Awhile back, WWE Superstar Big E posted this picture to Twitter. Himself, the rest of his New Day teammates, Sasha Banks, and Rich Swann were all champions at the time, and since it’s so rare for this many black athletes to hold gold at the same time in WWE, they decided to proudly display their accomplishment in photo form with #BlackExcellence. Sadly, a few people managed to do some weird mental gymnastics and jump to the conclusion that they were being racist. I’m dead serious. This prompting Kofi Kingston to tweet out a well-worded response to the drama, but the real controversy is in the fact that he needed to respond at all. The fact that anyone actually believes #BlackExcellence is supposed to slight whitey in any way rather than just to be a celebration of how black athletes and entertainers can achieve success in an industry that hasn’t be historically kind to them, is just mind-boggling. I decided this would be a great idea to build a Black History Month post on. Despite WWE’s questionable booking of them over the years, black athletes so have a rich history in the industry, even in other organizations, from the days of Thunderbolt Patterson and Ernie Ladd down to the more modern athletes of the ring today. To round out Black History Month, I decided it would be a good idea to look back on some of my favorite shining moments of some of these athletes. And this time, I’m extending the list to 15.
#15) Awesome Kong Dominates the Early TNA Knockouts Division
Gail Kim seems to get almost all the credit in the world for helping establish the Knockouts Division as a better alternative to the then-Divas Division. While WWE bogged down their women’s roster doing the bare minimum required for a women’s division, TNA was actually trying, building a division on solid matches, sensible and entertaining stories, and characters that weren’t interchangeable. But Gail Kim wasn’t the only ace in the hole; not only were The Beautiful People (Angelina Love & Velvet Sky) taking the Divas aesthetic and building upon it and the uncanny energy of ODB winning over fans , but TNA also bought in a plus-sized monster heel by the name of Awesome Kong. The looks on everyone’s faces during her debut told the story. The game was changed, and my mind was blown. Due to WWE’s presentation at the time, I’d never seen a women’s wrestler of her size before, and it worked to her advantage. She became such a dominant force that her storied rivalry with Gail Kim resulted in an eventual half-year long Knockouts Title reign, with a second longer reign to follow. Her WWE run and TNA return may have ended in disappointment, but taht first run was a streak of excellence.
#14) Ron Simmons Becomes The First Recognized Black World Champion
Ron Simmons‘ career has had it’s fair share of ups and downs. It’s not like he’s done anything personally to make it that way. Before he was the seemingly more approachable half of the APA, his WWE run started with him having to wear a ridiculous helmet. The dominant Nation of Domination came soon after, but The Rock would end up the breakout star from that. After the APA’s demise in 2004, he was pretty much reduced to cameo status, showing up everyone once in a while to recite the swear word that would eventually make him both a household name for the new generation and a punchline. But before any of that, he won the honor of being recognized as the first black heavyweight champion of the world in wrestling. Admittedly, the way he ended up in the World Title match is a bit silly; Sting got put on the sidelines of his match against Vader and Simmons was inserted via a raffle. I’m dead serious. But on the bright side, he won the match with a powerslam and would go on to have a five-month long reign with the championship. Along with “WWE Hall of Famer”, first black WCW World Champion sure sounds nice on a resume. However, one other black man technically won a World Title before he did. We’ll get to that.
#13) Jacqueline Wins the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
It certainly didn’t seem like it at the time, but in retrospect, it must’ve been difficult to be a woman in WWE in the early 2000’s if your name wasn’t Trish Stratus or Lita. The other women at the time don’t get anywhere near the praise they deserve because they just happened to be on the roster at the same time as the two women many credit with revolutionizing women’s wrestling. But while Trish and Lita are undoubtedly great in their own right, how could we ever forget Jacqueline, a chick who was so tough she actually wrestled men just as much as she did women? She took on Dean Malenko and Chavo Guerrero, even beating the latter for the only women’s Cruiserweight Title reign in WWE history. Sure, a woman winning the Cruiserweight Championship wasn’t quite unheard of; Daffney and Madusa held it back in WCW. But the fact that WWE went with one (even if just for two weeks) is definitely noteworthy. On top of that, she has two Women’s Championships to her name. Anyone who argued against her going in the Hall of Fame last year just had to look at the facts and recognize her excellence.
