Finally…the fun…HAS COME BACK to wrestling.
It used to be a sideshow; a chance to cheer on caricatures that may or may not be racist. World Wrestling Entertainment–emphasis on entertainment–became a world unto itself. Black and Brown and other minority talent needed to be packaged just so, in order to receive the same screen time as their white counterparts. Women were left out completely – set aside to be eye-candy for fans and arm-candy for the brutish men they represented. But for a few bright spots (R.I.P. Joan “Chyna” Laurer), the landscape was sparse.
But the winds of change are blowing. And blowing hard. It’s actually pretty cool to like wrestling again.
- Arguably the hottest group in professional wrestling is a stable of Black men who, rather than being some stereotype, are very clearly just having fun being themselves.
- Love him or hate him, the World Champion is a Samoan not named the Rock but of the same historic lineage; the son of one of wrestling’s First Families.
- One of the Four Horsewomen of Wrestling – an unofficial collective of performers who have revolutionized women’s wrestling and taken it from “divas” to athletes – is Black and German, and a cousin of now-WWE Hall of Famer Snoop Dog(gy) Dog/Lion.
- Hell, for the sake of it, I’ll also throw in the fact that 3 more top women’s wrestlers (Bayley – born Pamela Martinez – and the Bella Twins, Brianna and Stephanie Garcia-Colace) are of hispanic descent, even if the WWE may not recognize that.
Months ago, I was just done. I was down on the entire concept that wrestling could or would ever recognize minority performers as more than just their skin color. I was convinced that there would be no movement by a decades-old organization that was in no way known for being avant garde in any particular way. I just wasn’t interested.
But in the time since, there’s been a multi-faceted revolution. To the traditional wrestling fan, the list of names that WWE have brought in from independent and lesser known promotions is cause enough to celebrate. AJ Styles, Prince Devitt, Samoa Joe, Shinsuke Nakamura, Karl Anderson, Luke Gallows, KENTA, Kevin Steen, Claudio Castagnoli, all names that conjure up dream matches in fans’ minds. For the uninitiated, remember when Roger Clemens joined the Yankees? Same thing. Or how about this: do you remember “ProStars,” when your favorite athlete ends up in a situation you never thought would happen? That’s the world of WWE these days.
For me, I’m excited by the rocket propulsion of stars of color like Apollo Crews (born Sesugh Uhaa); Sasha Banks (Mercedes Kaestner-Varnado); Roman Reigns (Leati Joseph Anoa’i); Jason Jordan (Nathan Everhart); and The New Day stable of Big E (Ettore Ewen), Kofi Kingston (Kofi Nahaje Sarkodie-Mensah), and Xavier Woods (Austin Watson). And all are moving upward as realistic representations of themselves.
Crews is a powerhouse with freakish agility, a first-generation American of Nigerian heritage. Banks is “The Boss”: a superstar in the vein of an egotistical pop star, with the physical ring skills to compete with any man or woman. Reigns is the son of WWE Hall of Famer Wild Samoan Sika, the brother of former WWE wrestler Rosey, and plays like a larger-than-life real superhero – down to his steely eyes and cocked-fist Superman Punch. And, he just happens to be the WWE Heavyweight Champ. Jason Jordan is a former all-American amateur wrestler from Indiana University who plays as a stronger, faster version of himself, and is currently one half of the NXT Tag Team Champions. And The New Day – Kofi Kingston, Xavier Woods, and Big E – have gone from the most hated to most beloved stable of wrestlers on the roster and are the WWE Tag Team Champions.
From 0 champions to 2 current major and 1 minor title holder in months.
The lesson before for children and young fans of color was that the champ will never represent you because you could never be seen as champ. No role models, as J. Cole tells us.
Now? The sky is the limit. And that might not be high enough.