The Most Influential Black WWE and AEW World Championship Wins of All Time
WWE superstar Bobby Lashley has been the topic of discussion since Elimination Chamber, where he dropped the United States Championship and worked his way back into the main storyline on Raw.
Next week, the CEO of The Hurt Business has the chance to become the fifth Black man to hold a world title with the company and the third to win the WWE Championship.
Of course, Lashley was also the first Black Impact champion and a two-time ECW world champion. Although the former MMA fighter already has an impressive list of accolades under his belt, winning the WWE title is the last major accomplishment he has yet to achieve.
After a dominant run with Impact, it seemed like he was poised to return and finally raise the top prize in 2018. Instead, the Almighty powerhouse went through a litany of character changes and managers before he settled into a winning formula with MVP.
It seems like now is as good of a time as any for him to ascend to the top of the mountain and follow in the footsteps of other Black men and women who were the face of a promotion.
On Aug. 23, 1963, Bearcat Wright defeated Freddie Blassie to become the first Black wrestler to hold a world championship in professional wrestling with WWA. The WWE Hall of Famer opened the door for other influential names to spark the imaginations of fans and inspire a new generation. With just a few days left in Black History Month, let's take a look at some of the title wins that changed the industry for the better.
Ron Simmons Wins the WCW World Heavyweight Championship: WCW Main Event
It goes without saying that Ron Simmons is a legend. The former Florida State standout has had an illustrious in-ring career that spanned 18 years. Although he's known for his famous "Damn" catchphrase today, he reinvented himself several times.
Simmons famously teamed with the late Butch Reed as Doom, led the Nation of Domination, joined the Ministry of Darkness and established APA with John "Bradshaw" Layfield. However, his crowning achievement was his WCW World Heavyweight Championship win in 1992.
The PWI Inspirational Wrestler of the Year replaced an injured Sting to challenge Big Van Vader on the Aug. 23 episode of Main Event. Later, Simmons won the title and etched his name in the annals of history as the first Black man recognized as world champion for a major promotion.
Some people incorrectly believe that he was the first Black world champion ever. As stated earlier, that distinction actually belongs to Bearcat Wright. Nevertheless, no one can diminish what this televised win meant for fans who wanted to see themselves represented in wrestling. If you need visual proof, take a look at the kid who ran to the front row to celebrate as Simmons pinned Vader in the clip above.
The Rock Becomes the First Black WWE Champion: Survivor Series 1998
We're not going to waste your time and tell you just how important Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson has been to professional wrestling or that he is one of the biggest stars in the history of the business. The Most Electrifying Man in Sports Entertainment reached heights that no other Black wrestlers have and parlayed that into a successful career as an actor.
Ron Simmons and Bearcat Wright walked so The Great One could run, and he did just that when he won the WWE Championship for the first time in 1998. The Rock won the vacant title at Survivor Series in the finals of the Deadly Game tournament. At the event, he famously defeated Mankind after he aligned himself with Vince McMahon and The Corporation.
As the first Black WWE champion, he helped to usher in the company's most lucrative and popular period to date. His legendary feud with "Stone Cold" Steve Austin was the centerpiece of the Attitude Era. The third-generation megastar eventually won the title seven more times with 378 cumulative days as The People's Champ. Counting his two WCW championship reigns, he is a 10-time world titleholder.
Jacqueline Wins the WWE Women's Championship: Monday Night Raw
The WWE Women's Championship has a storied and sometimes sordid history. The title went through three different iterations during its initial lifespan from 1956 to 2010. In 1998, the company reactivated the title and introduced the black strap and design that most fans associate with it.
On the Sept. 21 episode of Raw, Jacqueline beat Sable to win the vacant title and become the first Black WWE women's champion. Her historic win came at a time when the company's women's segments were more salacious, but she paved the way for others like Jazz, Alicia Fox, Naomi, Ember Moon and many more.
It's hard to imagine what WWE's women's division would have been like over the last 20 years without the contributions of several talented Black wrestlers. With that in mind, it's sobering that it took the company 42 years to crown its first Black champion. Regardless, Jacqueline undoubtedly inspired many women who didn't see wrestling as a possible career path.
