If they are honest, most married couples will agree their journey is never a straight line. There is always an issue or two which they wrestle with. For Sharmell Huffman and Booker T, it is all about the wrestling. Together, they run Reality Of Wrestling, a project which blends a wrestling school with live and televised events. They run it as a Mom and Pop venture and when I spoke with them you could see the love between them, the love of the sport and the love for the business. That is really the catalyst to success: work with people you like on a project which you enjoy.
Booker T is well known in the wrestling world because of his time in World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE
Through the pandemic they did something unimaginable. They put on live wrestling events outdoors at drive-in movie sites. Booker and Sharmell realized even within their own household how detrimental it is to be cooped up inside. They found that when they got their own kids out for a couple of hours, the energy exerted wiped the kids out, and helped restore them to balance.
From there came the idea to return live wrestling in a way which was only otherwise being used for people seeing concerts from their cars. In late 2020 I wrote about concerts in cars, which is here:
But, wrestling in cars? That is something altogether different. Booker and Sharmell explained the people came in trucks and set up to party in their truck beds. Everyone wore masks and, like the concerts in cars, they were entertained and happy to be out. I asked Booker how they handled security, as wrestling can draw somewhat more rowdy fans. His answer surprised me. Booker said he was concerned about a lot of things, including the divisions the country was then suffering because of political difference. So, at the beginning of the event he took the stage and made a speech letting everyone know that the pandemic may be the end of Reality of Wrestling, so if everyone there wanted ROW to be able to continue, they had to come together free from conflict and let the event play out. The audience responded and the night proceeded with an audience whose only interest was in watching the event play out. Booker said that was an “awesome, awesome night.” The crowd left the fighting up to the wrestlers.
This was not the first time that Booker and Sharmell had to work through challenging times. Reality of Wrestling was founded in 2005, so they took the hit from the recession in 2008. The lessons learned there were helpful in dealing with adjusting and pivoting during the pandemic shutdown of 2020.
The business strategy was interesting. Tickets were per person, rather than per car. In addition, Reality of Wrestling has a VIP list they maintain of people who in normal times sit ringside. Those people were given a presale opportunity to purchase parking in an area near to the stage which was roped off from the general admission ticket holders. The Reality of Wrestling students helped control traffic and manage expectations.
The outdoor shows continued until it got too cold to continue. Then, the next strategy came into play. The Reality of Wrestling students were Covid tested and allowed to wrestle without anyone in attendance before cameras which captured the matches for ROW’s YouTube channel. Their subscriber base grew from 100,000 to 480,000.
Concurrently, Booker and Sharmell began marketing corporate wrestling events where they would bring the event to a company’s parking lot and hold an event there for the employees, often in lieu of a traditional holiday party. The shows are family friendly which gave ROW an entirely new business line.
One advantage held by Booker and Sharmell was they owned all their own equipment. Booker, from the beginning believed it was best to own everything from the lights to the mats to the AV equipment. Over the years they have accumulated enough to make ROW self sufficient when it comes to putting on an event.
Their wrestling school acts as a feeder to WWE and other ancillary sources. That model is also fascinating. ROW charges a low entry fee to join plus a monthly fee to continue. That gives ROW a continuously renewing source for wrestlers who pay to train and as part of that training participate in filmed events which play on the ROW YouTube feed and other streaming services. For the young wrestlers this exposure, plus post Covid the ability to be seen live in local events builds their likelihood of making the jump to the big leagues of professional wrestling. It is a self-reinforcing loop in which the new students perpetuate the capacity of ROW to produce content which grows everyone’s brand.
I found Booker and Sharmell to be energetic and fun when we spoke. Here is our conversation in both video and audio podcast format:
Ultimately, this story is as much about family as it is about wrestling. There is not much closer to the American dream than two people who find themselves literally in the arena with their own careers. They fall in love and together over time build a family and a company which serves people seeking the same path they took. That company prospers in good times and survives in bad times. Meanwhile, the beating heart and soul of the company is epitomized by the love the founders share for each other, the sport and the young people they train to follow them.