Picture this: Circa 1980’s. You’re in Madison Square Garden (MSG). The crowd noise is deafening, there’s electricity in the air, it’s crazy. At a New York Knicks game you ask? No. Or maybe you’re at a New York Rangers game? No. You are at a WWF event. This was back during a time when Pro Wrestling transcended sports and it was an extremely hot commodity.
So you’re in MSG, the mecca of Pro Wrestling. You hear the bass thumping, and the speakers blaring. You hear the familiar song of “Grab Them Cakes!!” and you see Sylvester Ritter (known at that time as the Junk Yard Dog) coming down the aisle ready to grapple. You look at his brawny physique and see the tights with the “JYD” insignia on the back, along with the white boots and a chain around his neck. Looks ok right? There’s nothing to see there, right?
As years passed I began to ask myself, “Why DID he have a chain around his neck? Why call him Junk Yard Dog? More importantly a…dog“? I mean his former name ‘Big Daddy’ Sylvester Ritter would have done the trick. He had that moniker back in the late 70’s and early 80’s during his tenures in the Calgary Stampede Wrestling and Mid-South Wrestling territory. So my fellow readers, why is it that virtually every wrestler of Afro-American ethnicity plays a silly buffoon-like character? What’s wrong with natural ability and charisma? I’m going to delve into the racial stereotypes of the shuckin’ and jiving, fetching and stepping of Pro Wrestling. Let’s look at some of the cast of characters shall we?
*Allen Coage, aka Bad News Brown: He was a former Olympic Judo artist and got his start in the 70’s in Stu Hart’s Calgary Stampede Wrestling. He later moved to the WWF (now WWE) in the late 80’s where he had a memorable feud with Randy ‘Macho Man’ Savage. In his own right, he was a pretty good technical wrestler and excellent brawler. You know what Vince McMahon did to make him more marketable? Name his finisher ‘The Ghetto Blaster’ (which was a drop kick to the back of the head), and bill him as hailing from the mean streets of Harlem, New York.
*Charles Skaggs, aka 2 Cold Scorpio: This guy was a fantastic technical wrestler and high flyer. He had wrestled all over the world including Japan. He wrestled in the now defunct WCW (World Championship Wrestling) and sometimes teamed with Ron Simmons (I’ll get to him later). He made his debut in WWF in the fall of 1996 under what name? It was ‘Flash Funk’. A ‘Starsky and Hutch’ knock off character. He came down the aisle dancing to funk music with two black females by his side. This was a terrible gimmick that never really clicked with the fans and overshadowed his talent. This once prompted fellow wrestler ‘Taz’ to say the following at an event where he teamed with ‘Funk’: “I don’t do this a lot. I ain’t never heard of anybody named Flash Funk, but I know someone named 2 Cold Scorpio and tonight 2 Cold Scorpio showed up…..you’re welcomed in my locker room anytime”…nuff said.
*Booker Huffman, aka Booker T: He was a multiple time WCW and WWE world champion. In the 1990’s, he teamed with his brother Lane (aka Stevie Ray) in WCW to form the successful tag team, ‘Harlem Heat’. Ironically, both of them are from Houston, Texas. Anyway, he went to the WWE in 2001 as a singles competitor. He grew his hair out into locks, had a catchphrase (“Can you dig it sucka!”) and debuted the ‘Spinaroonie’ (a breakdancing spin). Soon becoming one of WWE’s most popular and marketable stars. Formula for success right? Unfortunately not exactly in this case. Early in 2003 he was embroiled in a feud with ‘Triple H’ for the WWE title. And during an in-ring confrontation, was subjected to a promo in which crossing the lines of racism is an understatement. I’m sure
Black folks ANYONE who watched this was begging for Booker to whoop his a** on the spot. I don’t mean a staged one either. I understand wrestling promos for the most part are scripted, but THIS crossed the line.
*Mike Jones, aka Virgil: Another talented wrestler with an amateur boxing background. He was known in the mid to late 80’s under the name ‘Virgil’. He played the servant/bodyguard to wrestler ‘Ted Dibiase (The Million Dollar Man)’ and had to perform degrading things for Ted such as: cleaning his shoes; cracking his toes; taking punishment from other wrestlers; and worst of all, being on the receiving end of verbal abuse from Dibiase. When that wasn’t happening, he walked around carrying several hundred dollar bills flashing from his hand with a menacing scowl. You had to watch wrestling during this time to really feel where I’m coming from.
*Paul Neu and Nelson Frazier, aka PN News and Mabel respectively:
Frazier debuted in the WWF as ‘Mabel’ -undergoing many character changes since then- and was part of a tag team ‘Men on a Mission’ with Robert Horne (aka Mo) and their manager, ‘Oscar’. They came down the aisle with ‘Oscar’ rapping in tow, dancing and waving their hands in the air chanting “WHOOMP THERE IT IS”
A former standout football player for Florida State University, and a runner up for the prestigious Hiesman Trophy. He played defensive tackle in the NFL. He wrestled in WCW from the late 80’s until the early 90’s becoming the first Black Heavyweight Champion in 1992. He debuted in the WWF in 1996 under the name ‘Faarooq’ to become the leader of a black supremacist group called ‘Nation of Domination’. As they entered the ring, they would raise their fists in the black power salute.
Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson winning the WWF tag team titles in 1983. Tony Atlas was later repackaged as Saba Simba in 1991.
Pictured below are four other examples you may recall:
James Harris aka Kamala
Charles Wright aka Papa Shango
Shad Gaspard and Jayson Paul as ‘Cryme Tyme’
There have been many wrestlers of color that have been stereotyped over the years and it’s sad that many of them, as talented as they are, have to conform to silly gimmicks and nonsense just to get a paycheck.