WrestleMania is on the horizon, offering a chance for the stars of WWE to reach their dreams of stardom on the company’s biggest possible stage. The event is larger than life, inspiring people around the globe to step outside their comfort zone and ascend to dreams of their own.
In 2019 Derek Baker watched at home in St. Louis as Becky Lynch made history by winning the first women’s main event at WrestleMania. Lynch carved out a new path of stardom in WWE as “The Man,” and as she celebrated in the ring, Baker also became determined to make his own mark on the world.
“I watched Becky main-event WrestleMania, and I thought to myself that she made it there because she believed in herself,” says Baker, who has Down syndrome. “That’s how she was able to do that even when people thought she couldn’t.”
For the first three decades of the event’s history, women had never main-evented WrestleMania. Along with Ronda Rousey and Charlotte Flair at WrestleMania 34, Lynch helped change that, and Baker can certainly relate to that feeling.
“People sometimes jump to conclusions about what I can and can’t do because of my disability,” Baker says. “But I know I can do things. Like Becky Lynch, I believe in my own self, too.”
Speaking with Sports Illustrated while proudly wearing his “The Man” T-shirt, the 23-year-old Baker’s passion and energy clearly shows that disability is not inability. Along with his two sisters, he started the viral Baker Banter profile on TikTok, launching the page in 2020 on World Down Syndrome Day. Since then the Bakers have built an intensely loyal following with over two million followers.
“Doing Baker Banter is pretty awesome,” Baker says. “I love to spend time with my sisters and film videos with them. I always feel like a hero around them. And I know how it feels to be happy; and it warms my heart to make people happy.”
Even amidst the drudgery and sadness of the pandemic, Baker has found a way to make people smile through his videos.
“Dominik Mysterio even reached out about it,” Baker says. “That’s pretty insane.”
The Baker Banter videos are a quick burst of positivity, highlighting Baker, his family and the world around him. It has gained him a fair amount of fame, including grabbing the attention of people within WWE. Baker was a guest on The Bump in November, a presenter for the Slammy Awards in December and a host of the Special Olympics Royal Rumble virtual event in January. His effervescent spirit has also resonated throughout the company, as well as within the heart of two-time WWE champion Drew McIntyre.
“I have so much respect for Derek and the way he’s bringing happiness to people through these incredible videos,” says McIntyre, who recently partnered with Special Olympics for an online workout series. “He’s stepped out of his comfort zone to do it. In any walk of life, that is a very difficult thing to do, yet it is quite apparent in these videos that Derek has done it with joy.”
Baker is also a proud Special Olympics athlete. He has played softball and participated in swimming, as well as spent the past decade playing basketball for the Southwest County Special Olympics team in St. Louis.
Derek’s mother, Valerie, vividly recalls how her son stepped out of his comfort zone and onto the basketball court.
“Derek joined basketball when he was 13, but at first, he did not want to participate,” she says. “He would sit on the stage by the curtain. It was a lot for him. But he kept coming back for over a month, and there was one Tuesday evening when the whistle blew, and Derek hopped off the stage and joined the team. I was so happy and proud; all I could do was cry.”
At first, Baker struggled to dribble the basketball. Now he can receive the inbounds pass and dribble all the way to the basket—showing, once again, the power of a tenacious spirit.
“The athletes that I’ve met from Special Olympics don’t see obstacles; they see opportunities,” McIntyre says. “That’s what I see in Derek’s upbeat approach to life. And every video of his I watch, even when he makes me laugh, I walk away determined. I hope Derek keeps inspiring people the way he’s inspired me.”
Although Baker is still anxiously awaiting Becky Lynch’s WWE return, he cannot wait to watch this year’s WrestleMania. Maybe the extraordinary display of athleticism from WWE’s stars will inspire a new Baker Banter video, or perhaps, one of those in-ring spectacles will be performed with an extra boost of confidence after watching Baker make his own dreams come true.
“If you have a disability, look to me,” Baker says. “You can accomplish your dreams, too. Be yourself when you do it. Be your own champion.”