If you were to ask your average wrestling fan which former World Championship Wrestling star is the most decorated of all time, you’d likely get a slew of answers: Hollywood Hogan, Sting, Goldberg, Diamond Dallas Page, Ric Flair. The list would read like a venerable who’s who of late 1990s wrestling icons.
The actual answer, though, is Robert Booker Tio Huffman Jr., better known simply as Booker T.
During his professional wrestling career, Booker T experienced massive success as a tag team wrestler, working with his brother Stevie Ray (Real name Lash Huffman) as part of the iconic Harlem Heat duo, and as a singles performer, capturing 33 championships in the process.
The two-time WWE hall of famer is the subject of the latest installments of A&E’s Biography and WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures. Yahoo Sports had a chance to catch up with Booker T to discuss the shows, his legacy as one of the greatest Black professional wrestlers, his transition to WWE and one of the most memorable moments of his career.
(Note: This interview has been edited for length and clarity)
Yahoo Sports: As you’re going through your career and reaching milestone after milestone, do you appreciate it in the moment or does it happen a few years after you retire? When do you grasp the magnitude of what you accomplished and what your legacy is?
Booker T: I’m feeling it now. In the moment, if you’re thinking about it, you’re never going to get there. In the moment, I was always thinking about the fans’ memories and what they’d take away from my performances. I tried to never think about a match right after I wrestled it because it was always about what was next and making fans feel a certain way. Even now, I have to pinch myself when the commercial comes on. It’s definitely mind-blowing.
You’re also going to be featured on the ‘WWE Most Wanted Treasures’ show. One of the things I find interesting about this WWE memorabilia is that it manages to get away from stars and the company. In baseball, when someone hits a milestone home run, they get the ball immediately after. What’s different about wrestling?
Booker T: You know, with me, I never thought about keeping a world title or anything like that. I always figured I would get a replica and put it up on my office wall, but I never thought about stealing the original one. I wish I had, I know so many guys have pulled that off after leaving the company. I just never thought about that kind of stuff, the trunks, the boots, until now. Especially when you think about guys like Junkyard Dog, Nature Boy Ric Flair, Harley Race, that memorabilia belongs in the WWE archives, in the Hall of Fame so fans can actually see it. I think that’s what this thing is about more than anything, letting the fans remember those times by seeing those artifacts.
Your career in the ring is very interesting because you reached incredible heights as both a tag team performer and a singles performer. Is there a style you prefer? A memory from each one that stands out when you look back now?
Booker T: The whole thing is intertwined. The tag team, starting with my brother back in Global Wrestling Federation and then getting our shot in WCW and being able to be graced with the management of the lovely Sherri Martel, that was a bonus for us. Sky was the limit as far as the tag team division went and it was all I thought about when we were a tag team. My brother and I, that was just an opportunity that came before us and we took it. It was a great way for us to get our foot in the door, but we always thought of ourselves as singles wrestlers.
I never thought about singles wrestling until I got the opportunity to. Once that happened it was like "Wow, I’m getting the chance to do what I started out doing." I got a chance to wrestle with some greats like Flair, Rick Martel, Bret Hart, Mr. Perfect Curt Hennig, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat. It was so great that these guys would trust a kid like myself at that time. It was awesome to get a rub, get that on-the-job training and learn what it was like to be a singles performer.
When WCW was bought by WWE, you were one of the bigger stars to come over. When people look back there’s a focus on the Goldbergs, the DDPs, the NWO. Was that a chip on your shoulder going into WWE? And then looking at your success compared to some others, you could argue that you had the most successful run of anyone in that merger.
Booker T: I never looked at it like that. I left all of my accolades that I had accomplished in WCW behind when I came over to WWE. I knew that I had to make it in the locker room if I ever would have had a chance to make it in the ring. I went in humble and just like in WCW, I was going to put my hard hat on, go to work and prove how good I was in the ring, on promos, no matter what was thrown at me. I was willing to bet on myself as well. I walked away from a lot of money, still having a contract with WCW. Thank God it all worked out for me.
