MMA is not going to overtake pro-wrestling: WWE icon Booker T

Justin Ong

The mixed martial arts (MMA) community typically goes out of its way to avoid having the sport associated with the flashy spectacle that is professional wrestling.

As the argument goes, the scripted and rehearsed outcomes put on by companies like the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) cannot compare with the primal reality of near-bare knuckle brawling offered by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and such.

Even with WWE stars like Brock Lesnar and David Bautista straddling both sides, a haughty distance remains – and pro-wrestling legend Booker T potentially deepened the divide with recent comments on the cage-fighting scene.

On his first trip to Singapore last weekend to promote the WWE on Starhub SuperSports (TV Channel 202), the six-time world champion, whose real name is Booker Tio Huffman Jr., drew first blood by calling MMA “just a different form of entertainment”.

“It’s as real as it possibly can be,” Huffman, 48, told Yahoo Singapore. “But I wouldn’t want my kids to do it.”

The father of two-year-old twins and a son from a previous marriage went on, “I don’t think the lifespan (of MMA fighters) is very long, and you could get hurt really, really bad doing it.”

“Plus, when it’s over with, where do you go from there?” he asked.

Booker T during Wrestle Mania XX in New York, 2004. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)
Booker T during Wrestle Mania XX in New York, 2004. (Photo by KMazur/WireImage)

On the relationship between MMA and pro-wrestling, the WWE Hall-of-Famer commented: “MMA is not going to overtake wrestling. But it’s going to be around for many, many years to come.”

“It’s not ever going away, just due to the fact you’ve got a lot of young men with built-up testosterone, looking to let it out,” Huffman added. “If getting hit in the face or hitting someone in the face is the way they get to do it, that’s what they do.”

He then singled out Ronda Rousey, the UFC’s incumbent and first-ever women’s champion, describing her as someone who “couldn’t find her way in life and found it through going out and beating other girls up.”

The dread-locked, 1.9m-tall Texan native was straight-faced throughout, but broke out into mirth when asked what his career choice in WWE meant to him.

“Wrestling is Shakespeare. Phantom of the Opera. Romeo and Juliet. That’s what it is – men in tights,” he laughed.

Jail-time jolt

Huffman made his pro-wrestling debut in 1989, shortly after his release from jail for armed robbery of several Wendy’s restaurants in his hometown.

The 19-month stint behind bars was especially sobering for the young man, who grew determined to turn over a new leaf.

“I remember when I walked out of prison, the guard told me, ‘I’ll see you when you get back’,” revealed Huffman. “That motivated me like crazy to never, ever come back again.”

Personal life experiences such as these were shared with some 30 children from the StarHub-Central Singapore Nurture Programme last Saturday morning at the Singapore Management University. The volunteer-driven programme is designed to help underprivileged kids improve their English, amongst other initiatives.

[See more photos of Booker T in Singapore here]
Huffman also spoke to the raucous bunch of primary-school students on topics such as bullying and literacy.

“It’s cool getting a chance to go out and talk, instead of getting beat up,” he later joked to media.

But having grown up in trying times – he was the youngest of eight siblings, orphaned at 14 and a single father in his 20s – Huffman was dead serious when stressing the importance of reading and education.

“I look back now, I’m 48-years-old, and all the money I’ve made; places I’ve gone to; all the success and titles – none of that changes not getting a diploma,” said the WWE great known as “Booker T”.

“I just implore all kids to not wake up one day and have that feeling.”

Photos courtesy of StarHub