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Don’t Hate The Player, Hate The Game

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From the fall of 1993 to late 1997, Booker T was part of the highly successful team Harlem Heat with his brother Stevie Ray. During that span, the duo won the WCW World Tag Team Championships seven times. Over that period, many fans and experts were starting to notice Booker T for his in-ring style and noted he just needed a way to breakthrough on his own.

When Stevie Ray got injured in late ’97, Booker T was left on his own and he took full advantage of the opportunity. Booker didn’t waste much time capturing gold as a singles wrestler when he defeated Disco Inferno on the December 29th Nitro to win his first WCW Television Championship. It wouldn’t take long for Booker to connect with the fans and often times Booker had the entire arena “raising the roof.”

Booker would trade the WCW Television Championship with Rick Martel in early ’98. He also successfully defended against Eddie Guerreor at Uncensored. The most notable achievement Booker had during the first half of ’98 was the first best of seven series he had with Chris Benoit. The series of matches gained a lot of traction and their matches on pay per view delivered incredible action. They competed on pay per view at Spring Stampede in April and the finals of the best of seven at the Great American Bash in June. Booker would win both matches, which were both very entertaining. They would have another best of seven in the WWE years later, but the WCW version is far more memorable.

The rise of Booker T was in full force and the former tag team specialist had plenty of momentum. So, naturally, WCW decides to bring him back down to earth and have Booker compete against Bret Hart at Bash at the Beach in July, which ended with a Booker win by disqualification. Shortly after the match, Booker would go on the disabled list with a bad knee.

Booker would return in 1999 and quickly find his footing with victories over Chris Jericho, Disco Inferno at Superbrawl IX and a television win over Bret Hart on February 22nd edition of Nitro. Booker’s rise continued when he won the WCW Television Championship at Uncensored against Scott Steiner.

The Harlem Hangover.

The Harlem Hangover.

The biggest singles win for Booker up to this point.

The biggest singles win for Booker up to this point.

His WCW TV Championship reign would end at Slamboree following a heel turn by Rick Steiner. After a promising first half to 1999 and Booker proving to be a singles star for WCW, he was put back in his tag team with Stevie Ray. At first, the reunion of Harlem Heat appeared to have generated some interest. They would win the WCW World Tag Team Championships at Road Wild in August ’99 when they defeated Bam-Bam Bigelow and Kanyon at the event.

Their title reign lasted all of nine days before losing to Barry Windham and Kendall Windham, but regained the titles at Fall Brawl in September. That rent lasted thirty six days when they lost to Konnan and Rey Mysterio on October 18th, but regained the titles at Halloween Havoc only to lose them the next night on Nitro for the final reign together. The constant title reigns is a good way to destroy a team.

For the next several months Booker would enter a feud with Stevie Ray, which would involve the usage of “T” in his name. Stevie would win the rights to the letter and thus Booker would be known simply as Booker. For the first several months in 2000, Booker would be lost in the shuffle teaming with Billy Kidman on occasion and having seemingly zero direction. He even wrestled as GI Bro for a brief time.

Booker T as GI Bro.

Booker T as GI Bro.

However, despite six months of zero direction and being horribly misused, Booker’s career would finally get the recognition it had long deserved and probably should have obtained during the 1999 year. Instead, Booker T got his moment on July 9th, 2000 at Bash at the Beach live on pay per view. But, there is a little backstory that needs to be noted prior to the continuation of Booker’s rise in WCW.

Earlier in the night, WCW World Champion laid down for Hulk Hogan that was supposed to lead to a long-term angle orchestrated by Eric Bischoff, Hogan and Vince Russo. Instead, when Hogan and Bischoff left the arena, Russo cut a scathing promo insulting Hogan and his creative control and went into business for himself. Instead, Russo was giving the chance to a deserving man, Booker T to challenge Jeff Jarrett for the WCW World Championship. Earlier in the night, Booker had lost a singles match to Chris Kanyon, which would never be mentioned.

