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Every February, WWE will run a series of vignettes to celebrate some of the famous Black wrestlers from company history. Every year though, it is the same few names over and over again. Nothing against those names, but there is an incredibly long and robust lineage of Black wrestlers all over the world. Because many of them do not fit into WWE’s recollection of history, they don’t always get recognized in the way that they should.
In the following list, we will document the ten best Black wrestlers in the history of pro wrestling. This is not a ranking of my personal favorite wrestlers, otherwise 2 Cold Scorpio would be number one. A number of factors are used in determining the ranking, but the main focus will be on drawing power and longevity. There is a lot of variety when it comes to these performers; some of them had excellent charisma but were so-so workers, others were excellent workers who maybe didn’t have the most charisma. Some were gigantic stars for a few years, while others built a career that lasted for decades.
The list is also my opinion with research and information to explain each wrestler’s rank. If you disagree with the list, let me know your choices in the comments section.
10. Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks is the only performer on this list who is still in their prime, so there is the possibility that she could move up over the next few years. Simply put, Banks has made a case that she is among the most gifted women’s wrestlers of all time in the United States.
Banks is a terrific worker with a charismatic persona. She and a few other women are largely responsible for changing the perception of women’s wrestling in the US. In 2020, Banks became a legitimate top draw for WWE, and a few more years on top will put her in truly rarefied air.
9. Luther Lindsay
One of the sad realities when researching something like this article is discovering a long list of names that were limited by the color of their skin. Luther Lindsay managed to become a wrestling star in the 50s and 60s, but the fact that many promoters refused to seriously push a Black man as a top star hampered his nearly limitless talent. In the more tolerant Pacific Northwest, Lindsay did become a main event star, but in other locations, promotions relegated him to tag team work if they booked him at all.
With speed, agility, and immense strength, Lindsay was one of the most feared shooters of his day. He was one of the few wrestlers who managed to get the better of Stu Hart while sparring in the Hart Dungeon. In 1953, he became the first Black wrestler to challenge for the NWA World Heavyweight Championship, wrestling Lou Thesz to a draw.
Lindsay would be a frequent opponent for Thesz. While Thesz threw compliments around like they were manhole covers, he later said that Lindsay was one of the best wrestlers he ever worked with. Lindsay suffered a massive heart attack in 1972 during a match, dying in the wrestling ring at Park Center in Charlotte, NC.
8. Booker T
Certainly one of the most well-known wrestlers of his era, Booker T’s captivating promos made him one of the most recognizable faces during the early 2000s. He spent much of his career with WCW, which limited him mostly to tag team wrestling despite his size and charisma. In the dying days of the company, he won the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. He secured the title four times in a year before WWE bought the company (his fifth run would happen after the merger).
With WWE, Booker T benefited as one of the few genuine top stars from WCW to join the company, feuding with The Rock and Kurt Angle. However, because he was a WCW guy, he rarely won those feuds. It wasn’t until 2006 when he turned heel as King Booker, a role that was so comically absurd it managed to work, that he got a proper run with a world title.
7. Rocky Johnson
Rocky Johnson is best known as The Rock’s dad and his WWE tag team with Tony Atlas in the 1980s. While their tag run is mentioned in several WWE video packages, that push came at the end of his career. Before that, Johnson was a main event level performer in promotions from Miami to Portland, and everywhere in between. Johnson, who legitimately trained with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, was known for his use of boxing-style punching combinations and his fiery comeback that culminated in his trademark dropkick sequence.
Johnson started his career in Eastern Canada before he got his first big break in Los Angeles, working a feud with area legend Freddie Blassie. Memorable runs in San Francisco, Georgia, Portland, and Miami followed. However, his most well-known feud would come during his long run in Memphis with Jerry Lawler, at one point winning Lawler’s crown. After years as a headliner, he went to the WWE where he teamed up with a young, green Tony Atlas, and became the first Black tag team to hold the WWF World Tag Team Championships.
6. Ernie Ladd
During his time with the San Diego Chargers, Ladd was known as the biggest man in pro football. He would use that size, and a personality to match, to become a major star in professional wrestling during the 1970s. During a period when Black wrestlers were often forced into smiling babyface roles on the undercard, Ladd was a powerful heel. At 6’9” and 300lbs, he was a legitimate giant and would become a top star everywhere he went.
Ladd was a frequent opponent for Bruno Sammartino and Bob Backlund in the WWWF, headlining shows at Madison Square Garden and other key venues in the Northeast. Always on the move, he was a special attraction pretty much everywhere. His feud with Bobo Brazil in the Midwest was one of the few times up until that point in history where two Black performers competed in a main event program.
