WWE Hall of Fame Profile, Part V: Booker T
Jay Shannon returns with a look at a man who overcame all the odds to become one of the greatest champions of the Modern Era, Booker T.
I was fortunate to see some of Booker T’s earliest matches. He and his brother, Stevie Ray, got their first real break working at the old Dallas Sportatorium. It is my honor to profile a fellow Texan, Booker T.
A Troubled Start
Booker Tio Huffman, Jr. was born on March 1, 1965. Booker was the youngest of 8 children and had a very troubled youth. He had lost both of his parents by the time he was 14. Older brother “Stevie Ray” stepped in and raised Booker and the other children. Booker got into legal trouble after robbing a Wendy’s restaurant. He spent 19 months in jail. That jail time would serve as the catalyst for Booker turning his life around. Booker became a father at a relatively young age and was looking for a way to increase his income to take care of his new family. Stevie Ray (aka Lash) suggested the two check into a wrestling school that was opening up. Both men were trained by WWE Hall of Famer, Ivan Putski. Booker was trained by both Putski and “Cowboy” Scott Casey. It was Casey that decided to embrace Booker’s checkered past and convert it into something positive. Booker took the name of “G.I. Bro”, a character that would re-surface, many years later. Skandor Akbar scouted the brothers and invited them to work for the Global Wrestling Federation. They were billed as the Ebony Experience, with Booker taking the name Kole and Stevie Ray using the name Kane. The Ebony Experience won the first of their three GWF tag titles on July 31, 1992. Shortly before GWF folded, the Huffman brothers got a call from World Championship Wrestling.
The duo arrived in WCW in August of 1993. They were partnered with Harley Race and his crew in a feud against Sting and his forces. This was the same match that had the in-ring debut of the infamous Shockmaster.
In 1994, Harlem Heat changed managers. They were under Colonel Robert Parker but he was replaced by Sherri Martel. Martel took the ring identity of Sista Sherri. By late 1994, Booker T and Stevie had won their first tag titles by defeating the duo of Marcus Bagwell and The Patriot (Stars and Stripes). They would drop the belts to The Nasty Boys, only to take the titles back from the Nastys.
Harlem Heat’s new feud was against Dick Slater and Jimmy Golden aka Bunkhouse Buck. Harlem Heat traded the belts back and forth with the so-called “Stud Stable” of Buck and Slater. Heat would immediately drop the belts to Buff Bagwell and Scotty Riggs, only to regain the titles, 9 days later. Future tag title wins came over Lex Luger and Sting, The Steiner Brothers and Public Enemy. Harlem Heat eventually got rid of Sherri and Col. Robert Parker (who had come back to help manage the duo). They were replaced by Jacqueline (Moore). In 1997, Stevie Ray needed several months off to recover from an ankle injury. In his absence, Booker T would begin his singles career.
The Rise of Booker T
Booker took his first singles gold when he defeated Disco Inferno, on December 29, 1997, to earn the WCW TV Championship. Booker would drop the belt to “Fit” Finlay, thanks, in part, to Chris Benoit. That ignited a nasty feud between Booker and Benoit. Booker would defeat Benoit in a “Best of Seven” series of matches. He would then take back the TV title from Finlay. Booker became the first African American to win the WCW TV Title. Stevie Ray stepped in to defend the title for his brother, when Booker went out with an injury. Stevie Ray would drop the title to Scott Steiner. Booker would return to take back the title. On the same night, Booker lost to Steiner in the finals of a United States Title Tournament. Booker would drop the TV title to Scott’s older brother, Rick, a month later.
In mid-1999, Booker T and Stevie Ray reunited as a team. They defeated Kanyon and Bam Bam Bigelow to take another run as the World tag champs. They would drop the belts to another brother duo, Barry and Kendall Windham. Heat would take the belts back, a month later. They didn’t hold them long. Harlem Heat would earn their 10th World tag titles when they won a Triple Threat match that also included the teams of Hugh Morris and Brian Knobs and Konnan and (Billy) Kidman. Harlem Heat eventually added another manager, Midnight (Ann Marie Crooks). Midnight eventually drove a wedge between the brothers. Stevie brought in the former Ahmed Johnson (renamed as Big T), Kash and J. Biggs (later known as Clarence Mason). The brothers feuded over the Harlem Heat name. Stevie won the rights. Booker would later win the rights to use the “surname” of T (Stevie wanted that too).
