Many people know that Ron Simmons was the first Black wrestler to win the WCW World Championship but did you know that Ron Killings was recognized as the first Black NWA World Champion? What if I told you that there was a deeper history? One that dates back to 1962, when Bobo Brazil beat Buddy Rogers for the NWA World Title but because Brazil won the title due to Rogers being injured in the match, Brazil did not accept the championship and it was vacated. Bobo Brazil would then go on to become the first Black Wrestler to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1994. Regardless of what era in wrestling you look at, there has always been an amazing Black presence either in the foreground or in the background. But why do wrestling companies and wrestling fans not give credit where it is deserved?
Over the last few years, there have been many Black wrestlers who have been in the spotlight but the issue is it is usually for a short time. Two stars that come to mind with having a long tenure in the spotlight are Bianca Belair and Jade Cargill. Both women held their respective titles for a long time and, for the most part, made their title runs feel important. But what about people like Kofi Kingston, Scorpio Sky, Powerhouse Hobbs, or Xavier Woods? All of them had title runs, whether they were singles titles or tag team gold, but they were never the “Main Attraction” in their companies. Impact Wrestling does a really good job of showcasing their Black wrestlers, they continually make Moose feel like a big deal even when he does not have the title. It always seems like when a Black wrestler wins a title in WWE and AEW, they will either hold it for a few months with no memorable defenses or they will hold it for a couple of weeks and are just transitional champions.
Why does this happen? There is so much appeal for Black wrestlers and how they connect to the fans, why are they not utilized more? Every time that New Day, Street Profits, Bianca Belair, Jade Cargill, and Powerhouse Hobbs come to the ring you can see the elation on all the kids’ faces because of how cool they are and how much kids look up to them. Why not capitalize on that enjoyment and make them bigger players in the company? Most of the wrestlers that are in the outreach programs in both WWE and AEW are Black wrestlers, so they are constantly going to school and student events to speak with kids about life and to hang out during the events.
This is an issue that has been prevalent since the early days of wrestling and it is sadly still going on today. There have been acts over the years that play into negative stereotypes such as Cryme Tyme where Shad Gaspard and JTG played guys who, by WWE’s own admission, were to be “parodying racial stereotypes”. Why would a company even have a parody of a stereotype of any kind on their programming? If it wasn’t Cryme Tyme, it was R-Truth. R-Truth’s character was portrayed as a complete idiot who could not wrestle throughout most of his WWE tenure when the person Ron Killings is a fantastic wrestler with an extensive history of great matches. But is it just the companies’ fault for how Black wrestlers are portrayed on television and the amount of time they get or could the fans also be at fault?
One of the things that fans look at these days is the ratings from wrestling shows. Many people, including the higher-ups in wrestling companies, use ratings as a metric for how well they feel the company and wrestlers are doing in general. While looking through multiple graphs of the ratings for different wrestling shows, it would appear that people tend to tune out when there are Black wrestlers on the screen. Is this because of the characters they are portraying or is this because of people’s feelings towards Black people? Though our society has come a long way, there are still stigmas surrounding multiple races and the way people view those races and we have to strive to take steps to eliminate those views as a whole.
All of this being said, I don’t want to just criticize without offering some ways this could possibly be fixed. An effective solution to this problem is to just have Black wrestlers be portrayed as themselves. There are numerous non-Black wrestlers who get to just have the gimmick of “wrestler” in multiple companies or they get to portray these cool, larger-than-life characters but Black wrestlers with that opportunity are few and far between. One of the best gimmicks in recent history was the formation of The Hurt Business, a group of well-dressed men who are there to wrestle matches and win titles. Many fans were firmly behind The Hurt Business because they were a cool faction and one that people could look up to and not feel like they were liking a stereotype. Even when WWE broke them up, many fans felt like there was a lot more that could be done with the faction.
When looking at Impact Wrestling, Moose has been at the top of his game for the past few years and recently re-signed a deal that is the “longest deal anyone has ever signed in company’s history” according to Moose himself. There is also Trinity Fatu, the former Naomi from WWE, who has been on an incredible run in Impact as of late. Trinity is an absolute asset to any company she is in but she chose to go to Impact where she could make a lasting impression. It is not just Impact who are portraying wrestlers as wrestlers and not playing into their race, NXT has been utilizing the rise of Wes Lee as the North American Champion in recent months and also capitalizing on the popularity of Edris Enofe and Malik Blade. Yes, it is good to acknowledge that there have been the “First Black Champions” in history but we are at a point in our society where it shouldn’t be uncommon.
As mentioned before, Wes Lee has been on a fantastic run as champion and he now holds the record for Longest Reigning North American Champion. That’s not a record just for a Black champion, that is overall the Longest Champion. The same goes for Bianca Belair who recently lost her title, she is now the Longest Reigning WWE Women’s Champion. There is no asterisk for Black in that conversation because there doesn’t need to be. These are reigns from amazing wrestlers and that is what it should be seen as. This is a huge step in the right direction and there are so many people looking for representation on television and in sports, especially in the Black Community. The year is 2023 we shouldn’t have to have a discussion about the importance of Black wrestlers, it should just be a given.