By Mike Mooneyham

Aug. 17, 2003

Booker T, who overcame a hardscrabble youth to become a multi-millionaire in the wrestling business, may be nearing the end of his mat career.

A recurring back problem is expected to sideline Booker for four to six weeks, and the long-term prognosis for the former five-time WCW world champion could hasten his retirement plans.

Booker dropped the WWE Intercontinental title to Christian (Jay Reso) last Sunday night at a house show in Des Moines, Iowa, after having experienced back pains that had increased in severity during the Raw brand’s recent Australian swing. He was sent home early from the tour and was pulled off the following week’s Raw.

Booker T

Booker T

The Houston native has been battling a bad back for several years, and those close to the situation say he may opt to quietly phase out his career in the ring, pending further medical evaluation.

Booker has been one of WCW and WWE’s most solid performers over the past decade, but he had to overcome a number of obstacles to get there.

Booker, whose real name is Booker Tio Huffman, grew up in a hard-luck world, bouncing in and out of trouble after graduating from high school. He was the youngest of eight children, with his father passing away when he was 10 months old and his mother dying when he was 13. He and his older brother, Stevie Ray (Lane Huffman), came up through the South Park section of Houston, the roughest part of town, where they would make money by break-dancing on the street.

Trouble, though, was never far away during those days. Booker was arrested in 1987 after committing several armed robberies at Houston-area Wendy’s restaurants, where he also had flipped burgers under their employ, and subsequently pleaded guilty and served 19 months in prison.

Pro wrestling proved to be the catalyst that would help turn Booker’s life around.

Trained by journeyman Scott Casey, Booker kicked off his career in 1990 with a Houston-based independent group headed by longtime star “Polish Power” Ivan Putski, and was billed as G.I. Bro, intended as an African-American patriot modeled after the hugely popular Sgt. Slaughter. The gimmick came to life when Casey walked into the dressing room one evening and noticed Booker wearing an Army cap that he had found in one of the storage rooms that he had cleaned out at work earlier that day.

Scandor Akbar and the late Eddie Gilbert later got the high-flying Huffman brothers, then known as Ebony Experience, a tryout with the Dallas-based Global Wrestling Federation. The two were signed and, under the management of Playboy Gary Hart, immediately won the Global tag-team belts from Steve Dane and Gary Young.

Booker, with the help of Sid Vicious (Sid Eudy), got his first major break when he landed a job in WCW where he and his brother, now teaming as Harlem Heat, would hold the WCW tag-team belts on 10 occasions. He also would become only the second black world heavyweight champion in WCW history (Ron Simmons was the first in 1992) when he won the title for the first time on July 9, 2000, in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Booker said in a 2000 interview that he didn’t expect to be in the business for more than a few additional years.

“This isn’t something that’s going to last forever,” he said. “It’s a short-term thing and I just happen to be passing through at this time and having fun with it. It’s not something that I take very seriously because I do think I have a higher destiny in life than professional wrestling. I’m not thinking too much about what I’m going to do next, but I like speaking to kids and trying to help them along.”

Booker, 38, has invested wisely and owns a hip-hop music shop and retail outlet in Houston called Jam Zone. He has maintained over the years that wrestling was never the end-all and be-all of his existence, and he spends much of his time sharing his experiences with high-risk teen-agers.

“When it’s all said and done, no one is going to remember how many spears you did or how many legdrops you did and all of that. People don’t remember that kind of stuff. It’s not all about that. It’s about going through this life that we live here and trying to do the best you can.”

– Vince McMahon found himself in dubious company when he was mentioned last week in a USA Today article on greedy CEOs who take huge compensation packages despite the performance of their companies.

“Shares of the pro wrestling marketer tumbled 37 percent to $9.08,” according to the article. “But Chairman Vince McMahon’s salary rose 8.5 percent to $1.1 million, and he received $850,000 for ‘talent fees’ that the company says include personal appearances and developing plot lines for shows.”

Not included in the article was the $8,764,833 McMahon made in stock dividends this year.

– The syndicated TV show Celebrity Justice reported last week that Joanie Laurer (the artist formerly known as Chyna) has filed a restraining order against ex-fiancé Sean Waltman (the artist formerly known as X-Pac, Syxx-Pac, 1-2-3 Kid and Lightning Kid).

