Now that Booker T has taken his place on the TNA roster, one question remains unanswered. What exactly happened to cause his split with the WWE?
Booker and wife Sharmell were both released from their contracts on October 16. In the words of the six-time world heavyweight champion himself (real name Booker Huffman), it was simply time to transition to the next stage in his career.
“I think with the direction of things right now, and the way [WWE] is going, the way the business is, I just didn’t feel it was appropriate,” Huffman said during a recent TNA conference call. “And I just happened to be one of the guys who didn’t have to stick around and take it.”
Comments made at the time of his departure on Huffman’s official website hint that his unhappiness had been brewing for some time — he claims that he had initially asked for his release in July before having a change of heart. But observers of the WWE during its turbulent 2007 know that there is more to the story.
Back in August, reports first started to emerge that a number of WWE wrestlers were connected to Signature Pharmacy of Orlando, Fla., a business suspected of distributing steroids and other performance-enhancing substances to athletes in several sports. The list of alleged clients included the late Eddie Guerrero as well as Chris Benoit, who stunned the wrestling world earlier this year by killing his wife and son before committing suicide.
The New York Daily News reported in late August that Huffman’s name was also on the list, and not long after he was suspended by the WWE for violating its Wellness Policy — which includes substance-related issues. While the company’s policy at the time was not to divulge the specific reasons for suspensions, it was widely believed that there was a direct relationship between the two events.
Huffman has been steadfast in maintaining his innocence, vehemently denying any role in the drug scandal.
“I had nothing to do with Signature Pharmacy, and I knew I hadn’t ordered anything online,” Huffman said, referring to Signature’s use of various physicians and clinics to distribute orders placed through the internet. “I knew I wasn’t a part of that, and I relayed that to the company, and I wasn’t protected — they didn’t step up for me.”
Pressed for a reason why his name would be tossed around in the investigation, Huffman offered his own theory that he was being used as a scapegoat. Though a number of other wrestlers served suspensions at or around the same time, he felt that someone at “the top” of the WWE decided a bigger name was needed to influence public opinion in the post-Benoit climate of anti-steroid backlash.
“You can’t just pick out a bunch of guys who have no name and punish them,” he said. “You’ve got to have somebody in there with some credibility to give yourself some credibility.”
Missing in Huffman’s answers was a categorical denial that he had ever used performance-enhancers of any kind. His prior statements via his website state that he “was not taking any illegal substance, or anything outside of my physician’s care,” which leaves a little wiggle room since some wrestlers targeted during the investigation did indeed have prescriptions for the drugs they received.
Huffman addressed that matter of semantics by saying he attempted to reach out to the doctor in charge of the Wellness Policy, but he kept mum on why that avenue proved fruitless.
“As far as the loophole goes, the first person I went to talk to when the story first came out was Dr. [David] Black, to talk to him about certain things,” he said. “I never got a chance to talk to him because he never returned my calls, but that’s another story.”
That story is likely finished now that he’s moved on to TNA. Company President Dixie Carter told reporters during an October conference call that TNA had “an active drug policy in place that prohibits use of all illegal drugs,” but precious few details of that program have come to light.
Whatever his future holds, it looks like it won’t include legal action to combat what Huffman called slanderous reporting on the end of his WWE tenure. He now seems content to rest on the reputation he’s built during his long and successful wrestling career.
“I’m 42 years old, and have been in this business for 18 years and have never had one bad thing said about me,” he said. “I just feel like I’ve always been straight up, I’ve always been pretty much righteous.”