5. Junkyard Dog
As a gigantic draw when he was at his peak, JYD was a top star who competed with some of the biggest names in wrestling during the boom of the 1980s. While the WWE had Hulk Hogan and Mid-Atlantic had Ric Flair, Mid-South Wrestling had the Junkyard Dog. For a short time, he captured magic, becoming an iconic name in that part of the country in stadium shows with memorable angles with the Fabulous Freebirds and Ted DiBiase. In 1980, his dog collar match with Michael Hayes reportedly drew 30,000 fans at the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans.
JYD was limited in the ring but had an unteachable presence and for generations after his peak, wrestlers would talk about his supernatural ability to connect with fans and get them to believe in his angles. He went to the WWE in 1984, right in the middle of a hot feud with the late Butch Reed. While many expected him to be a top star with the company, he never caught on with those fans the way he did in Mid-South, and he would end up a midcarder for the rest of his career. Still, few wrestlers peaked the way JYD did, even if it was for a short time.
4. Aja Kong
The daughter of an American serviceman and a Japanese mother, Aja Kong’s classmates bullied her because she was mixed growing up. As a performer, she would take out any rage she may have had in the wrestling ring, becoming one of the greatest monster heels in wrestling history.
Kong started her profession when she was 16 and went on to enjoy a 34-year career that is still going on today. Following in the footsteps of famed bad girl Dump Matsumoto, the 200lb Kong would use her bulk, athleticism, and a brutally violent wrestling style to punish the skinny, idol-like babyfaces in All Japan Women’s Pro Wrestling during the 1990s.
Kong was the perfect foil for heroes such as Manami Toyota and Akira Hokuto, and their matches set a standard for women’s wrestling that has yet to be matched. The highlight of her career was her main event bout against Hokuto at the Tokyo Dome in 1994, drawing reportedly 42,500 fans to the stadium for the special show. Her decades-long feud with Toyota, who she wrestled more than 450 times, featured some of the greatest wrestling matches of all time, and routinely packed crowds into large venues in Japan.
3. Bobo Brazil
The term “trailblazer” gets thrown around a lot in wrestling, but as one of the first Black wrestlers to main event around the world, Bobo Brazil was undisputedly one of them. With his size and terrific stage presence, Brazil’s charisma and inherent goodness made him one of the most natural and successful babyfaces.
Brazil became the first Black headliner in cities across the country, and his popularity in the Midwest, particularly in Chicago, Ohio, and Michigan, was unrivaled. He feuded with all of the top heels of his era, including Killer Kowalski, Johnny Valentine, Bill Miller, and of course, The Sheik, whose wild and bloody fights sold-out arenas for decades. Brazil also appeared in Japan during the 60s and 70s as a top heel, his size making him a natural foil for Giant Baba.
2. Abdullah the Butcher
The Madman from Sudan may have been from Canada, but there was no denying Abdullah the Butcher wasn’t a wild card. His sadistic and violent brawls always involved a foreign object (usually a fork he kept in his tights) and buckets of blood. The formula for Abdullah matches was very simple; he came into a territory with a heel manager, beat up the top babyface, and that led to a program where they had short, exciting brawls that almost always sold out. It did not matter where Abdullah worked; in Canada, Detroit, Texas, Japan, the Caribbean, New Zealand, it pretty much always worked.
From the mid-1960s through the 1980s, Abdullah was a worldwide phenomenon. To this day he is one of the most popular wrestlers in Japan. He was the top opponent for Giant Baba in All-Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1970s and Antonio Inoki in New Japan Pro Wrestling in the 1980s. You could make an argument that Abdullah the Butcher was not that talented and was just a gimmick guy, but the guy drew big money for decades.
1. The Rock
The Rock is perhaps the most successful wrestler in the history of the business. He has achieved an unparalleled level of global superstardom, not just in the world of wrestling but in the entertainment industry. One could say that he didn’t wrestle long enough to top this list, but at his peak, The Rock was probably the biggest draw ever. In 2000, The People’s Champion drew more fans to arenas than any other wrestler and his combination of charisma, athleticism, psychology, and creativity is likely to never be seen again. The Rock is the perfect pro wrestler and that is why he is number one.
Honorable Mention: Bearcat Wright, Bobby Lashley, Sweet Daddy Siki, Kofi Kingston, Tiger Conway Sr., Rufus R. Jones, Thunderbolt Patterson, Mark Henry, Shelton Benjamin, Bad News Allen, Ricochet, Awesome Kong, Butch Reed, Ron Simmons, Sailor Art Thomas, 2 Cold Scorpio, Big E, Jack Claybourne, Jay Lethal and many more.
Must Watch Matches
Lance Archer vs Rey Fenix: **** – AEW Dynamite 2/24