How AEW Star Dr. Britt Baker Became Wrestling's Top New Heel by Being Herself

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterApril 18, 2020

Photo courtesy of AEW

Britt Baker had tasted a few boos in her time, catcalls cascading from wrestling fans sick of her goody-two-shoes persona and All Elite Wrestling's constant references to her dual career as a wrestler and a dentist. But she had never stood in front of a crowd hoping to hear them—and that slight shift changed everything.

It started simply, with some old-fashioned cheat-to-win spirit and a brutal attack on beloved announcer Tony Schiavone and his former career as a "s--tty barista." Now, just over two months into her new role as a heel, Baker is a revelation, the perfect mix of "better than you" bravado and straight-up sadism, a monster wearing an angel's face. 

"It's really totally not where I expected I would be right now, as far as character-wise," Baker told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. "I love it. Every second of it, I'm enjoying it. It's so much fun, because the crowd interactions, especially the live crowd interactions, it's just so vocal and so energetic. Granted, they're booing me, but still, just to have that reaction, it's so much fun. It's something that you just want more and more of."

Baker had spent years developing her ring craft in smaller promotions around the country. But, like many independent wrestlers, working magic on the microphone and building a character fans either love or hate was a completely foreign challenge.  

"You can't memorize what you want to say word for word, because you can't," she said. "You won't. It's not going to happen. I just try to remember, basically, bullet points of what I want to say. Then, really, you have to feed off the crowd of when you want to say something, when you want to pause, when you want to acknowledge them. It really changes week to week to week, with the content, with the city, the crowd.

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"There's always a sense of comfort knowing I have Tony Schiavone standing there with you, because if anything really goes off the rails he can save it. It's comforting, because I know he's right there with me. Tony Schiavone is such a pro and he's so amazing, his reaction, his body language, and his gestures truly make the promos, because he's so, so good. It's these little organic things, and these gestures. I nudged him one week and said, 'Stand up straight,' and he does it. He just acted on command, and it's so funny because he's such a professional.

"You learn really quickly what works and what doesn't. There's a lot of moving parts to making something successful. I think I'm a prime example of people just improving over time with more TV exposure and getting more comfortable, but that comfort also comes with help from the back."

Baker's transformation from struggling hero to wretched scum is the product of the entire AEW brain trust, all working together to help create magic. It started with Kenny Omega, the wrestling savant charged with breathing life into the women's division, suggesting she might work better on the other side of the aisle.

Soon, AEW boss Tony Khan was taking an active role, the whole senior staff answering late-night texts and scheming with Baker about how they could make her the most hated woman in wrestling. But it was a new addition to Team Baker, Cody Rhodes, who helped take the presentation to a new level.

"They really let us have our own creative input," Baker said. "This is my character. The help that I'm asking for isn't given to me as a command. I'm asking for help because I want to be the best version of heel Britt that I possibly can be. Me texting Cody Rhodes late at night saying, 'I was thinking about this. Do you think this is good?' That's just because I want to, not because he's on top of me saying, 'You need to do this character this way,' and, 'You have to say this.' There's so much creative freedom. I think that's why it's so successful, because it's not somebody telling me what to do or how to do it.

"Cody and Tony [Khan] and myself have a really good system with putting together these promos. I've never prided myself as a skilled promo person, so for these to have such good success, it's really cool and it's really rewarding because it's scary when you're not used to going out there and having a mic and it's a major segment on Dynamite TV.

"Cody is really good at also reminding me, 'Remember. You're a role model.' It's really, really easy to fall into that heel trap of, 'You're the bad guy. You're evil. You're mean. You're just yelling at everybody,' but this character is not that. There's a totally different flavor to being a self-proclaimed role model, where, in your mind, you really think you're a babyface. He's really good at figuring out the camera angles and posture, and just everything that you don't even think of goes into a good promo or a good match."

To Rhodes, success in wrestling often comes down to finding who you really are, deep down beneath the glitz and the glamour, then turning the volume up on either your best or worst self. It was easy to look at Baker, the successful architect of two budding careers, and see her as a hero. But what if, deep down, there was a villain there waiting to escape?

