It’s Pointless to get Excited for Black Wrestlers in The WWE
February 24th, 2003 Booker T was on top of the world. That night, he won a twenty man over the top battle royal by eliminating The Rock to become the number one contender for the World’s Heavyweight Championship. Being one of the few wrestlers to successfully transition to WWE after the fall of WCW, Booker T spent the last two years working his way back up the card. His true life story was worked into his wrestling story. Booker was a man who made poor choices early in his youth and with pro wrestling was able to turn his life around. Booker T was walking a path of redemption and wrestling fans were cheering for his journey. However, all this would come to a tragic end at WrestleMania XIX.
Booker would not win the World’s Heavyweight’s Championship nor would he find his redemption that night in the ring. Instead it would be the end of his very short rivalry with Triple H. Over time, wrestling historians have become increasingly critical of Triple H’s infamous heel run of 2002-2005 and one of the most discussed pointed is Triple H’s short, racially charged, feud with Booker. While Booker was a simple man looking for redemption, Triple H was a privileged man trying to prove Booker didn’t belong there. The WWE will argue Hunter was referring to the Booker’s troubles as a youth, but the subtext is undeniable, this was all about race. In one of the most racist promos of the modern era, Triple H informed Booker T “people like him don’t win titles; people like ‘Booker’ are only there to entertain people like Triple H.” In the weeks followed, building to their match at Mania, Triple H and his manager Rick Flair during promos and backstage segments would continue to demean Booker with clear racial tones. In the end, Triple H would be proven correct – People like Booker T don’t win Championships.
In the years since, the WWE has done little to prove Triple H wrong. Black wrestlers do not win titles, at least not the important ones. Black wrestlers do not get to be an elite task force of mercenaries, running rough shot over the entire roster. Black wrestlers don’t get to be the charismatic cult leaders, hypnotizing audiences with their words alone. Black wrestlers do not get to be the handpicked chosen one, stealing matches to be the face of the company. Black wrestlers are there to entertain people like Triple H not to inspire people like themselves. In the WWE it is pointless to get excited for Black wrestlers.
In its entire history only one black wrestler has won the WWE title – The Rock and in the twelve year run of The World’s Heavyweight’s title in the WWE, only two Black wrestlers won that belt. When Black wrestlers do win championships, it happens outside of the WWE. Ron Simmons, the first Black wrestler to win a company’s top title, won his in WCW. R-Truth, the Hip-Hop loving WWE staple is a two time NWA World Heavyweight Champion but fans would not know given WWE’s selective history. Even one time WWE Hopeful Bobby Lashley, has become a two time TNA Heavyweight Champion. Black wrestlers can be and are champions everywhere else but WWE. In the WWE, they are praised for their athletic ability and raw natural talent but that praise never translate to championships. Instead Black wrestlers are stuck in a limbo of failure and disappointment.
Black wrestlers are oxymora, talented losers with infinite potential. Kofi Kingston is probably the best oxymoron on the roster right now. For the last nine years, Kofi has been entertaining WWE audiences with his amazing athletic ability; defying gravity with high flying antics. Kofi is a staple of the undercard, constantly winning Tag Team titles and the United State Championship. Each new win is a sign of “this young man’s future.” However WWE’s top titles are not in the picture for Kofi. After all these years, his career shows no forward progress. Kofi’s best known for his Money in the Bank and Royal Rumble performances, the latter he is constantly avoiding elimination.
The “Kofi spot” has been a highlight of the Rumble. Landing on the guardrail, using a chair to hop back in the ring or crowd surfing on Rose Buds, Kofi manages to avoid elimination in unexpected, new and cleaver ways. Fans are trained to expect the “Kofi spot to subvert their expectations. For all the work Kofi does to avoid elimination at the moment, fans are also trained to expect Kofi to actually get eliminated soon after. Every now and then Kofi will win a match against a top tier talent like Randy Orton. But those wins are pointless, never on a major Pay-Per-View, all rolls up and distractions, wins that “protect” the other wrestler while still trying to give Kofi a push.
