Before reading part two click here to read part one. After the national expansion of the WWF, AWA and, JCP in the early 1980s major titles were merged into others. The AWA merged its World Title with WCWA’s World Heavyweight Championship created the USWA Unified World Heavyweight Championship on December 13, 1988, at Super Clash 3. Reigning AWA Champion Jerry Lawler defeated Kerry Von Erich unifying the two titles in one. In March 1988, before the title unification, Iceman King Parsons won the WCWA World Champion defeating Kerry Von Erich. The USWA ran from 1989 to 1997. A number of black wrestlers would hold their World Title.
The first of these men was Charles Wright, the future member of the aforementioned Nation of Domination stable, wrestling under the moniker Soultaker. He won the USWA Title from Jerry Lawler on October 23, 1989, though neither of these title changes is acknowledged by the Texas branch of the USWA. King Cobra was next. He also defeated Jerry Lawler becoming World Champion on August 27, 1990. He would later be stripped of the title after no-showing a title defense. The WCWA leaves, severing ties, with the USWA. Jerry Lawler won the title, again, after a tournament to crown a new champion. He would secure the title several times more before dropping it to Kamala in the first of his four World Title reigns for the company on November 25, 1991. Kamala won the USWA Title for the second time, on December 9, one week after losing it back to Lawler and the title was vacated. The title was once more vacated after Kamala defended against Koko B Ware against whom he won their rematch for his third reign with the belt. Two weeks later, Koko B Ware won the title in the first of his two championship reigns. This marks the first time a World Title changed hands from one black champion to another.
At this juncture, I will return to the story that inspired the article: Ron Simmons August 2, 1992, WCW Championship victory. On that fateful night, Big Van Vader was set to defend his WCW World Championship against Sting. Before the bout could take place, a debuting Jake Roberts injured Sting with a DDT. In a stroke of brilliance, Bill Watts, President of WCW, held a raffle to decide the next contender to Vader’s championship. Ron Simmons won the raffle securing himself a shot at the champ in the main event. Simmons defeated Vader becoming the first African American to win the WCW World Championship. It was a great moment in wrestling history. Simmons celebrated in the ring with his fellow faces from the locker. As in war, History favors the victors and WWE won that war. So, on that night, Ron Simmons became recognized as the first African American World Heavyweight Champion in wrestling history.
On September 22, 1992, Junkyard Dog won the USWA World Title kicking off his only world championship reign. Two years prior he, unsuccessfully, challenged NWA Champion Ric Flair. Only five days later, JYD would lose the title to Butch Reed. On December 7, 1992, in what became a recurring theme for two dozen time champion, Jerry Lawler, lost his title to Koko B Ware beginning his second and final title reign with the company. Charles Wright returned to USWA during talent exchange with the WWE. As Papa Shango, Wright would win his second World Title before dropping it to Owen Hart the next month. Wright was unhappy that he felt the company took advantage of his being black by having him win the World Title in front of the mostly black crowd. He would quit the business before eventually returning to WWE. Several years later Ahmed Johnson, another alumnus of the notorious Nation of Domination faction, also won the USWA World Championship. With his victory over Jerry Lawler, King Reginald became the last black World Champion of the USWA in 1997 before the promotion shut its doors two years later.
After the 1980s wrestling boom, known as the Golden Age of professional wrestling, Ted Turner decided to enter the ‘rasslin’ business. He bought JCP, renaming it World Championship Wrestling, to try and compete with Vince McMahon’s WWF. This later kicked off the Monday Night Wars. A period in wrestler where each directly competed for prime time supremacy. During this time both companies would use their respective shows to create huge stars. The war ended with the acquisition of WCW by Vince McMahon in 2001.