#12) Cedric Alexander Amazes in the Cruiserweight Classic
What even is WWE doing with their Cruiserweight Division right now? They have talent by the bucketloads, but it’s nowhere near perfect as far as storytelling and character development goes. Cedric Alexander is a victim of this. In Ring of Honor, he ended up managed by Veda Scott in his final months in the company to a decent amount of success and buzz. In WWE, he ended up not only managed by Alicia Fox, but also romantically linked to the former Divas Champion. A romance storyline. That’s the angle they came up with for the guy who earned a unanimous chant begging he be signed following his match with Kota Ibushi in the Cruiserweight Classic. Granted his personality isn’t shown very much, but it could be. Even if it’s not, the one thing they shouldn’t do is limit what he can do in the ring because that match with Ibushi was an instant classic. Even Triple H was impressed with his outing. Watch that match if you haven’t. WWE Network. Dailymotion. Wherever you have to go.
#11) Jay Lethal Becoming The Longest Reigning Ring of Honor Champion
Jay Lethal was exposed to a national TV audience by way of TNA Impact back in the 2000’s. He was a huge name in the X-Division, which was way more on fire at the time than it is now. It was with TNA that he became a success and a household name, winning numerous X-Division titles, a Tag Team Title, SoCal Val‘s heart (briefly, anyway), and comedy cred for being able to do picture perfect impressions of Randy Savage and Ric Flair. Having already achieved a ton of excellence in Dixieland, he ended up in Ring of Honor after being released and just kept on building to his legacy. He later becomes the centerpiece of the House of Truth, a stable that has consisted of Truth Martini, Taeler Hendrix, and Donovan Dijack, among others. However, Lethal was the star of the show, at one point holding both the World and TV Titles at the same time. He soon lost the TV Title, but was able to hold on to the World Title a whopping 567 days, the longest in company history. Not CM Punk. Not Tyler Black. Not Nigel McGuinness. Not Bryan Danielson. Not even AJ Styles, who surprisingly never even won that particular title. It was the former Black Machismo himself.
#10) Alicia Fox Becomes the First Black WWE Divas Champion
Alicia Fox generally divides opinion. A portion of the fanbase still loves to give her a hard time about her bumping and control of her limbs, her spunky personality, her weave and hairline, the fact that she’s not one of the Four Horsewomen and came from the “Diva Era”, the fact that the gimmick that gets her the biggest reactions is her being completely off her rocker. She’s just not the most popular wrestler around. That said, myself and a few others believe she’s one of the most underrated women on the roster, and maybe even one of the most unlucky given the angles she’s often stuck with. Despite all of this, she can definitely revel in that fact that she is a history-maker, and I’m not just talking about the fact that she’s now WWE’s longest tenured woman. At WWE’s thankfully only Fatal 4-Way PPV, Alicia Fox came out in the winning corner of a (you guessed it) Fatal 4-Way match with then-champion Eve Torres, Maryse, and Gail Kim. In doing so, she became the first ever black Divas Champion, and useless you count Layla as black due to her Moroccan ancestry (which most people don’t), she’s the only black Divas Champion as well.
