Booker, alongside Kevin Nash and Big Show, will be discussing their time in the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling this Sunday morning, closing out the first-ever Shooting Straight panel discussions, which are being held as part of the Royal Rumble Fanfest in Phoenix, Arizona at the U.S. Airways Center Pavilion.
While it's not unusual for stars at different levels of professional wrestling to talk openly about the business and their experiences, memories and gripes about life in such a strange world, it's extremely rare for it to be condoned, much less promoted by World Wrestling Entertainment. So, Booker will be breaking new ground this weekend and he's looking forward to it."It's definitely great, " commented Booker T yesterday during a media call to promote this weekend's WWE events. "It's great to actually go back in time so to speak. Should there be a WCW reunion or invasion? I don't think we should go that far, but as far as sitting down and talking about what went down back then, from a realistic perspective, a shoot perspective - it's going to be good. There's questions the fans have been wanting to ask for so many years and now they are going to finally get those answers. I am looking forward to actually sitting down and answering all the old questions. I am sure there are going to be some crazy ones. I'm just going to come right up for them. I will be prepared for it and I'm sure it's going to be a great Fanfest."
During the call, Booker laughed at some of the questions he knows he's going to have to face this weekend, including what it was like the night the Shockmaster debuted at the Clash of Champions live on TBS, only to fall flat on his face during a segment he was supposed to debut as a new monster. Or, perhaps, what happened during that one TV promo where Booker referred to Hulk Hogan as the "n" word. Booker noted he knew some crazy questions were coming and that there were no rules, but was preparing for a most unusual situation, putting himself out there to discuss and answer it all.
It's also somewhat unusual to see any sort of celebration of WCW, which closed in March 2001 when WWE bought the assets from AOL-Time Warner, which canceled professional wrestling from their airwaves after decades of it being synonymous with Turner Broadcasting, absorbing their former mortal enemy into their own corporate synergy. While ECW has long been celebrated with relaunches and reunions, WCW is treated much less fondly, perhaps due to the deep scars that came with a long Monday Night War or perhaps more likely by the final memories of the promotion, where the talent pool and storylines were vastly different from the glory days of the New World Order changing the tapestry of professional wrestling."It really was a war from a certain perspective in the beginning, " Booker recounted. "It really was a war between WWE and WCW - in-ring, how big the budget was going to be, how much they were going to invest in the PPVs as far as the look of it. It really was a war and I can say that when the NWO came along, the tides shifted. The lay of the land totally shifted for WCW. It was so many things that it was good for - the ratings, the t-shirt sales, the fans but then again, it was bittersweet at the same time. NWO literally changed the landscape of the game and how the rules were being played. At the time, it was great being on top. The Arena were sold out but then you saw the wrestlers relaxing. You saw the wrestler slacking. A lot of guys were making a whole lot of money. Guys weren't really caring about their performances anymore. Guys were just partying like it was never going to stop. That's why I think the tides shifted back over to WWE. They took over and they never let the reigns go from that point on. But, it was like being on a Black Stallion without a saddle. You had to hold on tight. It was a great time. It was a fast time. "
Booker considered himself a WCW-lifer and once believed he would retire there. It's not a stretch to see why. He entered the company in 1993 as half of the Harlem Heat tag team with his brother, Stevie Ray, during a time period where WCW was a way behind number two to the then-WWF. Just a few years later came the debut of Monday Nitro on TNT. With that debut, the ratings war of the 1990s kicked off and with it, over time, so did Booker's growth as a singles performer as over the next seven years, fans watched him mature from a Tag champion to World TV champion all the way to WCW World champion."For myself, I was in the mix, I was having fun. I saw everything happening around me. I saw the guys around me getting soft. I saw the guys around me slacking. That's how I got to the championship, just due to everybody's lack of work. I knew I was going to win by attrition and that's exactly what happened. To be on top of that and to be there when the company folded, I was still ready and prepared to go to the next lap around the track. I was ready to go one more time. I wasn't slacking when it was time. When it was time for those other guys to go around the track, they weren't prepared and were slacking. All that money they had made, all that cushioning at the time - it caught up with them. They got fat and most of them couldn't recover from it. As you see, most of them are still at home now sitting on their sofa wishing things were different. It was a great time and it was great time for me and thank God I was prepared for [the WWE run]' when it came."
