One of my daughter’s favorite expressions is “woke”. My understanding of it is that it signifies someone who is socially aware and who backs the right causes for the right reasons. When I look around social media, it’s difficult to find a figure as present as Booker T. This being African American History Month; it is more than fitting to discuss the exploits of Booker T. both inside of and outside the squared circle. His entrepreneurial activities, stances, and actions are as noteworthy as his scissors kick or a spin-a-rooni.
Booker’s story mirrors those of so many other African Americans who used their athletic prowess and entertaining skills to make a better life for themselves and, of course, for their families. As we say, many are called, yet few are chosen. Booker rose to the top and stayed there even if it meant reinventing himself, boldly changing employers.
While Booker could have remained complacent and not suffered for it, he strove to take on new challenges and branch out. As the adage goes, the only way to expand your comfort zone is to step outside it push yourself to greater heights.
Born Robert Booker Tio Huffman on the 1st of March 1965, the young man had nowhere to go but up as we read in this excerpt of the Bleacher Report dated February 12th, 2012.
“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. Huffman had previously worked at the chain in question and perpetrated his hold-ups while in uniform so as to facilitate the process. He then found out the hard way that the perfect crime did not exist. Even Bonnie and Clyde hit a fatal bump in the road.
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 neophyte would be fast-tracked into Ivan Putski’s Texas-based WWA, showing an immense amount of promise after only eight weeks of training. Legendary Houston-based Scott Casey was very involved with the 27-year old’s training. While Booker may have started his training a little late, we have all read about great talents who don’t even hit full stride before the age of 35.
In the early to mid-nineties, America was still on its post-Desert Shield high. Booker T. seizing on the patriotic fervor, devised himself a character by the name of G.I. Bro. Booker got a ton of attention at the Rumble a few weeks back by appearing as G.I. Bro while the Bad Bunny performed his tune “Booker T”.
This being WrestleMania season, the casual fan is pandered to more than those who watch programming week in, week out basis. It will be interesting to see how this may play out in Raymond James Stadium.
Truth be told, the path to Booker’s stardom began in the hallowed Global Wrestling Federation, which operated out of Dallas. In the early nineties, GWF was red hot and nationally televised. A lot of the storylines were collaborations between the keen minds of Eddie Gilbert and Skandor Akbar. The pair saw Booker’s potential right away and booked him and his older brother Stevie Ray as the Ebony Experience.
The Rise of Harlem Heat
WCW came calling, and their offer was too enticing to turn down. The Huffman brothers would become Harlem Heat down in Atlanta, GA. Their original names were Kane for Booker and Kole for Stevie Ray. Booker’s break dancing acumen and wrestling abilities got the pair over in no time. Stevie Ray’s muscular stature definitely was a large factor as well.
Another turning point came in 1994 when the brothers were matched with Sister Sherri Martel. Championship gold was attained as well. By the end of 1996, Harlem Heat had been five-time tag team champions and had even defeated WCW legends Lex Luger and Sting for the straps.
While at the pinnacle of the tag team world, the decision had been made for Booker to scissors kick things up a notch and test the waters of solo performance. To help establish Booker’s credibility as a solo performer, he would win the television title from Disco Inferno then engage in a best of seven series against Chris Benoit.
Even though Booker was to win the series and seemingly maintain elite-level status, he would then see himself lay down for Scott Steiner so as to set up a short-lived return to the tag team ranks. This move was a bit hard to understand, but I think it was seen as a farewell to Harlem Heat, the beginning of their definitive end. The brothers feuded over who would manage the team. That lead to the formation of Harlem Heat 2000 and the replacement of Booker T by big T. How did you like that cup of tea.
WCW World Heavyweight Champion
The year was 2000, and Booker’s tag rope days were long gone. Booker T defeated Jeff Jarrett to become the second WCW Black heavyweight champion. The next year was more than just a Space Odyssey; it also marked the beginning of Booker’s journey into the WWE Universe. WCW had folded, and now there was only one game in town while fictitiously pretending to be two. Booker appeared on WWE programming to defend his WCW gold.
