Posted in: Chair Shots Chair Shots Celebrates Black History Month: 28 Greats in 28 Days (Days 11-15)
Feb 15, 2013 - 10:27:37 AM
It’s been a long journey for the black wrestler. Many have come, many have gone. Many have tried to reach the pinnacle of the business. Most have not. One man did, but history tells us he didn’t. But all that changed one night in my hometown. One night it all changed, and I was there to witness it. One night, history was made and this time it counted.
Day 15: Ron Simmons
May 15, 1958 Ron Simmons was born.
August 2, 1992 Ron Simmons was immortalized.
He debuted in the NWA in 1989, and was put together with Butch Reed to form Doom, two masked men brought in to destroy the Steiner Brothers. They accomplished that feat, at a time when the Steiners were unbeatable. Defeating team after team, Doom became Tag Team Champions, holding the belts for nine months. But friction caused a split between the two and Simmons turned face…..and then it happened.
On August 2, 1992 in Baltimore, Md., Ron Simmons made history, history that he wasn’t even supposed to be a part of. The champion at the time, Vader, was scheduled to defend his World Championship against Sting, but as the storyline played out, Jake Roberts injured Sting and he wasn’t able to compete. I sat in the arena watching this play out, as most fans in attendance were expecting to see a classic match between Sting and Vader, a match in which Sting was hoping to get his title back. But what would happen now? Who would Vader wrestle? Would he wrestle anybody?
WCW President Bill Watts decided the fans would not be denied and held a raffle to determine a new opponent for Vader that evening. Surprisingly, the winner of that raffle was Ron Simmons. At the time, Ron wasn’t a regular player in the Main Event scene, but had shown glimpses of being ready. What was surprising about the selection was who made it. Bill Watts, who we’ve come across a couple of times in this series, wasn’t known for being the most racially tolerant man in the business. He turned Sylvester Ritter into the Junkyard Dog, complete with chain and shopping cart. He was more a creature of stereotypes than Vince McMahon was. So his choice of elevating Ron Simmons to a World Title match was perplexing.
I can tell you first hand from being in attendance that evening that NO ONE expected Ron Simmons to win the belt. In fact, the crowd was almost deflated by the choice, as we expected to see Sting. But as the match progressed, the crowd got behind Simmons more and more. There was something in the air that was electric. You could tell that Ron wasn’t going to be denied this shot that he had won by chance, as he might not ever get that chance again.
Vader had Simmons secured for a Vader Bomb, but Ron slipped off his back and reversed the move. Vader hit the ropes and one scoop power slam later Ron Simmons had pinned Vader to become the World Heavyweight Champion.
The First Recognized Black World Heavyweight Champion
Yes, Bobo Brazil had done it almost exactly 30 years earlier, but history books tell you it never happened. On this night, in this town, I witnessed history. The celebration was epic, as the locker room exploded into the ring to congratulate Ron Simmons. The crowd, who had earlier in the evening felt cheated out of their match, forgot their frustrations, forgot their disappointment and reveled in the historic victory that they had witnessed- that I had witnessed.
Ron Simmons held the belt for five months, and his title reign was pretty uneventful. He lost it back to Vader and turned heel shortly after, claiming the fans abandoned him after he lost the belt. Shortly after, he left the NWA/WCW and eventually debuted in the WWF/E in 1996 under the name Farooq. He was a part of the Nation of Domination, a group that featured The Rock, The Godfather, and D’Lo Brown just to name a few. Eventually he hooked up with Bradshaw to form the Acolytes (APA) and were a big part of the Attitude Era.
Today, most fans only know Ron Simmons as the guy that shows up on TV when something crazy happens, spouting out his signature catchphrase “Damn”, but I know Ron Simmons as a history maker. I know him as the man that changed the course of professional wrestling for black wrestlers. No longer would a black wrestler be denied that top spot in the company. He paved the way for The Rock, Mark Henry, and Booker T. I wish you could have been there. I wish everyone could have been there to witness Ron Simmons winning the World Heavyweight Championship. But I just have to ask one question, why did it take 30 years from Bobo Brazil for it to happen? Think about that.
Day 16 Trivia Question
I used to weight 375 lbs, but in recent years I’m down to 250 lbs. Who am I?