#9) Ember Moon and Her Breathtaking O-Face Finisher
You don’t need me to tell you that finishing moves are important. The right one will get you a place in the history books and a terrible one will get you mocked to the high heavens. Sometimes it even helps if you look at an already-popular move and find a way to build on it. Hard to believe, but when Athena originally debuted in SHIMMER, she was a heel wrestler. We were supposed to despise her as a personality. That certainly didn’t last long, and part of the reason is because her finishing move was just way too damn good. Dubbed the O-Face when she competed on the Indy scene, it was a standard enough Stunner. Only it wasn’t. Instead of hitting the powerful chin breaker from the ground like Steve Austin, she’d launch herself off the top rope to hit the attack. And it’s impossible not to be amazed with this move whenever she hits it, especially when she hits it on wrestlers she has amazing chemistry with such as Billie Kay. If you want to check out her biggest one to date, however, just look at her hitting it perfectly off a ladder on Hania the Huntress.
#8) Bobo Brazil
So this is the entry I did the most research on, because his entire history as a grappler is definitely something. If someone can earn the distinction of being the “Jackie Robinson of wrestling”, they had to have done more than just win championships. They had to have broken down walls and has a legacy that’s still being felt to this day. BoBo Brazil‘s real name is Houston Harris, making him one of few wrestlers I can think of who’s real and staged last name were both locations. The former Boo-Boo, who’s name change was brought about via a typo of all things, started competing in the 1950’s, so as you can imagine, racism threatened to limit his career. Early on, black wrestlers were limited to facing other black wrestlers. But Brazil’s popularity became so large that mixed-race matches became an option. Because of this, he was able to pre-date Ron Simmons by technically becoming the actual first black NWA World Champion in 1962. However, he refuse the belt as he felt the circumstances surrounding his win weren’t honorable, and ultimately, his reign is not recognized. But the fact that he was able to ascend to that level at all in that time period speaks volumes for his level of excellence.
#7) Sasha Banks Wins the Women’s Title in RAW Main Event
Charlotte vs. Sasha Banks recently won the PWI Achievement Award for Feud of the Year, a testament to how big a deal the rivalry between the two was throughout 2016. They faced off with one another time and time again with the championship on the line, and received significant praise because of it. However, some fans quickly grew tired of it due to the fact that WWE wore them down with stipulations that seemed to shove the whole “making history” aspect down our throats and booked it in a really predictable and repetitive manner with Sasha always winning the championship on RAW and Charlotte always winning it back at the next pay-per-view. Despite the tiresome game of hot potato, the matches were always stellar. One of those matches even main evented Monday Night RAW with a Falls Count Anywhere stipulation. As the previously stated pattern suggested, it was Sasha Banks who came out on top. It was her second main roster championship and her third overall in WWE, including her NXT Women’s Championship. She may have ended the year without the title, but in a year that also saw her debut at WrestleMania with her cousin Snoop Dogg in her entrance and her idol Eddie Guerrero in her gear, it certainly wasn’t an awful year to be The Boss.
#6) Elix Skipper’s Hurracanrana Off The Top of a Steel Cage
Something that bugs me about modern day TNA is that though we do get some nods to its distant early-to-mid-2000s past, we don’t get nearly enough. This was back when rumblings of them being WWE’s competition seemed warranted due to their amazing talent pool. This included their tag teams, which consisted of groups like Triple X. “Primetime” Elix Skipper was one of three members of Triple X, and they became one of TNA’s top early teams. In 2004, he and partner “Fallen Angel” Christopher Daniels were in a huge, bitter rivalry with America’s Most Wanted, “Cowboy” James Storm and “Wildcat” Chris Braden Harris Walker (that persona may follow him to his grave). It culminated with a huge Cage Match main event at Turning Point 2005, which saw Skipper hit a move that deserves to still be in TNA highlight reels to this day. The guy walked the rim of the steel cage and came off with a huge hurracanrana, sending himself and Chris Harris sailing to the mat. That took balance, precision, bravery, and athleticism to pull of. Kind of a letdown that they didn’t put the X-Division Title on him after this, but it still ranks as a memorable, excellent moment.
