Where Are They Now? Stevie Ray
It had been nearly 15 years since Stevie Ray teamed with his brother, Booker T, as Harlem Heat when the two reunited on Feb. 21, 2015, in a match for Booker’s Reality of Wrestling promotion. The event had been billed as “Final Heat,” and the few thousand fans in attendance in Pasadena, Texas, were promised the last ride of the most decorated tag team in World Championship Wrestling history.
If a convention center in a Texas town seems like a strange place to send off a team called Harlem Heat, it shouldn't. Before they were stars, the pair grinded it out in armories and gymnasiums across The Lone Star State — some 1400 miles away from the New York City neighborhood they would come to represent — where Stevie led the way for his younger brother.
“My brother was always the guy I wanted to be like,” Booker T told WWE.com. “He was always in the gym working out, he always had the girls, he could dance. Everybody in the community knew him, everybody in the club scene knew him. He was just a cool guy more than anything.”
Life hadn’t been easy for them. Both of their parents passed when the boys were young, and Booker spent time in prison following an armed robbery in 1987. Stevie Ray was the oldest, and he took on the burden of looking after Booker. Booker wasn’t a bad kid. He respected his brother, and, in turn, wanted to earn his respect. So when Stevie suggested the two train to become professional wrestlers after being approached by “The Polish Hammer” Ivan Putski in the gym, Booker listened. They entered Putski’s school when it first opened — which, to their surprise, was primarily operated by former WWE Superstar Scott Casey — and went to work.
“We didn’t think about becoming stars,” Stevie Ray said. “We just wanted to be better than everybody we were training with.”
“Eddie Gilbert had an idea to put two African American wrestlers together to be well-dressed, well-spoken, and try to get away from the stigma that professional wrestling has put on so many other African American wrestlers,” Stevie Ray said. “I commend the man for that, because who else would think outside the box like that?”
The team was called The Ebony Experience with the brothers renaming themselves in honor of African American leaders they admired — Stevie Ray in a nod to musicians Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles and Booker T after Booker T. Washington. New York City’s Harlem neighborhood was chosen as their hometown for much the same reason. The duo caught on quickly, and their in-ring work improved as they battled hearty veterans like Rod Price, Black Bart and Killer Tim Brooks on a grueling schedule.
“We did so many TV tapings. Sometimes we were working three times a night, and that was just one weekend!” Stevie said. “It was crucial for us, crucial for our careers. I don’t know where our careers would’ve went without Global.”
GWF was vital not just for their growth as performers, but for the memories they shared there. Both men independently pointed to winning their first GWF Tag Team Championships as the highlight of their years together as a duo. It was also the place where they gained the attention of World Championship Wrestling.
“Sid Vicious contacted us and told us [WCW] was interested,” Stevie said. “We thought it was cool, but our goal at the time was to go to WWE.”
The team never made it to WWE — Stevie Ray’s induction of Booker T into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2013 is the only time they appeared together in WWE — but WCW called them up in 1993. Immediately they were repackaged as Harlem Heat after the fledgling Miami Heat NBA franchise and given the names Kane and Kole on the suggestion of Sid. They debuted as bad guys under the managerial auspices of Col. Robert Parker, an over-the-top caricature of a wealthy Southerner who wouldn’t have appeared out of place in the film “Django Unchained.” Needless to say, it was an unfortunate way to introduce the next great tag team to the world.
“Some of [WCW’s] guys weren’t the brightest people, and weren’t the most advanced in thinking about entertainment,” Stevie said. “They were looking at Booker T and Stevie Ray as some novelty act. They couldn’t see the evolution of what professional wrestling was becoming.”
The brothers persevered and — after reverting back to their former names and acquiring Sherri Martel as a manager — beat Marcus Alexander Bagwell & The Patriot to win the first of their record 10 WCW Tag Team Titles. When they made the turn to fan favorites, Harlem Heat became, arguably, WCW’s most popular tandem thanks to their fiery matching tights, a theme song so awesome Booker T still uses a version of it to this very day and matches that consistently entertained.
“We had so many with The Nasty Boys, The Steiners, the fifteen partners they gave Marcus Bagwell, and the list goes on and on,” Stevie said.
Still, for a competitor who had so much success in WCW, Stevie had little positive to say about the company.
The final days of Harlem Heat were ugly. The brothers split when a female valet named Midnight got in-between them, driving Stevie to turn on Booker and form a stable with former WWE talents Ahmed Johnson and Clarence Mason — known in WCW as Big T and J Biggs, respectively — called Harlem Heat, Inc. Big T even wrestled Booker T for the rights to use the letter T in his name — and won!
“They had no vision, they were just throwing stuff at the wall to see what stuck,” Stevie Ray said. “I’m going to be honest with you, I was hoping WCW closed down, because I couldn’t stomach it anymore.”
Still, if Stevie was miserable at the time, it rarely came through on television where he made an unexpected transition to commentary. The muscle of Harlem Heat was never much of a talker during his tag team run, but he was put in the booth by WCW creative head Vince Russo who had heard about Stevie’s lively backstage personality from other wrestlers.
“Whatever locker room [Booker T and I] were in was like, ‘This is a fun locker room,’” Stevie said. “Other locker rooms, the guys were sitting around, playing cards, dipping snuff. There’s no fun in there! We came from a football’s player locker room in the African American community, and it’s all about having fun. You just live life.”
The move proved to be one of the highlights of late-era WCW as Stevie effortlessly transferred his off-screen charisma to the microphone. As the color commentator of WCW Thunder, the gruff Texan proved himself to be a master chop buster with an endless supply of quotable phrases, none more memorable than his trademark, “Suckas gots to know!”
“Everybody used to bust out laughing at some of the things I said on commentary,” Stevie said. “That’s just the way I talk on a day-to-day basis.”
When WCW closed in spring 2001, Stevie joined the Brisbane, Australia-based World Wrestling All-Stars promotion alongside other WCW survivors like Scott Steiner, Buff Bagwell and Lex Luger. That company folded a few years later, and Stevie began to focus on his many varied business interests back in Texas. There was a detail and carwash business called Stevie Ray’s Super Cars he ran for more than four years before selling it off in 2007, and Stevie Ray’s Trucks, a trucking company he owns and operates to this day.
Stevie has a major passion for vehicles beyond his day jobs. He’s the president of the West Houston Cruisers motorcycle club, and a member of the biggest African American Corvette club in America. The 10-time WCW Tag Team Champion is also involved in the entertainment business. He's playing a gangster in an upcoming independent film called “Streets of New York,” and co-manages a local hip-hop group called The Bloc Boys. Still, all this doesn’t mean Stevie Ray is done with the ring.
“I don’t think I ever did formally retire,” he said.
Although he's competed very sporadically since '07, Stevie operated a wrestling school with Booker T for a few years, and runs his own shows in Texas under the banner of New Generation Wrestling. As for that final Harlem Heat match? Well, it might not be their last.
“I want Harlem Heat to stay in the minds of people as two a**-kicking brothers," Stevie Ray said, "and I don’t want that to be messed with.”