Day 14: Sgt. Craig Pittman and Ranger Ross
Welcome back readers. We’re officially halfway through our salute to black wrestlers as we celebrate Black History Month. As we look back at the first part of the month, we’ve seen that black wrestlers had to deal with a lot in the early days- racism, stereotypes, and lack of respect from promoters just to name a few. But despite all that, many became very popular with fans and became legends of the squared circle. As we get closer to looking at more modern stars, we start to see that some of those barriers began to break down. While they certainly haven’t gone away completely, the caricature of the black man wasn’t as prevalent as it once was. Today, we’re going to look at two stars who didn’t exactly light it up in the ring, but instead were important for entirely different reasons.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re either wondering who in the blue hell these guys are, or if you do know who they are you’re wondering why they’re getting a day in this series. Sgt. Craig Pittman and Ranger Ross weren’t the biggest stars in wrestling; in fact they were barely mid-card wrestlers. But what makes them important in the history of the black wrestler, is that for a change these two men weren’t subjected to the normal stereotypical gimmicks that a lot of black wrestlers had to deal with. Both of these men were soldiers in real life, and when they came to WCW, they were portrayed as soldiers. They were both allowed to be what they were known for being- American heroes.
Craig Pittman was a former United States Marine, who also had a Greco-Roman wrestling background and won several championships. When he came to WCW in 1994, he worked in the WCW Power Plant, their training facility, where he learned the craft from Terry Taylor and The Assassin. Pittman debuted as a heel, using the catchphrase “The beatings will continue until morale improves”, playing off the toughness of being in the Marine Corps.
In 1995, he feuded with another military character currently in WCW, Cobra (also known as nWo Sting). As the story went, Pittman was Cobra’s commanding officer in the Gulf War, and Pittman left him behind during a mission. The feud was centered on revenge, with Pittman winning the final battle using his cross arm breaker known as the “Code Red.” This was probably the biggest feud that Pittman would have in WCW, and shortly after it they attempted to turn him face. He was managed by Teddy Long, but continued to lose most of his matches to bigger stars.
But it was Ranger Ross that paved the path for Craig Pittman, debuting in 1986. Ross was a US Ranger for eight years, and participated in several combat and rescue missions during his military career. His biggest success came in WCW, where one of his first feuds was with WWE Hall of Famer The Iron Sheik. Prior to his match with the Sheik at Clash of Champions, Ross rappelled 300 feet from the roof of the Superdome, a stunt that would definitely not be seen today.
Ross’ success was minimal at best, but during his time in WCW, he either teamed with or feuded with some of the top names in the business, including Ron Simmons, Sid Vicious, Eddie Gilbert, and Tommy Rich. Ross was never quite able to make it to the next level in WCW. He continued to wrestle with them on a limited basis through the early nineties, as well as working some independent shows and a brief run in Japan. While in Japan, Ross was one half of one of the odder tag teams ever seen in the sport, as he teamed with Abdullah the Butcher.
Ross retired from wrestling in the early 90’s and became a private investigator and a probation officer, but eventually drifted into ministry and became a pastor at a church in Georgia. He did pop back up at a few independent shows between 2004-2007 but has primarily remained out of the wrestling business.
While neither Craig Pittman nor Ranger Ross ever became household names in the sport, they were true to themselves. They didn’t dance in the ring, nor have to worry about racial stereotypes. They were soldiers, veterans, and heroes both in the military, as well as in professional wrestling.
Day 15 Trivia Question
August 2, 1992. Who am I?
Day 13: Masambula
Welcome back everybody. I told you a few days ago that I was going to have a couple of guest writers join the series throughout the month, and today brings the first of them. Straight from the Columns Forum comes a man that gave me tons of valuable feedback that helped me become a better writer today. While he doesn't write nearly enough (hint, hint), when he does it's always something special. Now Black History Month isn't until October in the UK, but that's not going to stop us from going overseas and visiting something called World of Sport. Faithful readers, I bring you ChrisBear, and the story of the African Witch Doctor.
Racism, as with most places, was rife in the UK during the 60’s & 70’s. It was common to see bananas thrown at black footballers and sections of communities were marginalised. Wrestling was no exception and when World of Sport was at its peak, one of its most controversial stars was Masambula The Witch Doctor. This guy was practicing voodoo when Papa Shango was just “Shango.”
Masambula took a stereotype and turned it on its head. Masambula was of African descent, and played up to this, but in reality he was born and raised in Bradford, UK. Residing in such a poverty stricken place such quite possibly made it easier for him to act as if he came from another (no offence, Bradford). The fact is he was routinely abused as he entered the ring, bananas thrown, monkey chants and a whole cocktail of abhorrence. The strangest thing was that he didn’t care, during every match he’d wear a huge smile, stretching from ear to ear. He brought fun to the ring. Think of Dhalsim from Street Fighter, and cross him with Kofi Kingston and you’ll be imagining a gangly, bouncy human of excitement… You wouldn’t be wrong either.
