This week Throwback Thursday pauses to celebrate Black History Month by taking a look back at 10 of wrestling’s most popular and influential African-American wrestlers, revisiting some of their biggest and most memorable matches in the archives of the WWE Network.
For more on African-Americans in wrestling check out our last Throwback or the 2009 roundtable Legends of Wrestling: The Soul of Wrestling that’s also up for viewing on the Network.
— “Steel Cage Match” (WATCH – 38:55)
“The Ugandan Giant” Kamala w/Friday vs. Andre the Giant
Maple Leaf Wrestling ■ October 21, 1984
James Harris survived the death of his father, poverty, and run-ins with the law to pave his own path in professional wrestling as, originally, “Kimala”, a character created in part by Jerry Jarrett, Jerry Lawler, and the Great Mephisto. As “Kamala”, Harris’ career would take off, working memorable stints in Mid-South Wrestling and WCCW before debuting for the WWF on the July 21, 1984 edition of Championship Wrestling (a series currently unavailable on the Network). This classic encounter, on only the 3rd WWF-exclusive MLW TV show, was the return match from the September 23, 1984 MLW card where Kamala defeated Andre by count out. This hard-hitting war is as old-school a cage match as one will find on the Network and stands as one of Kamala’s greatest and most-memorable matches.
— “20-Man Invitational Battle Royal” (WATCH – 5:57)
Special Guest Commentator: Bob Uecker
1) Bret Hart, 2) Jim Neidhart, 3) Jim Powers, 4) Paul Roma, 5) Sika, 6) Danny Davis, 7) Jim Brunzell, 8) B. Brian Blair, 9) Bad News Brown, 10) Sam Houston, 11) Raymond Rougeau, 12) Jacques Rougeau, 13) Ken Patera, 14) Ron Bass, 15) Junkyard Dog, 16) Nikolai Volkoff, 17) Boris Zhukov, 18) Hillbilly Jim, & 20) George Steele
WWF WrestleMania IV ■ March 27, 1988
The late Allen Coage was an accomplished judo champion before he became a professional wrestler. A 6-time AAU Champion and two-time Pan American Games gold medalist, Coage became the first African-American Olympian to medal in a solo sport, apart from boxing and track and field, when he won the bronze medal in judo at the 1976 summer Olympics. In 1977 Coage began training for pro wrestling in the NJPW Dojo under Antonio Inoki. After a brief stint in the WWF as an enhancement talent Coage, as “Bad News Allen”, had a notable run in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling. In 1988, Coage returned to the WWF as “Bad News Brown” where he had the greatest success of his career. This match, coming a mere two month’s after Coage’s “debut”, is widely considered to be the greatest “battle royal” in WrestleMania history, creating a true “WrestleMania Moment” that stands as one of WrestleMania IV‘s high points.
— “ThunderDome Cage Match” – Teddy Long Suspended Above the Ring (WATCH – 1:24:58)
“Hacksaw” Butch Reed w/Teddy Long vs. Ron Simmons
WCW SuperBrawl ■ May 19, 1991
Though it’s claimed that Bruce “Butch” Reed played football with the Kansas City Chiefs prior to becoming a wrestler, no records of such a career can readily be found. Either way, Reed began training for wrestling in 1978 in Missouri with Ronnie Etchison. Reed was a strong, dominant athlete who made a mark wherever he worked, including Central States and Florida, among other NWA territories, Reed landed in Mid-South Wrestling where he became a star. A move to the WWF in 1986 only increased Reed’s stock so that by the time Reed landed in WCW in 1988 he was considered a bona-fide, though tarnished, superstar. This match with Simmons, the blow-off of the collapse of Doom, marked one of the final nationally televised matches of Reed’s career.
