I started this piece on MLK Day, and am finishing it a few days later, but I hope it will carry some significance beyond that and Black History Month as there’s more discussion about the history of Black people in the wrestling business, the good the bad, and the ugly. And one subject that does not just come and go on that front is just how few Black World Champions there have been, both in WWE and elsewhere. Looking at the entire history I see some missed opportunities along with some stretches where it just wasn’t a realistic option. For a really long time the MO was to pick a champion and keep him in place for years until he needed a break, business started suffering, etc. so giving Bobo Brazil a six month run during Bruno’s reign because he deserved a turn wasn’t going to happen. Ditto for someone like the Junkyard Dog during the height of Hulkamania; I wouldn’t have booked that either. But there’s no reason Booker T couldn’t have gotten just a brief stint as WWE champion instead of one of those multiple times Randy Orton or John Cena held the title for a month or so. And Ron Simmons coming in as a former WCW World Champion could have done the placeholder thing Psycho Sid did from November 1996 to January 1997 without hurting what was already struggling business any more. They deserve any criticism they get there.
But this is a different time in that there are more African American and other people of color working there than ever before, and we’re no longer in an era where one guy holds the belt for years or where there are only one or two black wrestlers in the whole company and neither of them may be viable. So what I’m hoping to do here is run through the various names of current wrestlers that get bandied around whenever the subject comes up, and come up with some realistic takes on who should be considered and what kind of run they should have if chosen. In my opinion if you’re going to be World Champion for a while you gotta pass some kind of baselines as far as in ring performance, popularity, and marketability as champion. That group is very small and excludes most of the people of any race. But short title reigns do happen, and that opens up possibilities for choices that don’t necessarily scream Top Guy in the Company.
So who passes every part of the test, who succeeds in some areas, and what kind of championship scenario would best suit them and the company? If we’re going to start with in ring performance we have a pretty wide field. Seeing as how Jinder Mahal, Bray Wyatt, and the 2010 version of the Miz were all considered acceptable enough in the ring to hold the title then we really don’t have to leave anyone out yet. Even guys who have been doing tag matches forever like Big E and Kofi or low midcard types like Apollo Crews have the in ring skills to do the job here. If you want to pinpoint one area in which there are flat out no excuses to have gone this long since Mark Henry, it’s here. The worst one there now is probably Titus O’Neill and even with him if you had to you can gimmick up the match or make it a Multi-man affair. These aren’t the days of an out of shape, backstage problem ridden Junkyard Dog as your most prominent Black wrestler, there are plenty of guys who can all go well enough to get a turn.
So that takes us to the other things. Who looks the part? Who has the personality? Who is already popular enough? And who can you sell on top of the card? As I mentioned with R-Truth there are a few names I’m not going to bother with: Apollo Crews has shown zero personality and can barely get us excited when he gets and Intercontinental Title Match. Shelton Benjamin was Apollo Crews before Apollo Crews and now he’s there to have good matches and put guys over as he plays out the string. I’m not going through the mental gymnastics needed to put those guys in as plausible World Champions or main eventers. Now that we’re done with that here’s where I’ll kick a few names around and see what I think:
We love R-Truth, everybody loves R-Truth. Would we all pop super hard and rejoice if some weird thing happened and he won the World Championship? Sure! But it would be ridiculous unless it was like his last match and he was getting the win as a going away present. Truth did main event a pay per view against John Cena back in 2011 for the title but nobody thought he’d win then and he transitioned over into a comedy act the next year. It would be fun if it happened but you can’t realistically expect or demand that kind of thing.
Looks the part for sure, and they didn’t bring him back for nothing, but nobody cares about him. Yes he could stand face to face with Brock and look realistic in victory, but as soon the ref counted three we would all be wondering what just happened and why. His rebrand with Lio Rush as a sidekick has helped, but still……….if he won it tomorrow I’d be like ‘Yay……….why didn’t they do this with Big E instead?’ Sorry but he just doesn’t have the personality to make anyone love or hate him enough to get behind a World/Universal Title push or reign, and there are zero signs that he moves any kind of ratings or merchandise sales to warrant that kind of push. When people complain about token diversity well….I wouldn’t have much of retort here other than ‘hey it’s been eight years since Mark Henry so shut up!’. And I’m not above doing that but I’d like to save it for someone I’d feel more confident defending.