#5) The New Day Becomes Longest Reigning Tag Team Champions
Comedy characters in WWE these days tend to jump the shark pretty easily, usually through little to no fault of the performers. The writers and bookers usually end up putting them in a position to fail, whether intentional or not. New Day was almost a victim of this even before they injected comedic antics into their schtick. Before getting together, they were just Kofi “Master of Royal Rumble Elimination Saves” Kingston, Xavier “Formerly Consequences Creed” Woods, and Big E “No Longer Langston”, struggling to gain upward momentum. When they got together as a gospel-inspired outfit, it didn’t set the world on fire despite the catchy theme song. Then they decided to get silly and have a little more fun with it, and it worked so well that not only did they win the Tag Team Championships, but they managed to go from faces to heels and back to faces in about a year off the popularity of Francesca and – strangely – Booty-O’s cereal. Their reign is also partially the thing that inspired their #BlackExcellence post, as it went viral the same week they broke Demolition’s record as the longest reigning Tag Team Champions in WWE history. Three black men now hold that prestigious record. Say what you want, but if that’s not black excellence (as well as a solid show of camaraderie), I don’t know what is.
#4) All of Shelton Benjamin’s Athletic Feats
His theme song declared “ain’t no stoppin’ me now”, but unfortunately, there was one thing that stopped Shelton Benjamin from becoming a consistently marquee name in WWE. The fact that he was not very good on the microphone was a major hindrance; they assumed giving him a racial stereotype as a manager would help, but it only made matters worse. So unfortunately, he never won a World Title. What he did do, however, is leave his mark on the WWE Universe with his unbelievable athleticism. It was his speed, agility, and stamina that not only helped him put on amazing showcases against the likes of Triple H, Shawn Michaels, and others, but it also made him the MVP of every Money in the Bank Ladder Match he’s ever participating in. While Kofi Kingston may be the athletic beast of the company now, you could say that Shelton Benjamin was the blueprint to the New Day member. Benjamin had the guts to run up a ladder and clothesline Jericho, take a dive off of one of the largest ladders I’ve ever seen, leap off the top rope quick as a hiccup, among other amazing moments. Just watch this highlight video in open-mouthed awe.
#3) Naomi Wins the Smackdown Women’s Championship
I’m glad that I decided to wait until after Elimination Chamber to publish this. If I didn’t, I would have a struggle to figure out a way to wiggle Naomi into this list. I could have featured her athletic displays in Season 3 of the old NXT, the platform that exposed her to a wider audience. I also could have included her victory as the first FCW Women’s Champion. But seeing as FCW had very limited broadcasting and NXT Season 3 was widely mocked by even the company itself, I wanted to put Naomi on this list for something of more significance. Unfortunately, for so long, she seemed to be “Always a bridesmaid, never a bride” when it comes to championships on the main roster. That all changed at Elimination Chamber, when after years of hard work and earning the adoration of the fans, she finally won a title in the form of the Smackdown Women’s Championship, to a rousing “You deserve it!” chant. Unfortunately, she had to forfeit the title not too long after because we can’t have nice things; also because of a badly-timed injury. But with accepting the fans were of her Cinderella moment finally coming to fruition, there’s no way WWE will keep her away from her throne when she comes back healthy.
#2) Two Rocks Shinning Bright Like Diamonds
There have been any gripes rained down upon WWE, but one of the biggest is the justified criticism that black people are barely represented in the lineage of the World Championship. Not the one they introduced in 2002; there have been quite a few black wrestler who won that one. I mean their championship that dates all the way back to 1963. The common belief is that no black man has ever won the illustrious title. That’s not entirely true. We’ve never had a 100% black WWE Champion, but we have had a half-black, half-Samoan WWE Champion, and he just happens to be the most famous wrestler on the planet right now. Before becoming a box office phenomenon, Dwayne Johnson was The Rock, the most electrifying man in sports-entertainment and an eight-time WWE Champion. Since his Samoan heritage is promoted the most, most people barely count him as a black WWE Champion, so you’re most likely to see an asterisk by his name in this regard. His father, Rocky Johnson, is unquestionably black, and even though he never won the WWE Title, he did win plenty of other titles in his near-30 year career. Winning NWA Championships in Florida, Georgia, Canada, the Mid-Atlantic, and many other regions all before he came to WWE and made history as one-half of the first black WWE Tag Team Champions with Tony Atlas, their family tree has gold flowing through their branches. And that’s just without the contributions of Dwayne’s Samoan grandfather Peter Maivia; the legacies of both Dwayne and Rocky Johnson, combined or stand-alone, certainly earns them status among the all-time greats.