As a child sat on my Granddad Tommy’s knee I was in awe of Masambula, luckily I was too young to recognise the hate he received, or the stereotype itself. Instead, I saw this happy ball of energy, and I was enthralled. That was the thing with Masambula, the women & children loved him. The “men” who loved the likes of Johnny Saint or Mick McManus saw Masambula as an intruder. This included my own Granddad Tommy, who was just a man of the time but was able to appreciate what he brought.
“I can’t believe they let him close some shows, let alone actually win some matches. It wasn’t long until I saw why you kids loved him. He was crazy, he’d do head stands in the corner, for no reason. I’d never been exposed to African people before, especially ones portrayed as happy. I became more tolerant of black sportsmen because of him, even if he did kill the leopard he wore the skin of.”
I never had the heart to tell Granddad Tommy that Masambula was from Bradford.
Masambula was controversial for his time; my innocent young mind didn’t care if he was black, white or purple. As long as he didn’t wear a Liverpool F.C shirt, I didn’t care. Masambula is one of the main characters that I remember from my childhood. He would mostly lose, just a sign of the times, but his energy, his smile, his persona, all endeared him to us kiddies. There were quite a few black wrestlers throughout World of Sport Wrestling, none embraced their heritage as much as Masambula, nobody made black wrestlers more accepted in the UK.
I’d like to thank ChrisBear for providing today’s feature. In the next couple of weeks, I’ll have another guest writer for you, with a spotlight on one of the top up and coming talents today.
Day 14 Trivia Question
We were never a tag team, but we were WCW's military heroes. Who were we?
Day 11: Slick
Today we’re going to look at our first (and only) non in-ring talent. He was the doctor of style; a trailblazer of cool; and one of the most colorful managers ever to grace the wrestling world. You all know who I’m talking about, so without further ado, let’s talk about the one and only Jive Soul Bro’
Kenneth Johnson- that’s a rather non-descript name isn’t it? But when Kenneth Johnson transformed into his wrestling persona, the Doctor of Style Slick, he was anything but non-descript. Slick started his career in the territories, originally calling himself Silky Slim, but it wasn’t very long before he was going by the name of Slick. He managed quite a few wrestlers as he was learning his craft, including one that he rejoined in the WWF/E, Butch Reed. During his time managing Reed, they lost a “Loser Leaves Town” match to Bruiser Brody (and no they didn’t reappear as Stagger Lee). Shortly thereafter, Slick debuted on WWF/E programming.
As the story goes, Slick came on the scene as an entrepreneur looking to get into the wrestling business. He purchased one half of Classy Freddie Blassie’s stable and began accompanying them to ringside. Blassie wasn’t in the best health, and the WWF/E used this storyline to get Blassie off of television. This marked a pretty momentous occasion in WWF/E history, as Slick became the first black manager in the history of the organization. His original stable of clients included WWE Hall of Famers Nikolai Volkoff and The Iron Sheik, who were still running roughshod over the tag team division.
The biggest and I do mean biggest, success that Slick had was the creation of The Twin Towers. The Big Bossman was already an established name in the Federation, and the One Man Gang was making waves as well. However, the One Man Gang had a reawakening, a transformation back to his African roots, becoming Akeem the African Dream. Slick stated in an interview that the Akeem character was his idea and he and Gang had great fun with it during their run. The Towers eventually got into a Main Event feud with Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage that saw many classic matches between the two teams. He managed many other wrestlers during his WWF/E run, including his former protégé Butch Reed, The Warlord, Power and Glory, and Rick Martel.
Billed as 5’11” tall, Slick was actually 6’4” in real life, and his height often caused some dissention among the wrestlers he worked with. Many didn’t like looking smaller than their manager, especially Power and Glory (Hercules and Paul Roman) who were both right around the 6’ height. During the height of his popularity, Slick was featured on a classic WWE song, “Jive Soul Bro’.” When asked in an interview if he felt the song was racist, Slick stated that he didn’t think the song, or Vince McMahon was racist, but he felt that Vince and the WWF/E based the characters and the song on what they knew about stereotypes. He stated that everyone at that time was playing a role, including him.
Slick took a leave of absence from TV for about a month, and came back a changed man; a man that had learned from his mistakes. In real life, Slick had become a born-again Christian, and came back to television as Reverend Slick. During this period, he will best be remembered for trying to rehabilitate the Ugandan Giant Kamala, going so far as teaching him bowl. Reverend Slick did not remain on WWF/E programming much longer after that angle, and eventually Slick retired from the active wrestling scene in 1993.
