WWE Legends: The Ascension of Booker T
February is Black History Month, and I couldn't think of a better topic to discuss than an African-American man who is, in my opinion, one of the best black performers in the history of professional wrestling. Of course I am talking about Booker Tio Huffman, otherwise known as Booker T.
I have tried to cover as much of Booker's career that I could dig up, so if I left anything out, especially the good stuff, then I apologize in advance. And now, on to the slideshow!
There are many professional athletes that have sadly gone through troubles during their youth. Booker’s mother and father had both passed away by the time he was 14. In total, they left behind eight children, with Booker being the youngest. From that point on, his primary caretaker was his older brother, Lane Steven Huffman.
In 1986, Booker married his first wife, Levestia. From a prior relationship, he had a son named Brandon. Now Booker would get to raise a family of his own. Unfortunately, in 1987, he made the unwise decision to perform armed robberies of several Wendy’s restaurants in Houston, a felony crime. He was sentenced to five years in prison, and was released after serving a third of that sentence. He remained on parole until 1992.
Now a free man, Booker was ready to make an honest living for his family. His brother Lane suggested that they check out a wrestling school ran by Ivan Putski of the Western Wrestling Alliance. The only problem was that there was a tuition fee of $3,000. Booker graciously received a full loan from his boss at the local storage company. His wrestling career was about to begin.
The Independant Scene, Birth of G.I. Bro
Booker was a natural athlete. After only eight weeks of training, he made his WWA debut, using the alias G.I. Bro, a black war hero and the answer to Sgt. Slaughter’s “Iraqi sympathazier” gimmick. Lane eventually debuted in WWA under the name Jive Soul Bro, and he was used as the rival of G.I. Bro. The Huffmans received praise for their work. However, they both lost their jobs when WWA folded.
From there, the two brothers worked a few one-shot appearances in Texas, until they caught the eye of Skandor Akbar, who quickly signed them to Global Wrestling Federation in 1992, as a babyface tag team called the Ebony Experience. Booker began using his first name and middle initial as his ring name, and Lane changed his name to Stevie Ray.
The team’s “hard-hitting” style of wrestling was completely over with the crowds. Stevie was a powerhouse that relied on brute strength, and Booker used aerial assaults and plenty of kicking attacks. Booker also used a “windmill” move to evade attacks and quickly switch back to offense (more on that later). They would end up winning the GWF Tag Team Championship on three separate occasions.
In 1993, the Huffmans once again drew the attention of an admirer. This time it was Sid Vicious, who was performing for World Championship Wrestling. On a recommendation from Sid, the Ebony Experience signed to WCW. They were repackaged as heel tag team known as Harlem Heat, a pair of thugs from 110th Street. Booker’s name was changed to Kole, and Stevie became Kane (not to be confused with Glen Jacobs). The initial story was that Col. Parker “won” the incarcerated brothers in a poker game, and they were supposed to wear their prison chains to the ring, but this angle was thankfully dropped.
After reclaiming their personal names, and acquiring the services of Sister Sherri Martel, the Huffmans became one of the most dominant tag teams in WCW history, defeating the likes of the Nasty Boys, Public Enemy, Stars 'n' Stripes, and even the team of Sting and Lex Luger. By 1996, Harlem Heat had become seven-time WCW Tag Team Champions.
They were also known for being very loud and intense on the microphone, which also comprises an embarrassing moment where Booker accidentally calls Hulk Hogan a racial epithet that is normally used for black people.
In 1997, Harlem Heat went over a few speed bumps. They fired Sister Sherri and replaced her with Jacqueline Moore. Shortly afterwards, Stevie Ray injured his ankle and needed five months off. Eventually, Jacqueline left WCW and joined the World Wrestling Federation. Within no time, Booker was on his own.
First Taste of Singles' Gold
Like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels, Booker T had zero problems with becoming a solo act. Now a babyface, Booker feuded with Disco Inferno and defeated him for the WCW Television Championship. He then feuded with Chris Benoit in a “best-of-seven” series, and Booker came out on top of that battle as well. Booker won the Television Title six times, a WCW record.