In 1996 a young man dubbed Rocky Maivia, in a nod to his father Rocky Johnson and grandfather Peter Maivia debuted in the WWF. By 1997, he became a member of the Nation of Domination, eventually usurping leadership from Farooq. He would feud with Farooq, and eventually fellow member Mark Henry before disbanding the group. At Survivor Series 1998, The Rock won a 14 tournament for the vacant WWF Championship. He faced Mankind in the final match of the tournament in what seemed like a shoo-in victory for the McMahon backed Mankind. Instead, The Rock managed to survive a Mandible Claw and wrench in a Sharpshooter on his opponent. Reminiscent of the infamous “Montreal Screwjob” from the previous year’s event, Mr. McMahon called for the bell awarded Rocky the match and the WWF Title. With this victory, he became the first African American WWE Champion though this is not acknowledged by the company. This marks the first of his total 8 reigns, thus far, in his career. His second reign came against Mankind in an “I Quit” match at the Royal Rumble 1999 even in which a prerecorded clip of Mankind played. After losing the title back to Mankind and their previous match ended in a draw, The Rock won a ladder match on Raw(assisted by Big Show) to secure his third reign. His fourth reign was a year later at the Backlash PPV defeated Triple H. He later lost the title back to Triple H before winning his fifth title in a six-man tag match at King of the Ring by pinning Vince McMahon. At No Way Out 2001, The Rock would beat Kurt Angle in a rematch from No Mercy becoming a six-time champion. His seventh and what many assumed to be his final title reign came in a triple threat match, beating Kurt Angle at Vengeance 2002.
On the other side of the Monday Night Wars, WCW was already in a steady decline. There was an attempt to rebuild in which point they pushed younger wrestlers but the writing was on the wall. At Bash at the Beach 2000, Hollywood Hogan was set to defend the WCW World Championship against Jeff Jarrett. Double J would lay down instead, to allow Hogan to pin him. Head writer for WCW, Vince Russo, then came to the ring to fire Hogan who instead walked out of the company. Russo declared that Jarrett was still champion. Booker T then beat Jeff Jarrett for the WCW World Championship in an impromptu match later that night becoming the second African American World Champion in company history. In September Booker won the title the second time in a rematch with Kevin Nash at Fall Brawl. He would win the title a third time defeating Jeff Jarrett in “SF 49ers Match” after Vince Russo vacated the title that he won in a cage match the week before. At the final episode of Monday Nitro March 26, 2001, after WCW was purchased by WWE, Booker T defeated Scott Steiner becoming a four-time WCW Champion. Afterword Booker T, as long with other from WCW, invaded WWE. Booker T would regain the title from Kurt Angle on Monday Night Raw. He was the first man to hold the WCW Title within the WWF. At SummerSlam 2001 The Rock beat Booker T for the WCW World Championship. The Rock then beat Chris Jericho in his rematch for the title November 5. At Vengeance Jericho defeated both The Rock and Stone Cold becoming the first Undisputed WWE Champion. The Rock would return the next year at Vengeance. He defeated the Undertaker for the Undisputed WWE Championship in his seventh and what looked to be his final reign. He would return for his eighth and, to date, final World Title reign in 2013.
The shutdown of WCW left the wrestling world with a void. From the rubble of the Monday Night Wars rose two upstart companies. One in the old ECW Arena, the other in Nashville, TN. First came ROH Wrestling which had its first event February 23, 2002, then came TNA Wrestling, which began running weekly PPV programs June 19, 2002.
Ron Killings signed with TNA Wrestling in June. He made his debut on the first TNA PPV. On the July 17 episode Truth implied he was held back, in the wrestling business, due to his race, referring himself as ‘The Truth’. August 7, 2002 Killings defeated Ken Shamrock becoming the first, and to date, only, recognized, African American NWA World Champion. He held the title until November when he lost it to Jeff Jarrett. He won the championship again on May 19, 2004, when he beat AJ Styles at TNA PPV #94.
