The life of Robert Booker Tio Huffman has been full of stages, from his early problems with the law as a young adult, to becoming one of the most recognized figures in sports entertainment.
Known in the wrestling business as Booker T., Huffman had to overcome the death of both his parents as a teen and then getting in trouble with the law, when he spent 19 months in jail for armed robbery. This could have thrown anyone to the wrong path, but the 52-year-old Houston native learned his lesson and changed his life.
He became a successful wrestler in both WCW and WWE, won various world titles and eventually became a Hall of Famer. At present, he is one of the color commentators on the company's flagship program, Monday Night Raw, which gives him great exposure.
"You know, it's gratifying to be able to change my levels in life. You don't want to be in one place forever, and for me, I had a chance to move to the next stage of life," Huffman said. "So many of us wrestlers get caught in one place. For me, I went at 30 years old and knew how well it felt to retire and see what was like on the other side, enjoy the fruits of the labor and now doing commentary is awesome and in my wrestling school I still have a chance to live vicariously through my wrestling students."
One of Huffman's greatest satisfactions is to be able to give back to the youth, specifically, telling them not to go walk in the wrong side of the law. He was able to do this when he published his autobiography, "Booker T: From Prison to Promise," in 2012.
"I have an obligation more than anything. I was young, like a lot of people are right now, making mistakes," said Huffman. "Was young once upon a time looking for that person to look up to. Muhammad Ali was my idol and I always say, if Muhammad Ali had told me the exact same thing my mother, the principal, the security guard, my brothers ... you know, the same thing they were telling me that I didn't listen to, I would have listened, just because it came from Muhammad Ali."
His 26 years in the business and the recognition from working in two of the main wrestling companies gave Huffman the necessary exposure to try to get across his message. If he can only get to one kid with similar problems of his own when he was younger it will be rewarding to the former wrestler.
"Now I'm in that same position, kids walking in the same shoes I was walking once upon a time, take it a little bit different coming from someone like myself," explains Huffman. "Their dad telling them is a little bit different than Booker T. telling them and hopefully I'll be that beacon of life, hopefully I'll be that Muhammad Ali for that one kid out there."
His brother Stevie Ray was vital, both in the personal and professional side of his life. He was the one who helped him get back on track by taking him to a wrestling school run by Ivan Putski. There, both brothers learned the ropes of the business and had their first run as Ebony Experience, only to morph later into Harlem Heat.
"Oh man, first part of my career was awesome. Having my big brother Steve Ray, he's my blood brother, my real brother, having him watch my back for nearly 10 years in WCW," said Huffman.
His next stage was influenced by Hall of Famer Sheri Martell, who was their valet during their WCW run. Huffman points out that she was the one, together with his brother, that laid the foundation for him to become a big star.
"It was a great ride, 10-time world tag team champion with my brother and then to work with Sheri Martell back in the days, you know, a dream come true," said Huffman. "I always say that Sheri Martell was that one thing that put Harlem Heat on the map, made us a legitimate tag team. We took it from there, after that, the singles career."
Having six world titles to go along with his tag team gold, as well as gimmicks as King Booker and Book Dust, where he had a run with Goldust (Dustin Runnels) as WWE world tag team champions, have all been great. His greatest moment, though, was when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.
"Getting the ring, the Hall of Fame ring, going to the trenches," said Huffman. "You know, we are like soldiers, we are bruised, battered and torn. ... For me, going to the trenches, WCW, WWE, seeing it all, now being able to give back, you know, becoming a Hall of Famer, thanking the fans for this long ride as well as my wife, for being a big, big part of it. I think that's been my biggest and better achievement."
In 2019, Huffman will try climb one more stage when he runs for mayor of Houston, something he admits will complete his cycle of life.
"Perhaps, 20 years from now, a lot of young people are going to be making decisions as how the landscape is going to look like as opposed to young people being a part of the problem. I want to be a part of the solution."