90 years ago, in 1926, noted historian Carter G. Woodson, as a means to teach black history in public schools, helped establish “Negro History Week” for the 2nd week of February in honor of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass’ birthdays (the 12th and 14th respectively).
44 years later Ohio’s Kent State celebrated the first “Black History Month” before President Gerald Ford oversaw its national expansion in 1976 to “review with admiration the impressive contributions of black Americans to our national life and culture.” The UK adopted the month 11 years later in 1987 while Canada’s House of Commons adopted it in 1995 and the Senate in 2008.
In honor of the 40th annual “Black History Month” Throwback Thursday takes a look at the “impressive contributions” of some of the greatest, most influential black wrestlers of all-time, as they appear on the WWE Network. For more, watch Legends of Wrestling: The Soul of Wrestling.
— “2-out-of-3 Falls Tag Team Match” (WATCH)
Crusher Blackwell & Bugsy McGraw vs. Tony Parisi(WWWF World Tag Team Champion) & Bobo Brazil(sub. for WWWF World Tag Team Champion Louis Cerdan)
WWWF on HBO • February 2, 1976
The late Bobo Brazil is often called the Jackie Robinson of professional wrestling, and for good reason. Bobo became the first major black breakout star in wrestling in the 1950s and ’60s, was the first black World Heavyweight Champion in 1962 (a reign that remains unrecognized by the NWA), and worked the first inter-racial match in the history of Atlanta wrestling in 1970. Unfortunately this is the only Bobo Brazil match on the entire WWE Network. To see Bobo Brazil’s WWF Hall of Fame induction check out the 1994 Hall of Fame Look Back (30:20).
— Mid-South North American Heavyweight Championship (WATCH)
Special Guest Referee: Dusty Rhodes
Junk Yard Dog vs. “Hacksaw” Butch Reed(c)
Mid-South Wrestling • October 26, 1983
Bobo may have been the Jackie Robinson of pro wrestling but the late Junkyard Dog was by far the most popular black wrestler of all-time. Though hot in every territory JYD worked, it was Bill Watts’ Mid-South Wrestling that made JYD a superstar. This match, a MSW classic, is a perfect illustration of how just how great JYD truly was. To see JYD’s posthumous WWE Hall of Fame induction check out the 2004 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (2:04:08).
— NWA World Tag Team Championship – “Street Fight” (WATCH)
The Four Horsemen (Arn Anderson & Barry Windham (sub. for Ric Flair)) vs. Doom (Ron Simmons & Butch Reed)(c) w/Teddy Long
NWA/WCW Starrcade ’90: Collision Couse • December 16, 1990
Ron Simmons and Butch Reed were not just one of the first dominant black tag teams, they were one of the best tag teams ever. Doom broke the mold and set the standard for what a black tag team could achieve in wrestling. This match is nothing short of a war; one of the best street fights in tag team wrestling history. To see Ron Simmons WWE Hall of Fame induction check out the 2012 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (4:35).
— WWF Intercontinental Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH)
Special Guest Commentator: Owen Hart
Ahmed Johnson vs. Goldust(c) w/Marlena
WWF King of the Ring 1996 • June 23, 1996
By the mid-’90s the WWF was actively trying to find the next black superstar. Where Farrooq Assad failed Ahmed Johnson succeeded. It was this angle, that included Johnson blowing a jobber through a steel door, that put Johnson over in the WWF. Though Johnson’s run didn’t quite pan out Ahmed’s work speaks for itself. And this match is as good as any in Ahmed Johnson’s career.
— Singles Match (WATCH)
2 Cold Scorpio vs. “Lion Heart” Chris Jericho
ECW The Doctor is In • August 3, 1996
2 Cold Scorpio is quite simply one of the greatest and most influential black wrestlers ever of all-time. Between the uncanny timing and effortless aerial attack 2 Cold Scorpio influenced wrestlers of all color and ethnicity and helped to finally get the junior heavyweight style off the ground in the U.S. This match, Jericho’s swan song in ECW, is as good a 2 Cold Scorpio match as there is on the WWE Network.
— WCW World Tag Team Championship (WATCH)
The Steiner Brothers (Rick & Scott) vs. Harlem Heat (Booker T & Stevie Ray)(c) w/Sister Sherr & Col. Rob Parker
WCW Hog Wild • August 10, 1996
Harlem Heat is without question the greatest black tag team in professional wrestling history. Winning an astounding 10 WCW World Tag Team Championships Booker T and Stevie Ray re-wrote the book on tag team wrestling. Sure-fire WWE Hall of Famers Harlem Heat faced a racially insensitive crowd in Sturgis, South Dakota and managed to put on one of the best PPV title matches of their careers. To see Booker T’s WWE Hall of Fame induction check out the 2013 WWE Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony (1:22:13).
— Tag Team Match (WATCH)
The Godfather & D’Lo Brown vs. The Big Boss Man & Buchanan
WWF WrestleMania 2000 • April 2, 2000
Charles Wright bounced from the horrendous Papa Shango to Kama to Kama Mustafa before hitting on the gimmick that made Wright a superstar and transcended the industry like few gimmicks before or since, in The Godfather. This match may not be the best but it is a perfect illustration as to the popularity of The Godfather.
— WWE Championship (WATCH)
Bobby Lashley vs. John Cena(c)
WWE Great American Bash 2007 • July 21, 2007
Bobby Lashley is among the first of the modern black wrestlers whose athletic ability, not the color of his skin, was paramount. Lashley was and remains to be one of the most physically gifted performers of his time. With unbelievable strength and agility Lashley effortlessly rose up the ranks of the WWE. Though no longer with WWE Lashley continues to break down boundaries and rise to formally unattainable heights. This match is one of Lashley’s very best in WWE.
— Tag Team Match – “Never Before, Never Again” (WATCH)
The Awesome Truth (The Miz & R-Truth ) vs. John Cena & The Rock
WWE Survivor Series 2011 • November 20, 2011
After a stint in the WWF as “K-Kwik” (1999 – 2002) Ron Killings ended up in NWA-TNA where “The Truth” found moderate success. Killings returned to WWE in 2008 and hasn’t looked back, becoming a United States and Tag Team Champion along the way. The apex of Killings’ career, however, came when WWE selected Killings and Miz to help train with the returning Rock and work Rock’s first match back in 7 and a half years. Rather than perpetrate an unfair, ugly stereotype Killings’ “R-Truth” gimmick is uniquely Ron Killings turned up to 11, as the cliché goes, and presents a positive role model to young children everywhere no matter their color or background.
— NXT Women’s Championship – “Fatal Four-Way Match” (WATCH)
Sasha Banks vs. Becky Lynch vs. Bayley vs. Charlotte(c)
NXT TakeOver: Rival • February 11, 2015
Sasha Banks isn’t the first black women’s wrestler in WWE but, at the age of 24, Banks is without question one of the very best. Banks’ timing and athleticism are nearly unparalleled in WWE setting the former NXT Women’s Champion apart from nearly every other woman on the WWE roster. This match, an instant classic, saw Sasha finally break through, claiming the title that had eluded “The Boss” for so long.
These are only ten of the best and most influential black wrestlers to be found on the WWE Network but they are by no means the only ones. Black wrestlers, while suffering indignities few can even imagine, managed to transform the business and what it means to be a professional wrestler. For their struggles and disappointments, their triumphs and victories we celebrate their dedication to the sport of professional wrestling, a sport they left far better off than when they found it.
That’s it for this week’s TBT on WDN – thanks for reading! Are you a WWE Network subscriber? Then check out these matches, see them for yourself, and let us know what you think below.
Until next week, see ya at ringside!