Titus looks the part too, is well liked by everyone and does have some semblance of a fanbase that Lashley does not. But we’ve never seen anything in the ring from him that would justify it. I mentioned earlier that you could protect him if indeed it is true that he just can’t go at that level, but you’d also need to give him a pretty long program to realistically get him out of the low spot on the card he’s in and build him all the way up. And why would you do all that for what would likely be a feel good month long run until the next pay per view when you have Big E sitting right there who doesn’t need it? The difference between he and Lashley is that I think that some people would be genuinely happy for him versus just not caring. Would I like to see him get a little elevation, to the point where he can do some title program and get some big matches? Absolutely, but I think that’s about where his natural level is.
Keith is in NXT right now, he’s a big guy who can square up with any of the big boys, and is skilled enough to work well with the smaller guys. He was a pretty big deal on the indies before coming to WWE so he would have a dedicated corner of fans should he get moved into position for a title program. That being said, we don’t really know what kind of personality he has and whether he can connect with the main roster audience that isn’t already in love with him just because like the NXT audience. Until then the most I can say for him is that he could absolutely be that guy who moves up, wrecks everyone in his path, and gets into a main event or title match. But beyond that I just have no idea right now.
He can do all the stuff in the ring and while being a smaller guy he doesn’t look as tiny of some other guys his height and weight (5-9, 196 according to Wikipedia). He’s an exciting high flyer who can wow the crowd with some of his spots. But the NXT question comes up here with him as it does with Lee. When he’s no longer in front of people who love him just because, what happens? He could potentially be another Finn Balor but he could also be another Neville.
Dream is already one of the best characters in the entire company, and the prospect of him being in a title match sells itself. He shouldn’t have the transition question in terms of crowd response once he gets called up. He’s good enough in the ring even though he is more sports entertainer than wrestler. Would the same character that makes him such a hit now hold him back? That’s the only thing; would he pass the seriousness test? I think his character work and little things like how he’d change the belt design after winning it are intriguing enough to get people to anticipate and even root for a title victory. Of all the NXT guys I think he’s the one to go with.
Great in ring, comes close enough in the eye test to pass, not totally devoid of personality but it is a bit of a liability. He got a nice build towards winning the Cruiserweight Title at WrestleMania but the time the match happened I think most of us would have been happier with Mustafa Ali winning it. I don’t see how he overcomes that to get to a point where people would be behind him getting that kind of push.
He’s got personality and the popularity. He was largely an afterthought in the ring when New Day first got together but is much improved lately and is a legit good in ring worker now. But he hasn’t so much as been in a midcard title program yet and until that happens it would look really awkward were he to leapfrog my last two guys, who happen to be his teammates.
And now, on to the favorites………..
Kofi has won every title but the World and Universal Titles. He’s a highlight every year in the Royal Rumble, and anytime he’s in a spot fest kind of match either on his own or as part of New Day. He’s been there for a long time and while I’m not a ‘You deserve It’ guy Kofi is one of the few guys I’d look the other way for. He’s popular enough, he’s shown the personality, and I think if the miracle of him winning the Rumble or Money in the Bank happened it would go over huge. He’s already had feuds with guys who held the title like Randy Orton and The Miz, and did not look the least bit out of place in the ring with them. So what gives? The World/WWE title unification in 2013 did him no favors, taking a top title off the board entirely for two years until the Universal Title was created in 2016, and by then he was firmly entrenched in a tag team and was no longer a guy in the singles division mix. But before that maybe some of that time wasted trying to get people to care about Alberto Del Rio could have been spent on Kofi, who people already did like. As for today, you could easily heat him up quickly and have him win a title shot, then pull off the upset. And maybe he could even keep it for more than a few weeks if it goes over well enough. At this point why the hell not?
No reason to wait any longer. He has everything going for him that his teammates do, he looks the part more than they do, and he’s a former Intercontinental Champion so there’s no need for him to do a midcard title fling first. You could put him in there right now with Daniel Bryan or even Brock and we’d be here for it. Easy call, the win would go over great, and the celebration with his teammates would be off the hook. I know we gotta get through WrestleMania and all, but once that’s done let’s go already. They don’t need another tag team title reign at this point, time to freshen it up and go with something new that’s guaranteed to be a winner. And you don’t have to break them up to do it, either. I know the New Day appear to not be serious enough and all but whatever. A goofy, fun loving World Champion who can crush you if you dare talk bad about him is what the world could use right now.
So that’s everyone I could think of. To sum it up, there are a few guys who make sense on paper and a couple of those guys who I think could get in a title program right now and do well. And at the top we have Big E who checks all the boxes and should get put in the mix ASAP. And it would be more than goodwill or PR; Big E is a guy who would be a legit World Champion in the ring and in the sales department. There’s a really bumpy history with Black wrestlers, with some highs and major lows, but there’s a chance to make a turn for the better if they’re willing to try.