Posted in: Chair Shots Chair Shots Celebrates Black History Month: 28 Greats in 28 Days (Days 1-5)
Feb 5, 2013 - 12:57:16 PM
Welcome back everyone, and thanks again to everyone that is following the series to date. I’ve learned a lot of things as I’ve been researching this series, and hopefully you all have been enjoying it so far. Today, we’re going to talk about the man that many referred to as “the Jackie Robinson of Professional Wrestling”. He was a man that broke racial boundaries in a time when many still existed
Day 5: Bobo Brazil
One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gone along is that the world of professional wrestling was not immune to the racism that existed between blacks and whites. While promoters were more than willing to make their money off of black wrestlers, they weren’t all that willing to push them very high. For quite some time, black wrestlers would only have matches against other black wrestlers, as the thought of having an interracial match was unheard of. The promoters knew however, that they had popular stars on their hands, and would give the fans just enough to keep them wanting more. Many black wrestlers would receive title shots, but the thought of having a World Champion of color was just never going to happen. Yet it DID happen, but unfortunately for the world of professional wrestling, promoters renounced the change acting like it never happened. The man that broke that barrier is none other than the great Bobo Brazil.
Brazil was born Houston Harris, a modest steel worker who developed a love for professional wrestling. When he debuted in 1951, he was originally billed as Boo-Boo Brazil, the South American giant. But promoters, in all their wisdom, misspelled his name and Bobo Brazil was born. As I mentioned earlier, originally Bobo would only wrestle other black wrestlers, such as Ernie Ladd and Abdullah the Butcher, but his popularity grew so much that eventually he was put into high profile feuds with some of the greats in the business.
For the first time in professional wrestling history, a black man was being heralded as one of the top draws in the business, and like Jackie Robinson did in baseball, change started to happen. But if history has taught us anything, it’s that change happens slowly, and sometimes appears to not happen at all. While Bobo was using his smooth in-ring skills and devastating headbutt (known as the Coco Butt) to finish his matches, his legend continued to grow. He began wrestling such greats as Killer Kowalski, Johnny Valentine, and The Sheik, with whom he feuded for decades on end. And as we’ve seen with other wrestlers we’ve already looked at, Bobo was granted a title shot against Bruno Sammartino at one point, but did not capture the gold.
Then in 1962, something incredible happened, Bobo Brazil became the NWA Heavyweight Champion by defeating “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers. But wait you say, I thought Ron Simmons was the first black heavyweight champion? Well, technically you’d be correct. Bobo Brazil did win the title from Rogers, which he initially didn’t accept due to Rogers claiming to be injured. Doctors found nothing wrong with Rogers, and awarded the title to Bobo the very next day. Unfortunately for wrestling fans, and for tolerant people everywhere, the NWA refused to acknowledge the championship. Politics, and the racial landscape at the time, forced the hand of the people that voted for him to win the title, making it null and void. The political backlash of having a black NWA Heavyweight Champion was too much for the governing body, and they caved in to racist pressure.
Bobo wrestled for almost found decades, finally retiring in 1993. He mentored and trained the very first person we looked at in this series, Rocky Johnson. In 1994 Bobo was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by a man he feuded with for many years, and a man that became one of his lifelong friends, Ernie Ladd. Brazil was also inducted into the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2008. He died in 1998, after a series of strokes, but Bobo Brazil will forever be remembered as the man that broke the walls down.
Day 6 Trivia Question:
I graduated college as a political science major. Who am I?
Day 4: Butch Reed
Did you know there was another “Hacksaw”? If you did, then you probably have some knowledge of the man we’re going to be talking about today. He’s another two-sport star, playing football in college, as well as a brief run in the NFL with the Kansas City Chiefs.
To many, Butch Reed could be considered a journeyman wrestler. Through the course of his career, Reed wrestled for Mid-South Wrestling, Georgia Championship Wrestling, the AWA, the NWA/WCW, and the WWE/F, as well as other independent promotions. Reed has pretty much done it all, but never quite reached the pinnacle of the sport as World Champion. That’s not to say that Reed’s accomplishments in the sport aren’t monumental.
