“It’s hard for me to put it into words,” said Baxter. “It’s just a great honor to be inducted. Being that I represented Wyoming all these years and was proud to go to tournaments in the world wearing a Wyoming shirt and representing the state that I was born in and the state that I love, it’s a good honor to be recognized.”
Baxter, who was born in Powell and attended Northwest College, was introduced to the sport almost by fluke chance.
“Gary Gunderson owned the Bent Street Station there in Powell and had an arm wrestling table set up in it,” Baxter said. “My friends talked me into arm wrestling this great big guy, so I did and I beat him. Afterward, Gary came over and said he’d never seen that guy lose and that I needed to get started professionally. He got me the number of this group up in Billings and that’s where it started.”
Baxter began competing in the sport in 1989 when he entered the Montana state wristwrestling championships. His career bloomed almost immediately.
“That first year, three months after I started, I went to my first world championship event and finished sixth,” said Baxter. “The matches I lost, I didn’t lose by much, so I knew if I worked on my technique just a little bit, I’d be there.”
Baxter credits his father for helping him perfect that technique. He also admits that there’s a fine blend of technique and raw strength needed to succeed in the sport.
“I’ve seen guys who are brute strong. They bench press 600 pounds,” said Baxter, who can himself bench 405 pounds, curl 100 pounds with dumbells or do 150-pound forearm curls. “I’ve had to compete against those guys and I put them down because of the technique. At the same time, I’ve gone against guys who had just perfect technique, and I was able to win because I was able to overpower them with my strength. I really think the will to win went a long way. When I was at the table, I wanted to win.”
And win he did.
In 1990, Baxter captured the middleweight title for both the right and left arms at the World Championships in Los Angeles. Two years later, he was back atop the podium for another world title for left middleweight.
Baxter also holds a world runner-up title from the ‘98 championships at right middleweight.
His early success in the sport turned a number of heads. He was named the USAA armwrestler of the year in 1992 and was invited to the 1992 Golden Bear Championships in Moscow, Russia, placing second in the left middleweight division. In 1993, he captured the right middleweight title at the Tournament of Champions in Canada while placing as the runner-up in the left middleweight division.
In addition, he holds six national titles and more than 50 state titles, including five Cowboy State Games gold medals, to his credit. A list of notable wins from his career reads like a who’s who from the sport.
Despite a stellar career filled with victories, Baxter’s most memorable match is one that he lost.
“At the 2001 Wyoming state tournament in Douglas, I armwrestled my son Randy for the right overall title,” Baxter recalled. “He was 14 at the time and defeated me to win the title.”
The sport has changed quite a bit over the course of his career as well, in part thanks to Baxter’s success.
“When I was starting out, there weren’t a lot of Wyoming folks competing,” he recalled. “Now, there’s a team from Wyoming that goes to some of these tournaments and they’re mowing down everybody. Wyoming has a good population of arm wrestlers that are doing well now”
Some of those are competitors that Baxter helped introduce to the sport and worked with over the years.
“It’s a change from back in the day where I’d go to a tournament and be the only guy from Wyoming there,” Baxter said.
He added that he remains indebted to many from the Powell area for the help he received when first getting started in the sport.
“I had a lot of folks from around the community that helped me out and gave me money so I could do things like travel to Russia and compete,” Baxter said. “I’m still extremely thankful for the support that I received from everyone around town.”
Before turning to armwrestling, Baxter was a bull rider and competed in wrestling, cross country and track at both the state and collegiate levels. Today, he is an avid hunter and angler and enjoys basketball and football, as well as his seven children, who range in age from 26 to 8-year-old triplets.
First and foremost though, he’s an armwrestler.
“It’s like rodeo. It gets in your blood,” Baxter said. “Once you start, you’re hooked. You can’t wait to get to that next tournament. I’ve got a torn bicep and a torn rotator cuff that I’m in the process of getting healed and I’m just chomping at the bit to see if I can go out there and do it again and compete.”
If he has a regret from his many years of competition, it’s that he never got the opportunity to compete on the biggest sports stage of them all.
“I wish it would have been an Olympic sport,” Baxter said, noting that there was talk over the years of seeing the activity elevated to that lofty status. “I’m too old to do that now, but back in the day I would have loved a chance to get to the Olympics and compete.”