SAN ANTONIO, TX – Though Palmdale High School alumnus Donovan Baker is looking forward to participating in one of the country’s largest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournaments in June, he sees mentoring others in his community as the greater prize.
A long way from the Antelope Valley, Baker is now working as a laboratory analyst in San Antonio, Texas – having migrated to the Lone Star State to support his wife, Kristen, who works as a medic at Lackland Air Force Base.
Despite all the changes and challenges that have stood between him and his love for wrestling, Baker simply could not stay out of the gym.
“I was on the mat practicing and rolling around, and I guess they recognized my talent,” said Baker of the management team at the Evolution MMA gym in San Antonio. “They began talking to me and telling me they wanted me to be part of their gym, so they hired me as an instructor.”
Baker works with both kids and adults, teaching them different wrestling and MMA techniques, while accidentally finding a new lease on life: helping others with their ambitions to compete.
“I love what I do, working with each person, each kid, and they love having me there,” he said. “However, I know for a fact the owner’s daughter is going to be state champion.”
Baker is referring to 12-year-old Riana Paige Flores, who has been training since the age of nine. Already she has shown promise in both Jiu-Jitsu and wrestling, and is on track to begin competing, he said.
“She’s got a lot going for herself, and I am so honored to work with her,” Baker said. “I’m convinced she will be a woman state champion. But, more than anything, I’m just amazed with the kind of impact I’m able to have on these kids’ lives.”
Baker is 22, and he is preparing for one of the toughest tournaments of his wrestling career called “NAGA,” the North American Grappling Association, which is an organization that hosts submission grappling and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu tournaments. Someone who places at this tournament is considered an “elite wrestler and grappler,” Baker said.
The upcoming tournament takes place June 21 in Austin, Texas, and Baker is preparing for the upcoming NAGA tournament by “training all the time at the gym that I work at and running every morning,” he said. “I’m focusing on the Jiu-Jitsu and Muay Thai classes because that’s a big part of the tournament.”
Having wrestled since he was 6 years old, Baker wants to recapture that feeling of being undefeated – as he was when he won the state champion at a young age, recalling: “I went to kids’ state and I won the whole thing.”
Baker began wrestling with the Boron Mat Cats, then Palmdale High School, and finally Chabot College in Hayward.
He told the AV Times by phone that his record was approximately 50-12 with 25 pins, saying he participates in wrestling clinics at Palmdale and Lancaster High Schools whenever he visits family in the Antelope Valley.
Baker and his wife also have a 10-month-old son, Isaiah, who Baker hopes will embrace similar aspirations for competing on the mat.
“I want to let him do whatever he wants to do, but I would really like for him to wrestle – that would seriously win my heart,” he said.