A "Shady" Deal: 5 Glass Ceiling-Shattering Candidates for a Black WWE Champion
Sorry for the overtly long titles. I'll work on that.
On August 2, 1992, Ron Simmons gave the wrestling world something I thought we would never see: a black world champion for a major, mainstream national pro-wrestling promotion.
The pop was electric. When you see guys like Brian Pillman, Barry Windham, Dusty and Dustin Rhodes, all rushing the ring to congratulate Simmons, you know it was without a doubt a monumental occasion. WCW was/is light years ahead of the curve in this regard.
Simmons would hold the WCW Championship for nearly five months before dropping it to Vader whom he defeated to become champion. Even if that five-month reign had been a mere five days, it was still a major milestone in the industry that will never be diminished.
It would be almost eight years before another black world champion would arise when Booker won the WCW Championship from Jeff Jarrett in July of 2000.
You may try to catch me at this point and say, "Wait! The Rock won the WWE Championship in 1998, and he's black! End of article! Right?" Wrong. Keep in mind, the word "Shady" in the article title in quotation marks. That is the crux of this post.
As we all know, in addition to being half African-American, The Rock is also half Samoan. Introduced as Rocky Maivia—a hybrid of his black father's first name and his Samoan grandfather's last name—it was the latter-mentioned, or "Maivia" side of his heritage that was placed primarily on display through the introductory vignettes prior to and including his debut at Survivor Series in his ring attire. Prior to his Rocky Maivia Gimmick, The Rock was Flex Kavana, a wrestler of strictly Polynesian heritage.
Simply put, The Rock is not easily identifiable as a black man, let alone wrestler, and thus not widely viewed as one by the casual, less-informed wrestling viewer. This ended up being good for his career, as he escaped being pigeonholed into the stereotypes placed on black characters in the WWE. From the Godfather to Cryme Tyme, respectability has never been a top priority in wrestling gimmicks for minorities.
Ron Simmons, the groundbreaking first-ever World Champion for WCW that I mentioned earlier, came over to WWE and was reduced to a gimmick as the militant head of the Nation of Domination, an angry black men's club disgruntled by "the man's" attempt to hold him and his brethren down in the WWE. Vince McMahon took a very real issue and mocked it by turning it into a lame gimmick for WWE Universe to roll their eyes and close their ears to. This is actually a very clever desensitizing tactic regularly employed in politics and media.
Remember Los Guerreros? Latinos weren't exactly getting the long end of the stick in the image department either. Something had to be done, and a change had to be made And it was...for Mexicans. Alberto Del Rio, a Mexican wrestler, is currently having his moment in the sun as WWE champion, as did Rey Mysterio (albeit a reign that lasted less than a full show).
Meanwhile, JTG still struts to ringside in his Timberlands, wife-beater, and bling fully in tow, and R-Truth is yet another angry black man, convinced that there's a "conspiracy" perpetrated by all the "little Jimmys" (white America) against him.
As a hardcore Rock fan, this writing is in no way, shape, or form meant to diminish his accomplishments or his "blackness," but when will we see the WWE place the flagship strap around the waist of a black wrestler? Not a light-skinned, mixed race wrestler, but one visibly of African descent only?
As WWE fans go, blacks are easily in the minority, which lands WWE in a catch-22 of sorts. Because of a weak black fanbase, WWE hasn't felt the need to give a black wrestler a legitimate push. On the flip side, the black fanbase is low because of the lack of a black superstar getting a push. And when the interest in watching is low amongst blacks, this reduces the number of blacks who will actually pursue a career in the industry if they feel there is a limit to how far they will be pushed and/or how they will be used. Eventually, the likelihood of a black champion dies a little more each day.
Someone has to blink first, and it has to be the WWE. And here are my current top five candidates to make it to the pro-wrestling promised land. Maybe not in the immediate future, but soon enough.
