The making of a contender:
By Harold Davis
Rich Baker likes associating with folks who make their living throwing punches and slamming ferocious opponents in the wrestling ring.
It’s the Norwalk man’s business. Baker is a booking agent for wrestlers and mixed-match martial artists who ply their trade in events around the globe.
Baker, who most recently spent five months as director of touring with Tennessee-based Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, decided that moving to Nashville wasn’t right for him and his family, so he decided to break off on his own and start Rich Baker Booking LLC.
“It’s been the best thing I’ve done. The transition has been smooth, and I’m confident about the future,” said Baker, a 15-year veteran of the booking business.
His services include contract and deal negotiation, event scheduling and event organization.
“I’ve booked over 1,600 events since ’92, so I had the experience, knowledge and passion. I’m not under a corporate umbrella. You’re only dealing with me, and I give personalized attention to each client’s event.”
Baker’s experience in booking events runs deep. He spent seven years working for Stamford-based World Wrestling Entertainment. He also worked with Feld Entertainment Inc., which operates Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and Disney on Ice shows.
“My first experience was with WWE. It was a lifelong dream to work for them as a young boy, and I was lucky to get an opportunity. I learned from the best promoter ever: Vince McMahon. That’s how I got my foot in the door. I think that Kenneth Feld is the second-greatest promoter,” Baker said.
Baker’s timing to go into business on his own couldn’t have been better. He recently became the exclusive booking agent for the National Wrestling Alliance and for MKM Knockout Promotions’ Shin Do Kumate Muay Thai Boxing.
“NWA is celebrating its 60th anniversary, and we’re looking to re-establish its live event touring, and I hope to set up approximately 50 to 100 events,” he said.
Bob Trobich, executive director of the Charlotte, N.C.-based NWA, said he was familiar with Baker’s work with TNA and WWE. He was seeking a way to boost the company’s performance schedule.
“When I learned that he was no longer with TNA, it was a happy coincidence. Rich was exactly who we needed,” Trobich said. “That was my intention: We needed to get out and to do some bigger shows. He was perfect, and we’re off to a great start.”
The relationship between Baker and NWA has already generated results. An event booked last Saturday in Penticton, B.C., Canada, attracted 1,800 fans. It was the second event that Baker booked for Trobich, and there are two more scheduled for this month.
David Meltzer, editor of Wrestling Observer in Campbell, Calif., said that Baker has a great reputation and is well-regarded in the industry.
Commenting that it is hard to compete with the WWE, Meltzer said that Baker is already proving that he is a great asset for the NWA.
“In today’s market, for an independent wrestling company to do that, that’s fantastic,” Meltzer said of the turnout in British Columbia.
Baker also will book events for Shin Do KumatÅ½ nationally and internationally. He said that he is pursuing shows for the company in New Zealand, Dubai and China. He also aspires to do a Shin Do Kumate show in the WaMu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City for 2009 and produce NWA events in the Norwalk/Stamford area.
Ed Musante, president of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, said he likes the idea of bringing wrestling events to the area.
“The area certainly supports good entertainment. If they’re well-run and well-produced, it should be successful. Wrestling has continued to be a hot commodity,” Musante said.
Baker said he hopes to expand his palette of booking engagements by adding speakers, book signings and music acts.
“My long-term goal is to be one of the next major players as an event booking agent,” Baker said.
– Special Correspondent Harold Davis can be reached at email@example.com or 964-2277.