For several years now people have debated the difference between sports and entertainment. Some say the former is the latter, but purists argue otherwise. There's a fine line between the two, they say. Meanwhile, the WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) sees no line and, indeed, blends them together in a volatile cocktail of action, melodrama and a bit of T&A. A lot of young people have helped swell the fan base of the WWE in the past decade, something that has traditional sports leagues feeling uneasy.
"I took my kid to a Bengals' game," says wrestling fan Danny Smith of Westwood, "and he wasn't into it at all. Him and his friends ended up throwing peanuts at the police."
WWE Smackdown! draws about 5.5 million viewers on UPN. That isn't impressive until you factor in that it's up against both Friends and Survivor, two shows that regularly finish in the top five, often first and second.
Still, serious sports fans like to poke fun at the wrestling circuit. But it's WWE President Vince McMahon's posse that will be laughing all the way to the U.S. Bank Arena on Monday.
Among the participants in the mayhem will be Texas-born Booker T, who actually came over from the WCW, WWE's former rival. He was a seven-time champion with that circuit, and one would expect a little extra pounding from the veteran WWE guys.
"There's a lot of egos involved when you've got a lot of men around," Booker T says. "But I'm a competitor, I want to steal the show. I just wanted to come here and prove something."
And prove something he has. Not only has he appeared in commercials for Chef Boyardee, he has also made an appearance on Charmed, the WB series. His acting ability, however, isn't something he just stumbled on to.
"Actually I didn't play any sports in high school," he explains. "I was a drummer, a break dancer, I was into drama, theater, acting and whatnot. Wrestling I got into kind of late, when I was 25 years old."
He happened upon it when his brother announced he was going to wrestling school. Booker T was working at a storage company and didn't have the $3,000 to sign-up. His boss, wanting to see the young man succeed, ponied up the dough. The acting background, of course, has come in handy in the highly theatrical WWE.
"I'm sure it's helped me in this business," he says. "Me being the clown around the house and trying to make everybody laugh has really come to the forefront now as far as me being in the WWE and being one of the most charismatic and funny people you're going to see on the show, as well one of the most athletic guys."
Wrestling, obviously, is a rough business.
"Our training regimen is totally different," he says. "Football and basketball players have an off-season. Wrestling is different. We're on the road 200-plus dates a year. It's grueling, and something the human body isn't meant to be doing."
Injury is pretty common, he says. "Hurt is one thing, but being injured is another. Being able to work hurt is something you're expected to be able to do here. Just suck it up and get the work done."
Booker T talks about getting out of pro wrestling soon, a la Robert Smith and the NFL
"I just have a few more goals to accomplish," he says, adding that after he bids the ring farewell he plans to devote more time to his clothing and music store, as well as his acting career. He'll also spend more time following his son Brandon's career as a highly touted high school basketball player.
For now, Booker T will do battle with the rest of the WWE superstars before a rabid crowd in Cincinnati. "Every town is wild, because all of these guys are giving 100 percent, and the fans give it back tenfold." ©