When Reed first started in Mid-South Wrestling, he came in as “Hacksaw” Butch Reed, and immediately started feuding with the then heel “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. You know, just when you think you knew a lot about wrestling, you learn something new. I didn’t know until I started researching this that Duggan wrestled as a heel. How about that! Ok, I digress; let’s get back to Butch Reed. During the feud with Duggan, a double turn happened, with Reed turning heel, and Duggan going face. Reed decided nobody looked out for Butch Reed better than Butch Reed, which prompted a face-off with the biggest face in Mid-South at the time, The Junkyard Dog. At that point, a feud that lasted for ten years kicked off, as Reed and Ted Dibiase put a beat down on JYD.
Let’s just think about what happened there for a moment. The Butch Reed/JYD feud lasted from 1983 until their final battles in the United States Wrestling Alliance in 1992. Most feuds fizzle out after just a few months nowadays, and if you get one that lasts over a year, it’s pretty monumental. Butch Reed and The Junkyard Dog feuded for ten years, across three different wrestling organizations. When JYD decided to go to the WWF/E, Mid-South Wrestling was left without its top face. It was at that point, that Butch Reed once again turned face, ultimately teaming up with the man he fought a couple years earlier for his nickname, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan. During his time there, Reed was able to get a title shot against the NWA Champion at the time, the legendary “Nature Boy” Ric Flair. The match went to a one-hour draw, but Reed’s performance that night gained him a lot of supporters, supporters that were about to bring him to the biggest stage in wrestling.
It may have been that match that secured him a spot in the WWF/E, alongside his new manager Slick. Now sporting blonde hair and going by the name of “The Natural”, Reed feuded with many greats of that time, such as Don Muraco, Ricky Steamboat and Tito Santana. Reed holds two very special distinctions in WWE history. He was the first man eliminated in both the very first Survivor Series Main Event, as well as the very first Royal Rumble. In the Survivor Series Main Event, he was eliminated by Hulk Hogan in three minutes. At the Royal Rumble, Jake Roberts eliminated him, in just over three minutes.
After his time in the WWF/E, Reed went to the NWA, where his feud with JYD continued. He sort of bounced around doing not much of anything for a while, until Woman, who was feuding with the Steiner Brothers at the time, proclaimed that Doom was coming. Shortly thereafter, two black masked wrestlers debuted, immediately recognizable to fans as Ron Simmons and Butch Reed. Doom had a very successful run as a tag-team, even after they were forced to unmask after losing a match to the Steiners. They went on to win the Tag Team Championships, until a loss to the Freebirds caused a rift between the two, thus ending Doom, and starting a feud between Simmons and Reed.
Reed left WCW shortly thereafter, and went on the independent circuit for a few more years, again reigniting his feud with JYD for one final time. He bounced around for a few more years before ultimately retiring. Unfortunately, his retirement was not without trouble, as Reed was arrested for a DUI, and arrested again for violating the probation terms stemming from that arrest. Not much has been heard of Butch Reed lately, but his mark he left on the wrestling world is substantial.
Day 5 Trivia Question:
My original name was one of a cartoon character, but a promoter misspelled it. Who am I?
Day 3: The Ugandan Giant, Kamala
As we get into day three of our looks at some of the best black professional wrestlers ever, I want to say a big thanks to those who have provided kind words for me making this undertaking. For those who don’t know, I’m not African-American. I’m about as white as you can get, but I appreciate the accomplishments that all races bring to the world. So without further ado, let’s keep this going.
James Harris could be anybody. He could be your neighbor, your co-worker, your mailman, or your friend. But when this one James Harris puts on his makeup and paints stars and a crescent moon on his chest and stomach, this James Harris becomes the farthest thing there is from an anybody. This James Harris becomes the Ugandan Giant Kamala, a cannibal from deep in the heart of Africa, who eventually learned to love bowling.
I mean seriously, look at that face. That is the stuff that nightmares are made of. But for everybody that ever met James Harris the man, they’d tell you there was not a nicer man in the business. He came from very humble beginnings, living off welfare to survive. Stealing to survive, James was forced to leave town at a very early age by the local law enforcement.
"Back then if you didn't leave like they said, you would be found dead somewhere.”
But from all bad things, good things can occur. When he moved to Michigan at the age of 25, James met the legendary Bobo Brazil (a man we’ll talk about later this month). James Harris’ journey into professional wrestling had begun, and within a few years of his debut, Kamala would be unleashed on the wrestling world. However prior to becoming Kamala, he wrestled under variations of his own name- Big Jim Harris, Sugar Bear Harris, and Ugly Bear Harris. It wasn’t until Jerry Lawler suggested a new gimmick was the cannibal from Africa born.
