Booker Tio Huffman is more commonly known as simply Booker T and he is one of the greatest wrestlers of his generation, having held over 35 major titles during his 20 plus year career in WCW, WWE and TNA.
The grappler from Houston, Texas began life in the squared circle as a tag team wrestler with his brother Stevie Ray forming Harlem Heat and together they won a record ten WCW World Tag Team Championships. Booker T then went on to pursue his singles career becoming a six-time world champion, King of the Ring winner, TV commentator and the 47-year-old is now excelling in his role as the General Manager of SmackDown.
We caught up with Booker T to talk about his new autobiography, Jerry ‘The King’ Lawler, his King Booker role and the Hall of Fame.
You have written your first autobiography, did you want to tell us what the book about?
The title of the book is Booker T From Prison To Promise Life Before The Squared Circle. It entails my life as a kid growing up through my teenage years to my young adulthood with me getting into a lot of trouble and ending up going to prison and then turning my life around.
There is very little in the book as far as my wrestling goes, it is about what it was like for me growing up and the struggles.
The book finishes just as you are about to get that phone call from WCW, can we expect another book from you that focuses more on the wrestling?
That is the question everybody wants to know, and the answer is yes, I’m definitely going to write a wrestling book someday. I have to gather all of the information and put it all together as far as a wrestling book goes because I never really wrestled for myself, I always did it for the fans so they could have some great memories.
I’m going to have to YouTube a lot of those memories and then go back and put it in chronological order.
A few weeks ago on Raw Jerry Lawler had a heart attack, and he has made a great recovery, but what was the feeling like backstage that night?
I was in the back watching on the monitor and then realised something wasn’t right and I’ll tell you it was scary and we just have to thank god Jerry is a strong man and a fit guy to pull through that, most guys his age wouldn’t have been able to pull through but Jerry Lawler has always been pretty straight-laced, he’s never been a drinker, he’s always lived his life clean.
The WWE doctors were right there and in the right position to take care of him, and when they brought him to the back I was only a few feet away and it was really scary seeing the doctors beating on his chest trying to keep him alive.
Thank god he is still here with us because Jerry means so much to this business, we talk about ambassadors, Jerry is like the president. He has given everything to this business.
Earlier that night Jerry was actually involved in a match, which he has since stated he doesn’t remember, do you think we will see Jerry back in a ring?
He is going to have to think long and hard about whether or not he will get back in the ring, people will question it, but we only live once in this lifetime so don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do something.
With regards to his match that night, he should have remembered it because Jerry was on fire. The first thing he did was a dropkick, then he went to the second rope and landed a move and I was watching backstage thinking what the heck is going on, he was great in that match.
How did you first get into the sport of professional wrestling?
I was always a huge fan of wrestling growing up in Houston, I loved the sport and never in a million years did I ever think I would become a wrestler or do anything in the wrestling business. When the opportunity came to me I grabbed it with both hands, and I’m still doing what I love and having lots of fun.
Who were some of the wrestlers that inspired you to get into the sport when you were growing up?
I really enjoyed watching the likes of, The Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase, Johnny Valentine, Greg Valentine’s father, of course the Junkyard Dog, Michael Hayes of The Fabulous Freebirds, The Von Erich’s. The list just goes on and on as far as the guys back then, there were so many different characters and they all played a role in creating the landscape of the business.
You started in the business as a very successful tag team with your brother Stevie Ray (Harlem Heat) in a great era of tag team wrestling. However, there has been a lack of tag teams recently what do you feel that has been down to?
I think that tag team wrestling is something that people have missed and that is why WWE is trying to revamp it again, tag team wrestling plays a big part in the show and people want to see those matches.
The biggest difference with the division, is back in the day guys came up as tag teams, they started together and then after that, they would branch off into singles careers. Nowadays they just put two guys together and see if it’s going to work out.
