“I can tell you, if WWE asked me to come back and do a match, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” said Booker T. 

By Justin Barrasso
October 18, 2018

SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath the surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.

Booker T Open to Wrestling One More Match

Booker T is ready for one more match. And, in an ideal scenario, the setting would be WrestleMania.

“I can tell you, if WWE asked me to come back and do a match, I’d do it in a heartbeat,” said Booker, who returned to WWE on Tuesday night to call the New Day’s tag team defense against The Bar on SmackDown 1000. “Preparation is the only luck I’ve ever had in my career, and if they asked, I’d be prepared.”

The 53-year-old Booker Huffman last wrestled in 2015 when he tagged with his brother Stevie Ray to reform Harlem Heat in a match for his Reality of Wrestling promotion. But he has kept himself in tremendous condition and free of ring rust courtesy of countless hours over the past three years in the ring with students at his wrestling school.

“My thing has always been preparation,” said Booker. “When I was a performer on the roster as one of the guys on a weekly, full-time schedule, I was always prepared,” said Booker. “When the Television title came my way in WCW, it was all because Rick Martel didn’t bring his boots. And then I heard, ‘Hey Book, we need you to step in and do this match.’ Then, when I stepped in the ring with Jeff Jarrett to win the heavyweight championship [at Bash at the Beach 2000], it was my time, and I was prepared for it.

“So if WWE was to ask me to do a match today, I would be prepared for it. This is my life, this is what I do. I’m in a good place right now. My Reality of Wrestling is going really well, my school is doing really well, my Heated Conversations radio show is doing really well, so I’m in a great place right now, but why not do it if you still can?”

A tailor-made storyline for Booker could be ignited by tapping into his past. He served 19 months in prison for two counts of aggravated robbery, committing the crime as a 22-year-old in 1987, and the theme of overcoming adversity is universally understood as well as a significant part of his life.

Booker’s rise to superstardom was not easy. The youngest of eight children, both of Booker’s parents were deceased by the time he was 13.

He learned from his mistakes, transforming himself from a lost, desperate kid into a proud husband and father. He is still writing his story, proving that there are few boundaries that cannot be conquered with hard work.

“My son and my daughter are twins, they’re eight years old, and it’s important for me to let my children know they can do anything,” said Booker. “There are no barriers and there is no glass ceiling when you put in the work.”

An unrelenting work ethic and unparalleled amount of charisma propelled Booker to a spot in the WWE Hall of Fame. He was asked about fellow member Hulk Hogan’s controversial reinstatement into the Hall of Fame.

“There is not a building for the Hall of Fame, but the Hall is a very real thing,” said Booker. “When guys get a chance to go on this journey and thank those fans for that ride, that’s extremely real. It means a lot for those of us who have gone on that journey, and Hogan is one of those guys who has gone on that journey.

“If people still judged me from what I did 30 years ago, I would not be where I am now. But someone, a guy by the name of Bruce Gasarch, trusted me. He said, ‘Man, I’m going to give you a chance.’ And that’s all I needed. Now I still have my broom, and I carry it around to sweep up all the dirt and trash I’ve left behind in my past. Hulk is also going to have to carry that broom in his back pocket and atone for his mistakes. That’s the only thing we can do as human beings. Was the reinstatement right, was it wrong? That’s always going to be up for debate, but I think it’s time to move on.”

Booker also touched on the state of his mayoral bid in Houston. His past transgressions have not helped his campaign for the upcoming 2019 election.

“My name is still in the hat, but with my past, I’ve run into a few bumps in the road,” said Booker. “And time is ticking. But I can honestly say that, whether it happens now or later, my ultimate goal is that mayoral seat in Houston.”

Booker has spent his adult life making a genuine impact in society, something he will continue to do with or without another match at WrestleMania or the title of mayor.

“Success starts in the household and with education,” said Booker. “Our young men and young women need dads in their lives. There are a lot of dads out there who do their job, but there are a lot of dads who are not in the house. We plant that seed and then a lot of times we walk away. That’s something we really need to talk about. Those young men in Chicago who are growing up without a father? The gang is their family, and we wonder why we can’t fix that problem.”

