WWE’S Booker T was in Sydney briefly — rather more briefly than planned — to promote WWE’s upcoming Australian tour. I sat down with him to discuss wrestling online, promotion and camouflage hats.
By every possible measure, Booker T should be utterly exhausted.
Leaving aside the issues of the travel schedules that professional wrestlers normally endure, by the time I sit down with him for a brief chat, he’s already had a full day’s delay in his flight schedule that meant that his flight from Houston to Los Angeles en route to Sydney was delayed by a 24 hours.
That full day lost meant that he’s just had to cram in functions that were meant to take place over two days, both of which included lengthy meet and greet sessions with the general public. He’s here to promote WWE’s tour of Australia, which takes place from August 7th to 9th through Melbourne, Sydney and Perth.
He does look a little weary, but I’ve got to say; I wish I had his energy. The moment we start talking, he’s straight into discussion about his lengthy career, his high and low-lights and even a certain notorious promo he shouldn’t have cut.
Fat Duck Tech: Thanks for your time, Booker, especially after such a heavy workload.
Booker T: I just try to keep smiling, you know? It’s not that serious. Our flight got cancelled from Houston to LA, and then the following day it was delayed by an hour from LA. But it’s just one of those things. The WWE fans, the WWE Universe, they’re patient as well, they was anticipating me definitely making it. So here I am.
FDT: You’re a veteran of the ring, and in that time there’s been a shift from television exposure to online exposure, especially with social media and now the WWE’s online service, WWE Network. What’s your view on that?
Booker T: I think it’s great. It’s just evolution. It’s definitely going to make it so that every household around the country, around the world is going to be able to see WWE forevermore. I think it’s great for certain households, low income households that don’t have a lot of money to go to arenas and stuff like that, and pay for parking. Now they can actually just sit at home and watch it.
Wrestlemania’s going to be for everybody to see, which is great. I can only imagine how my career would have been, how many fans I would have had now if it was like this back then. These guys have a huge advantage and hopefully they’ll take advantage of it.
FDT: And your own online presence?
Booker T: I’m on Instagram, Twitter; I don’t do a lot of Facebook. I don’t want a lot of old girlfriends trying to get in touch with me. I’m on there on a regular basis, close to a million followers already. It’s cool to be able to interact with the fans.
FDT: Pro Wrestling has historically attracted generations of certain families, such as the McMahons, the Harts and so on. You’re a family man. What would you say if your kids wanted to get into wrestling?
Booker T: Well, right now they’re 3 years old…
FDT: OK, take it as a forward looking question…
Booker T: Hah! Right now they’re in private school so they can be as smart as they possibly can, you know? Wrestling for me was a way out. I really don’t know where I would be if it wasn’t for professional wrestling, and I definitely want to give my kids the opportunity to be whatever they want to be in life.
If they do stray towards the business, I’d be behind them 100 per cent, but hopefully they’d be doctors, lawyers… presidents. Something like that.
FDT: Your career has encompassed a lot. You’ve been a singles wrestler. A tag team wrestler. A colour commentator. A general manager, and you now even run your own promotion. Looking back, which part, if any, did you find most satisfying?
Booker T: Just about every aspect of it. I tell people ‘I used to work for a living, before I turned 25′. Ever since I turned 25 I’ve just been doing this. It’s something I loved to do. Id’ve done this for free, because I loved it so much.
But now, at this stage of my life, it’s a totally different stage, more than anything, and I’m embracing this stage of my life, I love it, not having to actually be in the ring. That right there was really stressful, every night going to the ring, having to perform at the highest level, not miss a beat. But now I can just relax, enjoy the fruits of the labour that I’ve put in.
Fat Duck Tech: You’ve been in some notably oddball angles, from feuds over shampoo commercials to San Francisco 49ers Box Matches. When you’re handed something odd like that, how do you approach it?
Booker T: I’ve always said you know, no matter whatever situation they’re going to put me in, it’s my job to go out there and make it the best I possibly can make it.
My father passed away when I was ten months old, but my family always used to tell me that he said “Cream always rises to the top”. That’s just always been my motto.
No matter what they give me, just go out there and make it taste as good as it possibly can for the fans. Just about every time I’ve pulled it out somehow.
FDT: Your second book is due out later this year. Your first was deeply personal, but this is purely focused on your wrestling career. Was that easier to write?
Booker T: This book here was totally different to the first book. The first book was really personal, this was just wrestling. Not a whole lot of wrestling stories about certain guys, drunken stupors or anything like that, like most wrestling books, it’s just a chronicle of Booker T’s career. Where he came from, totally the bottom of the totem pole, to close out a company, to be one of the only guys from that company to make it in WWE, and still to be here this many years later, a Hall Of Famer. it’s a quite a telling tale, both for the fans that read it as well as young wrestlers I think they’ll be intrigued.
Everything is chronicled in the book. Thank god for YouTube and Dailymotion. You can go back and find all of that stuff, and everything is there. Some of this stuff, I have to go back and watch it and go “Wow, OK, NOW I remember that.” It’s going to be totally accurate in terms of every little bitty thing that I did in professional wrestling. As well as a lot of cool stuff too.
FDT: I have to ask. There’s a notorious promo of yours concerning Hulk Hogan from Spring Stampede…?
Booker T: Yeah, yeah (laughs). You know — Live TV? We weren’t taught as well as we were in WWE, especially back then.
We had the reigns to just talk and do whatever we wanted to do. I tell you, it’s a promo that’ll live in infamy, but there’s nothing you can do to run away from it, you know. Perhaps my most embarrassing and regretful moment in my wrestling career, but I bounced back from it.