In a career defining moment, Booker T won his first WCW World Championship when he pinned Jeff Jarrett. Booker was a full fledge “WCW guy” who won the big one. He quickly became a popular main event act for WCW and part of some memorable moments that will be noted shortly.

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Booker’s first month as champion would see Booker regularly defend the championship against the top WCW talents including Mike Awesome, Shane Douglas, and Goldberg. Booker T pinned Goldberg to hand the megastar a rare televised lost on the July 24th edition of Nitro. The following week, Booker would defeat another icon for WCW when he pinned Sting on July 31st.

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The month of August would see Booker fight off the challenge of a triple crown champion, Lance Storm on August 7th. Had Storm won, he would have held all the singles championship WCW had to offer at the time. Booker successfully defended the championship for the first time on pay per view by pinning Jeff Jarrett at New Blood Rising. Booker’s reign would hit a snag as he would be pinned by Kevin Nash on August 28th thanks in large part of Nash aligning himself with Vince Russo, Jeff Jarrett and Scot Steiner.

It wouldn’t take long for Booker to regain the WCW World Championship when he defeated Kevin Nash inside a steel cage at Fall Brawl to start his second reign. However, it would again last only eight days when he would lose… I can’t believe I’m typing this, but, he would lose to Vince Russo in a steel cage on September 25th when Goldberg speared Russo through the cage to give the head writer the WCW World Championship.

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The angle lasted less than a week as Vince Russo vacated the championship. The following week on Nitro, Booker regained the championship in a match against Jeff Jarrett where they had to open boxes in the corner. In a matter of three months, Booker had been champion three times already. This was a time when WCW needed a long-term champion to bring interest to the championship and the constant title reigns hurt Booker’s image as he was not an established main event act in the company.

By October, Booker would enter an intense feud with Scott Steiner that would last until the demise of World Championship Wrestling. Their first match at Halloween Havoc would end with a disqualification, but they would meet the next month at Mayhem in a Caged Heat match, which was their own version of Hell in a Cell. Steiner won the championship and Booker was written off due to injuries.

Booker wouldn’t return to competition until February 2001. He would win the WCW United States Championship from Rick Steiner at the final WCW pay per view Greed. On the last Nitro on March 26th, 2001, Booker would win his forth and final WCW World Championship by pinning Scott Steiner on the program. Booker would win his fifth championship while wrestling in the WWF for the InVasion.

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Personally, the rise of Booker T in WCW was a sight to see. I remember really enjoying his run from late 1997 to mid 1999. His derailment in late 1999 to mid 2000 had me lose interest in him, but that all faded when he won the WCW World Championship. I had always enjoyed Booker’s work and he was more than capable of putting on some great matches as proven with his series with Chris Benoit and matches with Chris Jerico and Eddie Guerrero in 1998 and 1999.

1999 was a year that WCW was struggling with the emergence of various stars in the WWF and their edgy style. WCW couldn’t break their habit of putting the belt on older guys like Hogan, Nash or Savage during that time. The WWF was firing on all cylinders with younger more charismatic and fresh talents taking over. Could you imagine a WCW were guys like Booker, Benoit, Jericho and Eddie Guerrero were fighting for the WCW World Championship? That would have been on point with the likes of Austin, HHH, Rock and others, at least in-ring wise.

I’ll forever think his rise to the top was just a year too late, but at least it happened and he was able to win the big one in the major promotion that he started off in on a national stage. Booker is also one of the few guys involved in the InVasion angle that would have a substantial run in the WWF and have a lot of success. He was simply one of the greats that came out WCW. A lot of people like to talk about Flair and Sting as the greats in WCW, as they should be, but I think Booker T deserves some credit for his matches during the dying days of WCW.

What are you memories of Booker T? Did you enjoy his rise to the top of WCW?

Thanks for reading.

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