more than the sum of her backstory.

“It was on the second Chris Jericho Cruise, which seems like a thousand years ago, but it was really only January of 2020,” he says, referring to his annual rock-and-wrestling extravaganza.

“Everyone gathered around because we filmed Dynamite on the boat, and it was her first live promo as a heel. The tide was starting to turn on her, where [fans] were like, ‘We don’t care that she’s a dentist. Stop saying she’s a dentist.’ And we picked up on that and ran with it, having [AEW color commentator] Tony Schiavone, one of our beloved characters, as her foil. He was working at Starbucks for a while, and she kind of pointed that out. It’s almost one of those, ‘Ooh, you can’t say that’ moments. And I think that gave her some real confidence. And once you get confidence in this business, nobody can stop you, especially when it comes to character work.”

And so, one year after joining a roster that featured several legends and scores of lauded up-and-comers vying for airtime, Baker had found her way to the front. Even injuries were no match for her momentum. Broken noses and a shredded knee were mere fodder for continued character work in the spring and summer of 2020. By the time she returned to action in September, she was all but slotted for a title run in the near future without having thrown a punch for months, which naturally generated some hand-wringing over whether she’d earned her spot. 

Cole, who debuted with AEW at All Out in September, has been instrumental in Baker riding this wave of success without second-guessing herself. 

“When I would get all the horrible, mean tweets telling me to quit wrestling, he’d get on his phone and hit Twitter and show me all the mean stuff people say about him,” Baker reminisces. 

“And he’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. That’s when I was just like, ‘I need to get used to it and accept it and not let it bother me.'”

When Baker finally claimed championship gold in May against Hikaru Shida—subsequently celebrating in all her theatrically self-obsessed glory on that week’s Dynamite—it was nearly seven years since she first laced up boots at Iron City Wrestling. 

That’s fine by Baker, who is still in the midst of her uninterrupted title run and insists: “To have a success story, you can’t start off at the top, but I started at the bottom [with AEW]. I didn’t know what I was doing. It’s hard because you’re learning on the fly; you’re learning your art.”


Perfecting Her Crafts

Cullen remains as impressed by her colleague’s craftsmanship with a scaler and sickle probe as she is by her effect on wrestling audiences. She says that while men and women of all ages—including AEW talent—drive relatively great distances for a routine cleaning at the practice, and there are requests for photos, Baker is uniquely equipped to keep her many plates from spinning out of order. 

“She can handle it very well,” the hygienist says, sharing that she’s caught Baker watching wrestling clips on her phone between appointments. “This is a woman who’s passionate both ways: in dentistry and also wrestling.”

Baker’s father, Sam, is confident that dentistry “is going to be her for-life career,” adding, “Wrestling is not going to be able to be done when you’re in your 60s. She has to be careful, and we just continually pray that she doesn’t get some type of injury.”

The good news for Baker is that the owners of her dental office, “don’t really care who I am as a wrestler,” she says happily. “They value that I’m a good dentist and that the patients respond well to me.”

Jericho draws a parallel to his own juggling act as full-time wrestler and musician. “She signed a very lucrative contract to be in AEW,” he says. “So the wrestling thing is not some kind of hobby. It’s legit her job. If she wants to be a dentist as well, that’s up to her. Why not?”

Talking with Baker and those close to her, it’s evident that the rush she gets from recovering someone’s oral health is on a par with perfecting the art of performative blood feuds. 

“It always takes a tiny nudge to get me out of my comfort zone in both fields,” she says, “but then once I’m out of there, I always see rapid success—and that’s in dentistry and in wrestling.”

via Sam Baker

Pressed to think of a patient experience that rivaled the rush of overcoming backstage butterflies, Baker thoughtfully pauses and points to her first big cosmetic case. “I was nervous,” she remembers. “Because that’s like you’re reconstructing someone’s entire mouth, and I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, am I ready for this yet?’ It was my first case out of dental school two years ago, and once it was done, it was great and the patient was happy.

“They were crying, and I was like, ‘Bring on all the cosmetic cases! You know, I can do this now.’ And the same thing in wrestling. When I turned heel, I was nervous because I wasn’t comfortable in front of the camera at all yet, let alone trying to get people to boo and hate me. But once I just really owned it and went all in, I was so unlikable, they started liking me.”

As family and colleagues collectively note, Baker’s restlessness is what brought her to the dance, and the results are proof that you can have it both ways—in her case as the self-proclaimed “bad bitch” of prime-time sports and as a certified healthcare professional.

That larger narrative matters little to her most loyal patients. Berlin shares that while Baker worked on his crown, he “dropped little subtle hints, like calling her the face of the practice or just referring to her as champion,” but that she was resolutely stoic, focused on the task at hand. To him, that was more impressive than her celebrity status.

“Everything has been great, and she’s really made me feel at ease going to that practice,” he says. “I gotta go back for some more work, so I’ll let you know.”


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