I think they are going to have to start putting guys together from the beginning, letting them come out and have a good career as a legitimate tag team, if they are good enough to make it as singles competitors after that then let them make their way, but I think the tag team division is going to pick up again pretty soon.
You were the most decorated wrestler in the history of WCW, holding 21 titles, both tag team titles and singles titles. What were some of your highlights from your time in WCW?
I have so many highlights from my time in WCW. Starting from the beginning and having Sherri Martel as our manager, and I think she was the greatest manager in the business, to have us under her wing definitely gave us the belief that we were legitimate stars because everybody Sherri had been with before us all of those guys were stars, so we just fell into good company.
As for some of the matches as Television Champion, I had great matches with Chris Beniot and Fit Finlay, then going on to win the big one the World Championship against Jeff Jarrett that was a highlight in my career but there have been so many highlights in my career it is hard to single out one and say that was it. But to start off in WCW at the bottom of the totem pole and to finish off on the final night right at the top of the totem pole that gave me self-gratification.
What was the feeling like among the wrestlers and the staff on that final Monday Nitro?
It was a bitter-sweet night, I knew something that I had been apart of for so long was coming to an end and there was no way we could recreate that all over again, I knew that part of my life was going to change but on the other hand I was pretty excited because WWE had bought the company, Vince McMahon had taken over and I knew it was time for me to step up and that is exactly what I did. I always thought I was upper echelon talent and I would get a chance to prove it in WWE and I think I did that and I think I did it very well, but I was ready for the challenge.
What did you find the major difference were between WCW and WWE?
I think the work ethic was the most noticeable thing when I first went over, the guys really took their job seriously, they were going out to the ring and were really trying to create something and leaving the fans with something that they would never forget and that continued on a nightly basis, a weekly basis, a yearly basis.
It was all about the business in WWE, whilst in WCW the guys were in cruise control making a lot of money and being fat cats and that was the major difference, the machine in WWE was rolling really hard and you had to keep up with it or you would fall by the wayside.
Mentioning you were up for the challenge your first feud in WWE was against Stone Cold Steve Austin, what was that like?
Yeah, you can say I was thrown right into the fire but I was always good at working under pressure, so being out there with Stone Cold Steve Austin was something that I relished and I was looking forward to finally getting to that point right there.
I think I learned so much when I got to WWE, watching from an outside perspective I didn’t really know exactly what it entailed until I finally got out there with guys like Steve Austin, The Rock and The Undertaker, but I think I picked it up pretty quickly. It’s been a 12-year journey since then and it has been one hell of a ride.
You went away from WWE and had a spell in TNA, what was your time there like?
The way I would explain my time in TNA would be like a vacation, I was detoxing from the rigorous WWE schedule and the hours spent on the road. I just needed time to step back and not think about myself so much but try to help the next lot of guys coming up in the business. That’s what I went to TNA for, I was hoping to help the next generation of stars come up and it was great working with guys like Bobby Roode, AJ Styles and Samoa Joe and giving them some of my knowledge.
However, the company then started to focus on the older guys and my experience there was a good experience but I don’t feel I got as much out of it as I could have.
Since you’ve come back to WWE you have been on commentary, wrestled Cody Rhodes and have become General Manager of SmackDown, how are you enjoying your new role?
I’m loving my position in WWE, my thing isn’t about me anymore, it’s really about the guys like Cody Rhodes, Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Dolph Ziggler to name a few. These young guys are living out their dreams and they are the future of this business, they are out there on the front line and are in the trenches working the long schedules.
In my role as General Manager of SmackDown, I’m going to help push these guys onto the next level. I’m in a great position, I’m an ambassador of this business and I’ve been in the business now for 22-years, most guys don’t make it as long as I have, most guys don’t have the success that I have had in this business and it is all down to the fans and I just want to give back to them.
What has been the highlight of your time in WWE?
I would definitely have to say my King Booker run, that was the best thing I have ever done. I enjoyed the work I did with Golddust and that sticks out, the matches I had with RVD, there are so many different moments, I loved working with Test, god rest his soul.
