Originally published at POLLOCK'S REVIEW: A&E Biography - Booker T.
The latest A&E Biography focused on Booker T. (Booker T Huffman Jr.) and the role professional wrestling played in helping turn his life around.
After five A&E specials, it is the professional wrestling and the WWE-specific portions that are largely dedicated to similar content you could expect from a WWE in-house series. It doesn’t ask probing questions or analyze WWE’s controversial history but rather treats it as a celebration of the subject. This one was no different.
The strength of the episode was the first half focusing on Booker’s rough upbringing with the loss of his father shortly after he was born and his mother dying unexpectedly when he was only thirteen. This sent Booker down a bad path in life that reached rock bottom with prison time.
The documentary highlighted the early years with the assistance of music by Lil Keke, Willie Hutch, and Booker’s influence from The Lockers dance crew. It gave the documentary its unique feel with a tone established off the top as Booker walked the streets of New York in the style of Shaft.
It leaned on newspaper clippings outlining the slew of robberies Booker was party to, targeting a local Wendy’s on twenty-six separate occasions before his April 1987 arrest that earned him a five-year sentence. He was paroled after nineteen months and fueled by the words of a guard before exiting the prison, “I’ll see you when you get back”.
Of all the A&E specials, the first forty-five minutes of this one were the most compelling with a deep focus on the pitfalls of a man who was lost without any parental guidance and easily could have become a statistic or falling to the pessimistic outlook of the prison guard. This portion is assisted with original interviews from his siblings Lash, Bonita Lott, and Carolyn Jones.
Out of prison, Booker follows his older brother Lash a.k.a. “Stevie Ray” to Ivan Putski’s wrestling school and within three months, they are working local TV for Putski’s Western Wrestling Alliance and later, Texas All-Pro. Their break occurred when Global Wrestling Federation booker Eddie Gilbert opened the door for both to enter the promotion and was paired as the ‘Ebony Experience’.
It’s Booker’s entrance into professional wrestling and time in Global where racism is tackled in the documentary. Booker shared a warning he received from Ox Baker, who never outright listed his race, warning Booker that he was talented but would face obstacles in his career. This was relayed by Booker and Lash with their treatment from the fanbase in Texas at the Sportatorium, where they recalled the racial epithets thrown their way and would be revisited through their treatment at Hog Wild in August 1996 by the bikers at Sturgis.
Once this theme was introduced, I found it a significant flaw that they erased any discussion of the controversial lead-up to WrestleMania 19 and Booker’s match with Triple H. Since the documentary aired, Writer & Professor David Dennis Jr. tweeted (and later, deleted) that he was interviewed and spoke at length about the controversial lead-up, all of which failed to make the final cut.
The angle was discomforting in 2003 and even more so, today. Hunter played a heel out of another generation referring to Booker T’s hair, “people like you” don’t win the championship, and telling him to “dance for me”. In the end, the heel was victorious and left a sour taste because of its uncomfortable build-up. Booker was moved back down to an Intercontinental title level following his most high-profile match in WWE.
Once you have opened the subject of racial mistreatment in the industry from fans and the warning from Ox Baker, it was a cop-out to ignore the largest promotion in the world leaning on race when it came to giving Booker T. a major WrestleMania match. It’s one thing to hear the talking heads from the WWE side defend it and come off poorly, but to completely ignore it severely affected my viewing of this portion regardless of what your standards are for these types of documentaries with WWE’s involvement.
His rise in WCW placed Harlem Heat as a prominent tag team, which they were, with unique attire that made them stand out with the easily identifiable theme music and a cornerstone of WCW’s tag division from 1993-97. Once Booker launched his singles run, it was the Television Championship runs he had in 1998 that established him as a rising player in the promotion. It is tricky to navigate Booker’s rise as a singles performer without mentioning Chris Benoit, but they managed to do it in the documentary. There was one glimpse of Benoit in the background during the closing montage reflecting on Booker’s career but that was it.
Bash at the Beach 2000 was a chapter in the documentary that I could not imagine a non-wrestling fan watching and having any other conclusion than, “this industry is beyond silly” as it sounded so ludicrous to hear all the different people describe this concept. In a nutshell, the goal was for Hulk Hogan and Booker T. to leave the pay-per-view with versions of the WCW Championship and setting up a return for Hogan with each having a claim. Where things went off the rails was Vince Russo’s promo later in the show, tearing apart Hogan, that he felt double-crossed by and led to a legitimate lawsuit filed. Hogan never returned to WCW and the company was out of business within nine months.
The idea of Booker T. winning the title was not completely out of the blue. Booker was a guest on Live Audio Wrestling the night prior and the rumors had already circulated 24 hours before Bash at the Beach that he could be winning the title, even though he was not booked for the title match in advance.
The WWE years focused on his arrival at the King of the Ring in June 2001 where Austin injured his back when Booker dropped him on the announcer’s desk, which Austin absolved Booker from stating he was sweaty and slipped on the desk. This was a big deal given that Austin was carrying the company during this era with Triple H off television due to his torn quad and Austin had not only come back from neck surgery but was having one of the best years of his career in ring.
There was no coverage of the Signature Pharmacy story from August 2007 where several WWE performers were named in a report from Sports Illustrated as purchasing substances from the online pharmacy and suspended by the company. The New York Daily News added Booker’s name to the list, and he was also suspended. Booker was adamant that he never purchased anything from Signature Pharmacy and said WWE didn’t have his back during this period. Several months later, he was let out of his contract with his wife Sharmell and he went to TNA.
If you’re watching for a deep dive into the wrestling portion of his career, you will be left unsatisfied but it’s the personal achievement of Booker that shines through. The first portion is as captivating a story as any of the A&E specials have presented. The story ended nicely with footage of his eight-year-old twins and what appears to be a wonderful family life he enjoys while staying active with his Reality of Wrestling promotion and school along with his continued affiliation with WWE.