Over the years, we have seen some amazing African-American wrestlers in the WWE. Many of them have stepped into the ring and succeed such as Mark Henry, Big E. Langston and Kofi Kingston while others have dominated, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Booker T. However, if it wasn’t for WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons, there may not have been The Rock or Booker T because from the start it was Simmons who broke down barriers and paved the way for African-American wrestlers in the WWE.
Now, unlike many wrestlers in the WWE, Simmons started his athletic career on the gridiron playing football. Before joining the WWE, Simmons was a professional football player who was a defensive tackle in the NFL, CFL and USFL.
While he did have success at the professional level, he is most known for his successful collegiate football career at Florida State University, where he was recognized as an All-American. During his time with Florida State, the Seminoles earned back-to-back Orange Bowl trips during Simmons’ junior and senior seasons. In 1979, he even finished ninth in the Heisman voting behind the winner, Charles White of USC. Due to Simmons’ dominating and impressive career with Florida State, Simmons’s jersey number (50) was retired by FSU in 1988, the third time a number has been retired in school history. In addition, Simmons was also inducted into the Orange Bowl Hall of Fame and College Football Hall of Fame for his accomplishments while playing at Florida State.
While no one will ever dis-credit the impact that he had in football, it would be in the wrestling ring that he became a legend and African-American hero.
Simmons became a professional wrestler in 1988, when he joined the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and it was during that time, that Simmons teamed up with wrestler Butch Reed to form the tag team, Doom. Under the tutelage of their manager Teddy Long, Simmons and Reed were an amazing tag team who are still considered to be one of the best tag teams of all time. In 1989, Doom defeated The Steiner Brothers for the NWA World Tag Team Championship. They held the title for nine months, defeating teams like The Rock ‘n’ Roll Express and The Four Horsemen. They would later lose the Tag Team titles in 1991, but it was the disbandment of Doom, that sent Simmons on the path of making history.
In 1992, a scheduled title match between Sting and WCW World Heavyweight Champion Big Van Vader was canceled after Jake Roberts injured Sting. It was in that moment that WCW President Bill Watts responded by holding a raffle to determine the number one contender. Simmons won the raffle and defeated Vader to win the title and through that victory, Simmons became the first recognized African-American WCW World Heavyweight Champion, a trend he would continue during his professional career. Simmons went on to hold the title for five months, before losing it and leaving WCW and moving onto ECW from 1994-1995.
However, it was in the WWE, that Simmons would evolve not only as a wrestler but as a African-American hero as well. He joined the WWE (known as the WWF back then) in 1996, under the name Faarooq Asad. Shortly after joining the WWE, he dropped his gladiator gimmick and became the first leader of the African-American Group known as the Nation of Domination. It was in this moment that Simmons made another historic moment, because it was during his time with Nation of Domination, that he mentored members like The Rock and Mark Henry early in their careers, and it because of that fact that it’s even safe to say that he played a significant role in shaping the future of WWE.
The group would eventually kick Simmons out but this move caused Simmons to drop the name Faarooq and go back to his real name. It was also during this time that the WWE experienced some fun and entertaining rivalries but one of the main show stopper was when Simmons teamed up with wrestler, John “Bradshaw” Layfield also known as JBL, to form the The Acolytes.
When it came to the Acolytes, there was no one tougher or competitive as the two were known for smoking cigars and drinking beer when they weren’t demolishing their opponents. They had feuding rivalries with various wrestling tag teams like D-Generation X and The Brood, which led to them having two short but respected reigns as tag team champions. They won their first tag team title when they defeated the team of Kane and X-Pac, they eventually lost the titles to the Hardy Boyz but they would later win the titles back in a no disqualification handicap match against the Hardyz and Michael Hayes before again losing the titles to Kane and X-Pac. In 1999, they changed their name to Acolytes Protection Agency better known as APA and it was during this time that they won their third tag team title by defeating the Dudley Boyz in 2001 but they lost the titles the following month to Diamond Dallas Page and Chris Kanyon.
It was also during this time, that Simmons would start saying and using his trademark “DAMN!” catchphrase and as his catchphrase grew, he showed a more fun side of himself as he would consistently appear out of nowhere and unleash his booming deep voice on an un-expecting wrestler leading the WWE fans to laugh hilariously at his antics.
He would later retire in 2003, but from 2003 to 2006 he would make sporadic appearances on Raw and Smackdown along with Survivor Series and WWE Heat. In 2012, Simmons was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, where he was formally inducted by his APA partner John “Bradshaw” Layfield.
While Simmons may not have been the best wrestler to ever step in the ring, there is no doubt that he was a great wrestler, entertainer and leader. He has been credited as the first African-American world heavyweight champion in WCW and as a memorable character in WWE’s “Attitude Era.” Whether you like him or not, no one can deny the accomplishment of being the first black World Champion and the fact that he dominated the Tag Team division for so many years. It was because of those many accomplishments, that he broke down barriers and paved the way for future African-American Superstars like The Rock and Booker T and even those underrated stars like Big E. Langston, Kofi Kingston and Mark Henry. It if wasn’t for Simmons leadership and overall great ability, we as WWE fans may have not experience some of the great African-American Wrestlers like The Rock.
Ron Simmons is a true African-American hero who paved the way for African-American wrestlers in the WWE, so next your time your remembering great African-American athletes and leaders, remember WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons.
Written by LBeasley (Lauren Beasley), Sports Contributor for Radio One Detroit