#1) Booker T Wins a World Championship Six Times in WCW & WWE
Booker T sure loves the number five. Something about that number pumps him up so much that he has to hit a Spin-A-Roonie every time he waves his five fingers in his face. Probably no man loves the number five as much as Booker T, with the possible exception of Big E and The Count. I’m not sure if there’s any other former WCW Champion out there who’s prouder of their reigns than Booker T is. We’re still reminded to this day that he is a five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time, five-time WCW Champion. His reigns usually weren’t that long, given that this was WCW in the dark days of the year 2000 we’re talking about, but the fact that he even was World Champion for a combined 253 days is a huge feather in his cap. His longest reign, however, was as a part of WWE after his 2006 title win; his 126-day reign in 2006 under the royal guise of King Booker proved that at the time, Smackdown belonged to he and Queen Sharmell. They ruled over the kingdom of the blue brand with an icon scepter, over the top humor, and uncontrollable wit. Six seasons and a movie? How about six World Titles and a Hall of Fame ring, cause that’s the legacy of Booker T. Can you dig that? (P.S.: He still should’ve won at WrestleMania XIX. I will not let that gripe go.)
+ Mark Henry and the Hall of Pain Gimmick – Supposedly a gimmick meant for Brodus Clay, Mark Henry was perfect for it, and it netted him a World Title. Now his legacy doesn’t completely have to be as the father of Mae Young‘s hand.
+ Teddy Long’s Stays in Charge For a REALLY Long Time – Tag Team Teddy is going into the WWE Hall of Fame this year. His career stretches back to 1985. He’s been a referee and a manager, but his greatest legacy is as the longest running non-McMahon authority figure in WWE history.
+ R-Truth Winning Two NWA World Championships – Ron Killings as a rapping, forgetful, acrophobia, arachnophobic, joke in WWE has reached the point of no return. But in TNA’s early days, he actually won the NWA World Title twice, and that’s actually a pretty cool truth.
+ Bobby Lashley Becomes Rejuvenated in TNA – Lashley‘s WWE peak was shaving Mr. McMahon bald alongside the Texas Rattlesnake and an actual orange snake. His peak in TNA? Holding every men’s championship they have all at once. Turns out no everyone needs WWE after all.
+ Jazz Comes Back and Destroys Trish Stratus – Jazz was a great performer, but trying to find moments where WWE actually fully used her excellence to it’s full advantage was difficult. This was the best I could find. Poor Trish’s face and hand though.
+ Monty Brown Becomes a Top Star in TNA Wrestling – The man claiming to be from the Serengeti never won the NWA World Championship. but had been in conversation for it for a while in TNA. And his promos in TNA are Scott Steiner Hall-of-Fame-worthy.
+ ACH Wins Lone Star Classic and ACW Heavyweight Champion – I can’t be the only one who thinks ACH is underrated, right? The athletic former ROH star gets an Honorable Mention for being victorious in the 2011 Lone Star Classic and winning the ACW World Championship, holding it for 253 days.
This list may have featured only 15 moments, but black wrestlers have contributed even more to the sport than that. I may not have included names like 2 Cold Scorpio, Ricochet, Abdullah the Butcher, Kamala, Tony Atlas, Thunderbolt Paterson, Junkyard Dogg, Ernie Ladd, Sojourner Bolt, and SD Jones, but I do recommend researching them further if you haven’t already.