Meanwhile, Stevie Ray made a full recovery from his injuries. But instead of reforming Harlem Heat, Stevie joined the ranks of the New World Order.
Stevie began to experience problems with the “B-Team” division of the nWo. Booker persuaded Stevie to leave the B-Team, and Harlem Heat was reunited. The duo went on to win the Tag Team belts three more times, for a total of 10 reigns.
Harlem Heat 2000, Return of G.I. Bro
In 1999, the group received a new female manager known as Midnight. While Booker was pleased with her, Stevie wanted her gone and challenged her to a match that would determine if she stays or not. When Stevie lost to Midnight with a small package, an angry Stevie turned on both Midnight and Booker.
This led to Stevie forming his own version of Harlem Heat with a guy named Big T, who once wrestled in the WWF as “Ahmed Johnson.” Big T defeated Booker T in a match to determine the sole wrestler to use the “T” in their name (seriously). Booker went through several transitions this year. He began tagging with Billy Kidman, and both of these men would join the New Blood stable. Then he reverted back to his “G.I. Bro” persona, and aligned himself with Bill DeMott, a.k.a. General Hugh G. Rection (not joking). Finally, he was allowed to use the “T” once again, and became the Booker T that we all know and love. Stevie reconciled with Booker, retired, and became a commentator.
Winning the Big One
In 2000, during the pay-per-view “Bash at the Beach,” Hulk Hogan was booked to lose to WCW World Heavyweight Champion Jeff Jarrett. Hogan refused to job, and head writer Vince Russo instructed Jarrett to literally “lie down” for Hogan instead. But then Russo unexpectedly (and legitimately) stripped Hogan of the title and gave the belt back to Jarrett, nullifying the title change. He also announced that Jarrett would have an impromptu title match. His opponent was none other than Booker T.
After 13 minutes, Booker hit Jarrett with his finishing move, the Book End, and became the second African-American behind Ron Simmons to become a world champion. As a main eventer, Booker feuded with Jarrett, Kevin Nash and Scott Steiner. He also won the WCW United States Championship from Rick Steiner during this period. But sorry to say, WCW was in major decline at this point, mainly due to ridiculous storylines and several rounds of “hot potato” with the Big Gold Belt, including World Heavyweight Title reigns by actor David Arquette and Russo himself. In 2001, WCW was sold to the World Wrestling Federation (later WWE). On the final edition of WCW Nitro, Booker T defeated Scott Steiner to win his fourth World Heavyweight Title.
WWF Versus WCW
As a part of the new acquisition, World Wrestling Federation secured the rights to all WCW merchandise, archived footage, title belts and talent contracts. Booker T (and several other WCW wrestlers) joined the WWF ranks as a part of an “invasion” storyline, with Booker attacking "Stone Cold" Steve Austin in his WWF debut. He was attacked by Austin and Kurt Angle during his first WWF match with Buff Bagwell.
Shortly after this, the entire WCW roster, managed by Shane McMahon, became heels. They were eventually joined by the ECW roster, creating the WCW/ECW Alliance. Booker, who never lost his titles, was the leader. After giving his US Title to Chris Kanyon, Booker feuded and lost his WCW Title to Kurt Angle. Booker quickly won the title back, and became the five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time WCW Champion!
Fall From Grace
Meanwhile, The Rock had just returned in July of 2001. The Rock was looking for revenge on Steve Austin, who defected to the Alliance at the “Invasion” PPV. When Booker came out to defend his new teammate, The Rock destroyed Booker by using only his microphone.
To make matters worse for Booker, announcer Jim Ross often suggested that Booker T was a “Rock clone,” for allegedly stealing The Rock’s finishing move and his catch phrases. His “windmill” maneuver that I referenced earlier was reduced to a taunt called the “Spin-A-Roonie.” And it was subtly implied that Booker and Shane had a “secret love” for one another. Booker was becoming a comedy heel. Out of these reasons, Booker’s friend and former WCW Champion Sting refused to sign with the WWF.