— Million Dollar Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 53:55)
“Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase(c) w/Sensational Sherri vs. Virgil
WWF SummerSlam ’91 ■ August 26, 1991
Michael Jones started out as “Soul Train Jones” in Memphis and Angelo Poffo’s ICW. In 1986 Jones debuted was “Lucius Brown” in the WWF, losing to Paul Orndorff on the September 28, 1986 edition of Wrestling Challenge (a series currently unavailable on the Network), before reappearing 9 months later as “Virgil”, the valet of the “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase. For four and a half years Virgil was used and abused by DiBiase verbally and physically before Virgil finally had enough at the 1991 Royal Rumble, knocking DiBiase out with his own Million Dollar Championship. This match from SummerSlam ’91 turned out to be Jones’ high-water mark in pro wrestling. Though Jones would go on to work for many more years in both the WWF and WCW, he would never again reach the heights of this run in 1991.
— Singles Match (WATCH – 27:17)
Chris Benoit vs. 2 Cold Scorpio
WCW SuperBrawl III ■ February 21, 1993
Charles Scaggs began wrestling in 1985 as “2 Cold Scorpio” before heading to Japan to train in the NJPW Dojo. After touring the world Scorpio signed with WCW and debuted at COTC XXI on November 18, 1992 as World Champion Ron Simmons’ surprise partner in a handicap match against Cactus Jack, Tony Atlas, and Barbarian. This match with Chris Benoit, well-ahead of its time, was an instant classic that is every bit as good today as it was in 1993 and showcases everything that made 2 Cold Scorpio one of the most unique and entertaining wrestlers of all time.
— Vacant WWF Women’s Championship – “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 29:00)
Sable vs. Jacqueline w/Marc Mero
WWF Monday Night RAW #278 ■ September 21, 1998 (TAPED: Sept. 15, 1998)
Widely considered to be one of the toughest ladies wrestlers of her era, WWE Hall of Famer Jacqueline Moore debuted in WCCW in 1988 as “Sweet Georgia Brown” before finding success as “Miss Texas” in USWA, becoming an 8-time USWA Women’s Champion and the first women ever to be included in the PWI 500. Jacqueline arrived in WCW in January 1997 as part of the infamous Benoit/Sullivan war before moving on to manage Harlem Heat. Jacqueline debuted in the WWF on the June 15, 1998 edition of RAW as Marc Mero’s new valet and immediately began to feud with Sable. Though this match is short and not of the highest quality, it is significant nonetheless. This was the first televised Women’s Championship match in the WWF since 1995 and marked the first time an African-American woman won the title. Jacqueline would be the first of only 4 African-American women to hold any variation of a WWF/E Women’s title with Jazz, Alicia Fox, and Sasha Banks as the only others.
— WCW World Heavyweight Championship (WATCH – 2:28:24)
Booker T vs. Jeff Jarrett(c)
WCW Bash at the Beach 2000 ■ July 9, 2000
Like Kamala, Booker T. Huffman, Jr. used professional wrestling as means of escaping a tough childhood and potential criminal path. With his brother, Lash “Stevie Ray” Huffman, Booker T was one-half of arguably the greatest tag team in WCW history, winning the WCW Tag Team title a record ten times. All told Booker T became the most decorated wrestler in WCW history, amassing an incredible 21 WCW titles before WCW was phased out in November 2001. This match, Booker T’s first WCW World title win, was, in reality, long overdue. Topping off one of the most insane and controversial nights in company history, this match delivered the kind of action that put WCW on the map, reclaiming some of the dignity lost through the course of the night.
— “Grudge Match” (WATCH – 2:41:36)
The Rock vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin
WWE WrestleMania XIX ■ March 30, 2003
Before becoming a professional wrestler Dwayne Johnson was a member of the 1991 Miami Hurricanes’ National Championship team. Though Johnson had all the tools and gifts to be a great pro wrestler he was not an overnight success. After numerous fits and starts “Rocky Maivia” morphed into The Rock, and the rest, as the cliché goes, is history. By 2003 Johnson was transitioning away from the ring and into a full-time acting career in Hollywood. This classic match against legendary foe Stone Cold Steve Austin marked Johnson’s last singles match at WrestleMania for 9 years.