Indeed, Booker literally shut off the lights as the final WCW World champion when the promotion closed in March 2001. By June of that same year, he was an outsider, both in storyline and reality, in a new world, debuting at the WWF King of the Ring event to help build to a Summerslam PPV that year against The Rock. While the WCW Invasion storyline took many twists and turns over the course of 2001 (some of which hurt the storyline more than helped, to be sure), one thing that cannot be denied was the immediate excitement the influx of so many new, outside talents coming to WWE fans at the time.
However, for many WCW talents, it was also the end of the line. Political differences from one company to the other, changes in the style presented in the ring and even locker room politics led to the demise of many a career during that time period - but not Booker T's. It took time but he eventually found his groove in WWE, morphing into King Booker and having several runs with the WWE World championship, a belt that is sort of but not really the continuation of the old WCW World title. The journey, however, was not simple.
"First and foremost, I knew I had to leave everything behind. Me being WCW champion, WCW Tag Team champion with my brother, all stuff I did there. I knew [WWE] was a totally different animal. I knew I was coming into something that I wasn't really a part of. I wasn't WWE. I wasn't born and bred WWE, so I knew I had was going to have work a little bit harder to make it there. Then again, I had WWE guys like Undertaker, Blackjack Lanza, Pat Patterson, the Hebners back then pushing me on and telling me, 'You are a pretty talented guy. You can go out there and do this' and giving me advice on how to handle things and do certain things. Then, I had to take a step back and do things on my own as well because sometimes if you do things other people's way, you might get fired for it. For me, if I am going to get fired, I want to get fired on my own merit alone. I was willing to say what I believed in. I was willing to stand up for it. As far as coming in as champion and losing it and working my way back to it, I knew that was something I was just going to have to do. One thing I always believed in from day one in this business is my talent. I always knew my talent would get me to the next level. It was the one thing I could always fall back on. As far as making it, it was different, yes, but it was just another challenge and we look at myself this many years later, 12-13 years later and man, I'm still there and still doing my thing. The company blesses me to do what I do and I'm still making the fans happy from a certain perspective."
Booker returned to WWE at the 2011 Royal Rumble, a moment that he feels was one of his favorite in his entire career, not expecting the monster pop he received for his surprise entrance and return to the company. Since that time, he's worked as an announcer for the Smackdown brand before sliding over into his current role as Smackdown General Manager and a new role in life as author.
His first book "From Prison to Promise" recounts in great detail his life growing up in a family unit that was shattered and splintered after the passing of his mother. Booker took to "the game" and ended up in prison following a string of robberies. While the early days of his professional wrestling career are covered in the book, the majority of the narrative focuses on Booker's childhood, trying to survive after the passing of his mother, and mistakes made in his life. It's one of the most honest, unsettling, raw books ever written by a personality who's worked in the business. So, why write something that gut-wrenching and how did other members of his family feel seeing all that put out there for the world to consume?"As far as my family goes, they have been so supportive, " Booker said. "They are all still here, my brothers and my sisters. They've seen it all. We came up the hard way from so many different perspectives. I think it was only right to put [the book] out there with a raw perspective if I wanted to help somebody. If I wanted to sugarcoat it and not really put [the truth] out there, I really would have been lying to myself. That's one thing I can't do these days is look in the mirror and lie to myself. That was the reason I wholeheartedly put it out there in a raw perspective. I wanted kids to know, first and foremost, that when they read it, Booker T has been in these situations and if he came out of it, I can too."
Still, with WWE taking a look back at WCW, which was at one point the brightest star in the pro wrestling universe, does Booker feel any parts of the company's legacy are overlooked by the industry today?
"I really don't think any part get overlooked. One thing you have to remember - it is the future. You can't dwell in the past. WCW and the feud between WCW and WWE, those days are over and they are never coming back. Myself, I'm not one of those people who look in the past and live in the past. It's all in the future and what we look forward to with our young guys creating their own destinies. That's what I am thinking about right now."
With that eye on the future, a regular role on WWE programming, twins to raise, wrestling students to train in Houston and new books to write, Booker T may have grown into an elder statesman of the WWE locker room, but he's certainly not slowing down anytime soon. He's happy to be helping WWE talents today try and find themselves and noted that he hopes talents like Sheamus will be able to look back and see that he's been able to help them carve their own careers with his guidance and advice."If I can be an ambassador for this business forever more," Booker said, That's what I want to be."
Mike Johnson can be reached at Mike@PWInsider.com. He suggests "Booker T - From Prison to Promise" for your reading pleasure.