An article by Mike Mooneyham
Published in June 2000
“Don’t hate the player. Hate the game.” – Booker T.
If it sounds like a popular wrestling catch phrase, it is. If it sounds like it’s designed to get a big babyface pop, it is. What many may not know, however, is that those pointed words are also intended to send a message to “the players” in the WCW locker room.
Booker Huffman, better known as Booker T, realized his goal when he won the WCW world heavyweight championship on July 9 in Daytona Beach. It marked the culmination of 10 years in the business – the last eight of those with WCW. .
Booker, only the second black world heavyweight champion in WCW history, is not your typical prima donna superstar – nor does he intend to start being one. He says his street savvy has served him well in dealing with the cutthroat politics of the wrestling business.
[ad#MikeMooneyham-336×280]“I’m not going to be a paper champion,” says Booker. “This isn’t going to be a fluke. It is going to get a lot of guys’ attitudes right in the company because there are a lot of player-haters running around right now. They don’t like to see Booker T with the world title. They want to know how the hell did that happen? That slogan is my deal because it’s real, and that’s just the way I felt when I got it. When I say something about the player-haters in the back, they look at each other. They know who they are. They’re the ones who couldn’t congratulate me when I won, guys who are so jealous you can see it oozing out of their bodies.”
Booker comes by his strong feelings honestly. He represents, perhaps more than anyone in the company, a high-quality athlete who has waited for years to get his chance to crack the big time, but has been held back due to the company politics prevalent in WCW. Booker now takes sharp aim at some of the “players” and games being played in WCW, and vows to take the WCW title to a new level.
“I was told why the belt was put on me,” the 35-year-old Houston native says matter-of-factly. “It was asked throughout the committee who the belt should be on. We have so many guys running around here who feel like they’re bigger than the company and bigger than the whole wrestling business who are doing nothing for it.”
Booker readily admits that WCW needs to make improvements from A to Z, start ing with overpaid performers who have no time for their fans to the superstars who refuse to do what’s best for business. He stresses that while everybody needs a hero and that he would like to fill that spot in WCW, he wants humility to be his hallmark.
“I’m a regular guy,” says Booker, a family man who enjoys simple pleasures such as fishing, listening to music with wife Levestia and playing video games with 16-year-old son Brandon. “I don’t live for the fame. I really don’t. I came off the street and to be where I am now is a miracle. To do what I’m doing now and to be who I am now is a blessing. My household is regular. It’s not like one you’d think about when thinking about Hogan or those other superstars. It’s a real atmosphere. It’s not something different. It could be if we made it that way. We could go on a trip every week that I’m off and stuff, but that’s not real.”
Booker also realizes that fame is fleeting.
“This isn’t something that’s going to last forever. It’s a short-term thing and I just happen to be passing through at this time and having fun with it. It’s not something that I take very seriously because I do think I have a higher destiny in life than professional wrestling. I’m not thinking too much about what I’m going to do next, but I like speaking to kids and trying to help them along.”
Booker says he wants to fill the role as a true people’s champion. He wants the world title to represent more than just a prop and says he’s the man who can restore dignity to the crown.
“I’m going to prove to be a different type of champion. When it’s all said and done, no one is going to remember how many spears you did or how many legdrops you did and all of that. Your family might. People don’t remember that kind of stuff. It’s not all about that. It’s about going through this life that we live here and trying to do the best you can.”
Booker already has proven to be a breath of fresh air for WCW. Not only does he dress the part, he’s a fan-friendly champion who never refuses autograph requests and routinely answers his mail.
“Some of the guys don’t even acknowledge their fans,” says Booker. “They won’t even go out of their way to sign one autograph for that kid who has been standing outside that gate since perhaps 11 o’clock that morning, and they get there at 2 and just walk by him and can’t sign that autograph. They walk right by them. These kids could be out in 20-degree weather in Chicago or 105-degree weather in Arizona. And they can’t even sign an autograph for them. Booker T does that. When I see those kids standing outside the gate, I make sure that when I get out of my car, I go over there and I take care of them first.”
