Booker T, TNA, and his Bitter WWE Departure in 2007

In October 2007, Booker T. Huffman and his wife, Sharmell, departed WWE. Just one year prior, King Booker was sat atop the pro wrestling throne reigning as WWE World Heavyweight Champion throughout the summer and autumn of 2006.

As one door closed, another was opened by Dixie Carter, who welcomed Booker T to TNA with open arms. However, his split from WWE turned out to be a rather bitter one.

King Booker T as WWE World Heavyweight Champion in 2006 (left), and Booker T during his TNA debut at Genesis 2007 (right).
King Booker T as WWE World Heavyweight Champion in 2006 (left), and Booker T during his TNA debut at Genesis 2007 (right).

Booker T Opens Up About TNA and His Bitter Departure from WWE in 2007

Booker T joined Vince McMahon’s sports-entertainment behemoth in 2001 following a stellar seven-year stint in World Championship Wrestling.

He left WCW as its final-ever world champion in his fifth reign with the big gold belt. Despite the politics and egos residing within WCW at the time, he rightly earned his position at the top of the table.

Even his maiden world title win at 2000’s Bash at The Beach pay-per-view was marred and overshadowed by backstage politics involving Hulk Hogan and Vince Russo, which crossed a line and played out in front of the WCW audience.

Hulk Hogan, Vince Russo, and the WCW Bash at the Beach 2000 Incident

On the night Booker T won his first-ever WCW World Heavyweight Championship at Bash at the Beach 2000, a backstage dispute arose between Hulk Hogan and the head of WCW creative, Vince Russo.

Hogan wanted to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship in his match against Jeff Jarrett and leave the pay-per-view as champion, but Russo wanted Jarrett to retain it and then lose it to Booker T later on that evening.

Russo told Hogan that Jarrett would lie down for him, although Jarrett wasn’t informed that it was a “work” (or scripted in advance).

Jarrett laid down in the middle of the ring when the bell rang while Russo threw the WCW World title belt into the ring, yelling at Hogan from ringside to pin Jarrett.

A visibly confused Hogan relented, placing a foot on Jarrett’s chest after getting on the microphone to vent, “Is this your idea, Russo? That’s why this company is in the d*** shape it’s in, because of bulls*** like this!”

After Hogan was announced as the new WCW World Heavyweight Champion, Jarrett quickly left the ring and made his way to the back, visibly upset by what had occurred.

Moments later, Russo returned to the ring, angrily proclaiming that this would be the last time fans would ever see “that piece of s***” [Hogan] in a WCW arena ever again.

It was, indeed, the last time Hulk Hogan was seen in WCW.

Hogan would later file a defamation of character lawsuit against Russo and WCW’s parent company, Turner/Time Warner.

The case would eventually be dropped after the trial court held that Hogan could not prove by clear and convincing evidence that Russo made his statements with actual malice.

Booker T defeats Jeff Jarrett to win his first WCW World Championship at Bash at the Beach 2000.
Booker T defeats Jeff Jarrett to win his first WCW World Championship at Bash at the Beach 2000.

Booker T Arrives at WWE

A terrific work ethic, exceptional athleticism, and pure talent saw Booker T accrue a staggering twenty singles and tag-team titles within Ted Turner’s pet project. As he bid farewell to WCW, it was time for him to test the waters in the then-WWF.

Between 2001 and 2005, Huffman engaged in some notable feuds with Stone Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, Triple H, and Chris Benoit. However, he would truly begin to make his mark on the company as part of the SmackDown! brand in 2006.

The traditional King of The Ring tournament would be the platform he needed, as a new gimmick was born when Booker T pinned Bobby Lashley in the final at the 2006 Judgment Day pay-per-view.

A King Is Born

Embracing his new sovereign role, King Booker embarked on a crusade of the blue brand.

His heel persona worked tremendously and helped carry SmackDown! for large parts of 2006, where he would often oppose WWE’s blossoming babyface superstar, Batista.

After winning a battle royal on SmackDown!, Booker gained an opportunity to wrestle Rey Mysterio for the World Heavyweight Championship at 2006’s The Great American Bash.

At the end of the match, Chavo Guerrero backstabbed Mysterio by hitting him with a steel chair. The dastardly King Booker capitalized, pinning Mysterio after the betrayal to become WWE World Heavyweight Champion.

Booker T was a world champion again and deserving of his “King of the World!” moniker. This win would also make Booker the sixteenth Triple Crown Champion and eighth Grand Slam Champion in the history of the WWE.

Booker T as WWE World Heavyweight Champion with Sharmelle in 2006.
Booker T as WWE World Heavyweight Champion with Sharmelle in 2006. [Photo: The Ringer]
Four months of glory ended at Survivor Series 2006 when a long-running feud between the King and Batista ended with The Animal capturing the world title.

The 2007 Scandal That Cost Booker T His Job with WWE in 2007

Despite Booker T appearing to be one of the company’s best heels, his star began to wane, and he fell away from the upper card. A switch to Raw in the summer of 2007 seemed to reignite The King, but in August 2007, he found himself embroiled in a scandal that would cost him his job.