Booker’s final WCW Championship reign came to an end when he lost his belt to The Rock at SummerSlam. He did win his first taste of WWF gold, the WWF World Tag Team Championship, with Test on an episode of SmackDown! Unfortunately, the reign was only 13 days. Over the next few months, Team WWF would dominate the Alliance until it was no more and all of the WCW belts were unified with their WWF counterparts.
Supermarket Showdown, A "Bizarre" Tag Team
In 2002, Booker resumed his feud with Steve Austin. They had fights in odd places such as a grocery store and a church. After Steve Austin took some time off due to personal issues, Booker was reduced to a mid-card talent. He lost to Edge in his first match at WrestleMania. A couple of months later, he won the Hardcore Championship twice and lost it twice at the Insurrextion PPV. Things appeared to look good when he joined Shawn Michaels’ version of the nWo. However, Shawn literally kicked him out of the group for supposedly trying to steal the spotlight from the group.
Booker officially rejoined the tag team division when he found an unlikely partner in Goldust, once again turning face. At the Armageddon PPV, the duo won the World Tag Team Championship, which they held for three weeks.
Buried By The Son-In-Law
In 2003, Booker won a battle royal to determine the number one contender to the WWE World Heavyweight Championship by eliminating The Rock, who was a heel at the time. Booker’s opponent would be Triple H. On Raw, Triple H said that “people like Booker” don’t normally win world championships and they are only meant to make “people like him” laugh. Hunter also made references to Booker’s “nappy hair” and his criminal history. With such a blatantly racist promo, many fans thought it would be a sure thing for Booker to soon get his comeuppance. Instead, Triple H cleanly pinned Booker T at WrestleMania XIX.
After WrestleMania, Booker went back to the mid-card and would be stuck there for three years, feuding with men such as Christian, Chris Benoit, and a very young John Cena. During this period, Booker would find moderate success by holding the Intercontinental Championship, US Championship, and the World Tag Team Championship with Rob Van Dam.
Booker T Marries Sharmell, Turns Heel Again
By this point, Booker had been long split with his wife Levestia. He was now in a happy relationship with Sharmell Sullivan, formerly known as Paisley of the WCW Nitro Girls. The couple was married in 2005, and their union was acknowledged on-screen. However, Kurt Angle became obsessed with Sharmell, and he frequently stalked and harassed her, which obviously led to a match between Angle and Booker.
After Booker defeated Angle, Booker resumed his old WCW feud with Chris Benoit. During one of their matches, Sharmell gave a low blow to Benoit and Booker won the match, winning his third US Championship. Fans were booing Sharmell, and Booker didn’t understand what was happening. Or so we thought. Booker promised a rematch for Benoit, but then he attacked Benoit with the belt while Sharmell had Benoit distracted. Booker then admitted that he was fully aware of Sharmell’s actions the entire time!
All Hail King Book-ah!
After Benoit regained the US Title, Booker entered and successfully won the King Of The Ring tournament in 2006. At this time, he became known as King Booker, and began to dress like an actual king, complete with a crown, scepter, robes, and a ridiculous, over-the-top British accent. He was also flanked by his Royal Court that consisted of Queen Sharmell, Sir William Regal, Sir Finlay, and the Little Bastard, who was eventually named Hornswoggle.
King Booker was finally pushed back to the main event. At the Great American Bash, he became the first black WWE World Heavyweight Champion by defeating Rey Mysterio. He then moved into a feud with Batista that lasted a few months. It was rumored that Booker and Bastista had a real-life shootfight during a Summer Slam commercial shoot. Batista lost (or so we heard). At the actual match, Bastista won by DQ. King Booker successfully defended his World Title in a Fatal Four Way match at the No Mercy PPV. At Cyber Sunday, King Booker again retained his World Title in a Triple Threat Match against WWE Champion John Cena and ECW Champion Big Show. Only Booker’s title was on the line.
Booker finally lost the World Title after 126 days to Batista at Survivor Series.