Once the feud wound down, Booker was recruited to join Hugh Morris (renamed General Rection)’s military-oriented group, called the Misfits in Action. Booker brought back G.I. Bro.
The Five Time Five Time…
Due to his dedication and work ethic, Booker was moved up to the main event roster. Booker T would defeat Jeff Jarrett to win his first World title. He would drop the title to Kevin Nash, only to take it back, at Fall Brawl (held a few weeks later). In a bizarre twist of fate, Booker would lose his World title to…Vince Russo. It was a Steel Cage Match and Goldberg got involved. Goldberg Speared Russo out of the cage, thus allowing him to win. Russo almost immediately vacated the title. Booker would again defeat Jeff Jarrett to start his third World Title reign. Booker would lose the title to Scott Steiner and ended up the injured list for several months.
Booker would return to defeat Rick Steiner for the US title. That made him the final Triple Crown Champion. Booker would capture his fourth World title on the final episode of Nitro. Booker became the most decorated wrestler in WCW with a total of 23 title wins. He also bridged the gap between WCW and WWE as both the World and US Champ.
The WWE Years
Booker T debuted at King of the Ring 2001. He attacked “Stone Cold” Steve Austin. Booker gave his US title to Kanyon. Eventually, Booker lost and then regained the World title to and from Kurt Angle. That made him a 5-time World Champ, which would become his catch phrase and he still uses it, occasionally. Booker became one of the leaders of The Alliance, made up of former WCW and ECW stars. At Summerslam, Booker dropped the WCW World title to The Rock. That title would later be unified when Chris Jericho beat both The Rock and Steve Austin, in the same night.
Booker T would feud with Edge and Booker would get his first Wrestlemania appearance at X8. Booker would get drafted to Raw and would feud with Crash Holly. Booker took the Hardcore title, twice. Booker would eventually turn face and team with Goldust to battle the re-built n.W.o.. The duo would eventually win the World Tag Team titles at the 2002 edition of Armageddon. They would drop the belts, less than a month later, to William Regal and Lance Storm. Booker wanted to go after the World title but had to take time to handle Evolution. They had attacked and “electrocuted” Goldust. Booker held his own against the radical faction. Booker T would recruit Shawn Michaels and Kevin Nash to help in his feud with Batista, Randy Orton and Triple H. Booker lost to HHh at Wrestlemania XIX.
Booker would next feud with Christian over the Intercontinental Championship. Booker defeated Christian for the title but lost it back, primarily because of a back injury. Booker took several months off to recover.
When Booker returned, he had a few feuds before joining with Rob Van Dam to beat Ric Flair and Batista to take the World Tag Titles. They would drop the belts back to Flair and Batista, two weeks after Wrestlemania. Booker turned on RVD and they had a nasty feud. Booker was later drafted to Smackdown and had a short feud with Undertaker. Booker was dominated in that one. Kurt Angle, Smackdown’s General Manager, stripped John Cena of the US title. Booker swooped in and won an 8-man elimination battle to take the title. Booker and Cena would then have a “Best of Five” series. In the end, Cena won back the title.
Booker then set his sights on the WWE title but failed to capture it. Booker would then go after former GM, Kurt Angle. Kurt had been stalking Booker’s wife, Sharmell. After that feud wound down, Booker went after the US title, once again. Booker would take the US title from Chris Benoit, with help from Sharmell (Booker was unaware of the help). Teddy Long stripped Booker of the US title, after a controversial double pin. Benoit and Booker went into a “Best of Seven” series for the strap. Booker was injured during the series and Randy Orton was allowed to stand in for Booker. Orton won the final match in the series, giving the belt back to Booker. Benoit would rebound and eventually reclaim the title.
Booker then got involved in a bizarre feud with The Boogeyman. Booker and Sharmell faced (and lost to) Boogeyman at Wrestlemania 22. It was a Handicap Match. Eventually, Booker and Sharmell took out a restraining order against Boogeyman to end the silly feud.