Kamala eventually made his way to the WWE/F, where he wrestled in a lot of high-profile matches against such greats as Andre the Giant, Hulk Hogan and Jake “the Snake” Roberts. Kamala was known for his unorthodox antics, and often signaled his attacks by slapping on his rather rotund mid-section. He would defeat his opponents with a big giant splash, more often than not signaling the end of the match.
One of Kamala’s high-profile feuds, with Jake Roberts, saw “The Snake” exploit one of Kamala’s only known fears- the fear of snakes. During that feud, the smaller Roberts often got the upper hand by waving his trusty python around, forcing Kamala to exit the ring, running for his life. Kamala left the WWE/F for a while, but when he returned he fell into the hands of the Reverend Slick, who tried to tame the wild beast by teaching him to bowl. It’s a classic video, and one that has gone down as one of the most classic comedy skits in WWE/F history.
After leaving the business for a few years, Kamala turned up in WCW as part of Kevin Sullivan’s Dungeon of Doom, but at the time WCW was paying Kamala on a pay per appearance basis. With no intention of offering him a full-time contact, Kamala exited WCW as quickly as he arrived. On several occasions after, Kamala did turn up back in the WWE/F for special appearances, but never quite became a full-time wrestler after that. One interesting note though, is that in 2006, Kamala wrestled Bryan Danielson for the ROH World Championship.
Unfortunately for Kamala, due to complications from high blood pressure, diabetes, and a lifetime of being overweight, he had both his legs amputated. In recent weeks, Kamala has been rumoured as a possible inductee into the WWE Hall of Fame, but as of this writing, that has not been confirmed. Despite never being a great ring technician, or having any mic skills beyond grunting, Kamala had a large following for many years. I know that anytime I hear someone smack their belly, I can’t help but think of the Ugandan Giant.
Day 4 Trivia Question.
What former WCW Tag Team Champion was also big into the rodeo circuit?
Day 2: "The Big Cat" Ernie Ladd
Chair Shots continues its look at some of the greatest black professional wrestlers with a two-sport star, and one of the scariest men to ever step foot in the ring.
Six feet nine inches tall. 315 pounds. One of the largest men ever to play in the American Football League. Without a doubt, Ernie Ladd was an imposing figure of a man. As a successful pro football player, Ernie Ladd also became one of many sports stars who successfully made the transition into the world of professional wrestling. In fact, The Cat only got into wrestling from a dare given to him by his San Diego Charger teammates. For fans everywhere, it was a dare that the professional wrestling world is glad he accepted.
Check out these measurements, and tell me that this isn’t a man you wouldn’t be scared of:
Ladd played with the San Diego Charges, Houston Oilers, and Kansas City Chiefs, but was thought of as a troublemaker for a lot of his time, even being indefinitely suspended in 1965 by the Chargers owner. In fact, Ladd was trying to fight the racism and biased that existed in the league at that time. Black players were often paid less than their white team members, something not uncommon in that era. Ladd however, was one of the best Chargers players leading them to the AFL title. Unfortunately though, things were not getting any better, and in 1969 he turned to professional wrestling on a full-time basis.
Unbelievably, this giant of a man with a rumoured attitude problem in the AFL, started out wrestling as a fan favorite, but he quickly started playing a heel character, verbally berating fans with his colorful speech and mannerisms. In fact, Ladd was one of the first black professional wrestlers to portray a heel character. What was interesting about the character he played, is that “The Big Cat” was often as racist as some of the people he walked out on in the AFL. He called Wahoo McDaniel a “drunken Indian” and referred to Mr. Wrestling as a “Masked Varmint” alluding to the fact he wore a mask because he was an escaped convict. There were some that felt that Ladd was a hypocrite, fighting against racism in football, but at the same time portraying a sometimes racist wrestling character.
Ladd was huge, so he was often paired in battle against the giants of the day. When he finally made his way to the WWF/E, it was only a matter of time before Ladd feuded with the biggest giant of them all, Andre the Giant. As in most of Andre’s feuds, Ladd rarely came out on top, but proved in his battles with Andre that he was a man to be feared in the squared circle. Ladd made such a good impression during that feud that he was later put into World Title feuds with Bruno Sammartino, as well as Pedro Morales. Ladd’s dominance even continued into the reign of Bob Backlund, challenging him in 1978 for the title. Of course, as in his feud with Andre, Ladd was never able to capture the gold, but for fans Ladd’s motivation seemed more focused on hurting his opponents than walking out with victories and titles.