More Random Feuds, WWE Departure
In 2007, King Booker began feuding with veterans such as Kane, Matt Hardy and The Undertaker. He lost the Money in the Bank match at WrestleMania 23, when Mr. Kennedy captured the briefcase. Kennedy never got a chance to use it, but that’s another story.
Booker injured his knee the same year. He was written off TV when he received a Tombstone on a table from The Undertaker. When King Booker returned, he began feuding with other “kings,” such as Triple H, The King of Kings and also Jerry “The King” Lawler. Triple H defeated Booker T (again?) at SummerSlam. Then Booker was suspended by WWE for violating the Wellness Policy, but Booker claims that he didn’t take any illegal drugs. Two months later, Booker and Sharmell requested their releases from the WWE.
Main Event Mafia
In late 2007, Booker T and Sharmell Huffman joined Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, aligning with Sting. While Sting was feuding with Kurt Angle, Booker had a feud with Bobby Roode, as Roode had a problem with all of the “has-beens” in TNA. Booker and Roode wrestled in several matches over the next few months. The feud ended when Booker and Sharmell defeated Roode and Payton Banks in a mixed tag team match at the 2008 Lockdown PPV.
Like Booker, several former WCW/WWE guys were experiencing some resistance from the younger talent. These so-called “has-beens” united together as bitter heels, and the Main Event Mafia was born. The group was very successful, as they collectively won all of the men’s titles that TNA offered at that time. Booker T and Scott Steiner defeated Beer Money, Inc. to win the TNA World Tag Team Championship. He also was the first holder of the TNA Legends Championship, a title that has since been renamed the TNA Television Championship.
And yet, the group also suffered from internal problems. In addition to Sting battling Kurt Angle for leadership, Booker’s wife Sharmell feuded with Kevin Nash’s valet, Jenna Morasca, which culminated in one of the worst matches that I have ever seen.
Booker’s time in TNA was shorter than most expected. In 2009, Booker and Scott Steiner participated in a Full Metal Meyhem Tag Team Match at the Bound For Glory PPV. Not only did the Mafia lose their titles, but Booker was rolled out on a stretcher. After this, both Booker T and Sharmell were released from TNA. Besides a couple of independent shows in Mexico and Puerto Rico, Booker was no longer in mainstream wrestling. Less than a year after leaving TNA, Booker and Sharmell had twin babies.
Return To WWE, Royal Rumble Surprise
In a move that surprised and delighted many fans, Booker T returned to WWE at the 2011 Royal Rumble Match. He hit all of his signature moves on the members of The Nexus, before getting warmed up for the Spin-A-Roonie. This move received one of the biggest pops of the night. Booker nearly eliminated Nexus leader CM Punk, until he was stopped and eliminated by group enforcer Mason Ryan. But his short appearance blew up the blogs and social networks all over the Internet. The fans wanted to see more of the Bookerman.
However, there are some cases when we are told to be careful of what we wish for. Booker T replaced Matt Striker as the color commentator of SmackDown, and let’s just say he’s no Bobby Heenan. Booker’s commentary is often riddled with excessive clichés, goofy catchphrases (shucky ducky!) and he can’t seem to make up his mind on whether he is pro-face or pro-heel. Michael Cole’s presence makes things worse, as he buries all of his booth partners with every chance, and Booker has only recently begun to fight back. But with all of that said, he’s still better than Art Donovan or Mike Adamle.
He's Still Got It
If one thing is clear, it would be that Booker, even at 46 years old, can still go in the ring. He proved that at the Rumble and during a match on Raw with Jack Swagger. He was also allowed to be a trainer for the 2011 season of Tough Enough.
But the real proof came during his matches with Cody Rhodes. Even though he couldn't regain the IC Title, it was still great to see him get in all of his signature spots and still hang with a youthful contestant like Cody. I would still like to see Booker receive an official retirement match, but if not, he will at least end his career with us knowing that he went out fighting like a professional.
He was one of the most decorated wrestlers in WCW, and he was a Grand Slam Champion in WWE. I can dig that, sucka!