Ox Baker sits at a table at a 1991 wrestling convention outside of New York City, selling t-shirts displaying his intimidating face. The t-shirts read, “Ox Baker: Big, Mean, and Ugly,” and Baker’s bulky frame, bald head, and immensely bush eyebrows and beard seem to confirm that claim. In fact, his fearsome appearance led to a movie role in the 1981 cult classic “Escape from New York.” However, upon further examination, Baker reveals himself to be a man in search of a second chance in the world of professional wrestling.
Baker: I’m from Waterloo, Iowa. I was 25 when I began, 25 years ago. I had been an amateur wrestler in high school, and I wanted to go on to a professional career, because I had wrestled quite a few of the guys. I had seen the profession, I knew I could handle myself, and so I got into professional wrestling.
I really enjoyed wrestling. I got to meet hundreds and hundreds of people, and I enjoyed it very, very much. When you’re in wrestling, you get to meet people, and if you like people like I do, it’s great.
For five years I had actually been starving in wrestling, and one night I happened to hit a guy with my famous “heart punch,” and he dropped over dead. And I was an overnight sensation. It was onward and upward after that. It was a shame that it happened, but the man actually was ordered never to be in professional sports. But he got in there, and me hitting him caused his heart attack. The fans turned–at that time I didn’t know whether they liked me or hated me–but they turned overnight on me, and they started sending me hate mail. I found out the fans are very, very vicious, and over the years they put lit cigarettes on me, threw pop in my face, did a lot of despicable things. So I started my legendary saying, “I love to hurt people,” because you find out that you can’t really worry whether the fans like you or dislike you. You’ve got to do your own thing.
For 25 years I’ve been “the bad guy,” and for 5 years in a row I was voted “The Most Hated Man in Wrestling” because the man who died in the ring was quite popular. The fans, not knowing it was not my fault, blamed me for it and really rode me for the longest time. I found out that it helped my career quite a bit, so in helping it, that was all right with me. I’m not proud about it, but it happened, and we just go on.
I had a six-year run with the NWA around Florida and Atlanta that I enjoyed quite well. I’ve been trying for the last two or three years, maybe the last five years, to get into the WWF, and I haven’t been successful with it. I’m still trying very, very hard, and one of these days I might make it. Vince McMahon–of course, who at the moment is the czar of wrestling–he can point to you and you can get in, or he can not point to you and you can’t get in. So you have to be very, very careful, and I’m still looking for that moment or break.
I have a boy in Texas, and I just recently got married a second time to a fine lady in Connecticut. My first wife got killed in a horrible car accident. A lot of times I’d come home a little scarred up, a little scratched up, and my family didn’t like that. But we bought a 400-acre farm out of it, and a large herd of cattle, so it paid off in the long run.
I wish I hadn’t been injured as much as I was. It ended quite suddenly when the arthritis in my leg, which I had tried to fight for years, slowed me down to where I had to quit. I’ve had a couple of organizations talking to me about trying to sign me up. My future career is actually being a manager. I’ve been in security for quite a few years, and I like the security work. Right now I’m working for Wells Fargo. I have been with two or three security outfits. They’re not high paying, but I’m trying right now to get into corrections.
Twenty-five years ago you actually had to wrestle more. I think the athletes are a little better athletes at this time, but they don’t have wrestling skills that we had, where we went long periods of time. In other words, today you have a whole card in an hour and a half, where in the old days, you had to wrestle one hour and a half. So it’s quite a difference.
Thoughts from 2023: I really wish I had bought a t-shirt from Ox Baker at that wrestling fan convention. Baker lived to be 80 years old, pretty darn old for a pro wrestler, passing away in 2014. One of my favorite Ox Baker moments, that I didn’t know about when I interviewed him, was Baker’s January 1981 appearance on “The Price Is Right”.