The wrestling world—and humankind—is a much kinder place when Booker T. Huffman is involved.

“It starts from the beginning,” said Booker. “When fathers are actually in the household and more families are educating their children, then our society will be a whole lot better.”

Harley Race Happy to See Cody Rhodes Hold NWA Title

Harley Race won his first NWA world’s title in 1973 when he defeated Dory Funk Jr. in Kansas City.

That same championship will be on the line this Sunday as Cody Rhodes defends it in an All In rematch against former champ Nick Aldis at the NWA 70th Anniversary show, and Rhodes’s title reign has caught the attention of the legendary Race.

“If Cody keeps on at it, he’ll continue going in the right direction,” said Race. “Each and every person picks out his own spot, and that’s what Cody has went and done. He’s doing good. I’m sure Dusty would be very proud of him.”

The 75-year-old Race had an air of believability as a wrestler, and still carries a breathtaking ability to awe and intimidate years after his career ended. He touched upon the heavy responsibility of a world champion, which Rhodes is currently doing for the rejuvenated NWA.

“People that were watching me noticed I was the same from word go until I had to get out,” said Race. “I just tried to keep myself in that type of position all the way through my career. Once I made up my mind that this was what I was going to do, I decided I was going to do it damn well.”

Race is still recovering from a fall in May of 2017 that broke both of his legs and has kept him largely confined to a wheelchair.

“I’m getting along pretty decent right now,” said Race. “I can get out of the wheelchair and move around, but I prefer to coast around in the chair so I don’t hurt my legs.”

Race’s World Wrestling League promotion, which is available to watch online, holds its next television taping this Saturday. He is also still a part of the Harley Race Wrestling Academy.

Wrestling remains in Race’s blood, which is hardly any surprise for those who have witnessed the way in which he loved, dedicated himself, and protected the business. His passion was most apparent when asked what he missed most about wrestling.

“I miss the whole damn thing,” said Race. “I got it going here at the school, but it’s nothing compared to what it’s like when you are world’s champion and you’re running everywhere around the world that has wrestling. The travel, the comradery, I miss all of it.”

In other news…

• The WWE has somehow found itself mired in the center of a political controversy. The Saudi Arabian government’s alleged murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi placed a spotlight on the country’s history of human rights abuses immediately before WWE’s upcoming “Crown Jewel” show on Nov. 2 in Riyadh.

wrestling
WWE Talent Is Uncomfortable With Saudi Arabia Show—And They Should Be

HBO’s John Oliver criticized WWE’s relationship on his weekly “Last Week Tonight” program, and the bad publicity surrounding the event is a hit to the tremendous amount of positive publicity WWE receives from its incredible amount of charitable endeavors.

The temporary solution, which was on full display this past Raw and SmackDown, is to simply refer to the show as “Crown Jewel” and omit any details about taking place in Saudi Arabia.

WWE would be applauded for a decision to postpone the show in a situation that extends far deeper than pro wrestling. In the interim, moving the card to the Survivor Series would be the easiest creative fix.

• WWE delivered on its 1,000th episode of SmackDown this week, combining a unique blend of its past and present—including a rare appearance from Vince McMahon.

The Evolution reunion allowed Triple H, Ric Flair, Randy Orton, and Batista a chance to share the ring together in 2018, and Batista took full advantage of his first cameo on live WWE programming in over four years.

His promo was honest, funny, and connected with the crowd as the type of content that makes WWE so compelling. Rey Mysterio also defeated Shinsuke Nakamura in his return match to enter the World Cup Tournament at the “Crown Jewel” show before SmackDown concluded with The Undertaker telling Triple H and Shawn Michaels to “Rest In Peace”.

But the highlight of the night was the interaction between Edge and Becky Lynch. There is currently no better character in WWE than Lynch, and her blatant dismissal of Edge’s advice, as well as her ensuing brawl with Charlotte Flair, served as a reminder of what allows SmackDown to reverberate in 2018.

• AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, and The Miz are currently vying for the WWE title, with Styles and Bryan set to clash in a dream match at the “Crown Jewel” show in Saudi Arabia.

At first glance, The Miz seems like the outlier alongside Styles and Bryan. Upon closer inspection, Miz represents the perfect choice of the three to wear the WWE championship.

The wrestling business is all about timing and entertainment, as well as a timed and tested history of a heel wearing the gold while the valiant babyface chases the champ. “Stone Cold” Steve Austin may be the most famous example, as his longest title reign as a babyface lasted 91 days; far more suspense grew out of his chase for the belt.

Miz is the right fit for WWE champion. He has already tapped into Styles’ inability to main event pay per views, which is no fault of his own but remains a phenomenal insult to hurl at the champ. Miz can hold onto the title until WrestleMania, lose the title in a highly-anticipated match against Daniel Bryan, while Styles (hopefully) moves toward his destiny: a WrestleMania match against “Mr. WrestleMania” himself, Shawn Michaels.

• The woman behind the “Bad Boy” Joey Janela? Penelope Ford.

Some of wrestling’s most compelling stories are the ones that are the most realistic. And every facet of Ford—starting with her working-class background in Philadelphia, the manner in which she has toiled and sweated over the past four years in wrestling, and her hunger to prove herself—will be on display this Sunday as the FITE Network airs the NWA 70th Anniversary Show that features Ford challenging Jazz for the NWA world women’s championship.

“This is a huge opportunity,” said Ford. “I’m going to show Jazz something she’s never experienced before with my gymnastics background. I’m nervous but I’m ready.”

Ford has been tossed into barbed-wire tables, taken wild bumps, and even stole the spotlight with her spot in the Joey Janela-Hangman Page match at All In.

The 26-year-old now has the chance to reach a new plateau this Sunday. Though the title has lineage that dates back to 1935, not much attention has been placed on the championship since the Fabulous Moolah sold the title to the WWF in 1983. New NWA owner Billy Corgan is planning to highlight women’s wrestling, beginning with this match on Sunday.

“I wrestle because I love this,” said Ford. “But I never expected to go so far.”

Ford is most recognizable as the cornerman for Joey Janela, but the pair are also real-life relational partners. Naturally, the two met in the ring.

“I met Joey through wrestling,” said Ford. “We had to wrestle each other something like 12 times, and that led to an instant connection.”

Her start in the business four years ago was serendipitous. After six years as a gymnast and another eight in competitive cheerleading, Ford attended a CZW show with a friend. Her friend had designs on becoming a pro wrestler, and made Ford promise to go to a tryout with her.

“That’s how I started,” said Ford. “I fell in love with it and quit cheerleading for pro wrestling.”

Some of the most recognizable non-WWE moments of this past summer feature Ford’s fingerprints. Her work in the Beyond Wrestling “Americanrana ’18” show in a no rope barbed wire match led to an incredible spot when she was tossed into the barbed wire (“I was expecting it to hurt, but it hurt way more than I was expecting,” said Ford), as well as her in-ring interaction with—and Stone Cold Stunner on—Hangman Page at All In.

“All the women from the show shared the locker room together at All In,” said Ford. “We were all so nervous and excited. It was all great vibes, but I didn’t know what to expect. I thought we were going to be the first match, and then I waited. My adrenaline was building and building, and when we were finally out there, it just felt so right. I was so excited for Joey, it was such a huge moment for him.”

Janela is about to begin a long recovery after a near-tear of his PCL and a complete tear of his MCL. Ford has grieved with her boyfriend over the roadblock in his career, and she is now ready to embark on a new journey of her own.

“I feel a lot of pressure,” said Ford. “Joey asked me to carry his torch. Am I going to be able to do it? Joey has helped me get where I am now, and I want to make him proud.”

Janela is unlikely to be at the NWA show this Sunday, as his surgery was pushed back and doctors have advised him not to fly. Ford, on the other hand, will be traveling nonstop.

