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Brandon Baxter
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By Paul Herzog

I spent the week after Easter on vacation, visiting in-laws and friends in Louisiana and Texas, and showing off my two-month old son, Christopher. During the drive down, we passed through Memphis, and saw I-55 exits for many of the old Memphis spot towns, such as Kennett, Missouri and Jonesboro, Arkansas. While at our destination, I was in more great old wrestling towns, such as Shreveport, Dallas, and Houston. So it was natural that while behind the wheel, wife and son sleeping, I thought a lot about the friends I made while living for six years in Dallas and the wrestling personalities I’ve known. And I especially thought a lot about my friend Brandon Baxter.

When I first met Brandon, he was trying desperately to break out of his Teen Beat reporter image, something left over from his first job in the business, with Joe Pedicino’s GWF. Joe wanted a handsome young man to report on the teen wrestling fan’s perspective and with his tan and long blonde hair, Brandon fit the bill perfectly. But what Brandon wanted to follow his wrestling heroes, managers like Jim Cornette and Paul E. Dangerously. Those guys also started out as teenagers, setting up rings, taking photos, writing programs and whatever it took to be around the business. Likewise, the Teen Beat job gave a young man great experience in writing copy and seeing how TV segments are produced. But Brandon wanted to grow, and the post-Pedicino crew made Baxter a heel manager, representing the good (Rod Price), the not-so-good (the Sicilian Studs) and the simply awful (who, out of politeness, shall remain unnamed). Baxter was trying to be a heel, but he still looked like the kid sitting at the grownup’s table. So he asked everyone he knew, myself included, what might work for him, something different. At the time, Jason Knight was ECW’s top manager, going shirtless under a new suit to show off his world’s sexiest (his words, not mine) physique). I suggested that Brandon try the sport coat/no-shirt look, and see how it went. He picked up a couple of jackets, one a garish bright orange, grew his hair out longer, and went to work. Being that he weighed about 120 pounds if the jacket was soaking wet, the cocky heel was exaggerated even further.

One night in particular stands out…being that we knew Brandon outside of the ring, it was often difficult to be wrestling fans and get on his case when he was working. We just didn’t know what to say. But on this occasion, Hisaharu Tanabe of the Puroresu Dojo really started getting on the case of Brandon’s wrestler, probably because he was so terrible. Baxter immediately retaliated to stand up for his man, getting in Hisa’s face and calling him “Tojo Yamamoto.” Hisa told Brandon to buy a shirt. When the kid stayed in character, I knew he was ready for the next level. The quality of Brandon’s work had exceeded Grey Piersons or Jim Crocketts promotions. In the summer of 1995, he went to Memphis.

It was a good time in Memphis, with the USWA v. SMW feud reaching a hot point, and after an introductory period trying to bring down Jerry Lawler and Bill Dundee with a group of heels called the Legend Slayers, Brandon became the Smoky Mountain sympathizer. He got to represent main eventers in the area, like the Heavenly Bodies, Prime Time Brian Lee and Tracy Smothers. More important, when things didn’t go as planned, he was forced to learn to think on his feet. Sometimes it went better than others. On one live WMC-TV broadcast, Doug Gilbert was talking in classic babyface mode, giving an emotional interview honoring his late brother Eddie. Later in the show, Brandon was ridiculing Doug, and called Brian Lee on the phone so they could laugh together. Only the speakerphone connection in the studio wasn’t working, and Brandon had to sit and repeat his first punch line (something about Doug digging up Eddie’s bones and putting them in his corner for inspiration) over and over, waiting for a reaction from the other end of the line. I feel the awkwardness every time I watch the tape. But those are the kinds of things that make good stick men, and Brandon definitely grew into one of those.

A great indicator of a successful performer, be it a wrestler, manager, or other on-camera role, is someone who can keep their heat no matter what losses or other indignities are heaped upon them. Brandon was tarred and feathered by Jimmy Valiant, beaten countless times by Lawler & Dundee, and powerbombed twice by Sid Vicious. For a span of several months, it seemed like it was “Brandon Gets Stretchered Or Your Money Back” night at the Mid-South Coliseum. And still, he endured.

His first Memphis run ended in late 1996, and I got to see him a few times before I moved from Dallas. When Randy Hales started Power Pro Wrestling, Brandon went back to Memphis and quickly became Hales’ right hand man, a role solidified with their successful feud. Hales and Baxter smacked each other around the territory on numerous loops, leaving more blood and violence than most experienced wrestlers. He wasn’t big enough to actually work with “full-sized” wrestlers, even though Memphis’s definition of “full-sized” is different than most other areas of the country. But it sure worked with Hales, even though Brandon was in a role not seen since his Teen Beat days. Brandon Baxter, babyface.

Power Pro is still going, despite competition from several other promotions in that area, including a new group figure headed once again by Jerry Lawler. I hope my friend is doing well…I should give him a call.

Paul Herzog has spent far too many hours as a columnist for various Internet sources, and the Wrestling Lariat newsletter, over the past six years. He is a systems engineer at Tellabs in Bolingbrook, Illinois, and is lucky to have a wife that likes the wrestling business, too. He can be reached at grapsfan@worldnet.att.net.

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