"The villain that exists in Britt Baker, you can see it on her face," Cody said. "She's a lot like the girl next door, but when I say that, the actual girl next door, the one that was really mean to you growing up. 

"She went to college and she got her degrees and then she has multiple plan A's. The person underneath that success, that's what we want to tap into. She's just not somebody that the average person identifies with. And I think she might've gotten tired of playing the good person and just leaned into the person that she actually is.

"I think we all got it wrong when we thought of her as a nice person. Everyone might've been a little wrong. She's not really nice. She's very professional, is probably the best way of putting it. She's very professional. But that's not the same thing as being nice."

Baker admits that the audience has helped provide the fuel she's needed to change roles, taking one of the things she's most proud of, her dual career, and turning it into fodder for the internet meme machine. 

"Some of it is true feelings coming out," she said. "It's not cocky or arrogant, but I'm just so prideful in my accomplishments because it was so much work. I don't want to say that I got angry, but I was definitely really, really frustrated when I was a babyface. That was something that I always prided myself on. I could not wait until the time I could come out as wrestler down the ramp and call myself Dr. Britt Baker. Then when it became a laughing matter, I was like, 'This kind of sucks. This is a little heartbreaking.'

"But to be able to go full circle with that and still use that dental content but turn it into something heelish—If they were going to joke about it anyway, because, 'Oh, my gosh, it's overkill. They're shoving it down our throats that she's a dentist.' That's OK. Because I'm a heel and I'm a role model, and now I'm going to remind you every second of every day that I'm a dentist."


      

There are benefits to being part of the AEW roster, especially for a heel on the rise. Experts are everywhere, from Omega and Dustin Rhodes to Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard, generations of experience and institutional knowledge just waiting to be tapped. In Baker's case, the literal template for her character was in the locker room right next door, willing and able to help her riff on his creation.

"I was watching old Chris Jericho WCW promos late at night," she said. "I was like, 'Oh, my gosh, this delusional, self-proclaimed role model. This could so work for my story.' I'm a dentist, I'm a wrestler. I'm this, I'm that. I texted Tony about it, which is so cool that we have such an open communication line with Tony, and he loved it. He's like, 'Oh, my gosh, this is awesome. Let's talk more.'

"Before I talked about it with him more, I wanted to talk to Chris because he would know more about what makes that work than anybody, because he did it. It was the best conversation ever with Jericho. It was before Dynamite one week, and he's just like, 'This could be really, really good for you. I think you definitely need to run with this.'

"I pretty much every show check back in with Chris and he always gives me pointers. How cool is it to have the legend, Chris Jericho, helping you with your heel turn when it's quite literally based off something that he's done before? To have him there is amazing."

Inside the ring, Dustin Rhodes and Omega have been integral in helping Baker make the mental shift from babyface to heel, the subtle changes in actually working the matches that help take her to the next level. Too often wrestlers try on new characters outside the ring while maintaining the exact same persona in it. Baker knew that wouldn't work, that for her to elevate as a performer, the change would need to be all-encompassing.

"Kenny is such a creative freak," Baker said. "The stuff with Kenny is emotion and moments. He's such a genius that, the stuff he thinks of, you're like, 'Oh, my gosh. Wow. I would've never thought of that.' Just little things that take matches to the next level.

"I'm the girl with a million questions, always. He responds almost instantly. He never gets frustrated, never annoyed. H
e always breaks everything down to whatever level you need it broken down to. He's running around with a million things to do. He has his own matches. He might have two or three matches that he has to agent. He's still there and available for everybody, which is really cool.

"It's kind of scary when you think about it. The people running the show are also major players of the show. We're so lucky that they're so selfless and don't just worry about their own matches, or their own segments, or their own stories. Cody or Kenny have just as much involvement in and as much of themselves invested into my heel Britt character as they do in their own feuds." 

Kenny Omega has worked closely with Baker.
Kenny Omega has worked closely with Baker.Emma McIntyre/Getty Images

For Omega, being part of the team with his hands on the wheel of the women's division has been a mixed blessing.

