The 10 Little-Known Black Historical Moments in WWE History
Every February, most wrestling companies celebrate Black History Month as if it's an inert moment in American history. It's an ever-evolving pantheon of accomplishments and forward progression that didn't stop after the Civil Rights Movement. But WWE often merely highlights historical figures like Dr. Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks on their programming as opposed to new information about other men and women including the achievements of its own Superstars.
Pro wrestling has primarily been dominated by white men since its inception. So, Black performers' advancements in the industry serve as representation for many fans and inspiration for aspiring wrestlers. The trailblazers who paved the way for the current generation should be commemorated more often.
After all, that's the very tradition that Black History Month was founded on. Educating viewers about Black individuals' contributions means more than just rehashing specific imagery and quotes. It's about acknowledging where we started and presenting viewers with a relevant picture of how far we've come.
The industry has come a long way, and it is currently enjoying a renaissance of gifted African American performers.
Let's look at 10 little-known historical Black moments in WWE that have influenced this era.
Pro Wrestling's Hidden Figures
WWE's Women's Evolution has proved to modern fans that women can headline pay-per-view events and compete in major stipulation matches. However, many of them may not know that Black women were selling out shows and receiving top billing back in the 1950s.
Chris Bournea's documentary, Lady Wrestler: The Amazing, Untold Story of African-American Women in the Ring, unearths the history of Babs Wingo, Ethel Johnson, Kathleen Wimbley, Marva Scott and other African American women who were pioneers in this industry. The film premiered at the Film Festival of Columbus on Jun. 17, 2017, but it gained notoriety in the following year.
This month, it will be available on Amazon Prime and Roku on Tuesday, so hopefully, more wrestling fans will learn about the exploits of these women. Johnson, Wingo and Wimbley headlined several shows, including an event in Baltimore that boasted a record crowd of 3,611 fans in 1952. In 1954, Johnson and Wingo drew in 9,000 customers at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City as marquee attractions.
Johnson, who passed away on Sept. 14, 2018, is considered the most successful Black female wrestler of her time as she worked with Jess McMahon's Capitol Wrestling, the precursor for what would become WWE. She and Wingo also unsuccessfully challenged WWE Hall of Famer, Mildred Burke, for the NWA World Women's Championship decades before Awesome Kong became the first Black woman to win the title in 2007.
It's a little sad that people are just now learning about Johnson's story when she isn't here to get her flowers, but her contribution won't be forgotten.
Bobo Brazil Becomes Inaugural WWWF United States Heavyweight Championship
Bobby Lashley is the latest in a long line of Black wrestlers who have held the WWE United States Championship. His current manager, MVP, holds the second-longest consecutive reign with the title.
However, Bobo Brazil started this lineage as the first WWWF United States heavyweight champion. The WWE and NWA Hall of Famer became synonymous with the U.S. belt as he held the regional versions of the title in Detroit, San Francisco, Toronto and the Mid-Atlantic territory.
On April 6, 1963, Brazil became the inaugural WWWF United States heavyweight champion. He went on to enjoy seven reigns with the short-lived secondary title.
Although the current WWE iteration of the belt has no connection to this gold, the Arkansas native helped to break barriers. His time as the most prolific titleholder in its brief history opened the door for U.S. champions like Booker T, Shelton Benjamin, Kofi Kingston and many more.
The Soul Patrol Win the Tag Titles
Today, teams like The New Day and The Street Profits have made history as decorated tag team champions. They're following in the footsteps of the powerhouse team of Rocky Johnson and Tony Atlas, The Soul Patrol.
Many WWE may know Johnson as the late father of the third-generation megastar, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, but Soul Man and Atlas were one of the most popular duos in the industry. On Nov. 15, 1983, The Soul Patrol defeated the Wild Samoans to become the first black tag team champions in WWE history.
Johnson and Atlas were the last pairing to hold the belts before the WWE withdrew from the National Wrestling Alliance. The charismatic team was truly ahead of its time.
Although several Black men held tag team gold over the next few years, we didn't see another pair of African American wrestlers secure them together with WWE until well into the 2000s. Of course, that doesn't account for WCW tag team champions such as Doom or Harlem Heat.
D'Lo Brown: The First Eurocontinental Champion
Last summer, Keith Lee ended Adam Cole's record-setting reign to become the first man to hold the NXT and North American titles concurrently. Years prior, MVP was also a dual titleholder as the United States and one-half of the tag team champions.
But D'Lo Brown changed the game as the first-ever Eurocontinental champion. The Las Vegas native famously executed one of the best frog splashes ever, but his real claim to fame came as a member of the Nation of Domination. Later, he went on a run as a singles competitor and became a four-time European champion.
In 1999, he bested Mideon for the title at Fully Loaded and two nights later, he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship from Jeff Jarrett. Jarrett, Kurt Angle, and Rob Van Dam later achieved the same feat. It's a little telling that Brown was the one out of the four who didn't go on to win a world title.
Angle is arguably more famous for the mantle, but no one can erase the fact that Brown was the first. His run with both titles helped to cement him as a star in his own right.
