After capturing the WCW Tag Team Championship with real life brother Stevie Ray 11 times, Booker rose to fame as a singles competitor and captured the WCW World Heavyweight Championship five times – his final Championship win being against Scott Steiner on the final ever WCW Monday Nitro broadcast before coming a member of the WWE roster.
NZPWI Editor Dion McCracken had the opportunity to speak with Booker T on January 27, 2006 just a few days out from Royal Rumble 2006 – and just over a month out from the first ever New Zealand WWE show in Wellington on March 4 at the Road to Wrestlemania 22 Tour.
Booker spoke about his disappointment at not being able to complete the “Best of 7 Series” with Chris Benoit, the original “Best of 7”, Harlem Heat, the nWo, his famous Bash at the Beach 2000 World Championship win and much more!
Dion McCracken: After making a name for himself tagging with brother, Stevie Ray in WCW, my guest today rose to fame as a singles competitor after the now legendary “Best of 7” series with Chris Benoit in 1998. He went on to find a new home in WWE after becoming a five time WCW Champion and is of course the new Undisputed United States Champion, he is Booker T.
Booker, how’s it going?
Booker T: I’m doing good man.
First of all, congratulations on recently becoming the Undisputed United States Champion.
Great man, I’m the champ man, what can I say man, I’m the champ, I appreciate it.
You must have been bitterly disappointed that injury forced you out of competing in the Best of 7 series with Chris Benoit though.
Yeah, most definitely, that was a mental upset type more than anything. I felt like at the time that I got hurt, got injured actually, that was really a bad time, I was at the top of my game, as far as the Best of 7 series, I was way up, looking like I was getting ready to walk away with the thing, you know, hands down undisputed in the ring as well.
But that didn’t happen. As well as finishing off a great, great series, the second set of great series’, and that was more disappointing than anything, but I’m looking forward to getting back out there with Chris Benoit and giving him the title shot that he deserves, I’m looking forward to beating him, you know, right in the middle of the ring, one, two, three.
Most New Zealand fans first saw you in action tagging with Stevie Ray in WCW, where the two of you became one of the most decorated teams in history. What made Harlem Heat such a winning formula?
You know what, what made Harlem Heat so special was we were brothers, you know, we grew up together, we slept in the same bed for several years. We were like peanut butter and jelly, we were just a great team. Everything that he did complimented what I did, and everything that I did complimented what he did, you know, we had two totally different styles that the people tend to draw to.
Then with the mix of Sister Sherri coming along, and taking us to our first Tag Team Championship, that was like the beginning of something great. I think Harlem Heat was one of the greatest tag teams of all time. You know, definitely in the top three.
You were involved in the “Golden Era” of WCW when the nWo tried to take over. That must have been a particularly exciting time to be with the Company?
You know what, it was exciting, right there with the ratings war was going on with the WWE, nWo was hot, you know, Booker T was doing his own thing. It was a great time in professional wrestling for myself. And to finish it off, like I did, as far as when everything happened that forced the demise of WCW, to still be one of the guys who were still there, you know, still chugging along, still going out there trying to give the people the greatest form of entertainment, that was more gratifying than anything I think.
That original Best of 7 series with Chris Benoit, really made fans sit up and notice you as a singles competitor. What was it about that series that still has people talking about it?
You know, I think that what was more… I think that the pureness of the series was better than anything. Two guys just out there mano a mano, wrestling, I mean pure wrestling, you know there wasn’t a lot of cheating going on, we just went out there and just pretty much beat each other up.
And you know, actually Chris Benoit, he brought the best out of me. He put a staple, and a stamp on my career as far as being a viable singles competitor. You know, people wondered about Booker T before Chris Benoit, people wondered if I could go out there and carry the big match, before the Benoit Best of 7 match, but after that I think all of the questions were answered, in just a few weeks, but I’ll tell you what, he’s been the most tenacious, and one of the most greatest competitors I’ve ever had, and one of the best friends I’ve ever had also.
Take us back to Bash at The Beach 2000. The scheduled Jarrett vs. Hogan title match was famously thrown out the window, and you were given your first pay-per-view main event, winning your first World Heavyweight Championship; what are your memories of that night?
Oh, ah… my memories are very… it was topsy-turvy, you know? It was a confusing night for me, you know? I mean I didn’t know if I was going to be wrestling or not, I mean I knew I had to wrestle Chris Kanyon earlier that night, and it was told to me that I was going to be wrestling for the Heavyweight Championship, and then a monkey wrench got thrown into the picture, so I didn’t know whether I was going to wrestle for it or not.
My thing was I really didn’t care at that time, I just wanted to go out and perform and entertain, and I got the word about five minutes actually before I had to go out, that I was going to be going out, and I was going to be the new Heavyweight Champion.