The Signature Pharmacy scandal involved the Florida-based company running a network processing and delivering steroids worth millions of dollars to a list of individuals. Clients included Batista, Randy Orton, Edge, Chavo Guerrero, William Regal, and many more.

Any connection to the pharmacy implied the use of PEDs, rightly or wrongly. Even wrestlers no longer alive were implicated as clients; Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero included.

Included on the list was Booker T.

For the sake of clarity, Booker T has always denied purchasing and consuming anything illegal from the pharmacy. However, his name was connected. The fact that this wasn’t his first wellness violation made his position even more uncomfortable — so much so that he would request his release from WWE.

Bitter Feelings Remained After a New Beginning in TNA

Following his WWE departure, Booker T followed a path trodden by the vast majority of those who left the WWE, joining its closest competitor, TNA.

Without a no-compete clause in his contract, he made his debut as a surprise partner of Sting in a tag-team main-event that headlined November 2007’s Genesis pay-per-view. You can watch his memorable TNA debut below:

A bitter feeling resonated from Booker T during a conference call to promote TNA’s Turning Point pay-per-view in December 2007. I was on the call listening intently as he explained the reasoning for his departure from the WWE.

“I think the straw, for me, that broke the camel’s back was when the Signature Pharmacy thing came out. I know I had nothing to do with Signature Pharmacy,” he explained.

“I hadn’t ordered anything online, I wasn’t a part of that and I relayed that to the company. I wasn’t protected and they didn’t step up for me. So I knew it was time for me to leave that company.”

Booker continued, “Perhaps I was a scapegoat. Perhaps if I wouldn’t have said anything about it and left the company it would have looked bad on them. Maybe that’s what happened. I don’t know.”

He would even go as far as to point the finger at Mr. Vince McMahon himself when answering a follow-up question regarding why his situation soured after being linked to Signature Pharmacy.

“That comes from the top, right there,” Booker said. “You can’t just pick out a bunch of guys that have no name and punish them; you’ve got to have somebody in there with some credibility to give yourself some credibility.”

A rumor on the grapevine at the time was that Booker became upset that the WWE wouldn’t incorporate his PWA (Pro Wrestling Alliance) promotion into the company as a developmental territory.

He also described how he’d asked for his release earlier in 2007, possibly due to understandably yearning for a reduced schedule that TNA could ultimately offer.

With his big push as world champion over, he felt it was time to sample new ventures within and outside the sports-entertainment bubble.

“I took it as far as I possibly could. I became King of the WWE and the ratings went up with me as King Booker,” he boasted. “That wasn’t something I wanted to do for the rest of my career. I was playing a role and hopefully Hollywood had a chance to see how good I really was and I’ll get some calls here real soon.”

The five-time (“FIVE-TIME!”) WCW World Heavyweight Champion spoke of TNA’s tremendous talent and specified his hope of wrestling with AJ Styles, Kazarian, and Bobby Roode, who he would subsequently work.

“I’ve been there with the Jeff Jarrett’s, the Sting’s, the Scott Hall’s and the Kevin Nash’s. I’ve been around the block. It’s a new chapter for Booker T, and I’m looking forward to it.

“A lot of those [younger] guys admire me and look up to me. I want to keep it that way and let them see me in a certain light and let them know I’m there for them.”

Another aspect of his move to Orlando was his desire to be a part of TNA’s “inner workings.” It was something he’d dabbled in while in WWE, but it had left a somewhat bitter taste.

“In my last two months with WWE, I was in all the production meetings for pay-per-views and on Monday nights,” he recalled.

“I had moved up to that position. Once I got to that position I realised I didn’t want to be in that position (laughs) at that time and with that company. I saw a lot of things I wish I hadn’t saw, but then again I wish I did because it opened my eyes.”

Departing the WWE on such negative terms would lead the fans, at the time, to believe that he would never set foot in the WWE again. As often happens in the wacky world of professional wrestling – things change.

Huffman would stay with TNA until 2010, a primarily underwhelming run after initial lofty expectations but still incorporating one tag team championship run alongside Scott Steiner and a run as the inaugural TNA Legends Champion. It was a largely forgotten about tenure when looking back on his Hall-of-Fame career.

By 2011, Booker T was back on SmackDown! as a color commentator, and he would also occasionally set foot inside the ropes to rekindle his glory days. A career as an on-screen personality suits Booker’s charisma, and his in-ring career is fondly remembered by those who witnessed his prime in the ’90s and ’00s.

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Ian Aldous is a former boxing writer who covered the sport for BoxingNews24.com for a decade and currently represents the International Boxing Organization as a fight supervisor. He briefly covered pro wrestling in the late 2000s for WrestlingNewsWorld.com and the PWB Podcast before finding a home for his work on Pro Wrestling Stories. He can be reached by e-mail at: ian@prowrestlingstories.com