Booker “T” Huffman is one of the most underrated professional wrestlers in the business today.
He has done almost all there is to be done in the world of professional wrestling during his 20 year career, but his story starts much earlier.
Born on March 1, 1965, Booker was raised in the rough area of South Park in Houston, and was the youngest of eight children.
He grew up wanting to be a professional dancer and spent most of his spare time practicing to break dance, along with several of his friends.
The group of them would go from park to park, looking for other kids to challenge or "battle."
After the unfortunate death of his father when he was very young, and the passing of his mother by the time he turned 14, Booker's older brother Lane stepped up to raise Booker and his siblings.
After high school Booker went on to work a few jobs, including one at a Wendy's restaurant. After working there for 2 1/2 years, Booker and three other employees hatched a plan to rob the restaurant.
Their attempt was unsuccessful and the four men were arrested and sent to jail. Huffman was sentenced to five years, but only spent 19 months inside and spent the remainder of the time on parole.
Shortly after being released from prison, Booker was working at a storage company in Houston when his brother Lane approached him about checking out a new local wrestling school that was being run by former WWF wrestler Ivan "Polish Power" Putski as part of the Western Wrestling Alliance (WWA).
At the time Booker was a single father and he was looking for a better life for himself and his son.
Here's what Booker told Slam! Wrestling: "I am the youngest of eight kids and my mother was a single parent too. So, the only way I could look at it was, if my mother had EIGHT, man, what kind of father would I be if I can't take time out to look over the ONE I have?"
"It was $3,000 to go to the school. At the time, I was just working a regular job and raising my son as a single parent. I was just trying to make everything work.
"It just so happened that the guy who I worked for at the American Mini-Storage wanted to see me succeed. So, he put the money up for me. He was a damn good boss."
Booker went to the school and was trained by Scott Casey, who helped to turn Booker's background in break dancing into "sports entertainment," while also teaching him about ring psychology.
Eight weeks after the training, Booker debuted on the WWA Live! program in 1989 under the ring name "G.I. Bro." The gimmick was supposed to be a take on WWF's Sgt. Slaughter character, as well as a reference to the Gulf War which was being fought at the time.
The WWA folded later on, but Booker went onto the indy scene, often tag teaming with his brother Lane "Stevie Ray" Huffman.
At one of the events they were spotted by Skandor Akbar who hired them immediately to compete for Global Wrestling Federation (GWF) as a tag team.
The brothers wrestled under the tag team name of "Ebony Experience." As the tag team got more popular, there were more people attending the show, and there was a large increase in the amount of African-Americans attending the events. The crowd figures changed from 120 to 200 people, up to 3,500 people in just two years!
The team finally won their first of three tag team championships with the company on July 31, 1992. After finding success in the promotion, the brothers moved on to bigger and better things, and started working for the World Championship Wrestling (WCW) promotion.
When they moved to WCW they were repackaged as "Harlem Heat", with Booker's new ring name being Kole, and Lane's new name being Kane.
They were portrayed as heels and put into the Wargames match at Fall Brawl in 1993 along with Harley Race and Col. Rob Parker, facing the team of Sting, Davey Boy Smith, Dustin Rhodes, and The Shockmaster.
They went on to lose the match, but went over with the fans as genuine contenders because of the quality of opponents they were facing.
For the next five years the tag team, now reverting back to their original names of Booker T and Stevie Ray, feuded with several notable tag teams including the Steiner Brothers, The Nasty Boys, The American Males, Public Enemy, The Outsiders, and the team of Sting and Lex Luger.
Towards the end of 1997, Stevie Ray took five months off to heal an ankle injury. Booker successfully transitioned into singles competition in the next few years, winning the WCW World Television Championship on several occasions before reuniting with Stevie Ray as the "Harlem Heat" tag team.
The year 2000 turned out to be the most important year of Booker's wrestling career. Not only was he finally getting the main event push that so many had wished for him to get, but he won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship three times that year, holding it for a total of 125 days.
This was also the year that Pro Wrestling Illustrated (PWI) named Booker the most inspirational wrestler of the year, as well as ranking him No. 5 in the top 500 wrestlers in the world for that year.
In the last days of WCW, Booker T was both the WCW World Heavyweight Championship and the WCW United States Heavyweight Championship.
By the end of WCW he was recognized as the most decorated athlete in the history of the company, winning a total of 23 championships during his tenure.
Booker debuted in WWF at the 2001 King Of The Ring tournament when he injured "Stone Cold" Steve Austin. He then went on to become a heel and be a leading figure in The Alliance during the invasion storyline between WWF and WCW/ECW.
Booker spent the majority of the next few years chasing more tag team gold. He teamed with Test, Goldust, and Rob Van Dam, winning championships with each of them.
Throughout his time looking for tag team titles, Booker also competed on several occasions for both the Intercontinental and United States championship belts.
