WWE: Race and the WWE Championship

Tom ClarkFeatured ColumnistMay 27, 2011

The first recognized World Wide Wrestling Federation Champion was Nature Boy Buddy Rogers, back in 1963. Six title changes followed, with the seventh champion being Bob Backlund. During Backlund’s four-year title reign from 1978 to 1983, the WWWF was changed to the World Wrestling Federation.

The belt switched hands 57 times between 1983 to 2002, when the company was changed again, this time to World Wrestling Entertainment. Between 2002 and 2011, the belt has changed hands 37 times.

From 1963 to present day, a total of 40 different men have held the belt currently known as the WWE Championship.

So, why the history lesson?

Because of the aforementioned 40 wrestlers who have carried the banner of Vince McMahon’s company, none of them are African American.

The issue here for me is not that I believe Vince McMahon is a closet Klan member, or has been purposely holding down his African American talent over the years. And, I am not suggesting that there is an underlying racist element at work within WWE creative.

I am merely interested in debate. Where do fans stand on race in the business, particularly in the biggest wrestling entertainment company in the world?

Do the stats above bother anyone? Is it completely sheer coincidence that a black man has never won the single biggest important pro wrestling championship in the business today?

Now, to clarify the discussion, we are not talking about the World Heavyweight Championship, the belt currently featured on Friday Night Smackdown. That title belt was held by Booker T back in 2006.

It is interesting to note, that Booker T also had five different reigns as WCW World Heavyweight Champion. This was also the championship that Ron Simmons won back in 1992, making him the first ever African American World Champion in history.

The obvious point that many fans make concerning the WWE Championship is that it has not been exclusively held by Caucasian men since its inception.

Pedro Morales, the fourth-ever WWE Champion, was born in Puerto Rico. The Japanese legend Antonio Inoki won the title from Bob Backlund in 1979. The Iron Sheik was Iranian. Yokozuna was Samoan.

Eddie Guerrero’s lineage is obvious, his name is as well known as his gimmick, Latino Heat.

There have been other WWE Champions who also were not born in the United States.

Ivan Koloff, Stan Stasiak, Bret Hart, Chris Jericho and Edge all hail from Canada. Bruno Sammartino is originally from Pizzoferrato, Italy. Andre The Giant was French. The Big Red Monster Kane is from all places, Spain. And, Sheamus, of course, is the first-ever Irish born WWE Champion.

Then there is Dwayne Johnson, better known the world over as The Rock. Rock’s father, former WWE Superstar Rocky Johnson, was a Black Nova Scotian, originally from Canada. Rock’s mother was Samoan. So, by all rights, The Rock is part black, though not technically African American.

One of my first columns here on Bleacher Report was on The Rock, and how I personally felt that he was a sell out who took what he wanted from the business and then used that notoriety to get famous in Hollywood. I was called a racist by some readers, and one African American reader even went so far as to say that if I were black, I would be an Uncle Tom.

I was floored by this. I literally sat and stared a hole through the computer screen, in utter disbelief at what I was reading. It was not that many fans disagreed with me, I expected that. We all have our different point of views on the sport.

But, when Rock’s race was brought up, I was shocked. Why would that even matter to me? How could my commentary on him be construed as anything other than one writer’s opinion?

My own personal take on him at the time was that he was not African American. I knew his parents’ nationalities, and did not view him as being black.

Was that hair splitting on my part? And, does it really matter that while men not born in the States have all had an even shot at the top, that other races, specifically African Americans, have perhaps not had an opportunity? Has the right worker simply not been in the right place at the right time?

Junkyard Dog, Viscera, Bobby Lashley, Tony Atlas, Farooq, Shelton Benjamin, Ahmed Johnson, even Rock’s father Rocky—none of these men deserved a WWE Title run? What about MVP, Elijah Burke, D-Lo Brown—did WWE give up on these men too soon? Could they possibly have risen to the occasion if given the chance?

I do not presume to know how an African American fan feels about this topic. Nor am I implying that there is a major concern for them in regards to the way they see individual performers in the business that they love. I can only give my own personal take on the matter.

When I look at R-Truth, I do not think in terms of “oh, there’s a black wrestler.” Obviously, I can see his skin color, and recognize the fact that his culture, the way he was raised, is perhaps different than my own. But, the same can be said of countless other white pro wrestlers, as well as Japanese, Mexican, Chinese, or anyone else who was born and raised in an environment different than mine.

This does not mean that I view Truth any differently. I for one am enjoying his current push, and am happy that he is finally getting an opportunity in WWE. Why? Because he’s black? No, because he has worked his butt off and deserves it. Simple as that.

Perhaps a better example is the way I view our current President. When I first heard that he was going to run for office, and the fact that he is not white, it actually did not phase me. All I needed to hear was his viewpoints and policies that he wanted to enact, were he elected. That was enough for me. I happened to not agree, so I did not vote for him. Does that mean that I had a personal problem with his skin color, and that caused him to not be right for the job? Of course not.

 At the end of the day, I suppose that the issue of race in WWE also boils down to fans’ individual perspective.

Cryme Tyme were ridiculous. The Godfather’s matches were secondary to his ring entrance and mic time beforehand. Kofi Kingston being portrayed as a happy-go-lucky islander bothers me, much in the same way that week after week Truth came out smiling, dancing around, and was pinned nearly every time for his efforts.

Does all of that mean that Shad and JTG were not hard working guys who took the opportunities given to them, as any of us would have? Is Godfather any less of an in-ring performer because he happened to have an outlandish gimmick that took the focus off of his wrestling ability? Is Kofi wasting his time in WWE when he could perhaps be utilized in a more serious role in another company? And is R-Truth’s push going to fizzle out if he gets anywhere near the WWE Championship, because that hunk of gold is owned and operated by John Cena, who is a white man?

I may begin to sound like Oliver Stone at some point, but that is not my intention. My intention is only to begin the conversation. In this day and age of political turmoil and tough economic conditions, I believe it is more crucial than ever for us to understand our differences, so we can coexist as peacefully as possible.

As a writer, I just want to understand the how and why. As a writer who is also a pro wrestling fan, exploring those two points of any story, especially in the business I love, is what I do. I am constantly seeking healthy debate with other fans, and BR is just the forum for that.

So, what do you think?