WWE Legend Booker T on Taking His Pro Wrestling Company to the Next Level
Booker T is among the most decorated pro wrestlers in history. Since retiring from the ring, the WWE Hall of Famer has focused even more on paying it forward and helping mold the future of the industry through his own Reality of Wrestling promotion.
Starting from humble beginnings in 2005, the Texas-based company grew exponentially thanks to Booker, wife Sharmell, and a dedicated staff wanting to learn. Today the organization produces regular events from its own venue in Booker T. World Gym Arena.
The ROW has amassed one of the biggest independent wrestling followings on YouTube with more than 128 million views and a little over half a million subscribers. Booker, who gives his hot takes co-hosting The Hall of Fame podcast and WWE pay-per-view kickoff shows, just signed a new TV deal that will bring ROW’s episodic programming to 50 additional markets across the country.
We caught up with Booker to talk about the recent exciting developments and why independent isn’t a dirty word.
When you started this venture, did you ever think it would turn into syndication?
Booker T: I did have a vision from the beginning. I wanted to start thinking about the way I started. There was a weekly course. It was $3,000. Then you ask yourself, “What did you actually learn in eight weeks?” You don’t learn a whole lot. It was a money grab, but it got my foot in the door. It worked out for me, but it didn’t work out for a lot of guys who paid that. I wanted to open a school to give someone half of a chance of making it in the business.
For the first six years of my school, I was the only trainer and teacher. I taught my students to be able to teach my other students. That way if I wasn’t around one day, it was still being carried on and the school would be there forever. Then we got bigger. We want to be something totally different. We want to be the AAA of professional wrestling where guys come to get themselves ready to actually get to that next level. With that, we’ll never go out of business because people will always be looking for that springboard.
WWE took an outlook similar to NXT by revamping it as 2.0. What’s your take on their decision to go in a new direction in regards to their identity?
I always liked the original concept of what NXT was just because I wouldn’t want to compete against myself. They are creating those guys to be major stars before getting to the main roster because once they get there, it’s sink or swim. There are also might not be the guys to come to the main roster because they are down there to grow this brand. Guys coming through and mentoring. There are many layers when I look at a farm system like that. I look at it as a farm system to get guys to the next level.
The one thing about wrestling that I like to teach my students is what not to do. That’s what I have learned from my years watching other promoters make mistakes. I try my best not to do the same. Such as not thinking I’m the smartest person in the room. If someone has a good idea, we’re going to go with that. It’s a collaboration. I might be the most experienced guy in the room as far as wrestling goes. Everyone is young and they grow old with me as staff and wrestlers, but I take their advice for where we should go. Then if the direction is not quite what I think it should go, I’ll go a different route. Everything is always a learning experience. If a guy made a mistake, I’m going to tell them why.
What kind of period in pro wrestling history are we in right now?
It’s the biggest and hottest it has been in a long time since the 1990s. The nWo era. It almost feels hotter than that. It has been bigger than it has ever been in some ways. I know when I was doing this, the independent scene wasn’t even thought about ever. Now it is so big because that is where all the talent is coming from. That is where you see the most extraordinary talent doing their work. I love it because you might say these guys are doing too much. The way I look at it is like clay. I can get them to where they need to be. I look at Will Ospreay who does everything under the sun. If I had him, I would tell him, “You do everything that you do, but there is a time and a place for it.” That’s what I look at when I deal with talent.
Your kids are getting older. Is the ROW something you want to pass down to them?
We want to pass it to the kids. We want to show the world what Texas wrestling is all about. When we landed a deal it started in Dallas. CW 33 was where it all started for us. We want to make things bigger than we ever imagined. We are creating a platform to be able to show the world what we do. We’re a small production company, but we work hard for our audience. More people are going to see independent wrestling done at a very high level.
You helped break new ground for representation as a black heavyweight champion. Today you’re doing the same as a promoter.
It’s refreshing to see so much color in professional wrestling these days and doing it their own way. I got to give them props. It’s all about them right now shining. Big E, put the rocket on him and send him straight to the moon. I’m loving it. I’m watching Bianca Belair break through that glass ceiling. Me as a promoter, I’m kind of the first black guy doing it from this perspective and opening a wrestling school for 17 years and producing all these shows. I always think about Paul Boesch. People said he’s a good dude and good to people. I want the same reputation. I have nothing to gain from this other than the ability to create. If I create something good, we’re creating something good as a team. This is the future of professional wrestling.
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