In the second of a six-part series examining the private life of wrestling star Booker T, the WWE legend and his son offer a raw, unflinching look at their struggle to remain a family — and the crime that drove them apart.
Emerging from an adolescence marked by poverty, drugs and jail time, Booker T went on to become one of the biggest stars in sports entertainment. But even as his career in the ring flourished, his journey as a father to his oldest son, Brandon Terrell Huffman, was characterized by clashes between the two headstrong men. As Brandon grew older and his actions grew more serious, the bond between the two would stretch to its breaking point — and well beyond.
Here, in their own words, is an unvarnished look at their tumultuous relationship, from Booker’s attempts to warn Brandon off a life of crime to Brandon’s longstanding resentments over his father’s tough love. The two couldn’t be more different — or more alike.
1989: After serving 19 months for an armed robbery, 24-year-old Booker T. Huffman is released from prison, determined not to repeat the mistakes of the past. He settles into a steady job at a warehouse while fighting for custody of Brandon, his five-year-old son who had been admitted into foster care after his mother, Angela, turned him over to the Texas protective services system.
Brandon: I was in the foster care system for about seven months by that point. All I remembered of my dad prior to that was him carrying me on his shoulders. And then he went away. When he came back, I’d see him every week or every other week. I looked at him as superhuman back then. He came out of prison built. Ladies loved him.
Booker: With the court system, you had to prove you were father-worthy. I went to social services to meet with him on certain days. It was almost like he was in jail and I was getting visitation. They told me how long I could sit with him. You couldn’t be alone with him. It was like that for a year before they finally said, okay, you two can be together. It was like they gave him parole. And then it was like, now what?
Brandon: We moved into a two-bedroom apartment on the south side of Houston. Our furniture didn’t match. I didn’t know we were poor. I thought it was cool back then to eat these food spreads with noodles and a can of soup. I didn’t know he got that from prison until I went to jail myself.
Booker: He wasn’t a bad kid at all. From six to 10 years old, he was outgoing, he had friends. But I still felt like there was something going on. He just couldn’t concentrate when it came to school. I had the same thing. I never thought I was dumb, but I had problems.
Brandon: I grew up with dyslexia. I stuttered, I couldn’t read well, I talked out of the side of my mouth. So you start to cope by not doing the work and by lying to teachers. And I’d get into trouble. Was I scared of him? Sure. But when he started wrestling, I might only see him every four months. So I’d get into trouble, but then he’d be gone in two days.
Booker: I got the call from WCW and I knew I’d be on the road pretty much all the time, so Brandon went to go live with my sister Carolyn while I moved to Atlanta.
Brandon: I remember rolling by the U-Haul where he used to work and asking if we were gonna stop in. And he said, “I don’t work there anymore. I work for WCW now.” I remember thinking, Oh, shit, I thought you did wrestling for free.
Booker: The plan was to see if it was gonna work out, and then I’d come to get him. I’m sure he thought he could get away with more when I was gone.
Brandon: I would say that staying with my aunt rebuilt me. It was the hood, but I learned to do schoolwork. Carolyn was always there for me no matter what. My dad was traveling, and I get that, but there could’ve been more phone calls. I understand he was trying to build a better life for both of us now, but at the time, I felt the effects of not having a dad on a day-to-day basis.
“I felt the effects of not having a dad on a day-to-day basis.”
— Brandon T. Huffman
After two years, Booker returned to the Houston area and bought a property on nearby Clear Lake; Brandon entered a new school district that was mostly white, a distinct difference from the urban area he had learned to navigate.
Brandon: It was a culture shock. At the other school, you were being taught just enough to pass the tests. This school, they cared more. I couldn’t get over on teachers as easily. They put me in slow classes. There was racism. Someone called me a nigger on my very first day. I got into fights and into trouble. But the only person I feared was out of town.
Booker: He got into trouble a lot, but I never saw it as being for anything racial. The school was predominantly white but it wasn’t all white. He never told me anyone called him that. I would get calls about not doing schoolwork, for acting up in class. I’d give him the benefit of the doubt. He’d make mistakes, he’d get punished, and we’d move forward. On the other hand, you can only do that for so long.
Brandon: He got married around then, to his first wife, and I honestly think it was one of the worst decisions for both of us. He was on the road and I bumped heads with her a lot. We lived in a nice house, but I just hated being there. It was a dark time in my life. I was thinking of doing some crazy shit — suicide or running away.