He would, however, lose his WCW United States championship to Kanyon, who better. Booker then joined Test in a tag team, and the pair climbed to championship status. The E would then make a comical pairing of Booker T and Goldust in an attempt to revitalize the latter’s stature and credibility. Then, when Booker let it be known he had legitimate championship aspirations, the artist formerly known as The Natural did the right thing and stepped aside.
While Rhodes did what was called for, his employer failed to do thusly. A program was set up for Wrestlemania 2003. Booker won that year’s Royal Rumble and was set to challenge HHH for the title. The opportunity was used to help Helmsley draw some legitimate and ugly heel heat by cutting an infamous promo. One in which he stated that;
“People like Booker don’t normally win world championships and that they are only around to provide comic relief.”
That quote would have perhaps earned Dick Murdoch a ton of accolades in 1969 Mississippi yet should have failed the Katie Vick litmus test some 34 years later. Booker was also mocked for having “nappy” hair. Four years later, Don Imus was fired from national radio for referring to the Rutgers Women’s basketball team as a bunch of nappy-haired hoes. Booker T was pinned cleanly in 2003, which left a bad taste in a lot of mouths until the Kofimania triumph of 2019.
Notwithstanding his bitter pill to swallow the loss, Booker T. had some notable encounters with Chris Benoit in 2005 and 2006. He even won the United States championship for the third time in his career.
2006 saw Booker climb to creative new heights. He not only was crowned the King of the Ring but he also developed and ran with the King Bookah character. Inspired by the Forest Whitaker portrayal of Idi Amin in the 2006 motion picture The Last King of Scotland, King Booker addressed his subjects in a uniquely pretentious accent. He was well accompanied by his Queen Sharmell, who made the character even more appealing.
Inaugural African American World Champion
He became the inaugural African American (WWE) World champion before losing the belt to Batista some four months later. We would be derelict in our duties to not mention that between 2002 and 2007, Booker sojourned down to Orlando and worked for Impact wrestling. He was made part of a faction that primarily existed to keep younger talent in relative obscurity.
Hence, the Main Event Mafia was formed and aligned with Booker. They were; Sting, Kurt Angle, Kevin Nash, Scott Steiner, Christian, Samoa Joe, and even Traci Brooks.
Booker T made a surprise return to the 2016 Royal Rumble. He has also participated in several PPV pre-show analysis roles and as a color commentator as well. He even coined the immortal phrase “shuckie-duckie-quack quack. ”
Booker T’s status today reminds me somewhat of that of the Undertaker. He has a long career behind him and could easily ride off into the sunset with nothing to regret. No more goals to strive for. To his benefit, Huffman does not seem wired that way at all. Seeing how good he looked at the Royal Rumble, it would not be unfeasible for him to keep on performing.
Booker T | Reality of Wrestling
That being said, in my view, his most interesting paths ahead are outside performing, albeit related to the craft. Booker’s podcast is widely praised. Also, he has run a territory and developmental training camp in Texas for 15 years. The Reality of Wrestling is shown weekly on Fite TV and on several television outlets as well.
One of the show’s emerging stars is former Rice University wide receiver Will Allday, becoming a mainstay on Championship Wrestling from Hollywood. Allday in my book is the second coming of Adam Cole.
Booker T is actively pursuing his business interests as well. In a matter of weeks, he will be litigating against Activision Publishing and Major League Gaming Corporation. One that is alleging they based a character in the Call of Duty: Black Ops game on his G.I Bro creation.
Community activity is also dear to his heart. Just prior to the last Presidential elections, Huffman helped organize major voting rights drives in his home State of Texas. Voter oppression is pretty well at its worst in Texas. Huffman did his very best to level the playing field and allow every voice to be heard.
Should he continue in this vein, his pro wrestling career might become of secondary importance. That would make for one heck of a footnote. With Huffman,s drive and principles, we certainly cannot rule that out either.