— Quarter-Final Match of the ‘Gold Rush’ Number Contender’s Tournament – “Non-Title Match” (WATCH – 32:02)
WWE Intercontinental Champion Shelton Benjamin vs. Shawn Michaels
WWE Monday Night RAW #623 ■ May 2, 2005
Shelton Benjamin was an accomplished high school wrestler (122 – 10) and college athlete, winning several NJCAA titles in both track and field and wrestling. After amassing a 36 – 6 wrestling record at the University of Minnesota in his junior and senior years, Shelton Benjamin chose to pursue a pro wrestling career over qualifying for the 2000 Summer Olympics. In 2002 Benjamin debuted on SmackDown! with Charlie Haas as part of “Team Angle”, soon to be known as the World’s Greatest Tag Team. Drafted to RAW on December 5, 2004 Shelton Benjamin quickly established himself as a viable babyface with as much potential as any talent in the company. By this point in 2005 Benjamin was in the midst of his first singles title reign as Intercontinental Champion. This instant classic holds up extremely well and stands as a true career highlight for both Shawn Michaels and Shelton Benjamin.
— WWE Tag Team Championship – “Fatal Four-Way Match” (WATCH – 28:44)
The New Day (Big E & Kofi Kingston) w/Xavier Woods vs. Lucha Dragons (Sin Cara & Kalisto) vs. Los Matadores (Diego & Fernando) w/El Torito vs. The Prime Time Players (Darren Young & Titus O’Neil)
WWE SummerSlam 2015 ■ August 23, 2015
Ettore “Big E” Ewen (an accomplished power lifter), Kofi “Kingston” Sarkodie-Mensah, and Austin “Xavier Woods” Watson (who has a Master’s degree in psychology) were floundering as singles stars when WWE grouped the three together in what was originally an African-American gospel trio called the New Day, which debuted on the November 28, 2015 edition of SmackDown!. The trio faced harsh criticism at first until a heel turn in April 2015 launched the team to the next level. This Tag Team title win at SummerSlam 2015 was the start of what would become the longest Tag title reign in company history at 483 days. By the end of 2015 everyone from Rolling Stone to Wrestling Observer Newsletter were praising New Day for their promos and their matches. Since 1958 there have been 6 different men’s tag team titles in WWE and a total of 194 champions, of which New Day is one of only 5 African-American Tag Team Champions.
African-American wrestlers have come a long way. Where once the typical black wrestler was simply one of three or four stereotypes, black wrestlers of today are well-rounded characters whose success as heels or babyfaces no longer depends on the color of their skin.
Though much was made of the “black excellence” photo posted on December 13, 2016 by Big E, the picture stands as a testament to WWE’s changing culture and the payoff of decades of struggle and strife by the likes of Luther Lindsey, Sailor Art Thomas, Jack Claybourne, Sweet Daddy Siki, Ernie Ladd, Thunderbolt Patterson, and Rocky Johnson, to name a slim few.
You can celebrate Black History Month right now if you are a subscriber to the WWE Network! And as always, let us know what you think of the matches selected, below.
Thanks for reading – until next week, see ya at ringside!
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Okaaaay..where’s Screamin’ Norman Smiley, huh!? 🙂
I always love watching Bad News Brown.. that battle royal and especially his feud with Roddy was so freakin awesome..
The “Ghettoblaster” really needed to be on Top 50 Finishing moves countdown.
Doom vs 4 Horsemen streetfight is one of the best in that genre.. Love the scene where Barry Windham is (legimit??) hurt…and when an official is trying to check on him, Barry in a very firm way pushes the official away..tough..tough bastards back in those days. 😉
woops.. Doom vs Horsemen was from the article from last year..I read that right before I read this years article about the subject..talk about mixing it up.. -lol-
You are so right, Ruthless.Attitude.Eras.4Life, that street fight is one of the very best. I miss the truly tough bastards.
Thanks for reading (especially going back to last year) and taking the time to leave a comment. I always enjoy reading your thoughts every week. Take care!
Thanks for the kind words.. Thoughts, however, can only come from being fed with great written articles and commentaries. Feed me More, WDN. 😉