Booker T is one of the most decorated professional wrestlers in history. Since stepping out of the ring, WWE Hall of Famer has focused even more on paying forward and helping shape the future of the industry through its own Reality of Wrestling promotion. .
From humble beginnings in 2005, the Texas-based company has grown exponentially thanks to Booker, his wife Sharmell, and a dedicated staff eager to learn. Today, the organization hosts regular events from its own site at Booker T. World Gym Arena.
The ROW has amassed one of the largest independent wrestling followers on YouTube with over 128 million views and just over half a million subscribers. Booker, who gives his shots in co-accommodation Hall of fame WWE podcast and pay-per-view launch 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 exciting recent developments and why independent isn’t a dirty word.
When you started this business, did you ever think it would turn into syndication?
Booker T: I had a vision from the start. I wanted to start thinking about how I started. There was a weekly class. It was $ 3,000. Then you ask yourself, “What did you really learn in eight weeks?” You don’t learn much. It was a seizure of money, but it put my foot in the door. It worked for me, but it didn’t work for a lot of the guys who paid for it. I wanted to open a school to give someone half a chance to be successful in the business.
For the first six years of my school, I was the only coach and teacher. I taught my students to be able to teach my other students. That way, if I wasn’t there someday, it would go on and the school would be here forever. Then we got bigger. We want to be something totally different. We want to be the AAA of pro wrestling where the guys come to prepare to take it to that next level. With this we will never go bankrupt because people will always be looking for that stepping stone.
WWE took a similar perspective to NXT by revamping it to 2.0. What do you think of their decision to go in a new direction when it comes to their identity?
I’ve always liked the original concept of what NXT was just because I didn’t want to compete with myself. They create these guys to be major stars before they get to the main roster because once they’re there, it’s sink or swim. There also might not be the guys to come on the main roster because they are there to develop this brand. The guys who come and the mentoring. There are several levels when I look at a farming system like this. I see it as a farming system to take guys to the next level.
You have truly taken up the torch of Texan wrestling lit by legendary promoter Paul Boesch. What have you learned from your decades of working with Vince McMahon and Eric Bischoff?
The only thing about wrestling that I love to teach my students is what not to do. This is what I have learned from my years of watching other promoters make mistakes. I try my best not to do the same. Like not thinking I’m the smartest person in the room. If anyone has a good idea, we’ll go for it. It is a complicity. I am perhaps the most experienced guy in the room when it comes to wrestling. Everyone is young and growing old with me as staff and wrestlers, but I take their advice on where to go. Then if the steering isn’t quite what I think it should be going, I’ll take a different route. Everything is always a learning experience. If a guy made a mistake, I’ll tell him why.
What period in the history of professional wrestling are we in right now?
It’s the biggest and hottest it’s been in a long time since the 1990s. The nWo era. It’s almost hotter than that. He’s been taller than he’s ever been in some ways. I know when I was doing that, we didn’t even think about the indie scene. Now it’s so big because that’s where all the talent comes from. This is where you see the most extraordinary talents doing their jobs. I love it because you could tell these guys are doing too much. The way I look at him is like clay. I can get them where they need to be. I watch Will Ospreay who does everything under the sun. If I had it, I would tell him, “You do whatever you do, but there is a time and a place for it.” This is what I look at when I deal with talent.
Your children are getting older. Is the ROW something you want to pass on to them?
We want to pass it on to the children. We want to show the world what Texan 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 are doing. We’re a small production company, but we work hard for our audience. More and more people are going to see independent wrestling being practiced at a very high level.
You helped innovate for representation as a black heavyweight champion. Today you are doing the same as a promoter.
It’s refreshing to see so many colors in pro wrestling these days and to do it their way. I have to give them props. It’s all about them that’s shining right now. Big E, put the rocket on him and send him straight to the moon. I love that. I watch Bianca Belair smash that glass ceiling. Me as a promoter, I’m kind of the first black guy to do that from this perspective and to open a wrestling school for 17 years and to produce all these shows. I always think of Paul Boesch. People said he was a good guy and that he was good with people. I want the same reputation. I have nothing to gain from it except the ability to create. If I create something good, we create something good as a team. This is the future of professional wrestling.
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