Booker T may be semi-retiring from the sport but he tells Loong Wai Ting he still has a lot to do
IN the world of professional wrestling, success usually comes with hard work and a bit of luck. Beyond the ring, every successful wrestler or performer will most likely tell you the same thing — their fans are the reason for their success.
One of the successful wrestlers from the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) is none other than Booker T. Underneath all that tough talking on TV, the man born Booker Tio Huffman, comes from humble beginnings and is actually friendly and down-to-earth.
He made his wrestling debut in 1989 and is best known for his signature moves such as the 110th Street Slam, Running Knee Drop and Harlem Sidekick. Regarded as one of the most decorated and dedicated wrestlers in the World Championship Wrestling (WCW), Booker T is a six-time world champion and has won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship five times (four in WCW and one in World Wrestling Federation (before it was changed to WWE)).
Before his career finally took off, like so many youngsters his age then, he suffered many setbacks in his life, which included spending 19 months in jail after pleading guilty to armed robberies at a fast food restaurant in Houston, Texas in 1987. In April this year, Huffman was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Standing at 1.91m, he towered over almost everyone at his Booker T Special Appearance held to mark Astro Supersport wrestling programmes at Lot 10, Kuala Lumpur recently.
He tells us more about his career:
Your name is in the WWE Hall of Fame. How do you feel?
(Proudly showing off his Hall Of Fame ring) I am one of the few from the WCW who has made it to the Hall of Fame. But what’s more important (underneath all the success) is the fans’ support. One hundred years from now, people will still remember Booker T. It’s a huge honour and the feeling is just indescribable.
After so many years, the scene has changed from the time you started. There are a lot more gimmicks. How do you think the industry has progressed?
The action goes all the way back to Gorgeous George (American professional wrestler George Raymond Wagner popular in the early 1930s.) And then it changed in the ‘70s and again in the ‘80s. It’s an evolution but I enjoy watching the new guys who made it into the international wrestling stage in two years or so. It’s great to know that the Wrestle Mania is safe and secure for the next 20 years.
Do you think it is harder to get into wrestling today?
Back then you had territories and the WCW, and you went to Japan for training. Wrestlers learnt from a different perspective as well. Previously, if you couldn’t perform, you don’t get a job. Now, most of the guys are being manufactured and they think about breaking away from the pack and becoming someone special. Guys like Dean Ambrose are different from other wrestlers. The thing is, you need to take those same moves and personalise them.
Who is the most promising WWE superstar?
Daniel Bryan is not the face of WWE but he has proved that everybody has a fair chance (to compete). He’s about 178cm and weighs 95kg. He proves you don’t need to be a muscle-bound guy to wrestle.
In fact, you can be an average Joe and go out and make people believe in you. He gives hope for those who want to be a champion. He’s that sort of guy who (literally) comes out of the dusty road and creates his own style and character instead of waiting for the WWE to create his style. He is the future of professional wrestling.
Who is your toughest opponent to date?
I’ve had a number of tough opponents throughout my career. Wrestling is highly physical but it is more than that underneath. You need to have that stamina to carry through from one match to the other and from one city to the next. It’s literally a labour of love.
Ever thought of making a comeback?
I wouldn’t call it a comeback (laughs). I’m semi-retired and to work around these schedules that the younger wrestlers and the divas (applies to the female talent, whether as wrestlers, managers or ring announcers) is rough. It’s a young man’s sport. I don’t want to be one of those wrestlers who still holds on to the past, hearing all the roars from the crowd.
Royal Rumble (a match based on the classic Battle Royal match, where wrestlers eliminate competitors by tossing them over the ring’s rope) is cool, I can do it once a year but to do it every day or week is tough. It’s time for me to step aside.
How do you ensure you don’t get seriously injured in the ring?
I have a lot of life-threatening injuries. I’ve had neck injuries that left me bedridden for two months and a back injury where I could not walk for a month as well as two (spinal) epidural injections.
The sport is not something that wrestlers walk away from unscathed. It’s just part of the business. That’s the only way to expect if you plan on making it to the Hall Of Fame. You only get one shot and you better make the best out of it.
A lot of WWE superstars such as John Cena, Dwayne The Rock Johnson, Steve Austin aka Stone Cold and Randy Orton become actors. Are you interested?
I want to be a producer or director. I’ve been in front of the camera for 21 years and I want to work behind-the-scenes for a change. I want to sit by and produce the next superstar. It can be outside of wrestling. I am producing a breakdancing show called Break Yourself. I am also working on my graphic novel.
What is it about?
The plot is something like the storyline that you’ll see in a Shaw Brothers production. It follows through a student who gets beaten quite often and one day he meets a master who teaches him martial arts.
Then the student returns and seeks revenge on those who have wronged him in the past. There’s no wrestling involved and I will be one of the characters in the story. My character is not necessarily a wrestler.
What do you miss the most now that you’re semi-retired?
I don’t miss wrestling, but I miss performing. You know, going out and amazing everybody and feeling that adrenaline rush. I performed in front of soldiers in Iraq in 2003 and the temperature was 40°C.
And when you strap on your gear and with the adrenaline pumping, it feel more like 80°C. I’ll miss that. If it’s not for the exhausting travels, I could do wrestling for another 10 more years (laughs).
What’s the difference between fans here and those back home?
I always say fans are like a universal language. They understand you everywhere you go. No matter what fan it is — ordinary fans who watch the show with his family or kids with debilitating disease that may be gone tomorrow — they still love us like we’re the best thing in the world. When they see us, it’s like seeing a superhero in live form. It really touches us. That is why wrestlers in general try to give back to the fans. We’re not like the professional football players with the helmets on and not approachable. Our fans are amazing.
How do you see your own success?
I never look at it until I have to (laughs). I’m writing my second (wrestling) book and I have to go back and look over all the wrestling matches that I’ve done. Sometimes I can’t believe I went through all that and won all those titles. I don’t have the time to stop and think about it when I was in the process of going through all those matches, otherwise it would have clouded my judgement.
Back then, I just wanted to be the best guy on the rush and shock and amaze the fans every night. I always say “you will forget something that you’ve just seen but you’ll never forget something that you’ve just felt. You always remember it”. I still feel like I have so much to do.