Booker T wrestles with regret

Booker T

Dreadlocked semi-retired pro-wrestler and commentator Booker T looks larger than life as he strolls into the interview room at the Singapore Management University last weekend.

Regarded as one of the greatest stars in World Championship Wrestling, the six-time world champion was in town over the weekend to promote World Wrestling Entertainment, which airs on SuperSports (StarHub TV Channel 202).

But whatever first impression his buff body, 1.91m frame and initial stern expression creates is quickly dispelled as he shakes hands with this reporter. There is genuine warmth in his eyes.

Throughout the 20-minute interview, the 48-year-old is gentle, courteous and forthright.

Despite the public relations brief not to ask him about his time in prison, he himself brings it up, saying he “made terrible mistakes” but has cleaned up.

In 1987, he pleaded guilty to taking part in armed robberies at Wendy’s restaurants in Houston and spent 19 months in prison.

The wrestler, whose real name is Booker Tio Huffman Jr., tells Life!: “We are all going to make mistakes at some point in our lives. Hopefully, we will all get chances to fix those mistakes.”

His mistakes, he says, happened when he was orphaned at age 14. “I lost focus. I got into the wrong company. Things went wrong.”

Talking about that time, he said: “It is not easy to see light at the end of the tunnel. A lot of the time, it is easy to blame someone else. We have to blame ourselves for the situations we put ourselves in. I remember when I walked out of prison, the guard told me: ‘I will see you when you get back’. That motivated me like crazy to never ever go back.”

He admits he got lucky. He did not finish school and had no athletic training, and after his prison spell, started wrestling professionally at the age of 25.

It was one of his brothers who got him to enrol in a wrestling school. He is the youngest of eight siblings. He trained under American professional wrestler Scott Casey, who turned his background as a gangster into what he called “sports entertainment”. Eight weeks after training, he debuted on the Western Wrestling Alliance Live! programme, a wrestling platform in the US.

His face lights up when he talks about wrestling.

“Perhaps I was born to wrestle. I just went in there to entertain. From the first time I stepped into the ring, wrestling felt like my calling. I definitely got lucky with my first break. I had no real training, no connections but I think I did have talent. Once I got in, I knew I had a real fighting chance. I just wanted to be the best wrestler in the world.”

It was hard work. It took lots of training and a whole lot of determination, he admits. Wrestling, he says, is not for everyone. But education is.

He has set up a wrestling school for children in Houston. He says he uses the chance to share with them “the importance of school, reading and education. It is something I missed out on”.

He dropped out of school in his early teens and says it is one of his “regrets”.

The father of two-year-old twins and a son from a previous marriage, says: “When I look back, I have all this money, all the places I have travelled to, so much success, all these titles. None of that changes not getting a diploma. I implore all kids to not wake up one day and have that feeling.”

Booker T, who is married to Sharmell Sullivan-Huffman, an American professional wrestling valet and occasional wrestler, says: “I do not want to be remembered as the greatest wrestler. I just want to be remembered as a good guy.

Source: The Straits Times   Sept 12, 2013

Photo: stcommunities.straitstimes.com

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