At WrestleMania 37, Bianca Belair and Sasha Banks will be the first Black women to compete in a title program together in the history of the event. That shows just how far this generation has come in two decades.
Booker T Defies the Odds: Bash at the Beach 2000
Many fans may not know this, but Booker T is the most decorated champion in WCW history with 21 title wins on his resume. He and his brother, Stevie Ray, made history as one of the greatest tag teams of all time, Harlem Heat, and he went on to become the company's last big star.
In 2000, Hulk Hogan infamously left the company after a dispute with Vince Russo at Bash at the Beach. On the same night, Booker defeated Jeff Jarrett to win the title for the first time and become WCW's second Black world champion.
Of course, he would eventually become a five-time champion, winning the title for the fourth time in a Winner Take All match on the final episode of Nitro. When the Houston native joined WWE, he held both the world and the United States gold concurrently. If that sounds familiar, it's probably because Keith Lee also made history as the first man to hold the NXT and North American championship last summer. The Limitless One was also coincidentally the second Black world champion on the brand, just like Booker T.
The two-time WWE Hall of Famer made history again when he defended his WCW title against The Rock in the main event of SummerSlam 2002. To date, the two are the only Black men to headline a WWE pay-per-view event together.
Sasha Banks Creates a New Legacy: NXT TakeOver: Rival
WWE's women's revolution has been a breath of fresh air for the company. This is the best era of women's wrestling, and its origin can be traced back to NXT. The developmental brand became a beacon of hope during a time when the Divas were marginalized on the main roster.
In 2015, Sasha Banks emerged as one of the hottest new characters on the black-and-gold brand. At NXT TakeOver: Rival, she and her fellow Horsewomen competed in a fatal four-way for the women's championship. In the end, The Legit Boss came out on top, pinning Charlotte Flair to become the first Black titleholder in the division. The rest is history.
Banks held the title for 191 days before she lost it to Bayley in what would become the Match of Year and, frankly, one of the best women's wrestling matches of all time. The Blueprint later moved up to Raw and amassed an incredible collection of historic accomplishments. When all is said and done, she will go down as one of the greatest performers of her generation and a modern trailblazer.
Kofimania: WrestleMania 35
We could not end this list without acknowledging the greatest WrestleMania moment of the past decade. Kofi Kingston's Cinderella win at WrestleMania 35 is important for so many reasons, and it's impossible to overstate just what it means for children of this generation to see that it's possible to win on the biggest stage.
Yes, Ron Simmons proved it was possible, and Booker T and Mark Henry built on that legacy. But Kingston is different because he's smaller than the four men who came before him and still managed to succeed at the company's biggest pay-per-view event of the year, a feat that even The Great One never achieved. The Rock has walked onto The Grandest Stage of Them All as champion, but he has never won the title at the event.
Watching the Ghanaian American star pin Daniel Bryan to become the first African-born WWE champion was an emotional and unforgettable moment that will light a fire in potential superstars all over the world. It's easy to assume it's too soon to say that, but you could see it in the eyes of his sons that night and the children of his homeland when Kingston returned to a hero's welcome in WWE 24: The Year of the Return. You can also see his influence in Rich Swann's current run with Impact Wrestling.
Nyla Rose Becomes the First Black AEW Women's World Champion: AEW Dynamite
AEW may have a short history so far, but the company has already made an impact on the world of pro wrestling. Straight away, the company made a long-overdue move for positive LGBTQ+ representation when it became the first major U.S. promotion to sign a transgender woman, Nyla Rose.
The Native Beast later made history when she defeated Riho on the Feb. 12, 2020, episode of Dynamite to become the first transgender woman to win a world championship in the United States. Although many fans and outlets have recognized her Native American heritage, many don't highlight the fact that Rose is also the first Black AEW women's world champion.
Moreover, she is the first Black singles world champion in the company. Scorpio Sky was also one-half of inaugural AEW world tag team champions, as well.
Pro wrestling is far from perfect, but this is one of the first steps in hopes to make the industry more inclusive. We could not celebrate Black History Month without giving Rose a place on this list.