Remembering the night Ron Simmons made sports-entertainment history

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August 01, 2012

Ron Simmons became the first black man to win a world wrestling title on Aug. 2, 1992.

The black man’s journey within the genre of grappling wasn’t unlike the challenges their brethren faced in professional sports, entertainment and, most importantly, everyday life. To say it was challenging would be a massive understatement.

History tells us that the first black pro wrestler was a man named Viro Small, a former slave who wrestled by the name of Black Sam in the 1870s. But, for many years, black wrestlers were forbidden in many states from competing against Caucasians. WWE Hall of Famer Bobo Brazil wrestled in the first mixed race bout involving a Caucasian in Georgia in 1970. That’s the year I graduated high school, so I’m of the mindset it wasn’t that long ago.

Some promoters made sure that they never exceeded their unwritten “quota” of African American wrestlers on their roster in a given territory. When a black man was featured, he was usually a fan favorite, because of the racial tension that existed in those days and the fear that a black villain could possibly cause riots with the largely white audience. At that time, many arenas in the south didn’t even allow black people to buy a ticket to watch the show. Those that did oftentimes made the people of color sit in a special section, which were generally the worst seats in the house.

Great black wrestlers like Luther Lindsey, Woody Strode and Bearcat Wright helped blaze the trail that would one day lead to Ron’s title victory. WWE Hall of Famers like Ernie Ladd and Abdullah the Butcher, along with Sweet Daddy Siki, also deserve credit as they accepted being wrestling villains. That took amazing courage and conviction considering that the audiences were primarily nonblack and the prevailing tension that existed between fans and the antagonists.

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