Ron Simmons: How He Became the First Ever African-American World Champion

After a stellar college football career that saw Ron Simmons finish ninth in the Heisman Trophy voting, the future Faarooq played football for the Cleveland Browns and then spent some time in the Canadian Football League and the short-lived USFL. He embraced pro wrestling in 1987, going on to form a tag team with Butch Reed: Doom. Wrestling under masks in the NWA/WCW, the pair captured the world tag team titles and engaged in high-profile feuds with the Four Horsemen, Rock & Roll Express, and Steiner Brothers. The bouts with the latter still hold up today as hard-hitting, extremely athletic affairs.

Ron Simmons with his arms up in victory captured the WCW title at a house show in Baltimore, Maryland, in August 1992.
Ron Simmons captured the WCW title at a house show in Baltimore, Maryland, in August 1992.

Trivia: Doom is actually the first team recognized as WCW tag team champions, as the promotion was separating itself from the NWA at the time.

The pair dropped the titles to the Freebirds at WrestleWar 1991, and Ron Simmons subsequently turned babyface, launching a feud with Reed that would culminate in a cage match at the inaugural SuperBrawl. Simmons won and would go on to feud with Cactus Jack and others.

Simmons benefitted greatly when Bill Watts took over WCW as its executive vice President in 1992. Watts’s Mid-South Wrestling program became one of the hottest promotions in the country behind the charisma of the Junkyard Dog, and Watts saw similarities between JYD and Simmons and decided to put the world title on the former Seminole.

Related: The End of WCW and the Final Monday Nitro

Though it must be said: Ron Simmons was much more athletic than JYD

At the time, Vader was running roughshod through WCW and in a program with Sting. At a house show in Baltimore, Maryland, Sting was unable to wrestle the main event against Vader for the world title, having been “injured” at the hands of Jake Roberts earlier in the evening. Watts held a raffle to determine who would face Vader that evening. Seemingly at random, Simmons won the raffle and would go on to defeat Vader for the championship that evening. The win was replayed later that week on WCW’s television program. It was the first time an African-American won a widely recognized version of the world title.

Watch Ron Simmons Win the WCW World Heavyweight Championship on August 2, 1992, at a House Show in Baltimore, Maryland to Become the First Recognized African-American World Champion:


Trivia: Bearcat Wright won the Los Angeles version of the ‘world’ title from Freddie Blassie prior to this, and Bobo Brazil held the LA version of the title, as well as a version of the world title based in Indianapolis, Indiana. However, neither version was widely accepted as a world championship. Both promotions, coincidentally, were known as WWA, though unrelated.

Ron Simmons’s run with the world title was solid, if not spectacular.

WCW’s business didn’t boom under Watts, and five months later, Simmons dropped the title back to Vader. Following his main-event run, Simmons was mired in the mid-card for the rest of his time in WCW. He would appear in ECW for a couple of years, and then make his WWE debut in 1996 as Faarooq. He feuded with Ahmed Johnson over the Intercontinental title (though he never won it), and led the Nation of Domination, leading to a feud with a young up-and-comer you may have heard of: The Rock. At the 1998 Royal Rumble, the NOD basically imploded, with Faarooq eliminating fellow members D’Lo Brown Mizark Henry, leading to a final three of Faarooq, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin. The Rock eliminated Faarooq, and the feud that had been bubbling just below the surface took off.

From there, Simmons made appearances as the Undertaker’s acolyte, and in a tag team with JBL as the Acolytes (and later the Acolyte Protection Agency). In recent years, he’s most known for his signature “DAMN!” at varying moments on WWE TV. He’s a member of the College Football and WWE halls of fame.

Ron Simmons turned 60 years old on May 15th, 2018. And he could probably still kick your a*s.

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Bobby Mathews
Bobby Mathews is a contributor for Pro Wrestling Stories as well as a veteran journalist whose byline has appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Birmingham News, The Denver Post, as well as other newspapers around the country. He's won multiple awards for reporting and opinion writing, and his sports journalism has garnered several Associated Press Managing Editors Awards. He has covered Division I college athletics and professional sports including MLB and NFL games. He has won awards from press associations in several states, including a General Excellence award from the Georgia Press Association while sports editor at The Statesboro Herald. He currently lives in suburban Birmingham, Alabama and can be reached on Twitter @bamawriter.