After wrestling, he became an ordained minister, and now preaches in Longview, TX. He occasionally pops up from time to time on WWF/E programming, most recently presiding over the wedding of Daniel Bryan and AJ Lee on the 1000th episode of Monday Night Raw. Slick was a class act when it came to wrestling personalities, and there will probably never be another like the “Jive Soul Bro’.”
Day 12 Teaser:
No Trivia Question today. Tomorrow brings us the first of two guest appearances during the month as we head overseas. Hope to see you then
Day 11: Koko B. Ware
Today we’re starting our third set of dailies celebrating Black History Month. We’re going to start getting into some more familiar names as we drift closer and closer to today’s superstars. I hope you’re enjoying the series so far, as we’ve looked at some of the classic names in the sport. Today, we look at one of the more charismatic faces of the Hulk Hogan era.
James Ware began his career in 1978, going by the name of Koko (the B. was added later). He started his career wrestling in the Southern NWA territories, and bounced around for a few years without much success. In the early 80’s, his career did seem to pick up, as he feuded with Jimmy Valiant, as well as Jerry Lawler. It was during that feud with Lawler, that the babyface Ware turned heel, aligning himself with Jimmy Hart’s First Family, changing his name to Sweet Brown Sugar (there’s that stereotyping again). He would team up with one of the greatest tag-team wrestlers alive, Bobby Eaton, and win the AWA Southern Tag Team Championship.
After a while, the team dissolved, with Hart complaining that Sugar couldn’t win a singles title like Eaton had. He slapped Sugar during an interview, sending him to back, prompting Eaton to say he was “whining like a woman”. The two eventually feuded, culminating in a “Loser Leave Town” match. Sugar lost the match, but shortly after the masked man known as Stagger Lee debuted. Now if that storyline sounds familiar, it’s because it is almost step by step the exact way Junkyard Dog became Stagger Lee. As was the case with JYD’s story, the heels unsuccessfully tried to unmask this Stagger Lee, until a match against The Fabulous Ones, Tommy Rich and Eddie Gilbert. After the unmasking, he turned heel and teamed up with Norvell Austin to form “The PYT Express.” Once again, stereotyping had reared its ugly head, as Austin and Ware were portrayed as Michael Jackson wannabe’s complete with red leather jackets and white gloves.
A year or so after their formation, Ware was signed by the WWF/E, and debuted in 1986 as the fun-loving “Birdman” Koko B. Ware. Ware wore colorful outfits and came to the ring with his pet macaw Frankie, flapping their wings and dancing to the delight of the fans. As was the case in the WWF/E at the time, everyone was a stereotype of some kind. Koko B.Ware was nothing short of a sideshow minstrel, dancing and smiling for the viewers in attendance. Ware never really had much success in the WWE in his singles career, losing to top stars more often than not. In a bit of historical trivia, Koko B. Ware was actually the first wrestler to be Tombstoned by the Undertaker in his debut match at Survivor Series 1990.
In 1992, Koko was teamed up with one of the best in the business, Owen Hart, to form the team of High Energy. They came to the ring in brightly colored baggy pants, checkered suspenders, and smiles on their faces. At first, it appeared that High Energy was destined for great things, but as was the case with Koko’s singles career, the team ended up losing more often than not to the likes of The Nasty Boys, Headshrinkers, and Money Inc. High Energy didn’t last very long, as Owen Hart injured his knee, and Ware once again became nothing short of an enhancement talent, losing time and time again to other top stars of the day. Like most black wrestlers we’ve seen, Ware was used mostly for his entertainment value, but wasn’t really thought of as a guy that could carry a title around his waist.
Ware did find some success in the USWA in 1991, during the time that the WWF/E was trying out a talent exchange program. He went back to his old stomping grounds of Memphis where he won the USWA World Title twice, once from Kamala and the other time from his old nemesis from his early years, Jerry Lawler. Ware eventually went into semi-retirement in 1995, even making a brief return in 1999 for the WWF/E. His last appearance on television was in 2008 as a groomsman for Jay Lethal during the wedding angle with So Cal Val, which replicated the classic tale of Macho Man Randy Savage and Elizabeth.
Koko was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2009 by the Honkytonk Man, and it was an induction that was met with some scrutiny. If you were to look at his history, Ware didn’t really accomplish much during his time in the federation, but his appeal to fans young and old secured him a spot in the Hall. While more deserving names have surely been left out to date, Koko’s induction sparked the ire of a lot of die-hard fans worldwide. Is he a Hall of Famer? I’ll let you decide that.
Day 12 Trivia Question
My height often created tension with the people I was working with. Who am I?