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The Most Influential Black World Champions In WWE History
These five Superstars broke down barriers in more ways than one in WWE!
It wasn’t that long ago that white world champions dominated the professional wrestling landscape, a time when athletes like Bruno Sammartino, Bob Backlund and Hulk Hogan were the gatekeepers of WWE. In fact, up until 1992, a Black athlete had never been a true world champion.
Thankfully, times have changed.
One glance at the current champions in WWE shows that the wrestling culture has never been more inclusive, more varied and more represented by men and women of color. In honor of Black History Month, here’s a look at the five most influential Black world champions in WWE history:
We could’ve easily focused this article solely on WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons and called it a day – that’s how influential the man was (and still is) to professional wrestling. On August 2, 1992, Ron Simmons became the first African-American to ever win a world championship when he defeated Vader for the WCW title.
No, that’s not a misprint. It took until the summer of 1992 for a person of color to win a world championship. That is an eternity for a business that had been around in some capacity for decades.
The clip above says it all. There was something in the air that night in the arena, because when Simmons hit the power slam and pinned Vader, the crowd erupted in pure pandemonium. The image of the young boy who rushed down to the guardrail after the move is one of the lasting moments in WWE history. We wouldn’t be surprised to hear he’s still jumping up and down with happiness to this day.
On that day in August, Ron Simmons broke down racial barriers and proudly showed the wrestling business that Black athletes can be world champions. Quite frankly, it was a moment that many thought would never come.
We’re glad it did.
In the dying days of WCW, the company realized they needed to hitch their saddle to their biggest star that didn’t have an attitude problem (*cough* Hogan *cough*) and from his first WCW World Championship win to his last, Booker T set the standard for professionalism in the wrestling industry.
Not only was Booker T one of the most talented athletes to ever step foot in the ring, but he was also dependable, something WCW severely lacked with their previous world champions. Unlike Ron Simmons, who had only one fairly brief title reign, Booker T stepped up to the plate and won the WCW World Title on five separate occasions, and that’s not including a WWE World Heavyweight Championship run. Outside of his obvious championship merits, his unique hybrid style, a cross between classic heavyweight style with hints of jaw-dropping athleticism usually showcased by cruiserweights at the time, was often emulated by later generations.
What can we possibly say about The Rock’s influence on not only the world of wrestling but entertainment in general that hasn’t been said before?
Not only was he the first Black WWE Champion in company history (WCW champions notwithstanding), but he parlayed his dizzying success in wrestling to even greater heights in Hollywood. If The Rock isn’t the blueprint for greatness, then who is?
Perhaps the most interesting thought experiment surrounding The Rock is simply the way he transcended race. As WWE Champion, his larger-than-life wrestling persona made the WWE Universe not see The Great One as a hugely-popular Black world champion, but as arguably the greatest Superstar in wrestling history – that’s a notable distinction. Any way you choose to look at The Rock’s legacy, one simple fact remains: he didn’t just break down barriers as the first Black champion in WWE history, he laid the smackdown on those barriers.
In the modern era, nobody has been a bigger influence than the Tribal Chief himself. We’re not going to mince words: Reigns has proven to the world that not only can a Black champion thrive in professional wrestling, but they can plant themselves on the top of the mountain for years, reaching levels of success not previously thought possible.
While Ron Simmons made that young kid in the front row jump for joy, Roman Reigns is able to make that young kid realize the absolute pinnacle of the industry is possible for men of color for an extended period of time. There’s a reason why Reigns is considered to be arguably the most dominant champion ever, especially when you factor in differences of other eras of WWE. Hulk Hogan, for example, did not perform at one-tenth of the high-impact style that Reigns competes at.
Over the course of wrestling history, the prototypical long-term world champion was well-built, tall and white. Somebody with Reigns’ heritage wouldn’t have gotten a serious look as the long-term face of any wrestling company decades ago. But now? We should add “The Trailblazer” to Roman Reigns’ long list of nicknames because he has proven that anything is possible with the right talent. Add in the fact that Reigns is still in the prime of his career and we may eventually look at him approaching the rare air of championship longevity. First, he has to get past Sami Zayn this weekend in his hometown, of course.
Kofi makes this list not for his influential Royal Rumble moments that have been copied ad nauseam in the wrestling world over the past decade, but for the proof of concept that organic crowd support for an African-American Superstar can eventually lead to the biggest prize in the industry.
No Black wrestler quite captured lightning in a bottle the way Kofi Kingston did in 2019. Due to some unbelievable performances including a masterful near-win in the Elimination Chamber, the WWE Universe unanimously decided that Kofi Kingston should be the next champion despite the obvious creative direction of the company at the time, which was revolving around Daniel Bryan as champion.
We’re fully aware of how ironic it is that the fans who pushed so hard for Daniel Bryan to become champion years earlier were the same fans who demanded Kofi Kingston dethrone Bryan to fulfill his destiny!
After becoming WWE Champion, Kofi proved that race doesn’t matter in the eyes of wrestling fans. The WWE Universe is the one true barometer of success, and the cream will always rise to the top.
Watch WWE's Elimination Chamber LIVE on Saturday, Feb. 18 at 8 p.m. ET, streaming only on Peacock.