Not surprising, Kofi’s role is not unique. His part was once played by Shelton Benjamin. Arguably one of the most gifted wrestlers to ever set foot in a WWE ring. Before Money in the Bank was a PPV, it was a featured match at WrestleMania and for the first four years of its inception – Shelton Benjamin was that match. A human highlight reel, Shelton Benjamin was quickly placed in matches with Rick Flair, Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Just as events were looking promising for Benjamin, his “push” came to a disastrous halt. The dirt sheets were all filled with the same talk, “he has the look, he has the skills, the crowd likes him, but he’s not strong on the mic. The WWE wants him stronger on the mic before going further.” While being weak on the mic is an issue for all wrestlers, it has not stop the WWE from putting one of their top belts on wrestlers like Jack Swagger or The Great Kali, but for black wrestlers, it is a death sentence, all that is necessary to lessen their T.V. time.
For Benjamin, it meant he went from arrogant hotshot who could back his claims with his amazing wrestling skills to loser mid-carder, who needed the aid of his mother to win. WWE paired Shelton Benjamin with “Momma Benjamin” – an outdated Mammy stereotype. The role and treatment was so bad Thea Vidale, the comedian, who portrayed Momma, said her time with the WWE was the low point in her career, stating, “I genuinely hated that place. While I was there I was sexually harassed everyday by a perverted middle aged man that didn’t understand what no meant.” Thea would exit the WWE not long after along with discussions of Benjamin in the world’s Heavyweight title hunt. Gifted black man, aware of his natural talents is pushed down until he is shell of his former self. This is what the WWE does often.
Black wrestlers have been limited to playing tropes or stereotypes and are seldom given interesting roles to play. Last year, the Heel Tag team “The Real Americans” consisting of Jack Swagger, Cesaro and manager Zeb Colter steadily rose in popularity with fans. Even though they were villains, their jingoistic rhetoric, xenophobic promos, and dangerously patriotic attitudes connected with of many far right and Tea-Party leaning fans — the same groups The Real Americans were supposedly spoofing. When you are a non-black wrestler, you can play racist villains, use real life issues to get “heat,” keep it 100, forcing fans to face uncomfortable truths and the audience will love you for it. Contrast The New Americans with The New Day and it’s easy to see why the latter flopped on arrival.
For months there was talk on the dirt sheets that Xavier Woods, Big E Langston and Kofi Kingston would be forming a new staple. Many speculated they would be making a new “Nation of Domination.” Xavier quickly shot down the rumors, stating “No clue not a part of it, but if I did have a group then I’d use our intelligence as the focus rather than our race #Its2014.” Still, it was clear something was about to happen. In the weeks followed, the three would @ reply each other to discuss their frustrations or point out observations about Rusev’s choice of opponents. Then one night on Raw the three came together. After another loss, Woods confronted Big E and Kofi, telling them they could not “get ahead by kissing babies and shaking hands”. Instead, it would be “their time” to “take.” Like most great stories in wrestling, it was based in reality.
Woods, a legit PhD candidate in Psychology, was clearly working in many of the frustrations and angers African Americans had been feeling that summer. Xavier spoke about Kofi’s lack of championship opportunity and he having to play nice with people in positions of power to get to the main roster. They were not forming a new Nation. This was something entirely different, something speaking to the audience of today. Xavier and his friends were not going to sit quietly and play nice again. The three would change to a distinctive, clean, stylish look and score a few decisive victories; however, this would not last long, as Xavier and his stable disappeared for months.
While there was no official or rumored reason why the group disappeared, the timing of their exit corresponded with increased protest of police brutality stemming from the deaths of Eric Garner and Michael Brown around the country and new criticisms of racism in the WWE from the firing of Alberto Del Rio. One can only speculate the WWE did not want to feature a group of angry black men, beating up most of the undercard, speaking about being systematically held down and wanting their voices heard, while parts of the country where have similar uncomfortable discussion of the state of racism in America.
In the past WWE has had no issues pulling from real headlines to work into their production and the Real American’s prove they are also willing to speak on (in their own way) hot topics issues like immigration and ultra-conservatism. But given the opportunity to also speak to their black audience, with stories and issues important to them they run away. When Woods, Langton and Kofi returned to T.V. after months long disappearance, they had been repackaged as The New Day. The assertive young Black men no longer waiting for the man to give them an opportunity, replaced with a bad gospel gimmick, complete with gospel music and soul clap. New Day was dead on arrival.
When Booker T finally did win the World’s Heavyweight Championship, he did not do it as the proud man looking for redemption. He wasn’t an underdog going up against a villain, nor an aged veteran getting one more shot at championship gold. No, Booker was a disillusioned fool, thinking he was a King, who had to cheat to win. Yes he played the part well and had his moment to shine, but King Bookah was a king to laugh at. King Bookah was there to prove Triple H right. People like Booker T don’t win championships.