Her incredibly busy stretch kicked off Wednesday morning with a flight to California, where she wrestled that night in Bar Wrestling’s “Breastlemania” women’s show that will benefit the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She then flew straight to New York City for Thursday’s A Matter of Pride show, which is a promotion showcasing LBGTQ performers and their allies, before traveling to Virginia on Friday for NOVA Pro Wrestling’s Sadie Hawkins tag team invitational.

All her work leads to this Sunday’s NWA Anniversary show, which represents the single most noteworthy moment of her young career. She spent Tuesday night in the same way she spends most every night: training and preparing to seize the moment.

“I drive an hour to training and then train for two hours,” said Ford, who may attract viewers with her beauty but keeps them mesmerized with a combination of talent and charisma. “There is a lot more to me than what is on the outside, and I’m going to show that on Sunday.”

• Gabe Sapolsky’s EVOLVE is in a transition period.

Matt Riddle has departed for NXT. WWN champion Joey Janela is out for the next year due to injury, and other roster changes include the longest-tenured member of the roster in Tracy Williams leaving for Ring of Honor and Stokely Hathaway heading to Major League Wrestling.

But the heart of the company is still beating, and a new WWN champion will be crowned in a ladder match on Oct. 28 at a show in Ybor City, Florida.

EVOLVE still has a working relationship with WWE. The worldwide leader in pro wrestling is sending 205 Live star Mustafa Ali to EVOLVE for their November 9 card in Livonia, Michigan as well as a show the following night in Chicago.

A part of EVOLVE’s future worth watching will be the promotion’s decision to move away from its trademark grappling, pure wrestling style of action.

• Beyond Wrestling hit a phenomenal landmark this past Monday, as its YouTube channel reached 1,000,000 subscribers.

“Even a year ago, this seemed like a completely unattainable goal,” said Beyond owner Drew Cordeiro. “It’s taken us nine-and-a-half years to get to this point, but now I feel like it’s only the beginning.”

Starting this past February, Beyond began posting eight-to-twelve new videos per week on YouTube, and the surge in views took place after their WrestleMania weekend intergender show.

“We wanted to utilize the platform to the best of our ability,” said Cordeiro, who is extremely humble yet undeniably one of the most creative people in pro wrestling. “For us, the quality needs to match the quantity, and it was a mixture of putting up free matches, preview clips, and promos.

“The match between Kimber Lee and Keith Lee really kickstarted numbers for us. This has happened a lot sooner than we expected. Saving matches to drive DVD sales is an outdated mentality, and the amount of subscribers has made it easier for us to put entire shows up for free. Our biggest audience is, undeniably, YouTube.”

Cordeiro’s next show is “WWR vs. The World”, which is a product of Women’s Wrestling Revolution and runs only a few hours before—and approximately 25 miles away—from WWE’s all-women’s Evolution pay per view on Long Island on Sunday, October 28. The following Wednesday, on Halloween, Beyond Wrestling presents “It’s Alive” in Worcester, Massachusetts with a card featuring PCO, Joey Ryan, and Kimber Lee. In the coming weeks, Cordeiro plans to post an array of the matches on their YouTube channel.

“Social media is constantly changing, so to try and stay ahead of the curve for the past decade, we’ve constantly reinvented ourselves without deviating too much from the elements of pro wrestling that have proven to work,” said Cordeiro. “We have remained successful because we are one of the few to find a way to balance all of those elements.”

The next goal for Beyond? Two million subscribers.

But Cordeiro, before looking ahead to the future, took a step back to credit his fans as the backbone of Beyond Wrestling.

“I’m extremely grateful,” said Cordeiro. “That is the reason why I am so hard on the product—to make sure that the people who are supporting us are getting the best show and best value for their money. If you’re devoting the time to watch our content, I want to make sure it’s worth your time.

“To show my gratitude, we’ve released Americanrana ’18, which was our biggest and best show to date. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be releasing previously unreleased matches and moments on our YouTube channel that feature historical moments in Beyond history that helped us get to where we are almost ten years after we started.”

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If you are not already reading Kayfabe News, then this story is certainly a good place to start.

Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.

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