Big E winning the WWE World Championship is the latest moment in what has been a banner year for Black wrestlers in the WWE. Just look at this list
- First Black woman Royal Rumble winner (Bianca Belair)
- First time two Black women main evented WrestleMania (Belair and Sasha Banks), and won an ESPY award for it!
- First Black man to successfully defend a World Title at WrestleMania (Bobby Lashley)
- First Black man to win Money in the Bank (Big E)
And now this. This also marks the second of two other milestones, a Black wrestler winning a WWE World Title from another Black wrestler (Belair beating Sasha was the first). When we look back at the annals of wrestling history 2021 in the WWE will be seen as a watershed year for Black wrestlers in that company. But this is bigger than just some people we like getting booked to win some matches.
As a black kid growing up we were taught that in order to succeed you had to present yourself in a way that said you were serious and about business and all that. And that went double if you were a public figure of some kind because way too many people looked at you as some kind of avatar for black people as a whole. And it’s a burden to have to not only be great at your job just to get in the door but to get stuck representing your entire race to a bunch of people who were looking for the least little reason to cast you aside.
So to see these three black men eschew that entirely and to be unafraid and unapologetic about who they are as black men means a lot. To see them not flinch when they were told to ditch the dancing, the pancakes, the unicorn horns, the silly outfits and all is huge. And to see them reach the highest levels in their profession while representing as black fans of video games, comic books, anime, etc is a big deal because I was taught as a kid that when you reached adulthood you had to drop those kind of things. And for a while I did just that and let me tell you isn’t fun.
But they haven’t just been fighting against stereotypes in society, they’ve been fighting cliches and stereotypes about what kind of wrestlers can reach the top. They’ve fought to get on TV, to portray their characters in ways that work for them.
When their initial preacher-styled gimmick wasn’t working for them they fought for a heel turn and Woods even put his employment on the line to the boss to get it. They fought for merchandise, fought for creative to go their way, you name it. They fought against the very nature of not just booking and merchandising Black wrestlers but booking wrestlers who embraced the funny sides of their real life personalities. They even fought criticism from some of us who thought they needed to change up to move higher. They fought on three fronts and have scored victory after victory after victory.
And let’s pull no punches here; those of us who thought the way they were was doomed to eventually fail have been conditioned that dancing, smiling, etc would ultimately lead to white people not taking them serious enough to get behind them as main eventers. And that was based in no small part on decades of us having to be dead serious at all times to be taken seriously by white people in our lives and careers. It wasn’t uncommon to hear the word ‘coon’ associated with New Day in regards to the dancing, the pancake throwing, and all. Some of us (and I can proudly say NOT ME) just knew that it would eventually be their downfall and I couldn’t be happier to see them proven wrong.
Now to be fair a lot of us are still in a position where we have to make that compromise to succeed. But these men saw that they did have the opportunity to succeed by being themselves and they didn’t run from it to the safe and comfortable place of getting in where they more easily fit in. These men took the harder road and have come out on the other side far more successful than if they’d gone the safe route. That isn’t just an inspiration to Black people that can be gleaned from by anyone with a dream or a career aspiration anywhere.
There was one more thing by my count that they fought and won against and that’s the age old trope of wrestling teams/factions being made to eventually be broken. For years there have been people on the internet have been throwing out the idea of New Day turning on each other even though it goes entirely against the very nature of the characters in the group. Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E have never had the kind of egos or self centered nature or short fuses or insecurities that were seeds for eventual group breakups. And yet that didn’t stop the fantasy booking madness from some people.
That madness was driven no doubt by slavish devotion to decades long tropes but is quite frankly an indictment of a lot of the most vocal fans in that they didn’t pay the least bit of attention to what and who they were actually watching on their TV every week. Because if you paid attention you’d have seen that these three were just not that type. They wouldn’t turn on each other any more than Luke Skywalker would turn on Han Solo or Batman would willingly turn on Alfred. And while there was likely some kind of push for it backstage at some points they fought it and won so who cares? Seriously people, there comes a time in life where you have to stop dwelling on bad things that didn’t happen just because they could have.
But anyway, enough of that. These three men have been am inspiration to black wrestling fans for six years and running. From their loyalty to one another to their authenticity to their determination to fight to get what was theirs to the way they have gotten love from and given love to their coworkers in what is a cold, hard, selfish business. And they’ve provided two of the most emotionally heart warming moments in all of entertainment, not just pro wrestling, over the last three years.
12 year old me would not have ever dreamed this up in 1986 when we had the Junkyard Dog and not much else. Wouldn’t have thought it possible for some time after that, either. And to be quite honest when I surveyed the landscape in 2013 after the Rock lost the title to John Cena I didn’t see anyone who I thought would get to this point. So for KofiMania to happen first and then this now is just surreal. (And we can’t leave out Bobby Lashley’s six month reign that was chock full of great title defenses and an all around dominant performance, too) Thank you, New Day, and here’s to many more moments as we continue down this road.