And I had five minutes to prepare for it, and Jeff Jarrett and I went out and had a five-star match, and it was a great night for Booker T, and a great night for professional wrestling, I answered all the questions that I’ve always wondered about; could I be on top, could I carry the Championship, will people look at me as the Champion and respect me as Champion… you know, all the questions were answered on that night.
From a personal point of view, how did it feel to know that WCW and the booking committee had that faith in you?
You know, it was all about Vince Russo. He’s the one who had the faith in me.
A lot of people didn’t believe in me at that point in time. I can honestly, truly say that Vince Russo took a gamble, at that point in time. I was the one going out there and pushing the show on a weekly basis, going out there going at 100%, and I think that he was the one who saw that I was the man who should have been in that position, he’s the one who did it, you know?
And I always wonder to this day, if he wouldn’t have did it for me would I have ever gotten it? I’ll never know, you know, it’s a question that may never be answered.
Um… that night, it was just anxiety, you know? I mean, it was just coming into the WWE, it was a totally different atmosphere, you know the fans were totally different, I mean it seemed like going to Japan or something, like the fans didn’t even know me or anything almost, being in the business ten years, out there, on the ground for ten years, but the WWE have their loyal fans, and their loyal fans are just that, they are very loyal.
And it took for myself coming over, I mean of course I wanted to come over and prove that Booker T can compete with any of the top wrestlers in the business, he is a top wrestler, he is top billing on the card, you know I wanted to prove that first and foremost.
But it was an exciting night, you know coming over, the invasion of WCW into the backyard of WWE, but it really didn’t live up to the hype.
You went on to have some really classical, comical moments with Goldust; what’s your funniest memory from your partnership with him?
Um… hah. I would say, Booker T and Goldust, you know, more than anything, Booker T and Goldust at the movies, you know, the Scorpion King…
… you know, messing around doing their stuff. Maybe perhaps Stone Cold and Booker T in the grocery store, you know that’s a big highlight. Stuff like that, it was a pleasure for me to be able to go out and do it, a testament to my ability in professional wrestling, to still be able to go out and make people laugh, and still be a serious contender for the World Title also, so it was a great time, it was great, I was having a lot of fun, it was a great time in my career.
Do you enjoy that side of things, the entertainment side of the business?
Oh most definitely, most definitely. I enjoy that side, totally.
Myself, I see myself, after I retire from wrestling – one day, I’m not saying when that day is going to be – but when I retire from wrestling one day I do want to work in that side of the business, I want to be able to produce other guys, be able to direct other guys, as far as making them better than they possibly may be, and just see how far my talents can really go, you know?
Many fans expected you to capture your first World Championship at WrestleMania XIX against Triple H; how did it feel to be competing for a World Title at WrestleMania?
You know, it was a dream come true, my dream was always to be right there, top billing, main event, for the World Title at WrestleMania, and that was a dream of mine. Maybe I didn’t dream hard enough, because I didn’t dream that I was going to be winning the World Title…
… but I’ll tell you what, it was a dream come true.
Nothing compares to that moment, as far as being on the top of the stage at WrestleMania. Going out there and doing your thing, you know nothing compares to that. The adrenalin, the feeling you get from something like that, it’s worth more than any amount of money, it’s almost unexplainable.
But I’m looking forward to getting back to that position, before it’s over with, I plan on headlining WrestleMania, I plan on walking out with the Heavyweight Championship around my waist, you know, putting a stamp on the legacy of Booker T, as far as being the most decorated Champion in wrestling history, the Champion who came through this business and won every title there was to wear. Except the Cruiserweight Championship and the Women’s Championship…
… hah, but those are my goals, so I’m looking forward to being in that position again.
You’ve been an active competitor now for almost seventeen years. What advice do you give the younger guys based on that experience?
Um… consistency, having a plan. I always say if you don’t have a plan you’re planning to fail. So as far as being in this business, being on the road, doing it on a nightly basis, you have to condition yourself every night, prepare yourself every night, to go out there the next day, or whatever TV it may be and give the greatest performance you could possibly give on that night, and it’s like that pretty much every night. So, just have a plan. And follow through with it.
You’re scheduled to defend the US Championship against Chris Benoit here in March. With thousands of rabid fans likely to get behind Benoit, how do you plan on keeping the crowd out of the equation?
You know, I’ll be totally on heel. I’ll be totally at the top of my game by then, so I’m not too worried about the crowd or anything like that. I perform at my best with the crowd at their loudest, so I’m going to have the one person I need out there that’s going to pretty much overshadow anything the crowd does, and that’s the lovely Sharmell, so we’re going to go in there the Undisputed US Champion, and rest assured, by God we’re going to walk out of there the United States Champion, and trust me – the best is yet to come, as far as Booker T, walking out soon to be the World Heavyweight Champion, so just stay tuned, because Booker T is going to take you for a ride you’re never gonna forget.
That’s great to hear. Thanks very much for your time Booker, we really appreciate it. Good luck for the Royal Rumble match this weekend, and we look forward to seeing you and Sharmell in March.
Thank you very much.