The Miami News – March 18, 1977
By Bill Brubaker
TAMPA – On television, he seems to be serious when he tells an opponent: “I’m gonna break your back!” or something equally terrible. In wrestling magazines, he swears, “I like to hurt people.” But, does he really?
He is perhaps the most hated wrestler on the Florida tour – hated, that is, by the thousands of fans who gladly pay $3 or $4 to watch him dirty-punch “good guy” Dusty Rhodes and call him, as he did in one recent match, “you son of a bitch, you.”
In the ring, he looks hateful enough. He has been accused of killing two wrestlers. He stands 6-feet-4, weighs 310 pounds, and has arms that may be 20 inches around. His head is bald, his forehead scarred and he wears a giant fu manchu moustache and curled-up eyebrows “that give me a devilish appearance.”
Why would any man want to have a devilish appearance?
“Money,” Douglas Allan Baker says.
In the ring, he is known as Ox.
“Because of my tough, animal image,” he says.
* * *
I came to Tampa to interview a professional wrestling villain.
“Can you get me Ox Baker?” I asked Gordon Solie, the voice of the “Championship Wrestling From Florida” TV program.
“I’ll try, but he may not want to talk to you,” Solie said. “Ox Baker doesn’t always have something to say.”
Ox didn’t answer his home telephone, but five minutes later, by chance, he walked into the National Wrestling Alliance’s office. Ox shook my right hand firmly. “Now,” said Solie, “I’ll leave you two alone.”
Baker is portrayed as a brainless animal in the stories I have seen written about him in wrestling magazines.
He doesn’t mind the image.
If Douglas Baker has to make his living acting like a brainless villain, then so be it. It pays a helluva lot more than the $15-a-night job he says he used to have as a nightclub bouncer.”
That was 14 years ago. Since then, Ox Baker twice married and divorced, has become a solid wrestling attraction. He is a strong athlete and a fine actor. Now, at 37, he is being booed as loudly as ever. That, of course, is good. It means money in Ox’s pockets.
“Why do you like a ‘bad guy’ role in the ring” I asked Ox.
There’s Big Money In Being The Bad Guy
“In this day and age, people are geared to the cowboy and Indian gimmick – the good guy against the bad guy,” Baker said. “So I figure, ‘There are a lot of guys people like anyway, so why not give them somebody they can dislike so they can take out their frustrations.’ It’s a proven fact that everybody is geared for violence a little bit. Even psychologists have proven that if you can find some way to release those tensions or frustrations, you should do it.
“So, like, if somebody calls me ‘old baldie’ or ‘walrus face,’ or they yell, ‘I’d like to punch you in the mouth,’ it’s like I’m serving my purpose, too.”
A wrestling villain must learn to live with restrictions, however, especially when he is as recognizable as Ox Baker.
Baker claims he doesn’t frequent bars because, he says, “I know there are so many guys who’d like to try me.”
Out of the ring, especially when wrestling fans and TV cameras are nowhere in sight, Ox Baker is a polite man. It isn’t always easy. On the streets, in shopping malls, and in restaurants, Douglas Baker has often been ridiculed by wrestling fans who forget that Ox is not a scowling, savage beast in private life.
“A lot of times people say, ‘I saw Ox on the street and he didn’t grab me.’ Well, I’m not paid to do that out on the street,” Baker says. “If I’d see you on the street, I’d say hello to you. I wouldn’t push you out of the way. But when I’m in the ring, that’s my natural habitat. That’s my environment. So it doesn’t pay me to be mean and ornery on the street. Some guys try to carry it out in public, but I don’t believe in that.
“I have been hit with chairs, people have slapped me on the side of the face, but I’ve never laid my hands on the fans,” Ox says. “I know I’m the one who frustrated them, so whatever they do can’t hurt me. Even being spit in the face, that don’t bother me. I’ve had cigarettes put out on my body, and I’ve had old women put indentations in me by hitting me with their shoes. Some wrasslers have hit people and they’ve been sued. I’ve never been sued.
Baker’s image was solidified by two incidents earlier in his wrestling career.
- In Omaha, a tag-team match opponent died two days after Baker said he “kneed him and hit him in the right spot.” Says Baker: “It wasn’t a hard blow, and I didn’t mean it.”
- In the summer of 1972, in Savannah, Ga., wrestler Ray Gunkel died of a heart attack shortly after a seven-minute match with Ox. Gunkel was hit several times by Baker in the area of his heart. The death was ruled accidental. Says Baker: “The kid (Gunkel) had a heart condition in the first place and he shouldn’t have been wrasslin’.” Gunkel was 48.
Baker says his son, now 16, was threatened after the incident in Georgia. Being the son of a villain isn’t easy. “Someone wanted to bust my son’s eye open,” Ox says. His son is now living in Missouri with his mother.
“A lot of people say I deliberately did those things,” Baker says. “A lot of people have asked me ‘Why don’t you quit? Why don’t you stop wrasslin’? You’ve hurt a couple guys?’ Well, things like that happen.”
Wrestling villains don’t mind discussing tragic incidents like those. They gloat when they injure an opponent. They threaten to inflict further harm in future matches. This, after all, improves their image – and lures spectators to the arenas. The more fans in the arenas, the more money the wrestlers take home, since many of them receive a percentage of the gate receipts.
“I’ve been busted up a few times, but I like what I’m doing,” Baker says. “It’s better than being a bouncer. Anway, there have got to be some Indians around to scalp the cowboys.”