I have had so many different moments with so many different guys doing so many different things in WWE, I have had the chance to play so many different roles, but it is the King Booker role that stands out the most. I used to just call my wife Sharmell my queen, then they thought about bringing King of the Ring back just to make me king, but one thing I remember was that everyone that had won King of the Ring, would win the tournament but after they would just be themselves.
So when I won King of the Ring, I acted like a real king, and it became something so different and it took on a life all of its own. Kids loved it, men hated it, women loved it, there were so many different ranges of emotion when watching King Booker.
How would you compare the differences and similarities between your three bosses, Eric Bischoff, Dixie Carter and Vince McMahon?
Eric Bischoff was the boss, but it was kind of hard to think of him as the boss when he was hanging out with the talent. As for Dixie Carter, she is great, I loved working with her and she has treated me very well, but I feel mixing and mingling with the talent is just something that the boss shouldn’t do.
Vince McMahon on the other hand, we have a few parties around WrestleMania but Vince doesn’t hang out with the boys, he is the ultimate boss and I’ve learned so much from him, he has been a great mentor for me, by working with him I have seen how things are supposed to be done and you can’t keep things the same you have to change things up and it seems to work for him because he always comes up smelling of roses, so I’m just trying to figure out the blueprint.
There is no doubt you are a future Hall of Famer, but I understand you don’t want to be inducted until you reach a certain age.
Yeah, that’s just my thing, I don’t think I’m ready for it, I’m not ready for the Hall of Fame yet. I’m not ready to make that walk, I’m not ready to make that speech yet, I really can’t tell you why because I’m not sure but do I think I have a ton of wrestling days left in me, no, that’s not it at all.
I just think guys should reach a certain prestige before they get inducted into the Hall of Fame. People talk about what I’ve done in the business with all the accolades and the titles but I still think there is something left for me to do. Maybe it’s going to do a speaking tour, talking to kids in trouble and turning their lives around or some charity work. I’m just not ready for it just yet, and I want to be ready when it happens.
When that time comes, will it be your brother Stevie Ray that inducts you into the Hall of Fame?
Definitely, my brother would have to be the one that inducts me when that time does eventually come. He is the reason why I ever got into the business in the first place, being part of a tag team (Harlem Heat) with Stevie for eight years in WCW and winning ten tag team championships, no one really gave us a chance to get to that point. My brother always told me I was prolific and I never knew what that meant, I had to look it up in the dictionary to figure out what it meant and I really appreciate that from him.
You have your own wrestling school as well, are there any wrestlers we should be looking out for ready to come through from your wrestling school?
I’ve got one kid who has just been signed up to NXT earlier this month, his name is Tai, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he is going to do on NXT. We have a lot of kids with potential and it is about sticking it out, learning the craft, my students work really hard and I couldn’t ask for anymore. My gym is their gym and I couldn’t keep it open if it wasn’t for those guys, and they appreciate it by keeping it in good shape, it is not just a wrestling lesson but a life lesson.
I have my own wrestling promotion as well ROW and people can go to YouTube put in Booker T ROW to check out all the shows and see my students in action on a weekly basis.
What advice would you give to aspiring wrestlers?
It is so important to be versatile, one thing I always say is you have to change with the season’s, you have spring, summer, winter and fall, you can’t wear the same clothes in all the seasons, you have to be able to change up. If you don’t keep up with the times, the times will pass you by, so I have always tried to keep up with the young guys, know what they are thinking and always going to their level.
It is important to give them that same respect that I want from them, just because they are young kids shouldn’t mean I’m not able to respect them. I think that is what has enabled me to last this long, I really never think about myself I am always just thinking about what can I do to keep this business rolling and now after 20-years of learning I’m in the position to give something back.
Booker T’s autobiography From Prison To Promise Life Before The Squared Circle is available below:
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