In 2006, Booker entered into the King Of The Ring tournament on Smackdown, where he eventually won by defeating Bobby Lashley in the final at Judgment Day. After winning the tournament Booker had a gimmick change, referring to himself as "King Booker."
Booker later won a No. 1 contenders battle royal for a shot at the World Heavyweight Championship at The Great American Bash.
He beat Rey Mysterio for the title, and became the first African-American in WWE history to win the championship. Booker later lost the title to Batista at Survivor Series.
Booker qualified for the Money In The Bank match at Wrestlemania 23 by defeating Kane in a match on Smackdown.
Booker was unsuccessful in winning the match, but he came very close to grabbing the briefcase before having to save his wife, Sharmell, from getting hit by a twist of fate from Matt Hardy.
In the 2007 draft Booker was drafted to Raw, where he had a feud with Jerry Lawler and then Triple H over who was the real "King" on the show. Booker managed to beat Lawler, but was then defeated by Triple H at Summerslam.
Soon after, Booker was suspended for violating WWE's wellness program. Booker then requested his and Sharmell's release from the company, and WWE obliged.
Booker debuted in Total Nonstop Action (TNA) in his Booker T character at the Genesis pay-per-view as Sting's mystery partner against Kevin Nash and Kurt Angle for the TNA World Heavyweight Champion. Sharmell also debuted during the same match, interfering on Booker and Sting's behalf.
Booker feuded with Robert Roode for the next five months after Booker claimed he came to TNA to test his skills against the younger talent on the roster.
The rivalry went to the next level when Roode legitimately punched Sharmell, dislocating her jaw. The feud was settled when Booker and Sharmell defeated Roode and Payton Banks in a mixed tag team match at Lockdown 2008.
Booker then turned heel and feuded with Samoa Joe for the next four months over the TNA World Heavyweight Championship. Booker reverted to a gimmick close to his "King Booker" character from WWE, this time claiming to be the king of Africa.
Booker then introduced a new title belt during an episode of Impact!, calling it the Legends championship and naming himself the current champion. Later he, along with Sharmell, Scott Steiner, Kevin Nash, Kurt Angle, and Sting formed TNA's newest stable, Main Event Mafia.
Booker later defended his Legends title against A.J. Styles at Destination X this year, where he lost the belt. He has since moved on to form the tag team of the Main Event Mafia with Scott Steiner. They are currently in the hunt for the TNA Tag Team Championships.
Booker credits his entire wrestling career to his big brother, Lane "Stevie Ray" Huffman. "That's just the way it's gotta be because if it wasn't for Stevie Ray, I wouldn't be in the business. I wouldn't have a big house. I wouldn't have a nice car.
"If it wasn't for him, I would probably be in jail or dead. You never know. So, we have to look after each other, because we are all that we got. That's just the way it is. Family comes first."
Booker T's list of achievements is quite honestly astonishing:
5x WCW World Heavyweight Champion
11x WCW Tag Team Champion (10x Stevie Ray, 1x Test)
6x WCW World Television Champion
1x WCW United States Heavyweight Champion
1x WWE World Heavyweight Champion
3x WWE United States Champion
1x WWE Intercontinental Champion
3x WWE World Tag Team Champion (1x Test, 1x Goldust, 1x Rob Van Dam)
2x WWF Hardcore Champion
Winner of King Of The Ring 2006
Sixteenth WWE Triple Crown Champion
Eighth WWE Grand Slam Champion
Participant of the first Elimination Chamber
Participant of Money In The Bank match, Wrestlemania 23
1x TNA Legends Champion
Participant in King Of The Mountain match
PWI Tag Team Of The Year (1995, 1996) with Stevie Ray
PWI Most Improved Wrestler Of The Year (1998)
PWI Most Inspirational Wrestler Of The Year (2000)
PWI Ranked #5 of the top 500 singles wrestlers of the year (2000)
Booker and his older brother Lane opened a training facility for aspiring wrestlers and referees alike in 2005 called Pro Wrestling Alliance (PWA).
Since then there have been many TNA superstars that have competed in the promotion, including Jay Lethal, Consequences Creed, and Team 3D.
Booker and his wife Sharmell have also founded the Booker T. Fights For Kids Foundation, which is currently trying to build a 24-hour community center for kids.
They're hoping that the center will feature the latest in technology and recreational activities to provide an alternative to the inner city streets of Houston.
Booker has tried his hand in various sports throughout his life. He played touch football and basketball in high school, and later in life he competed as an amateur boxer.
Booker was able to use some of these skills in the 1-800-COLLECT television commercials that he has done.
After featuring in the advertisements, Booker was cast in television shows "Charmed" and "The Jersey," as well as starring in the 2000 wrestling movie "Ready To Rumble."
After writing this article, I will forever look at Booker T in a different light, as an unsung legend of the professional wrestling world. Just imagine the quality of wrestling that we would've missed out on if his former boss never lent him that $3000...
A special thanks goes out to the following references:
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