FDT: You grew up watching and idolising wrestlers such as Ted Dibiase and Johnny Valentine. If you were a young fan now, who would you watch, and why?
Booker T: Probably the Shield, because they remind me of the Freebirds. I used to love the Freebirds when I was coming up. The Wyatts as well, because they’ve kind of got that Jake The Snake Roberts quality, when Jake was always in his own zone, talking his own sense. Those guys right there I gravitate to more than anybody these days.
FDT: The New Age Outlaws have just had a run with the tag title with a pretty obvious nostalgia kick behind it. Any chance of a Harlem Heat reunion tour?
Booker T: You know I never say never, but I’m so far past putting my tights and my boots on, going out and being a wrestler. I’m just over that stage of my life.
Some guys it’s just really hard for them to let it go, but for me it’s been really easy to let that stage of my life go, just because I’ve done everything that I’ve wanted to do in pro wrestling. I’ve won all the titles, I’ve been all over the world, I’ve seen it all. There’s just nothing left to prove.
Now I just want to be the greatest promoter I could possibly be, and perhaps follow in the footsteps of Paul Boesch and Vince McMahon and have my own mega-company one day.
FDT: You worked for many years with your brother; was there much family friction there, or was it a case of working smoothly in sync?
Booker T: My brother and I, we were always in sync. But we were always different. We were always individuals. I always wanted a new outfit every week. I wanted new boots all the time. He didn’t. I moved to Atlanta just so I could be around it, just throw myself into it. He wanted to stay in Houston.
We were always two individuals, and I think that was always good, because when we went out and performed we were always different as well, and I think that’s what really made the team so good. He was his own person. Unlike a lot of teams that you see today; they all go out and try to be cookie-cutter and be totally alike. That’s what was different about us.
FDT: Wrestlers have to keep fit; how do you manage your fitness?
Booker T: Train every week. Get up and do 500 pushups like I did this morning. I’ve got twins, so training and lifting, it’s a lifestyle, it’s not something that you can just do every once in a while.
I’ve been doing it since I was about 20 years old and I’m in the gym with my students every week. I still do that stuff, I just do it from a different perspective. Staying fit is my goal. I’m going to stay 225 pounds and have a 36″ waistline forever.
FDT: There’s a great story in your first book about your workouts when in prison…
Booker T: That time was very tranquil for me. I found myself in that position. Working out was literally a sanctuary for me to put myself in a different zone. Then when I came out, I was ready to move to the next stage of life. So training is a mindset and I put myself in that mindset to go out and do it every day. I tell you, it gets harder as you get older, but you’ve just got to change your program up. You’ve just go to go with the times, otherwise I always say the times will pass you by.
FDT: Catchphrases. You’ve had a few, but the one that sticks is “Can You Dig it, Sucka?”, which is widely reported as coming from The Warriors
Booker T: That’s what everybody says, you know.
I never said that. ‘Can you dig it sucka?’ came for me, I used to watch a lot of movies with Richard Roundtree. Shaft, you know? He was always from Harlem, and he always used to say “Can you dig it Sucka”, and I knew it was really popular in the movie The Warriors — but I got it from Shaft.
FDT: So could there have been alternatives?
Booker T: I’m sure it would have been something. I’ve always been a big movie buff. Everything that I’e done in professional wrestling, 9 times out of 10 came from something in a movie that I’ve watched. Even a lot of wrestling moves. That’s how I created my persona.
My style of wrestling was Bruce Lee, Ali, combine those two together and act like a wrestler at the same time and you’ve got something. But nothing was original — even the quote “can you dig it sucka”
FDT: Your first gimmick, GI Bro, came about because of a camouflage hat that was found at the storage facility you were working in. Have you still got the GI Bro hat?
Booker T: (laughs). No. No, no. But I’ve still got the uniform. The tearaway pants and the vest. I’m going to put it on eBay sooner or later and get rid of it. I don’t keep anything. I try not to keep any of that old stuff.
FDT: You’re running your own promotion now; the Reality Of Wrestling. How did that come about?
Booker T: Paul Boesch was a great promoter in Houston — a great wrestler as well — and he passed away in 1989. When he died, it was almost like he bottled up wrestling and took it with him, and when I got his ring, it was almost like, something happened. It just seemed like it was my destiny to create wrestling again, back in my city, in Houston.
And that’s the only reason I was doing it, to create wrestling back in the city, as well as give my wrestling students a platform to be able to perform in front of a crowd. This year, after being Pro Wrestling Alliance for four years, we changed the name to Reality Of Wrestling and it just seems like it took off. We got a local television deal, and man the show is really, really hot. I’m getting a better time slot locally, and then we got a national deal starting April 1st, and I’m going to be in all the major (US) cities, Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Arkansas, Dallas.
It’s taken its own form right now, and hopefully we can be international by next year sometime and be bringing our show to Australia one day. It’s all my local wrestlers. There’s no ex-stars, anything like that, it’s just about these guys having a half a chance of making in the business. They’re good enough, and I’m definitely going to be pushing them towards WWE and letting those guys fulfil their dreams and go around the world like I did. One of my commentators actually just got hired by WWE. He’s living out his dream. Hopefully these guys can get seen, such as I did, and get discovered.
FDT: You’re obviously very busy. What do you do with your downtime?
Booker T: You know I try not to extend myself too far. I have my foundation; I try to do a lot charity work around the city, do a lot of speaking engagements, Booker T Fight For Kids; we provide a scholarship for a kid every year, put some money in their pocket to go to school. it’s just me and my wife’s way of giving back to a city that has given me so much… as well as giving back to life, actually. Statistically I’m perhaps not supposed to be here talking to you, but by the grace of God, I’m still here.