(WWE handout photo by John…)
WWE returns to 1st Mariner Arena on Sunday night for WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs. The main bout of the pay-per-view event — which starts at 7:45 p.m. — is a Triple Threat Tables, Ladders & Chairs Match featuring CM Punk, The Miz and Alberto Del Rio. Triple H also returns to the ring in Baltimore for the first time in two years for a showdown with Kevin Nash.
Another TLC highlight will be the Intercontinental Championship match starring Booker T, who is leaving the broadcast table to settle a grudge against belt-holder Cody Rhodes. Booker T chatted about Sunday's event with The Sun in an interview Friday.
You've been a color commentator on SmackDown for nearly a year. Was it a tough transition going from being a full-time wrestler to commentating outside of the ropes?
It was really tough. I didn't think I was going to make it. But I've had a lot of help from the staff. … Those guys have really groomed me and helped me, but I've still got a lot of work to do. It's a lot of fun. I'm loving it. It's something I wanted to do for many, many years. It was a joke that back in the day that I always did commentary in the back when the guys were in the ring before me. I would be in the back doing it on the little monitor for the boys in the back.
But you'll be back in the ring on Sunday night for your first pay-per-view match in a few years. Are you excited to be back in the spotlight, and are you worried about ring rust?
I'm definitely worried about my ring rust. And I'm really not that excited about being in the ring. I'm going out and defending my manhood. That's a little more important than me being back in the ring. I was actually content with doing the commentary, but this issue with Cody Rhodes is getting bigger and bigger and the fans do want to see me go out there and perform.
You're 20 years older than your opponent (Booker is 46; Rhodes is 26). How are you holding up health-wise and do you have any physical limitations?
I really don't think I'll have any limitations. Of course, Cody is a much younger kid than I am. But I've stayed in relatively good shape during my career. I never had any major surgeries or anything like that. I've had a few career-threatening injuries, but I bounced back from them. Right now I feel pretty good. I wouldn't say that I'm the best shape of my life because I'm 46.
What's your relationship with Cody away from the ring? You requested this match, right?
Dusty Rhodes [Cody's father] and I came up in the WCW era. Dusty said something to me a long time ago and I felt this about Cody actually. I did a Saturday show once and I was the first match out. I was a green kid and I went out and I wrestled and Dusty told me, 'They won't put you out first no more.' That right there told me a whole lot about how Dusty Rhodes felt about me and we became really close at that point. I was really close with [Cody's half-brother] Goldust, too. … And now you see the third generation, Cody Rhodes, the next kid. I really like what Cody has done in the past few years in the WWE. He has grown so much. But to actually go out there with Cody, it's going to be an honor and it's going to be great kicking his butt.
Is TLC a last hurrah for you? Or do you see yourself still wrestling for a while?
This is my last hurrah. I really understand that this is about the young guys like Cody Rhodes. It's about those guys taking it to the next level. But if I can help them make that transition to becoming superstars, future Hall of Famers, that's what I'm here for. But as for me wrestling full time, I can't see that happening. I've got twin babies and I'm content with this stage of life.
You've been in this business for a couple of decades and in that time you have seen the sport have peaks and valleys. What do you think the state of wrestling is right now?
We're in a down stage. We're in a slow season. The sport of wrestling has always been like that. But I'll tell you what, it's [on the rise] again. Our young guys are really picking it up and really seeing what entertainment is all about: giving the crowd exactly what they want to see.
You're a mixed martial arts fan. Has MMA taken away from the WWE's audience?
I love MMA. I love the sport of it. But the entertainment value is not there. But it's two guys — gladiators — who climb into that ring and take each other to the limit. In a way it has affected us because we have to change the way we think in terms of us going out and entertaining.
What are your thoughts on Baltimore as a wrestling town? I'm told you won your first major singles title in Baltimore at 1st Mariner Arena back in 1997.
That's true. Baltimore is a great wrestling town. For me to be coming back for a full match — this is really my first time back in the ring in about two years — it's going to be great to do it in Baltimore because I have fond memories there. Hopefully, we add one more on Sunday night.
Having 1-year-old twins running around your house, what's Booker T like as a father?
I've got twin babies — a boy and a girl — and it's great. The Christmas spirit is totally in our household right now. The lights are outside. It's something I haven't really experienced in many, many years. I lost my mother when I was 13 years old. When that happened, all those holidays didn't really mean a whole lot to me. Now with my little ones running around, it means so, so much to me. It feels like Christmas is for me now more than it is for them. Buying Christmas presents, making the Thanksgiving dinner is something I really loved to do this year.
For SmackDown ticket information, visit baltimorearena.com or ticketmaster.com.