While the masked wrestler has been an integral part of the sport since nearly the beginning, many fans are not aware of one great in particular, a man who graced rings throughout the South and Gulf Coast territories throughout the 60s and 70s, battling mat legends from the great Lou Thesz to a pre-“Hulk Hogan” Terry Boulder, and that is one Leon Baxter. The Dothan, Alabama native would become best known as The Wrestling Pro (admit it, also one of the greatest gimmicks ever just due to its sheer simplicity), although he would start his career in the 1963 as Tarzan Baxter.
As Tarzan Baxter, he would find his most significant success in Tri-State Wrestling, where he would feud with Oklahoma legend Danny Hodge over the United States Jr. Heavyweight Title, winning the championship during their struggles. Among his travels across the South, Baxter would tour Georgia and the Carolinas wrestling with Juan Sebastian as the Guachos, a masked duo. In 1970, Baxter and Tim Tyler would begin teaming together in Gulf Coast Championship Wrestling as The Masked Wrestling Pros, managed by Joe Powell. Tyler would later unmask, and Baxter would continue to wrestle as The Wrestling Pro for the remainder of his career. An interesting note to consider is that it was very common knowledge to the fans that it was Baxter under the mask as the Pro, due to Baxter’s very distinctive voice!
In 1971, The Pro would team with “The California Hippie,” Mike Boyette (best known for his 0-173 jobber gimmick in Mid-South in the mid 1980s) to win two Gulf Coast-sanctioned United States Tag Team titles. In the moments following their second tag title victory, The Pro would turn on his partner, joining forces with Rip Tyler and Eddie Sullivan (with whom the Pro would hold two Gulf Coast tag titles) to form the biggest heel group in the territory at the time. The following year, he would first feud with, and then team with The Mysterious Medic, winning a U.S. Tag Team title (his third and last). Over the course of his career, The Wrestling Pro would become synonymous with the promotion, winning the Gulf Coast Heavyweight Championship on an incredible nine different occasions, in addition to six Gulf Coast Tag Team titles.
The Pro would be in possession of the Gulf Coast Heavyweight title when the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) World Heavyweight Champion at the time, Dory Funk, Jr., was booked to come into the area to face the winner of a tournament to declare a #1 Contender. While the fans were firmly in the corner of the Gulf Coast Champion, the notorious Donnie Fargo would slip into the tournament, defeating The Pro in the finals. While this would increase The Pro’s popularity with the fans, it would be short-lived, as before long he would be teaming with The Spoiler, one of the most-hated wrestlers in the area at the time.
In addition to his winning ways in Gulf Coast, The Wrestling Pro also found great success in Alabama, where he would capture the state’s Heavyweight title six times, and Mississippi, where he would become a two-time Mississippi Heavyweight champion.
The Wrestling Pro’s biggest brush with greatness would come with NWA World Heavyweight Champion Jack Brisco. The Pro would be named the territory’s #1 Contender, and during their first encounter, it appeared as though The Wrestling Pro had captured the gold, but the referee would catch The Pro with his feet on the ropes, disqualifying him and returning the belt to Brisco! Brisco would agree to a rematch, given the end of the first match, and after flight troubles delayed the first attempt, Brisco would return and win their eventual rematch.
Leon Baxter’s biggest feud, in terms of titles he would actually hold, may have been Ken Mantell. In September 1974, The Pro, recognized as the Gulf Coast Jr. Heavyweight Champion, defeated Mantell in a match to unify that title with the NWA’s Jr. Heavyweight title and create the NWA World Junior Heavyweight championship. The match was controversial, as a dispute broke out over the decision, and for the entirety of The Pro’s reign, he was only recognized as World Jr. Heavyweight Champion in Gulf Coast Wrestling. Mantell would win a November 1974 rematch to be declared undisputed champion by the National Wrestling Alliance.
In 1976, Baxter would join with fellow Dothan native Dick Dunn to form The Masked Superstars, holding two Tag Team titles in Ron Fuller’s Southeastern Championship Wrestling. Fuller and SCW would later take over the promoting of the Gulf Coast region, and returning to action as The Wrestling Pro, Baxter would put over young and rising talent from time to time, including Mid-South legend Austin Idol, and Terry Boulder, on his path to becoming Hall of Famer Hulk Hogan. Teaming with another masked man called the Super Pro, Baxter would have his last feud of any note, defeating the Super Pro in a mask vs. mask match. Unmasked, the Super Pro was revealed to be Randy Rose, who would go on to form the original Midnight Express with Dennis Condrey and Norville Austin. Baxter would retire from wrestling shortly after the match.
Most recently, Baxter made an appearance as The Wrestling Pro at the Continental territory’s Reunion show in 2004, where he finally unmasked in the middle of the ring. It was one of the promotion’s most successful shows of the year.