You did have an uncanny ability to get over with fans no matter what was given to you. Creatively, how did you continually manage to get over with the crowd?
Booker T: I’ve always been the guy that was all about the script. Give me the script, crappy or not, I’m going to make it good and change a few things. No matter what position I was in, mid-card, main event, whatever, it was all about going out there and getting the work done. That really started in WCW. I was a guy who would go out there and perform and rely on nothing else but my own work. There was no buddy system, no kissing up, it was all about taking whatever role it was and making it something special. That’s what I challenge these young guys to do now. Take whatever character you have and make it what you want it to be.
One of those iconic moments was your supermarket fight with Stone Cold Steve Austin.
Booker T: There was definitely improvisation with that. Stone Cold had no script, I had no script and we were just there to entertain fans. We didn’t know that it would eventually go down as one of our greatest moments outside of anything that we did in the ring. Stone Cold Steve Austin is a pretty tough guy, I’m a pretty tough guy and we find ourselves fighting in the middle of a grocery store. To this day, Bakersfield, California and the Green Frog Market live in infamy because of Stone Cold Steve Austin and Booker T coming through and wrecking it. It was a great night.
Shifting gears, I wanted to talk about your legacy as a Black wrestling champion and your influence. What was that like for you during your career and what it is it like now seeing Black champions like Bobby Lashley, Bianca Belair, Kofi Kingston, Sasha Banks and others?
Booker T: It’s really, really awesome. I always said Bobby Lashley was the heir apparent to Booker T. When I left the company I thought Bobby was going to pick up the baton and run with it. He came back and proved that he was there to do it on another level. I’m loving what him and the Hurt Business are doing right now. Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks, I can’t say anything negative toward those ladies because they have gone out and done it their way.
I think about the way I did it and may have paved the way, but then I think about how there were so many guys that paved the way for me. Guys like [Junkyard Dog], Ron Simmons, who I had the opportunity to look up to. What I learned from them is that if you are going to do it, do it right. You are a role model.
During my career, I remember I was in the park I used to go to as a kid and a child actually saying to me — I wasn’t the biggest star back then — that he wanted to be like me when he grew up. I still to this day think about those kids who are looking up to me. That’s what the biography is going to speak to more than anything. You’re going to see a kid who went down a road, lost a lot, suffered, but was still able to find his way back.
Do you recognize how influential you actually were to a certain generation? When you have someone like Bad Bunny making a song about you or when a new generation of WWE stars say they watched you, what is that experience like for you?
Booker T: I’m 56 years old and I always tell young people that you’re never going to be on top all of the time, but if you do it right, you can stay relevant, which is very, very important if you want to succeed in this business. A young kid in Puerto Rico watching me growing up and thinking Booker T was cool, he respected that enough to write a song and make a music video about me. It’s pretty cool. Bad Bunny, a guy who is so popular, is keeping me relevant in life. I’m humbled more than anything. It let me know that I did a pretty good job.
When people watch the documentary, what do you want them to take away and what have you taken away from it?
Booker T: The struggle more than anything. It’s about the cards that you are dealt. Sometimes your hand isn’t going to be as good as the hand the next guy has, but you have to play it. Sometimes you have to bluff, you have to do what you have to do to make it through this life. At the end of the day, my story, you’re going to see a kid who went through a lot but didn’t blame anybody for bad breaks. My brother told me that he was going to get me a job and said no matter what that job was — sweeping floors, washing windows — you do it to the best of your ability until something else better came along. I think I used that throughout my life and in my wrestling career. Young kids will be able to see it and tell themselves that if Booker T did it, they can too. That if they go down the road Booker T went down, they’ll have to gain trust all over again.
A&E Biography: Booker T airs this Sunday, May 9, at 8pm ET and is followed by WWE’s Most Wanted Treasures
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