Booker cites 15-time world champion Ric Flair, currently on the sideline recovering from shoulder surgery, as an example for WCW’s other “superstars” to follow.
“Ric Flair is the Joe Louis of professional wrestling. He’s the icon of WCW and the NWA and wrestling in general. He’s the best spokesman we could ever have for WCW. As a wrestler, his time has probably also gone by. For him to stay past his due, it’s just like a great fighter who stays in the ring past his time, or a football player who stays past his time. There comes a time for all of us. Father Time has no prejudice against anyone.”
Booker says Flair has nothing else to prove in the wrestling business.
“He’s done a lot of great things for the business. He’s done it all. I’ve been on the road with Ric Flair at house shows, and I’ve sit beside him just to pick his brain, and asked him, `Man, Ric, why do you still do this?’ And he says, `You know, Book, I love to wrestle. I really don’t like the politics and the way it is now, but I love to wrestle in front of the people.’ Those were his words. I can only respect that coming from him, because he wasn’t even doing television at that time, he was just going to house shows. He was a professional about how he went out and did business.
“You’ve also got guys like Hogan who come in and want to run everything, and this and that have to be this way and what not. Ric Flair didn’t sit back and cry and moan about it. He dressed in the dressing room with us. I dress in the dressing room with all the boys. I don’t want my own private dressing room like Goldberg and all those guys. That’s where I get my inspiration from. I feel like if I change that, I would change. I’m no better and no bigger than any of those guys in there. That’s the way it should be.”
Booker also joined an increasing number of WCW performers who have raised questions in recent weeks about Bill Goldberg and, more specifically, his dedication to helping WCW improve. While some have claimed that Goldberg’s heart is no longer into wrestling, others have cited his stubborn reluctance to go along with the program. What is clear is that Goldberg has not been pleased with the WCW creative team for some time now, nor was he happy with the decision to turn him heel. Goldberg also has confided to friends that his involvement with children and charities, such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation, is the sole reason he remains in the wrestling business.
“That’s a bogus statement,” challenges Booker. “If you have to talk about things you have to go out there and do, you may not be doing it for the right reasons. He may say if it wasn’t for the kids, he wouldn’t stick it out, but as soon as he gets a push, he wants to renegotiate his contract. You can be a heel and still do charities and stuff like that. It’s really not about the heel and babyface personas, because this is not real. It’s entertainment. You have to separate the two. Even if you’re a heel, you still do these things. If I’m doing any charities for these kids, I’m doing them because I want to do them. I don’t have to publicize them.”
Booker says things came too easily for Goldberg, and that he should appreciate the position he’s in now.
“This guy could be great. But one thing he’s going to have to realize, and I’ve talked to him, is that this is entertainment and one hand washes the other. That’s just the way it is, and there’s no way other than that. If you think otherwise, you’re in the wrong business. He has his own dressing room and they fly him in and fly him out on a jet and they put him up in the best rooms around the country. You think about taking that away from a person, and then you think about how they act.
“If he had to work for it, it would be different. I had to work for everything I got. When I came here, I was making $400 a week. What I’ve gotten to now, you can’t take it away from me. You can take his away. He got it really fast and really easy, and it was given to him. If he doesn’t real ize it was given to him, then he’s the one who has the misconception of what life’s all about. He came up faster than anybody in the wrestling business and was making more money than anyone in the wrestling business. He beat Hogan. What else does he want? An arm and a leg? Now he wants to be treated different than any other guy has been treated in this business? It’s not about him, it’s not about Kevin Nash, it’s not about Hogan. It’s about the show.”
Booker says putting out a quality product is what everyone in WCW should be striving for. Theose not willing to go in the same direction, he says, should be weeded out.