5. Jay Lethal
PROS: Known for his dead-on impersonations of Ric Flair and the late Macho Man, and having worked with the former, Lethal has gained crossover accessibility with a broad audience through his mic skills. Allowing Lethal to walk was seen as a horrible move by TNA, and he has since received praise for his in-ring performance in Ring of Honor, although he still has room to grow.
CONS: He's not currently employed by WWE, but perhaps he can sneak in with the great migration of ROH wrestlers rumored to soon be invading the Old Federation. It's not likely to happen, but his career path will find him at the big show in due time. Also, his size may come into question, but smaller guys like Punk and Mysterio having donned the top strap could make this less of an issue.
4. Kofi Kingston
PROS: Kofi has a style and infectious attitude that makes him endearing to the fans. He's versatile in the ring, and his high-flying ability is exciting to watch.
CONS: The major responsibility of a WWE champion is possessing marketability: being able to market oneself and convince viewers to spend their hard-earned money on a PPV. This is done through promos.
I bought the most PPVs during the Attitude era because Rock and Austin sold me on them. I've read where people say Kingston's mic skills are pretty good. Maybe in this era, but he'd be nothing in any previous era. I love his ring entrance, and some of his moves, but when he speaks, I tune out.
3. Booker T
Bear with me, he's on this list for a reason.
PROS: Booker is a legend, and a surefire Hall of Famer. He's done it all in pro-wrestling, except capture WWE gold. I thought it was a travesty that he wasn't given the chance to run with the belt as the face of the company after the WCW buyout. He proved his worth, providing some bright spots with the Rock and Goldust backstage.
The reason I have King Bookaahh on this list is because he has been hinting on Twitter at a return to the ring for one last run on the WWE active roster. I, for one, couldn't be happier because he could not only show the youngsters a thing or two, but his skills as a commentator are horrendous, so a departure from the table would be the best thing for everyone.
CONS: He can still go with the best of them, but awarding Booker the WWE Championship might be a contradiction to the WWE's youth movement. This is really the only thing I see holding him back, because he is the complete package, but politics is everything in the business.
2. Shelton Benjamin
PROS: The "Gold Standard" is just that in the ring. He's provided some iconic spots as arguably the best Money in the Bank contestant to never have won.
CONS: Benjamin is currently with his colleague Jay Lethal in Ring of Honor, but a future return to WWE is a given to me. Before that happens, however, he needs to have honed his mic skills. All he really needs to do is add some color (no pun intended, or maybe so) to his promos.
PROS: After his star quickly fell as K-Kwik during his initial run with WWE, Ron Killings jumped ship to TNA, where he found top-tier success as two-time TNA World Heavyweight Champion "The Truth."
This gimmick, born from a speech Killings made about being held back because of his race, has translated well since his return to WWE. R-Truth's promos are the most entertaining, and he backs up the talk with some impressive wrestling skill.
CONS: Although the character has gone over well, it has done so with the help of Vince McMahon, which scares me. Killings attributes the development of R-Truth to the help of the WWE Chairman.
A redundant, albeit funnier rendition of the Nation of Domination, I don't see McMahon as the civil rights pioneer type to break R-Truth through to the next level in the WWE. He'll keep Killings where he is, because if R-Truth overcomes Little Jimmy's attempts to thwart his success, then there is no point to the gimmick anymore, right?
Not in my eyes. Imagine a paranoid R-Truth, thinking everyone's out to get him, even more so now that he is WWE Champion. That would make his character even better! I would love to see Truth snatch the gold despite Little Jimmy and the conspirators, but I question the likelihood. Only time will tell.
I still get goosebumps when watching Ron Simmons get the three-count over Vader, even more ecstatic when I watch the crowd's reaction. I was at my most enthusiastic about the WWE when the Rock was champion, but it wasn't quite the same.
I'm still waiting for a black superstar to take the WWE by storm and recreate that magic moment from some 19 years ago. Will we see it sooner or later? Does Vince McMahon feel like he already met an obligation with the Rock, and now doesn't see a need to broach the issue any further? Would he be right to feel this way?
Please comment with your thoughts.
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