His Lordship, King Booker
Booker T defeated Bobby Lashley at Judgment Day to capture the King of the Ring tournament. Booker then suddenly began to sound like someone out of a medieval Errol Flynn movie, with the phoniest English accent in history. The new King set up his “Court”, with Queen Sharmell, Sir/Lord William Regal and Sir Finlay. After a continuation of his feud with Bobby Lashley, King Booker set his sights on Rey Mysterio’s World Title. Rey had won the title in tribute to the late Eddie Guerrero. It was Eddie’s nephew, that caused the loss, when he attacked Rey. King Booker took the title and began to proclaim himself as “King of the World”. The King’s Court disbanded after Booker attacked Sir/Lord Regal at No Mercy.
Booker faced both John Cena and Big Show at Cyber Sunday to determine the Champion of Champions. Only King Booker’s World title was actually on the line. Kevin Federline, who was feuding with Cena (yes, you read that right), helped Booker defeat Cena. Booker would eventually lose the World title to Batista.
Shortly after Wrestlemania 23, Booker T took some time off to deal with another knee injury. When he returned, King Booker challenged Jerry Lawler’s and Triple H’s claim to be Kings. Booker would feud with both of the other “Kings”, trouncing Lawler but losing to Triple H. Booker T ended his relationship with the WWE after claims, by the WWE, that Booker had failed the Wellness Program. Booker vehemently denied this failure and requested his release, in protest of the alleged infraction.
Booker T would resurface at Genesis 2007. He was Sting’s mystery partner in a battle against Kurt Angle and Kevin Nash. Sharmell got into a fight with Karen Angle, who had interfered in the match. Booker quickly went into a feud with Christian Cage and Robert Roode. Booker enlisted the aid of Frankie “Kaz” Kazarian. Roode accidentally made contact with a punch that dislocated Sharmell’s jaw. The next match between Roode and Booker turned into a nasty “Shoot Fight”. Booker and Sharmell would feud with Roode and various female associated until early 2008.
The Main Event Mafia
Booker turned heel and feuded with (the now Face) Christian Cage. Booker would next feud with Samoa Joe and Kevin Nash. Booker suddenly decided to resurrect the horrible “King” gimmick. This time around, Booker was supposedly a direct descendent of African Kings and was in line for the throne. When Booker was unable to win the World title, he simply created his own title. He brought forth the Legends Championship and became the first man to hold it. He would eventually drop it to A.J. Styles. The title would go through several name and appearance changes before finally ending up as the Television Championship. (Legends – Global – Television).
Booker would later unite with Kevin Nash, Kurt Angle, Scott Steiner, Samoa Joe, Sting and several others to form the elitist group known as the Main Event Mafia. They dominated TNA for some time. Booker and Steiner took the TNA World Tag belts from James Storm and Bobby Roode aka Beer Money. They would lose the belts to Magnus and Douglas Williams, The British Invasion. The match, a Four Way Full Metal Mayhem Match would be Booker’s final match in TNA. He was stretchered out and never seen on TNA TV again.
Working outside the States
Booker spent the next 24 months working in both Puerto Rico and Mexico. While he didn’t win championships in either country, Booker was a major player in WWC, AAA and other assorted promotions. A lighter work schedule also allowed some nagging injuries to fully heal.
Return to WWE
Booker made an appearance at Royal Rumble 2011 but was quickly ousted by Mason Ryan. After the loss, Booker changed gears and became the Color Commentator on Smackdown. Booker was involved with the Tough Enough program and wrestled an occasional match. Booker would feud with Jack Swagger, Cody Rhodes and Mark Henry during the next year or so. By the summer of 2012, Booker had been “promoted” to the position of General Manager of Smackdown. He still holds that position and has gained high praise for being very successful in his transition to a (storyline) executive position. Sharmell has taken some time off to give birth and raise their twins. Booker and his brother, Stevie, have opened a wrestling school in the Houston area.
Booker T was on a downward path that could have destroyed him. However, the young man learned from his mistakes and turned his life around. He has won almost every championship possible to win. From those days in the Sportatorium/Global Dome to touring the world, Booker T has risen to heights that even he could not have possibly dreamed. He should be an inspiration to the youth of today that even if you travel the wrong path, there is still hope. For his in-ring abilities, as well as his inner strength, Booker T deserves his place in the pantheon of Hall of Fame Superstars. Congratulations! And Yes, we can dig that…Sucka!