Tobias Baker (2-1) grew up like many boys do; playing football, starting trouble and getting into scraps with his three older brothers. In those days, wrestling and martial arts weren’t on his radar.
In middle school, Baker’s father passed away. He had a tough time processing the loss and acted out as a result. Baker punched a fellow student in the face his eighth grade year. His history teacher — who was also the school’s wrestling coach — saw the altercation. He took Baker aside and asked if the troubled youth would like to join the wrestling team.
Baker’s decision to do so saved his life.
“With wrestling, I was able to find a sport that everything you put into it, you got that out of it,” Baker explained to The Scrap.
“And that was much, much different from football for me. With football there’s that aspect of a team, and playing as a team and relying on each other. It’s different when it’s just you alone in a match. And that’s where I started to kind of fall in love with that feeling of this is all riding on what I do right now.”
Baker began learning more and more about mixed martial arts through his wrestling mates. He accompanied his mother (who is deaf) to an event that featured UFC fighter Matt “The Hammer” Hammill. The chance encounter further sparked Baker’s interest, and he began researching ultimate fighting.
The sport meshed well with Baker who has always led what he calls a brutish lifestyle. Raised in a Christian household, he eventually found true solace in Norse Paganism. His father was Norwegian and had taught him of the old gods. The idea of Valhalla, the resting place of those who die in battle, inspires.
“I’d say I live and die by that (philosophy) because that ‘s the most glorious death you could have. Every time you get in the cage there is a possibility of death and serious injury,” Baker said of the warrior’s demise.
At one point, death may have been preferable to defeat for “The Heathen”. He struggled mentally after losing in a wrestling meet his senior year. The same dark feeling resurfaced after tasting defeat for the first time in MMA in November. Baker, though, has learned to embrace this darkness. He now takes it as a reminder that he is mortal and that’s okay, In fact, Baker claims it’s “beautiful.”
The loss motivated the Division-2 wrestler to uproot his life and move to Oregon to begin training at ATT Portland.
When there isn’t a pandemic lingering, Baker has been training with the likes of Austin Vanderford, Brent Primus and other “savage beasts” as he endearingly refers to his team. During the pandemic, Baker won’t say much about where or how he’s training. He won’t out his training partners or practices, but alludes to some gritty sessions going down in garages. However, Baker echoes the same sentiments of many other fighters who are still competing and training during this strange time.
“These guys don’t want to get their families sick and some guys were given an ultimatum by their families. That’s tough, man. That’s [competing] what these guys’ lives depend on.”
This weekend, Baker will compete in an undisclosed location at Submission Underground 14. None of the competitors know the exact location of the contest and won’t until the day before. SUG 14 will also make sure that fighters will be socially-distancing, there will be no crowd or coaches cageside, and Chael Sonnen will call the bouts from a remote location.
Baker meets Charlie Gilpin this Sunday. Baker is no stranger to Gilpin who also competes in Oregon’s local scene. Gilpin recently picked up a victory over a fellow teammate of Baker’s so “The Heathen” will be looking for redemption.
While Baker assures The Scrap that there is no heat between the gyms, there is definitely a respectful rivalry and bragging rights on the table for the winner.
SUG 14 is a chance for Baker to not only get one back for his team, but it’s also a platform for him to showcase his new grappling prowess. Baker was stripped of his previous belt rank when he moved to ATT Portland and is currently a white belt under professor Fabiano Sherner. Of course, Baker has years of both wrestling and jiujitu under his belt but every gym is different. For the first time in three years, he is consistently training in a gi again. Doing so has helped sew up many of the holes he didn’t realize his game had.
“It was really freeing to understand how technically, broken my game was. And, you know, uh, I feel like competing in the gi has given me a new edge. I understand jiu jitsu a little better than before. Instead of using so much athleticism and so much explosive power, I’m actually slowing things down, going through the technique, getting the reps and using that technique in live rounds.”
Though the world slowly reopening, we remain unsure of what to expect of 2020. Tobias Baker hopes to get back to fighting as soon as possible and rack up a few more wins. In an ideal scenario, we’d be seeing the 23-year-old on the Contender’s Series in the next year. Yet, Baker is also open to other ideas.
“I’ve heard rumors they’re bringing The Ultimate Fighter back. That would be a dream come true because I’ve watched that show since I was a kid. I’ve always wanted to live in the house and train at those facilities and have access to those coaches. I just know how much I would value something like that. It’s so much energy [these coaches] are putting into somebody they don’t know and now they have to train them, win as a team, win money and just build each other up. It’s a dream scenario for a true fighter.”