“It’s just like The Temptations. It’s not about one guy in the group. If the one guy doesn’t want to get right, we replace your ass and get somebody else in that spot. That’s what all of these guys need to realize. We have a lot of guys who feel like they’re above that, but those are the guys who need to be weeded out. Let their contracts run out and get rid of them and build from there. I’ve been saying it for years. If they can’t be weeded out, then we’ve got a problem and we’re going to continue to have a problem. It’s not going to go away. These guys are going to continue to make things rough for everybody else that’s coming along in this business.”
Booker says the company should not be held hostage by big-money contracts and threats of top stars, such as Kevin Nash, jumping ship.
“Let him go. You think he can go up there (the WWF) and run with those young guys? You think he could run all around the building with Triple H like they do up there and take suplexes on the walkway? These guys aren’t capable of doing that stuff anymore. These guys have nowhere to go, and if they keep working WCW like they can, WCW is stupid. And that’s the bottom line. If they want to go, let them go.”
For now, Booker says, he will let his record and his action in the ring speak for itself.
“My eight-year saga here at WCW is going to go down in history. I’ve made history: 10-time world tag-team champions (with brother Stevie Ray as Harlem Heat) – no one has ever done that; six-time world television TV champion – no one has ever done that. Now the WCW world heavyweight champion. I’ve made history. My saga has been nothing but great.”
Booker and older brother Stevie Ray (Lane Huffman) grew up in the South Park section of Houston, the roughest part of town. He says he knows what it’s like to live with the rats and roaches, on the other side of the tracks, the hard side of life. His dad passed away when he was 10 months old, and his mother died when he was 13. He says that upbringing has served him well in the wrestling business.
“I know how to change my levels. I know how to talk to people. If you don’t, the system is going to eat you alive. I grew up on the street. I know common sense. I know how to deal with people. I can walk anywhere. I can go to any part of the world and deal with anybody just because of what I’ve been through in life. You have to know how to deal with people, and when to change your levels. I can talk to the president and come to his level, but I can talk to the wino and the boys on the corner just as well. I know how to walk through the ghettos without getting mugged. A lot of people wouldn’t know the first thing about walking down 110th Street in Harlem and not being scared. Just their mannerisms wouldn’t let them. They would stick out like a sore thumb. I get treated the same way no matter where I go – I don’t care if it’s the crack head, the dope man, whoever it is.”
Booker became only the second black WCW world heavyweight champion with his title victory last month. Ron Simmons, now Faarooq in the WWF and one-half of The APA (Acolytes Protection Agency) tag-team with Bradshaw (John Leyfield), became the first when he defeated Vader in 1992 to begin a five-month reign. His title run created extensive crossover publicity, but was widely regarded as a failure as far as drawing money for the promotion, which at that time was run by Cowboy Bill Watts.
Booker’s wrestling roots are ingrained in the now-defunct Gloval Wrestling Federation that was based out of the old Sportatorium in Dallas. Trained by journeyman Scott Casey, Booker kicked off his career in 1990 with a Houston-based independent group headed by Ivan Putski, and was billed as G.I. Bro, a gimmick he recently revived temporarily in WCW. Scandor Akbar and the late Eddie Gilbert got the Huffman brothers – then known as Ebony Experience – a tryout with Global. The two were signed and, under the management of Gary Hart, won the Global tag-team belts from Steve Dane and Gary Young.
Sid Vicious got their feet in the door at WCW in 1993. Brought in as Kane and Kole, the original idea was for the two to be shackled in chains and managed by Col. Rob Parker (Robert Fuller). The gimmick was nixed, however, and Harlem Heat was born.
“That was Sid’s idea,” says Booker. “It was something that flopped, and I’m glad it did. But it was something that got us in the door. Actually we stayed quite longer than Sid.”
“Sister” Sherri Martel eventually took over as manager and led them to their first tag-team title when they defeated The Patriot (Del Wilkes) and Marcus Alexander Bagwell on Dec. 8, 1994.