"It's the most frustrating and rewarding feeling at the same time," he said. "We have a vision for this women's division that I always wanted to have at the forefront. It's like, 'OK Kenny, you've got the reigns. Do what you can with five minutes of TV time.' Wait a minute, we've got this huge, expansive roster, you have people chomping at the bit, raring to go. How am I going to introduce all these people with five minutes? How am I going to show just what makes them special?

"Britt Baker, if you just go based on her reactions, is probably the top heel in the whole company. They are taking these little, small, minuscule opportunities that we are awarded and these women are hitting home runs. They succeeded with their one-minute, two-minute segments, so they get their five minutes and that's gonna grow to six, seven, eight and nine and they're gonna have their own show one day."

The result of all this input, and Baker's ability to process it and execute in the ring and on the stick, has been a rarity in the divided world of wrestling—almost universal acclaim. She's received praise across the board, from online critics, her fellow wrestlers and the executive team at AEW. In fact, the lone dissenting voice has been one closer to home.

"It bothered my mom at first," Baker admitted. "Because she's like, 'Britt, you really are a role model that girls really do look up to.' I just have to remind her sometimes, 'Mom, it's not real. It's a TV character.' I always remind her, 'Look at [NXT star] Adam [Cole],' my boyfriend. He's been a heel for what, 12 years? He's doing fine.

"At first, I think it was such a shock for her to hear people booing me so aggressively. You just have to remember that it's a character that you're playing. I hope there are still girls who are inspired, because they're still hearing it a hundred times, 'She's a dentist and she's a wrestler.' But maybe they don't take quite the sass and arrogance quite so far. I hope they don't take that part quite as seriously."


      

Thursday is the longest day of Baker's week (or was in the pre-COVID-19 world). In truth, it blends with Wednesday, the night turning into the early morning as the crew celebrates Dynamite together after the show. Then it's on to the hotel for a couple of hours, then a flight she prays will be long, because the plane is the only place she sleeps that day.

"It definitely takes a toll," she said. "As soon as I land, it's straight to the office. That's a really, really long day, because travel wears you out. The effects of no sleep, obviously, is exhausting. Then to be working all day in the dental office, it's a little mentally, physically taxing.

"Then getting home and knowing I still have to work out. I still have to unpack my bag from the week and make sure everything's ready to go for next week. It's definitely something that is exhausting, but it's all just giving yourself that moment to take a breath and collecting your thoughts, telling yourself, 'Just do one thing at a time. Rome wasn't built in a day.' As long as I keep myself sane, then all is good."

As her fame grows, keeping her two worlds separate will be increasingly difficult. But, for now, Baker has drawn a hard line between real life and wrestling and hopes fans will respect it.

"The dental office I work with was, at first, like, 'We should really utilize your wrestling career for advertising and promoting.' Right away I shut that down," she said. "Absolutely not, because wrestling fans are wonderful, but they can also be very aggressive in their mission to get a message out to you, to meet you, to tell you they hate your guts, whatever it may be. 

"I love my fans, but I want to see them on AEW events, on Dynamite, on pay-per-views, at meet and greets, wherever it may be. I don't want to have the random trickling in of fans to the dental office. That would be extremely overwhelming. I think it would really make my coworkers pretty stressed out. One's a personal life, one's more so the public wrestling life. I have to keep them separate for my own sanity and for the professionalism aspect of it."

That's a bridge to cross another day. For now, Baker is successfully maintaining a weekly juggling act, part of a team that is pretty happy with the space they've carved out in the wrestling business in just a few months time.

"Everyone's so happy," Baker said. "It's evident. We're doing a great job where everyone is contributing to having this majorly successful product, but we all know there's areas here and there that we can still always improve on and get better at. 

"Everybody backstage knows that there's all stuff that can still be improved on. I think that's really cool, because you have Cody Rhodes and the Bucks and Kenny Omega saying, 'This was great, but we can do this better.' I think they're some of the best wrestlers in the world, so for them to admit some of their own flaws and their own little imperfections is really, really cool.

"It just shows how they really want this to be the best possible product out there. They're able to take a step back and look at it from the outside, then, and be like, 'We can tweak this.' I think that's ultimately why AEW Dynamite's going to be around for a long time."

      

Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report. Dr. Britt Baker can be seen Wednesday nights on TNT, a television network under the same corporate umbrella as Bleacher Report.