Inducted by JCool
While it’s not the first theme song Harlem Heat had as a tag team, it’s the one they’ll be forever known by. “Rap Sheet” has long been one of my favourite wrestling theme songs. It’s a 90’s jam that holds up today. Memorable intro “yes, yes, yes, no, no no”, a crescendo into a slick, synth hook, and like the great theme songs do, it fits the attitude of the guys who walked to the ring. That is just one part of what made Harlem Heat cool, successful and important enough to be praised by the wrestling fans of this website.
For four years (1989-1992), Booker and Lash Huffman worked in promotions across the United States, but, really, their development as professional wrestlers began as kids, mimicking their favourite wrestlers and kung-fu films. Their brotherhood, all the time they shared together, planning, practicing and dreaming, prepared them well for the world of wrestling. Since they were real-life brothers with a united vision for their future, I believe that gave them an edge from other tag teams. They also benefitted from the support of two men in the wrestling business.
First was “Hot Stuff” Eddie Gilbert. He was the one that signed them to Global Wrestling Federation (GWF), in Houston. He saw the talent the brothers had and even gave Lash his wrestler name, “Stevie Ray”, after famed guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan. It was in GWF that Booker T. and Stevie Ray started to get noticed by a bigger audience. The second man was a man who had already become a well-known name around the country. After a short stint in GWF, this man would bring them an opportunity to wrestle in one of the major wrestling companies: WCW. That man was Sid Vicious.
Making the Big Time
In 1993, Harlem Heat got the call to join WCW from Sid. He thought they would be a great addition to the roster. Booker and Lash did not disappoint him. Sid worked matches with them on the house show loop before the tag team debuted on TV as Kane and Kole. Thankfully, they would not have those names for long and requested to go back to Booker T and Stevie Ray months later.
It was in this first round of TV matches that they debuted one of my favourite finishing moves: the Harlem Hangover. It originally started as a power slam from Lash, which grounded the opponent. Then, Booker would jump off the top-rope with a flying elbow. What it would become was the famous front-flipping leg drop from Booker, after Lash had beat up their opponent. It stood out in the WCW Tag Team Division and was just another example of how cool and hard-working these guys were, trying to stand out from their peers.
Harlem Heat gained momentum, week after week, getting praise behind the scenes for their talent and work ethic. Even though they were positioned as heels, they were also getting cheers. WCW gave them another vote of confidence by pairing them with a manager, “Sister” Sherri Martel. The veteran gave them further credibility, having just been paired with Ric Flair for the dream match against Hulk Hogan in the summer of 1994. She complemented the team well, matching their red, orange and black-flamed attire with a dress of the same colour and style.
By late 1994, they were wrestling at Starrcade and in early 1995, they won their first WCW Tag Team Championship match over Stars and Stripes (Patriot & Buff Bagwell). These guys already had the “cool” factor, and the passion and drive to succeed. Now they had the gold. They were making their wrestling dream a reality.
Tag Team Champions
From 1995 to 1996, Harlem Heat would hold the WCW Tag Team Championships seven times. Though the titles switched hands often, as most WCW titles did at that time, Harlem Heat were always at the top of the division. They could always be counted on to deliver in a high-profile match. They wrestled veteran teams like The Nasty Boys and The Steiner Brothers, and superstar pairings like Lex Luger & Sting, and The Outsiders.
Even when Booker T and Stevie Ray were split up to enter singles competition, even though they were separated during a portion of the WCW/nWo rivalry (Booker with WCW, Stevie Ray with the nWo), they tagged from time to time, and never officially split up. In a time when allegiances were changing quickly, and in a world where splitting up tag teams often resulted in turmoil, the brothers still had each other’s back, and I appreciate that. I mean, they did actually feud for a few months in 1999, but their brotherhood and their tag team success eventually drew them to be rejoined for 3 more title wins. No other team had that kind of success in WCW.
Booker would say of those final months as a team that it was like they had never broken up. “Every move, characteristic pose, and double-team finisher was there, and it felt like 1993 all over again,” writes Booker in his book, “My Rise To Wrestling Royalty”. He and Stevie Ray would not wrestle again as a tag team in a major federation, with Stevie Ray retiring in 2002 to spend more time with his family, and Booker T going on to a Hall of Fame-worthy singles career.
Harlem Heat’s passion, work ethic, and their courage, in the face of adversity and racial discrimination led them to great success in the business.
Rich Latta, writer for The Social Suplex and a familiar voice over the years for LOP Radio, had this to say about the impact of Harlem Heat on him as a young wrestling fan.
Personally, I loved the street element that The Heat brought because I felt like Booker and Stevie Ray were actual dudes I could run into at my barbershop, or in the park in my neighborhood growing up. They talked like my friends and I, and in retrospect, they were the injection of blackness that the white southern world of WCW was never ready for but learned to love over time. One of my favorite things to do is to go back to when Booker became a main eventer in WCW, and watch his entrances where he would have thousands of white fans all over the country raising the roof in full support of him after grinding for years in WCW. Flat out, just watching Harlem Heat made me feel good, and represented.
In a time where 5-star matches and technical wrestling ability is praised more than ever, let us remember that there should also be attention given to wrestlers who can create larger than life personas that resonate with the fans. Wrestlers who can talk the talk and back it up with brawling and athleticism. Wrestlers who look like, and could, legitimately beat the hell out of you. Harlem Heat was that kind of tag team. They have inspired many to follow in their footsteps and they, most definitely, raised the roof wherever they went.
It is an honour to induct Harlem Heat, Booker T and Stevie Ray, into the LOP/WH Hall of Fame.
- 10-time WCW World Tag Team Champions
- 2-time GWF Tag Team Champions
- 1-time ROH Tag Team Champions
- 2-time PWI Tag Team of the Year (1995 & 1996)
- 2019 WWE Hall of Fame Inductees