The Great American Bash PPV was revived by the WWE in 2003. The third annual event under WWE featured a World Heavyweight Championship match between two of the old WCW’s top stars. Booker T vs. Rey Mysterio main evented, wrestling for the former top prize of WCW. Booker T defeated Mysterio winning his first and only World Title in WWE becoming the first black man to win the WWE’s version of the title.
On June 11, 2006, The WWE relaunched ECW as a third brand of programming with its One Night Stand event. The ECW World Championship was reintroduced the following Tuesday. Bobby Lashley made a surprise jump to ECW on November 14, 2006, signing on as the fifth entrant in the Elimination Chamber match for the ECW Title which was held at the December to Dismember event. Lashley eliminated Test and Big Show winning the match and the ECW Title, making him the first black world champion in the brand’s history. At One Night 2007 Lashley defeated Vince McMahon in a street fight for the ECW Title.
At WWE Night of Champions, the ECW Title was decided in a triple threat match between Kane(c), who recently been drafted to Raw, Big Show and Mark Henry who was drafted to ECW. Mark Henry, in his first in-ring competition for ECW, won the match bringing the title back to ECW from the Raw brand and secure his first world title as well as his first title since being awarded the European Championship. Ezekiel Jackson was the ECW brand’s final champion. He won the title on the final episode in an Extreme Rules matches retiring the championship.
At Night of Champions 2011, Mark Henry defeated Randy Orton to become World Heavyweight Champion. In April 2011 Henry was drafted to the Smackdown brand. This was the beginning of his Hall of Pain gimmick, his best run with the company. Henry began his career in 1996. After two years, he turned to join with Kama, D’Lo Brown and Farooq in the Nation of Domination becoming the last former member of the group to win a World Title.
The main event of the 2013 Royal Rumble event was a WWE Championship match between champion CM Punk and his challenger Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. The Rock made his return on Raw 1000 to announce he would face Punk for the title. The two feuded in the months leading up to the match. He would then face John Cena at Wrestlemania in a losing effort.
In 2014 Bobby Lashley returned to TNA Wrestling for a second time on a path of destruction, eventually, surrounding himself with a strong faction of fellow black athletes. He challenged champion Eric Young for the TNA Championship, in a losing effort, at Slammiversary 12 before forcing him into another title match on the June 19 edition of Impact Wrestling. Lashley defeated Young making the first African American to win the TNA World Championship. His first reign lasted until September. He lost to Bobby Roode who would then lose the title back to Lashley on January 7, 2015, ending Bobby Roode’s record-setting 9-month reign.
In the Summer of 2015 Jay Lethal, ROH Television Champion was announced as number one contender to Jay Briscoe, the ROH World Champion. The two faced off at Best in the World ‘15. The match was a “winner takes all” for both titles. Lethal won the match claiming he unified both titles referencing his World Television Championship. This makes Jay Lethal the first, and to date, only African American World Champion.
At Slammiversary 2016 Bobby Lashley would face Impact World Champion Drew Galloway in a “knockout of tapout only” match. Lashley previously won both the X-Division and King of the Mountain Championships making it a title vs titles match. Bobby Lashley won the match becoming Impact Champion a third time before losing the title to Eddie Edwards on Impact on October 3, 2016. Lashley won the Impact Championship for the second time at Genesis 2017 making him a 4 time champion in Impact Wrestling.
On June 30, 2018, 3 years after his first title reign started, Jay Lethal wrestled in a four-way match including champion Dalton Castle and other challengers Matt Tavin and Cody(Rhodes). Jay Lethal became a two time World Champion in his current reign as ROH Champion.
With his win over Daniel Bryan, Kofi Kingston won his first WWE Championship. His reign makes him one of only two black men, the other being The Rock, to win WWE’s flagship title. As well as joining the elite of his sport, he joins an exclusive club. He is only the 28th African American to hold a world championship in wrestling. Kofi is now at the top of his industry. Only time will tell what type of champion he will be and the legacy he leaves. His name goes on the list alongside not only world champions but hall of Famers. It’s a new day indeed.