Booker: He always thought he could get away with things, hide things, and that no one would ever find out.
Brandon: This is how deluded I was back then. Every man I looked up to had been in jail. Going through life, I thought that to be a real man, you had to go to jail at least once in your lifetime. I didn’t want to go, but I wasn’t afraid to go.
Booker: Never, ever have I glorified being in prison. I told him it was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life. It was never a badge of honor. If I had never seen the inside of a jail cell, it would have been a huge accomplishment for me. I don’t know where he got that mentality from. I tried my best to make sure he never went down that road.
Brandon: My dad was a superhero to me. He’s famous, he’s a big deal in Houston, he’s got a Mercedes, and to a kid’s eyes, it’s like, wow, this is what you need to do to have all this. I wasn’t hearing him back then.
Booker: What I told him was, if you finish high school, you will have done more than I have ever accomplished in my life. But he just did not want to. There was always trouble.
Brandon: I was not the easiest kid to deal with. I didn’t get along with his wife and I didn’t have a lot of respect for her. Anything I could do to piss her off, I’d do it. I took their car out at 15 and drove it around without a license. I was hoping to get pulled over and hoping to ruin their marriage. That’s why I acted out.
Booker: Maybe if his actions had started out of the blue, that would’ve made sense. But from the time he was a little itty-bitty kid, he was always doing something. It happened for years before she came into the picture. It might be the reason he created in his head for why he acted that way.
I thought I could trust him. And then I found out about the credit card.
Brandon: It was his wife’s card. All I used it for was to go out to eat.
Booker: He denied it, but the girl he was dating at the time slipped up and admitted it. That was the beginning of the end. Something else happened, I can’t even remember what, and I got hot. He was 17. I gave him three choices. Either you straighten your act up once and for all, you go to boot camp, or you get out of the house. He says, “You’d send your own son to boot camp?” So he went to live with my sister. And that’s when I knew he was not going to stop fucking up. The choice he made was to live with her so he could keep fucking up.
“I gave him three choices. Either you straighten your act up once and for all, you go to boot camp, or you get out of the house.”
— Booker T. Huffman
For the fourth time in his life, Brandon went to live with someone other than his father — Booker’s sister, Billie. Back in the rough margins of Dallas, it wasn’t long before he began to find trouble.
Booker: I told him, “Once you’re 18 and you do stupid shit, you’re going to jail.” I preached that to him for the longest time. And he didn’t listen.
Brandon: I had a friend whose dad introduced me to the game. I’d do work in places like Dallas and Alabama. My junior year in high school, I’d get $1500 for a four-hour trip.
Booker: I never knew the stuff he was involved in. What was the reason for that? His dad had money. He did it just to do it. The only thing he had to do was stay in school.
Brandon: My dad helped me out at times, but never gave me a bunch of money. When I was 13 or 14, he told me, “You have a place to stay and you have food to eat. You want extra shit, get it yourself.” He was making millions and I had one pair of shoes for the whole year. It can mess with your head.
Booker: What I had taught him was the concept of money. I remember taking him to a WWE show when he was little and asking if he wanted a replica belt for $25. He said, “No, it’s too much money.” He understood the value of things. He had college paid for. All he had to do was go, and he didn’t want that.
Brandon: Once, I was carrying $34,000 in cash. I was speeding and got pulled over. And the cop took the money. Now I owed some bad people. This was not a game to them.
Booker: When he was with Billie, it was basically like paying child support. I gave her $1000 a month for his expenses. And when he was 18, that was it. My sister wanted him out, so I let him move back in with me. I was willing to give him another chance. And the same shit started all over again.
Brandon: I don’t think my dad knew these guys were looking for me when I moved back to Houston with him. I was making several trips to pay them off.
Booker: No, I never knew that. That shit would never have happened if I had. I remember that I bought him an Escalade for his 21st birthday. It was about $25,000 and I paid $23,000 of it, leaving a $2000 note so he could get a little taste of responsibility. I come home one day and there’s a Jaguar parked in the driveway. He had traded it in. I thought, This kid ain’t got a fucking clue.
Brandon: Mostly I was just hanging out at his house. He had a full bar with free booze. I didn’t realize how much I was drinking.
Booker: I’d go out of town and he’d have a pool party. He’d be going through my shit. And my second wife, Sharmell, and I would be trying to help him.
Brandon: Sharmell was a godsend. She was always there for me.
Booker: That’s when the robbery happened.
“Sharmell was a godsend. She was always there for me.”