Laurer, who obtained the order Aug. 1 and reportedly has gone into hiding, claims that Waltman “choked, beat and pulled her hair.” She also cited in the report that Waltman had threatened suicide.

One of the pair’s last public appearances was at the NWA-TNA anniversary show in Nashville when Waltman teamed with AJ Styles against Sting and Jeff Jarrett. Laurer did not appear on camera, but talked to friends backstage.

Laurer and Waltman, who worked together in the WWE when both were members of Degeneration X, both had come off bitter break-ups. Two years ago Laurer allegedly discovered love letters that former beau “Triple H” Hunter Hearst Helmsley (Paul Levesque) had written to Stephanie McMahon. The two split after Laurer accused Helmsley of going behind her back with Stephanie, to whom Helmsley is now engaged.

Laurer and Waltman, who was going through a divorce from his wife of 12 years at the time, had announced their engagement last November in Las Vegas.

– Hulk Hogan, who celebrated his 50th birthday Monday, got a mixed bag of news regarding his defamation lawsuit against WCW.

A judge ruled that his charges of defamation against WCW and Vince Russo, stemming from a July 9, 2000, Bash at the Beach incident in which Russo launched a profanity-based tirade against Hogan, were groundless and just part of a wrestling storyline.

The judge did leave intact Hogan’s legal assertion that WCW breached his contract by not making him the featured wrestler at that pay-per-view, by not giving him creative control at that show and also by not featuring him in at least six PPV events. That case will proceed to trial.

– It’s rare when Raw goes with the same main-event matchup two weeks in a row, but Vince McMahon did just that last week with the return bout between Bill Goldberg and Ric Flair. Randy Orton originally had been scheduled to go against Goldberg, but Flair was called in at the last minute. Orton, who did a commendable job as special referee, is expected to meet Goldberg on this week’s Raw as the former WCW champion marches through competition en route to Summer Slam.

– A recent article on ESPN’s Web site listed the XFL as the No. 1 “sports bust” of all time, ahead of such other failures as Mike Veeck’s Disco Demolition Night (No. 3) and Michael Jordan as a baseball player (No. 9).

The lone comment on Vince McMahon’s money-losing football venture: “If only the cheerleaders had been totally naked …”

– Brian James (former Road Dogg) said in a radio interview last week that The Rock had a major ego and had allowed his push to stardom to go straight to his head. He commented that Vince McMahon’s creativity makes him morally and personally bankrupt, but added that’s the way he has to be in order to be successful as a businessman. He also said he hasn’t talked to former New Age Outlaws partner Billy Gunn since he was released from WWE, and added that he never understood the Bret Hart “phenomenon.”

– Watching Kevin Nash go through one of his promos is like watching paint dry. Nash, now in his mid-40s, no longer exudes the cool that he once did with Scott Hall at his side. Last week’s Jericho Highlight Reel segment proved that point.

Look for Nash to get the clip job in his upcoming hair vs. hair match with Jericho. Nash has a part in an upcoming production in which he has to have his hair short, so the result of the stipulations match could be a foregone conclusion.

– The Super Hero In Training storyline continues to be a waste of valuable TV time.

– One has to wonder just how long it’s going to take before WWE hires Jim Mitchell. The man behind the characters Daryl Van Horn, James Vandenberg and The Sinister Minister, Mitchell is one of the best talkers in the business today and knows how to advance a storyline. Currently plying his wares as manager of The New Church, Mitchell has been a proven commodity in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, WCW, ECW and now NWA-TNA. He could be a very valuable asset in WWE.

– NWA-TNA has been feeding Kid Kash a string of veterans including Ricky Morton, Larry Zbyszko and Bobby Eaton on recent shows. Prior to defeating Eaton on last Wednesday night’s pay-per-view, Kash joked that he had been in a great mood until he went to the dressing room and found out that Dusty Rhodes had eaten all the brownies.

– The always humble Bret Hart stated the following in a recent column in the Calgary Sun: “Last Saturday night I spent some time hanging out with several WWE wrestlers talking old times and swapping stories. They lived their life as I did, bag in hand, off to another show and another town. I enjoyed meeting so many of the WWE boys who got there after I left and was grateful when they told me that it was watching me work that made them want to become wrestlers in the first place.”