I didn’t really get to see much of Ernie Ladd growing up, but in the few times I saw him wrestle, I remember most of his matches ending in disqualification, mostly due to his use of a tape thumb to the throat that often resulted in the referee calling for the bell. Like a lot of big men in wrestling, Ladd also used a big foot to the face to end his matches. Ladd was a true pioneer in wrestling, creating a heel character that didn’t care what he said or what he did.
Unfortunately, the same knee injuries that plagued him during his football career forced his retirement from wrestling in 1986. Ladd was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 1995 by the great Bobo Brazil (another man we’ll be looking at this month). “The Big Cat” lost a battle to colon cancer in 2007, a battle he fought for several years. The mold was broken with Ernie Ladd.
Day 3 Trivia Question I’ve written over 100 songs. Who am I?
February marks the return of Black History Month in the United States and Canada. It’s a time to celebrate the achievements of great African-Americans in all walks of life. It is a time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a community and how far we’ve yet to go in terms of race relations, not only in the United States and Canada, but all over the world. In our world of professional wrestling, the first recognized African-American Heavyweight Champion wasn’t crowned until 1992, an event I’m privileged to say I was in attendance for. Throughout wrestling history, there have been many black professional wrestlers, and through the course of this month, I’m going to spotlight some of my favorites. They include some familiar faces, but you also might find some that you don’t have a lot of knowledge of. This is Chair Shots first attempt at doing a daily for a month, so we’ll just see how this goes. Today we’re going to look at the father of one of this generation’s favorite wrestlers, and one hell of an entertainer in his own right.
Rocky was actually born Wayde Douglas Bowles and right off the bat I found out something I didn’t know about him- he’s Canadian, being born in Nova Scotia. Wrestling wasn’t actually Rocky’s first love, as he trained to be a boxer with some of the greats, including George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. However, something drew him to the sport of professional wrestling and he eventually made him way into the National Wrestling Alliance.
He found some fairly decent popularity in the NWA, receiving title shots again NWA Champions Harley Race and Terry Funk. However, at that time, the holder of the NWA title was voted upon by the governing body of the NWA. Unfortunately, in the mid-70’s, race relations weren’t all that great and having a black NWA Champion was not going to happen. Rocky did however win several tag team titles before making his way to the WWF/E.
When I first started watching wrestling as a child, one of the first matches I remember seeing on TV was Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson vs. The Wild Samoans. During the No Disqualification match, Captain Lou Albano, the manager of the Samoans, tried to smash a wooden chair over the head of Rocky Johnson, who was being held by one of the Samoans. Rocky was able to avoid the blow, and Albano blasted the chair over the head of his own man. The Samoan’s head went through the chair, and just the frame was left hanging around his neck. It was a sight to behold for sure. Johnson and Atlas, now known as The Soul Patrol would eventually go on to win the WWF/W Tag Team Titles during that match, which would turn out to be Rocky’s only title during his time in the WWE/F.
In a weird twist of events, Rocky Johnson would actually become a member of the Samoan family, marrying the daughter of High Chief Peter Maivia, also a great WWE/F wrestling star. Rocky holds the honor of being the first High Chief of non-Samoan descent, as he was dubbed High Chief Tafiaiafi. Of course from that marriage came one of the greatest superstars of the current generation, The Rock.
Rocky would retire from active competition in 1991, but did pop up on television from time to time, most notably when “The Blue Chipper” Rocky Maivia was introduced to the WWE Universe. “The Soulman” definitely made his mark in WWE/F history with his phenomenal dropkick, and his knockout punch known as the Johnson Shuffle. In 2008, Rocky Johnson was inducted to the WWE Hall of Fame, along with High Chief Peter Maivia, by his son The Rock. It was an induction that was well deserved, because in his day, there wasn’t anybody as charismatic and as talented as “The Soulman” Rocky Johnson.
Every day, I think I’ll leave you with a trivia question about our next wrestling great. So here’s a little hint as to who we’ll be looking at tomorrow.
I used to own a BBQ restaurant in New Orleans called The Throwdown, but it was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Who am I?