Well well well, give WWE a round of applause because in just 1 year and 7 months since originally publishing this article, they’ve increased their number of Black WWE Champions by 50%, bringing their total number to six. That’s still not enough to make a “Best of” list but we’re getting there. I think it’s important to note that the two new Champions to add to this list seem to have been suspiciously plucked from my recommendations at the bottom. I’m not saying that this article blew up enough to fall under the eyes of Vince McMahon (may he rest in peace), but I am saying that it may be appropriate to now label me as an industry influencer.
With the recent passing of Vince McMahon and Triple H now at the helm, WWE is poised for massive changes in their creative department, the fruits of which we are already seeing. The biggest and most important shift will be wrestlers of smaller builds being pushed to the top of the card, something Vince was always less willing to do (Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels being the obvious exceptions). This will greatly expand the pool of potential future stars and I think we can expect 2015 NXT vibes all over Raw and Smackdown. I haven’t been motivated to watch WWE in a long time, but this shake up could bring me back.
Operating under different names throughout its dominance among North American wrestling promotions, the WWE has been around since 1953. In that time, can you guess how many African American World Champions they’ve had?
Four Six, and the first one was crowned in 1998. That’s pretty crazy when you think about it. It took 46 years for the McMahon family to bestow that honor upon an African American wrestler. That’s not for lack of options either, with accessible talent like Ernie Lad, Tony Atlas, and Ron Simmons, the WWE could have pulled that trigger at any time. Here, we’ll look back at the Black Champions of the past and offer suggestions of current performers who are poised to expand that list.
Dwayne ‘’The Rock” Johnson became the very first African American WWE (then WWF) Champion in the promotion’s history in 1998. He did so at that year’s Survivor Series PPV by clawing his way through the Championship Tournament to defeat Mankind in the Main Event. I was an 11-year-old kid watching history be made, that’s how recently this happened. Even though it was long overdue, at that moment, the WWE was at heights of popularity it had never seen before and has rarely seen since. African American viewership was at an all-time high and The Rock was the perfect person to carry the weight and expectations of that moment.
It would be eight years before another black performer was booked to win the title. Booker T came to the WWE in 2001 after fully establishing himself at the top of WCW, where he was a four-time Heavyweight Champion. He held a total of 21 titles at WCW, making him the most decorated performer in its history. Five years later, in 2006, Booker T would win that year’s King of the Ring Tournament, setting him on a collision course with then WWE Champion, Rey Mysterio. A few months later, Booker would win a battle royal on an episode of Smackdown! to earn him a heavyweight title shot. He’d win that night to become only the second African American World Champion in the company’s history. I graduated High School that year, insane.
It’s difficult to overstate how much of a monster Mark Henry was in the weight lifting world before he joined the then WWF in 1996. He was a two-time former Olympian and gold medalist at the Pan American Games. A two-time U.S. National Champion for USA Powerlifting and The World Drug-Free Powerlifting Federation Champion in 1995. He still, to this day, holds the WDFPF world records in squat and deadlift. He’s actually credited for the highest raw squat and raw powerlifting total ever done by a drug-tested athlete. That’s not even all of his weightlifting accomplishments, I just got tired of typing them out. It took the WWE 15 years after his debut, but they finally strapped the company on his back in 2011, when he became the World Heavyweight Champion after defeating Randy Orton at the Night of Champions PPV.
In an event now affectionately referred to by fans as “Kofimania,” Kofi Kingston defeated Daniel Bryan to become the WWE Champion at Wrestlemania in 2019. This also made him the first African-born WWE Champion in history. Kofi’s win and rise to the top was the best babyface storyline in recent memory. Too often, the WWE gets this sort of thing wrong, but they were almost forced into the booking by overwhelming crowd support for Kofi. As with CM Punk and Daniel Bryan before him, Kofi was catapulted to the top by crowds who would take over WWE broadcasts with chants of his name and boos to every performer the company attempted to push instead. The payoff at the biggest PPV of the year, as Kofi lifted the belt while holding his two children in his arms was euphoric. Sometimes, you gotta give the people what they want.
The first new entry to this list, Bobby Lashley actually debuted with WWE back in 2005 and made a pretty big impact. He had the physique and presence to wow the fans, but lacked any substantial charisma. His biggest moment was undoubtedly being involved in a feud between Vince McMahon and future President of the United States, Donald Trump. He would leave the WWE in 2008 and after lengthy and very beneficial stints on the independent circuit and with TNA, he returned to the WWE ten years later in 2018. He immediately got over with fans and formed a very popular stable called The Hurt Business with his manager, and familiar face to long time fans, MVP. At the Elimination Chamber PPV in February 2021, Bobby attacked the then WWE Champion Drew McIntyre after his match, allowing The Miz to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase to become the new WWE Champion. This was later revealed to be a back room deal between the two, but wouldn’t last long as Bobby would soon become the number one contender and defeat The Miz in a lumberjack match to become the WWE Champion for the first time in his career.
Like his friend Kofi Kingston before him, Big E’s ascension to the top was a moment of euphoria for the fans who saw great things in him as one of the first NXT Champions in the era where that brand was really coming into it’s own. As a part of the beloved New Day stable, Big E got to flex all aspects of his charismatic personality and further ingratiated himself with the fans. Big E got his biggest opportunity when he qualified for and won the 2021 Money in the Bank Ladder Match, becoming the first African-American wrestler to hold that contract. Big E would cash in the contract a few months later during a September episode of Raw, pinning Bobby Lashley to become the WWE Champion. At the time of this writing, Big E is in recovery from a horrifc neck injury, and while his health and spirits seem to be in great place, it’s still unclear if he’ll ever be able to wrestle again. If, God willing and the creek don’t rise, Big E is able to make a full return to action, WWE should strap him up again as soon as possible.
Four One Black Wrestler Who Is Ready For A Championship Push Bobby Lashley – He’s one of the most protected wrestlers in the company today. I have to assume he’s building credibility for a long run at the top. If Vince McMahon could build a physique in a lab, it’d be Bobby Lashley’s. Big E – Like Mark Henry before him, he’s a USA Powerlifting Champion. He was the second-ever NXT Champion (WWE’s developmental brand). As part of The New Day, he’s a 10-time Tag Team Champion. With that level of experience with gold, he’d be a natural fit at the top of WWE’s heavyweight division.
Ricochet – He’s only
32 33, but he’s wrestled and held championships all over the world, including in Japan, Mexico, and the USA. He’s legit one of the most exciting performers you’re ever likely to see. He’s got that Rey Mysterio, underdog babyface champion energy about him. The WWE should put the belt on him if only to sell a ridiculous amount of merch to kids.
Ricochet is near the top of the list of the most talented wrestlers that the WWE has wasted. But with Triple H now in charge of booking, he may yet see a resurgence. Will he get the push all the way to the WWE Championship? Probably not for a while, but I see big things in the near future.
Keith Lee – Have you ever seen a dude whose size to agility ratio seems to defy physical possibility? That’s Keith Lee. He’s huge, strong, and doing top turnbuckle moonsaults to the floor.
He’s the up-and-comer you can’t wait to see wrestle the established big guys like Brock Lesnar
Mostly all of this is still true about Keith Lee, but unfortunately for WWE, they dilly dallied with booking him as the monster he should have been and lost their chance. He’s been with AEW since February of this year and is currently one half of their Tag Team Champions along with his partner Swerve Strickland.
This article was updated on 9/20/2022