Black History: Ron Simmons, the 1st African-American World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion
Concluding The PractitioNERD’s celebration of Black History Month, I want to introduce Ron Simmons, who is the first officially recognized African-American World Heavyweight Wrestling Champion and member of the WWE Hall of Fame Class of 2012. Simmons is also a four-time World Tag Team Champion (3 with WWE, 1 with WCW) and College Football Hall of Famer, recognized by his All-American status as a defensive nose guard with the Florida State Seminoles.
A native of Perry, Ga., he played college football at Florida State University, under legendary coach Bobby Bowden, and later his No. 50 jersey was retired by FSU. After playing in the NFL for the Cleveland Browns and later in the USFL (United States Football League) with the Tampa Bay Bandits, Simmons would soon make the jump to the squared circle. Trained by Hiro Matsuda, he made his professional wrestling debut in 1986, where he would transform from a popular star with the NWA, to Tag Team Champion, and then World Champion in WCW. While in WCW, Simmons met his tag team partner Butch Reed and manager — future SmackDown General Manager — Theodore Long, as the tag team known as “Doom.” Simmons would later make history on the night of August 2, 1992 on WCW Saturday Night, when he defeated Big Van Vader to become the first officially recognized African-American World Champion in professional wrestling history. He joined the ranks of “Sailor” Art Thomas, Bobo Brazil and Rocky Johnson (w/ Tony Atlas as the first African American World Tag Team Champions) before him as trailblazers for future wrestlers like The Rock, Kofi Kingston, Jay Lethal, Booker T, Ron “R-Truth” Killings, and more.
After a short stay in ECW, Simmons entered the WWE in 1996 as Faarooq, formed The Nation of Domination, and would mentor members –and future champions — The Rock, Mark Henry, and D’Lo Brown early in their careers. After the fall of the Nation, Faarooq (now as Ron Simmons) teamed with John Bradshaw Layfield (JBL) as The Acolytes, later renamed the Acolyte Protection Agency (APA). Serving as a “guns-for-hire” type of angle, they drank beer, smoked cigars, gambled and slugged it out with the rest of the locker room, winning the World Tag Team Titles three times between 1999 and 2001. After retiring from full-time in-ring action, Simmons would become a popular WWE personality with his charismatic one-word catchphrase — “Damn!” Simmons would now seemingly appear out of nowhere after various tense, uneasy and/or embarrassing moments in the locker room, and would hilariously utter his now-iconic phrase, much to the delight of millions and millions of fans across the globe.