— Brandon T. Huffman
In 2005, Brandon showed up at Booker’s door handcuffed in the back of a police vehicle. According to him, he had been the victim of a carjacking, beaten and tied in the trunk while the criminals staged a robbery.
Booker: We’re home, Sharmell and I. We hear the doorbell — ding-a-ling. He’s in a cop car. We get him inside and he tells us he was a victim of a robbery. Someone took his car, banged him, took his wallet. Now, God forgive me, I have done some dastardly shit in my life. If I rob you, I’m going upside your head. So where’s the swelling? There isn’t any. You got duct-taped? Where’s all the residue? This story was lame as a muthafucka.
Brandon: What I’ll say is that I got into trouble — aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon. Someone took something that belonged to me and I took it back.
Booker: A week later, my nephew is over at my house. He finds my son’s wallet there. Oh, your wallet was stolen, huh? A week later, boom, I get a call while I’m on the road. “Dad, I need bail.” Bro, I ain’t sending no bail money.
Brandon: I’m not trying to throw him under the bus, but in my darkest time, I feel he abandoned me. I’m locked up with rapists and murderers, and their parents are coming to visit them.
Booker: The kid he did it with, his dad called me and started talking about what we need to do — hire a lawyer, get them out, this and that. I said, “Bro, you do what you want with your son. I’m good. If he gets out, it’s on his own recognizance or when a judge tells him. I ain’t spending any money to get him out of jail.”
Brandon: I told the girl I was dating to let him know I was locked up. He told her he was going to leave me in there. A cousin told me because of his career at the time, he couldn’t have that kind of thing around him. It was just the last straw as far as our relationship.
Booker: It’s like this. I don’t care who you are. I love my family more than anything. I love my son more than anything. But that’s a slippery slope. I do not aid and abet. I did turn my back. It was purposeful. It got to the point where he wasn’t my son anymore. I did what I thought my mother would have wanted me to do. I got him to 18 years old, and if he wanted to fuck up at that point, go ahead and fuck up. My mother never aided and abetted me or my brothers and sisters.
Brandon: He turned his back on me. I didn’t get one letter. He never put any money on my books for commissary. I have two kids of my own now. And if my son calls me up one day and tells me he killed someone, I will be there for him all the way through.
Booker: When he finally got out in 2012, he came to the house. I said, “Get your shit, and get the fuck out.” You want to be a man? You gotta pay your own bills and get your own house. If you don’t want to listen, it’s time for you to find somewhere else to stay. Either I’m gonna hurt you or you’re gonna hurt me. And I’m not gonna get hurt.
Brandon: I am who he made me. I truly feel like he sees a lot of Angela, my mother, in me, and it bothers him.
“I am who he made me.”
— Brandon T. Huffman
Brandon, now 32, and Booker spoke only sporadically at family gatherings over the years. Recently, their paths have crossed for unfortunate reasons — two deaths in the Huffman family in a short window of time — and their relationship has slowly started to knit itself back together.
Booker: One day you grow up and you become a man. It might be when you’re 50 years old. It might be the day before die. But you do eventually understand. He called me up a couple of days ago and told me he realized what I was trying to do for him. It was the first time he called and admitted being wrong all these years.
Brandon: I was in jail, and I was hearing the things he was trying to tell me for the first time.
Booker: As a dad, I was never going to admit I did any wrong by him because I never did. He did wrong by me.
Brandon: We’re both headstrong. He wasn’t going to call me and I wasn’t going to call him. We would check up on each other through cousins, through aunts. If he needed a kidney tomorrow, I’d give it to him. But I’m not sure how I fit into his life right now.
Booker: I think things will work themselves out, but it’s going to take time. I haven’t met my grandkids yet.
Brandon: I see him with my brother and sister now [Booker has five-year-old twins] and they get so much love. I think my father told me he loved me seven times total in person. I can recall each time.
Booker: I probably didn’t say it a whole lot. But it was me and him against the world. I only had once chance to make this work, to create a better life for him. Not a better life for me — for us.
Brandon: At the end of the day, he could have left me in that foster home. He didn’t, even though he was struggling.
Booker: I wish we could have done more things as father and son. Those days are gone. He’s a grown man now. But I think there are better days ahead.
Booker: It’s funny. We live about three miles apart right now. But I will tell you, it can definitely feel a lot further.
Don’t miss parts the rest of our exclusive series with Booker T:
Part 1: The Newborn Identity of Booker T