It would be understandable if there was some trepidation for the TNA locker room at having another former WWE star entering their ranks. It was important for Booker T when he joined the company in November of 2007 to immediately put any fears to rest.
“The first thing I did when I got to TNA was I called a meeting with every young guy on the roster to let them know exactly why I was there. I am here to help them and make TNA better. I wasn’t there to step on any toes or be a big star, I don’t look at myself like that and let other people looking at me like that. It is great to be working with the third generation of wrestlers and hopefully I can help them as much as I can,” Booker T told reporters during a recent SpikeTV/TNA conference call.
Wrestlers can certainly look at Booker as a success story and an inspiration. His 17-year career has spanned WCW, WWE and now TNA, and he has grown from a tag team wrestler (with brother Stevie Ray) to six-time world champion.
“Back in the day, being a tag team with my brother, we started out in the Global Wrestling Federation, and it carried over to WCW, so we actually tagged together for over seven years. We were riding down the road together. But I’ve always wanted to be a singles wrestler. I kind of started my career off as a singles wrestler when I was GI Joe … But to be a great tag team wrestler, and being able to branch off into the singles ranks and being successful, it was great, to me. There’s only a few guys who have done it; there’s myself, Shawn Michaels, a couple more guys. I just feel fortunate to have had the run that I had, and all the titles, I think that’s just something that came along with all the hard work.”
Booker T is the most decorated African-American wrestlers in history. In addition to his world championships, Booker is a 14-time tag champion, – time US champion and six-time WCW TV champion. He has had success in a business that hasn’t seen a lot of African-American athletes, especially compared to other major sports. The subject of racism within wrestling was brought up during the call.
“I can honestly say, as far as the African-American side, wrestling just wasn’t one of those things that we saw as one of our ways out. I always looked at myself as one of those guys who looked at it totally different than a lot of guys who were coming into this business. Racism is something that will always be, it’s going to continue, and it’s going to be here until the end of time.”
Booker T then launched into a story about getting support from Ox Baker in the locker room, who saw that he had talent. “He told me that I was going to come up against a lot of barriers in this business, I was going to meet with a lot of racism, a lot of people were going to keep me down, he told me, but I had talent to be able to come through that and that if I had the mental to go along with it as well, I could pretty much defeat anything that I come up against,” explained Booker T. “I remembered that all the time, and still to this day, I use that psychology. I’ve become one of the greatest wrestlers of all time due to the way I carry myself in and out of the ring. I don’t think it’s them trying to keep us out. I think it’s us needing to know how to get in from a certain perspective.”
The topic brought up other questions, regarding the release of Bobby Lashley, as well as the suspension from the WWE of Michael Hayes.
“I can’t exactly say what Bobby is going to do. He came down there to the PWA — he did a really good job, and shocked and amazed the crowd, and let them know that he still had it. He’s in great shape, he looks probably better than I’ve ever seen him look, in and out of the ring. As far as his future, you know, right now, it’s the MMA people looking at him. I know Japan tried to get their hands on him. TNA would have a spot for him if he chooses to come there. When he does make that choice, I hope that he comes to me first, and I give him my advice on which way he should go. I’m going to tell him exactly what I think. Bobby, right now, he’s in a good place mentally. He left WWE quite unexpectedly. I think he’s doing well, and I think the world and his future are all in his hands right now,” he said.
As for the suspension of Michael Hayes, the former head writer of Smackdown, Booker T couldn’t fully weigh in on it. “I don’t know what is going on with the issue of Michael Hayes, he always thought he was black. He was a black guy in a white body. On TV, even as a wrestler back in the day it was in the way he walked and talked. I don’t see him as a racist myself, I have known him for many years and have heard him use the ‘N word’ before. But he was someone who could get away with it around me because I knew there was no malice involved. But I don’t know what is going on with other people and how they take it. Sometimes people that grew up in that walk of life, you don’t know how people really are and what they mean by what they are saying. You might get heat from one person but not another. I don’t know what is going on right now as far as Michael Hayes but hopefully they will get through it.”
