Wrestling was a lot less politically correct back in the 60s and 70s compared to today and stereotypes for African American wrestlers were rampant across many territories. Rocky Johnson experienced that first hand and dealt with many racist individuals back in his day including NWA booker Ole Anderson.
Johnson was asked if people like Anderson were the norm back in the day or if he was an outlier in terms of racists in wrestling when he spoke to Wrestling Inc. on our WINCLY podcast.
"That was him. He was the biggest racist in the wrestling business," revealed Johnson. "He would let you know. He didn't like me and I didn't like him. He called me names and I called him names but he never threw any punches. A couple of times in the ring he tried to get stiff with me but he found out it didn't work because I stood my ground and if you're gonna beat me, you're gonna beat me for real.
"He was not a well-liked person in this business."
Johnson noted that Anderson is in bad shape now so he wishes him no ill will but he wasn't his cup of tea.
During this time black wrestlers were often stereotyped and typecast within specific gimmicks. Johnson broke away from those stereotypical gimmicks by telling promoters they couldn't use him if they didn't use him correctly.
"When I went to Tennessee they had them stereotyped. When I wrestled, I always considered myself an athlete and a wrestler. Even though it was a work, I kept myself in shape and when I went down there, they had them on TV eating watermelon and fried chicken," said Johnson before adding that they used to cover black wrestlers in honey and dump feathers on them.
"I wasn't going to play that role. I wasn't an Uncle Tom and I never was gonna be. So they had no choice – it was either that or they never were gonna use me. I just let them know I don't play that game. I came here as an athlete and I'm gonna leave as an athlete whether it's today or six months from now. And that's when I became the first black, southern heavyweight champion."
The days of territorial promotions are long gone and indies are what's left outside of the national promotions. Johnson was asked about how different territories were compared to today's indies.
"The system in which I came up in was that every territory had to have a black, a white…if you went to Texas you had to have somebody that was a cowboy or one that was from Mexico," stated Johnson. "There wasn't that many Afro Americans in the business at the time so I moved around a lot. But every time I moved around, I made money. They brought me in but not just as a stereotype."
Being one of the few black wrestlers around back then, Johnson said he got to call his own shots due to the scarcity of wrestlers that looked like him.
Rocky Johnson's autobiography "Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story" will be available for purchase on-line and in stores on October 15, 2019. You can pre-order the book via Amazon by clicking here. Rocky's full interview with Wrestling Inc aired as part of a recent episode of our WINCLY podcast. It can be heard via the embedded audio player at the bottom of this post. In it Rocky discusses writing his upcoming autobiography "Soulman: The Rocky Johnson Story", his final memories of Peter Maivia, encountering racism early in his pro wrestling career, ways black wrestlers used to be stereotyped, crazy ribs he's pulled, AEW, training his son The Rock and more.