Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

This February, as we celebrate the achievements of black Americans, looks at six African-American WWE Hall of Famers who faced adversity in sports-entertainment, and changed the game forever.

Sailor Art Thomas — Class of 2016

Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

With a career that spanned more than 30 years, Sailor Art Thomas became internationally well-known for his tremendous physique and unmatched strength.

“Art Thomas was not a great scientific wrestler, but he had a phenomenal physique. Just amazing,” WWE Hall of Famer Jim Ross told “He’s another guy who grew up in the South, in Arkansas, migrated north and ended up in Wisconsin. He was known as one of the strongest guys in the business at the time and was a big guy, too — 6-foot-6, 265 pounds. You get a guy like that and he was very unique.”

Thomas didn’t just have the big muscles. He also had a big love for his country and served in the Merchant Marines.

“Art was very popular,” Ross explained. “Art, Bobo [Brazil], Thunderbolt [Patterson], all these guys had the one thing you can’t teach. They had ‘it.’

"They had that innate ability to connect with the audience," Ross continued. "That’s what it’s really all about. Today, then or tomorrow. I can assure you, no matter their color, no matter their size, no matter how big their muscles were, if they weren’t able to connect with the paying customer, they wouldn’t have had work.”

Bobo Brazil — Class of 1994

Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

Following the early success of African-American Superstars like Luther Lindsay and Bearcat Wright, Bobo Brazil emerged as a true national star. The charismatic native of Benton Harbor, Mich., made history by defeating Buddy Rogers to become the first black man to win the NWA World Heavyweight Championship.

“Bobo was generally regarded as a real good guy,” Jim Ross said. “He was a big guy, great big personality, great charisma. The kind of guy you’d have no issue liking no matter what his skin color was. He really paved the way for a lot of black men to work in main events.”

WWE Hall of Famer Booker T acknowledged the influence Bobo had on him.

“Bobo Brazil definitely was a groundbreaker,” the multi-time World Heavyweight Champion said. “He paved the way for guys such as myself who saw Bobo do it the way he wanted to do it.”

In 1994, Bobo broke another barrier when he earned his rightful place as the first African-American competitor to be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.

Rocky Johnson — Class of 2008 & Tony Atlas — Class of 2006

Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

Before there was The Rock, there was Rocky, a stunningly charismatic, athletic “Soul Man” who exhilarated crowds with his outstanding physique and breathtaking dropkick. Together with “Mr. USA” Tony Atlas, The Soul Patrol was a tremendously popular tandem that became the first black World Tag Team Champions in WWE.

“There weren’t any African-American tag teams before them that accomplished what they accomplished,” Jim Ross explained. “I think that motivated all fans, especially African-American fans. They were very charismatic. Rocky and Tony were big guys with amazing bodies who looked like Greek gods and had great athleticism. You couldn’t find two guys who looked any better. Tony was a powerhouse and Rocky was an amazing athlete.”

Despite each man’s success as a singles competitor, their biggest waves were made as a team.

“When you talk about Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas, they had much longer individual careers than they did as a tag team,” Ross said. “But seemingly, by most fans, are remembered more as a tag team than they are for their individual careers.”

And for good reason. On the night when The Soul Patrol defeated The Wild Samoans for the titles, the Allentown, Pa., crowd became unglued.

“People were ready for a change,” Ross said. ”It was something they’d never seen before.”

Jacqueline — Class of 2016

Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

“Jackie Moore is one of, if not the most underrated female performer ever to work in the wrestling business,” Jim Ross declared.

Beginning her career in the late 1980s, Jacqueline competed around the country and in Japan before arriving in WCW in 1997. She is perhaps best-remembered for managing Harlem Heat and even defeating Disco Inferno on pay-per-view.

“Wow,” was all Booker T could say at first when recalling his former manager. But he soon found the proper words.

“Jacqueline was definitely one of a kind — a female who has done it all in every organization," he said. "She will go down in history as one of the best wrestlers that’s come along in the game, not just best black wrestlers. Jackie has set a very, very high standard.”

Ross called many of Jackie’s matches during her tenure in WWE.

“Jackie had amazing fundamental skills,” Ross explained. “She was mentally and physically tough, but then she was able to adapt to the times when lady wrestlers were becoming Divas.”

When WWE revived the Women’s Championship in 1998, many fans believed it was a foregone conclusion that Sable would win the title. Instead, it was Jacqueline.

“People have to realize, Jackie was operating at a skill level that was far above many of her contemporaries,” Ross said. “[She] had to adjust her game to the skill level of some of the ladies she was working with. A lot of women would not have done that. A lot of men in the same situation would have rebelled. But Jackie was a great teacher and did a tremendous job. Because of the glitz and the glamour, she sometimes gets overlooked and that’s unfortunate.”

Due to the WWE Hall of Famer’s tremendous success and longevity, other African-American Superstars like Jazz, Naomi and Alicia Fox have been able to follow in her footsteps. 

Ron Simmons — Class of 2012

Six WWE Hall of Famers who broke down sports-entertainment color barriers

Bobo Brazil might have won the NWA World Heavyweight Championship in the 1960s, but the true zenith was reached by Ron Simmons on Aug. 2, 1992 when he pinned Big Van Vader to win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.

“Ron won the WCW Championship on their platform of TBS and national cable,” Jim Ross said. “When Bobo won his titles, there was no national cable overlay.”

A Hall of Fame college football player, Simmons earned his reputation as one of the toughest men ever to step foot in the squared circle, and a fearless trailblazer.

“[Ron Simmons] gave me the blueprint for what it was going to take for me to make it in this business,” Booker T said. “Ron Simmons being the first black World Heavyweight Champion definitely made me see that if he could do it, there was definitely a chance for me. Ron was the guy that was in my corner so many days and so many nights, pushing for me to be that guy that he was going to pass the torch to.”

Eventually, Booker earned that torch at Bash at the Beach 2000 when he became the second African-American WCW Champion.

“I fulfilled that dream of being the heir apparent to Ron Simmons’ success in WCW,” he said. “I honestly, truly believe that if it wasn’t for Ron Simmons, there’d be no Booker T.”

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