Booker now focuses on TNA, as well as his school and promotion the Pro Wrestling Alliance in Texas. As a veteran, his role in both TNA and at the school is that of teacher and advisor.
“My school is thriving and it’s something that is going great. I’ve got over 40 students. I’m trying to teach wrestling the right way, let them know what it takes to make it in the locker room as opposed to what it takes to make it in the ring, because if they can’t make it in the locker room, there’s no way you can make it in the ring,” he said.
What does he teach his students and members of the TNA roster that come to him? “I teach them how to slow down, entertain and know what to look for from the crowd. Teach them how to go out and not talk about the match, but have a dance. It is like Shakespeare or the opera. I tell a guy I can teach any couch potato how to do a suplex. It is not about that when you are trying to create yourself, to make it in the business for the long run and create a fan base that will follow them. That is what is important to be taught to them. A lot of young guys don’t have a financial plan. They need to be taught in so many different ways, that is what I am here for to help them in every aspect of their lives.”
Another important and often difficult side of the wrestling business is relationships. Many wrestlers date within the business, and whether their significant other is a wrestler or not involved, it takes a great deal of trust. Booker uses his own relationship with Sharmell as an example.
“It’s really hard, for most guys, because you’ve got to have a total connection, there’s got to be a trust factor. My wife and I, we’re two people in synch with each other, and knowing what life is all about and what it takes to make it for 20 years — we’re totally in tune with each other; we’re our best friends. We cover each other’s backs. If I get in a fight, she’s going to be right there with me, as she has in the past! With the young guys, they’ve got to know what this business is about — it’s not about playtime, it’s not about coming out here and how many bars you can hang out in, girls you can bag, or anything like that — especially when you’re in a relationship. You’ve got to know exactly what you’re out there for. It’s about getting in this business and being able to retire, and retire successfully. That’s what I teach when I talk to the young guys about, and if they have a female along with them, just make sure that they’re both in it for the same things. But the trust factor has to be there. I can go on the road, and my wife is at home, she doesn’t suspect anything because there isn’t anything going on, and vice versa, when she’s at home, I’m not thinking anything is going on. There’s gotta be a trust factor, and I think that just comes from her and I being in the business, not just the wrestling business, but the entertainment business, and knowing that it’s really, really hard out here, it’s not a party.”
Another veteran in TNA is Sting. Booker debuted at the Genesis pay per view as Sting’s mystery partner against Kurt Angle and Kevin Nash.
“It has been great working with Sting and being around him. Sting has been one of the true greats in the business, he has walked a straight line and been a man’s man about the business, the only one who didn’t go to WWE, he stayed true to who he is. People still love him and I am one of those guys. I am in TNA because of Sting and a couple more guys that spoke up for me.”
With Slammiversary in the books, the eyes of TNA turn to the Reliant Arena in Booker’s hometown of Houston, Texas for Victory Road. It’s expected that Booker will tangle with TNA champ Samoa Joe in front of his hometown crowd. Booker expressed excitement about the company’s Texas pay per view.
“It’s about time. TNA is a growing company. I’m sure it’ll be touching every part of the map real soon, it’s just a matter of getting things in order, getting that fan base, letting everybody know what TNA is all about. It’s a company that is here to stay.”
Booker has six months under his belt in TNA now. When asked his favorite match thus far in the company, Booker couldn’t pick one, promising the best is yet to come.
“My favorite match to this point in TNA, I really can’t say. But I wrestled Jay Lethal a couple of nights ago in Jersey (for Jersey All Pro Wrestling) and had a lot of fun working with him. I always have fun working with the youth and he is a guy (who) I really like his character and gimmick and what he has done with himself. The best is yet to come for me in TNA, I have been really floating for the first six months and haven’t done a lot. I haven’t gotten my wings wet so stay tuned.”