The Rock Wins the 2000 Royal Rumble
This year, Bianca Belair made history as the first Black woman to win a Royal Rumble match. However, many fans might not know she is only the second African American wrestler to win the famous stipulation bout.
Of course, The Rock won the Rumble in 2000 in controversial fashion and became the first and only Black man to do so. When you consider that, it's a little unfortunate that his victory was later contested as he inadvertently touched the ground first as he eliminated Big Show.
Nevertheless, he still holds the distinction, and the botch led to some hilarious segments in which The Great One mocked one of his WrestleMania opponents that year.
The Rock's Rumble win isn't a little-known fact but, surprisingly, he's still the only African American man to win the match after 20 years. It makes us even more disappointed that our favorite to win the 2021 men's Rumble, Big E, came up short.
Jacqueline Wins the WWE Cruiserweight Championship
The WWE cruiserweight division rose to prominence again after the Cruiserweight Classic in 2016. Now, its newly-minted title resides on NXT following the move to network television. Over the last few years, Black wrestlers like Rich Swann, Cedric Alexander and Lio Rush have won the top prize.
However, Swann is not the first Black cruiserweight champion in WWE history. That accolade actually belongs to Jacqueline, the first African American women's titleholder.
Before WWE reintroduced the new purple belt five years ago, the company bought WCW and acquired its cruiserweight championship.
On the May 6, 2004 episode of SmackDown, the two-time WWE women's champion answered Chavo Guerrero's open challenge and pulled off an upset to earn the now-deactivated belt.
Jazz Defends Her Title at WrestleMania 18
Former ECW star Jazz has created quite the legacy as she heads into retirement later this year.
The second Black NWA world women's champion recently etched her name in history books as the longest-reigning modern titleholder in its prestigious lineage. Her 948-day tenure puts her among legends like The Fabulous Moolah, Debbie Combs and June Byer.
Nevertheless, she is undoubtedly more well-known for her stint with WWE. During her time with the company, Jazz took part in a memorable feud with Trish Stratus that helped to mint the seven-time champion as the face of division during the Attitude Era.
As a two-time champion in her own right, Jazz made history as the first Black woman to walk into WrestleMania with the title and successfully defend it. In the biggest win of her career, the Louisiana native defeated two Hall of Famers in Stratus and Lita to leave the SkyDome with the gold in tow. That's right. She also beat Stratus in her hometown that night.
Ron Killings Win a World Title
These days, R-Truth has become a fixture on WWE programming as "The greatest 48/7 24/7 7/11 I-95 S 2020 European TV Champion of all time." While the 24/7 title gives the veteran a chance to continue to flex his comedic muscles, many mainstream fans may not know that he is also a two-time world champion.
After his initial run with WWE as K-Kwik, he worked with TNA, now known as Impact, under the ring name Ron Killings. During his time with the promotion, he cut a heel promo where he called himself "The Truth" and expressed his frustrations with being held back. He went on to defeat, wait for it, Ken Shamrock to become the first and only Black NWA world heavyweight champion in August 2002.
There's so much to take in here. Yes, it took the NWA 54 years to crown a Black man as the world champion and there hasn't been another since. Even more, the R-Truth we know and love beat one of the toughest men in pro wrestling history to win the "10 Pounds of Gold."
MVP: The Inaugural IWGP Intercontinental Champion
MVP returned to WWE last January at the Royal Rumble. Since, he has astonishingly reinvented himself and helped to revitalize Bobby Lashley, Cedric Alexander and Shelton Benjamin's careers.
The mouthpiece for The Hurt Business also had a prolific career with the company in the late 2000s, making a name for himself as one of the greatest United States champions of all time.
When he left WWE in 2010, he ventured overseas and had a successful stint with New Japan Pro-Wrestling. In fact, The Franchise Playa entered and won a tournament to crown the first IWGP intercontinental champion. To win the belt that Shinsuke Nakamura later legitimized, MVP had to contend with Kazuchika Okada, Tetsuya Naito, and Toru Yano.
This surreal piece of wrestling trivia put MVP in rarefied air as he held the belt before greats such as Hiroshi Tanahashi, Tetsuya Naito, and Kota Ibushi.
Kofi Kingston Is the Longest-Reigning Black World Champion in WWE History
Kofi Kingston accomplished his lifelong dream at WrestleMania 35 when he became the first African-born WWE champion. It was an emotional and hard-fought moment that will live on for years to come.
However, The New Day member achieved something many before him didn't by the end of his reign that many may not realize. Yes, Kingston holds the longest cumulative reign as a tag team champion in the company's history, easily surpassing 1,000 total days as a titleholder.
Even more, his 180-day tenure as WWE champion makes him the longest-reigning Black world champion in WWE history, and the second at any major promotion behind Jay Lethal. Incredibly, The Rock's longest reign atop the company was only 119 days, with 378 cumulative days across eight runs with titles.
To put this in perspective, The Great One doesn't even crack the top 10 of most days as champion. Out of all four Black WWE world champions, Kingston narrowly boasts the longest consecutive reign.