Ron Simmons Talks Overcoming Racism In Pro Wrestling And WWE’s Black Champions

In an appearance on the Stories With Brisco and Bradshaw podcast, WWE Hall of Famer Ron Simmons reflected on winning the WCW World Heavyweight Championship from Vader on an episode of WCW Main Event on August 2, 1992. Simmons recalled how the whole thing came together and how he had no idea it would have the affect on people it has nearly thirty years later.

"I had no idea of it," Simmons said. "I'm asked all the time about that moment, and I say it every time, it was real; I had no idea it was going to take place that night. Never in my wildest dreams did I have any idea it was going to go down like that. It was a real moment that took place. There was no pre-planning, there was none of that at all. I've got to take my hat off to Bill Watts for giving me the opportunity, to make that moment happen and having the guts to do it. I showed up there and he called me into his office. My first thought was 'oh my goodness, what have I done wrong now?' And Bill said 'Sting got hurt or something. Tonight we're going to have some make some changes and we're going to make a change that's going to be revolutionary.' I was like 'okay, what are you talking about?' He said 'tonight you're going with Vader for the belt.' At the time I was still midcard, still coming up through the ranks. So we go out, we go through the whole thing of pulling the name out of the hat, and luckily for me, my name just happened to be pulled out of the hat. But that's exactly how it went down.

"I've also got to mention that I'm very grateful to Vader for going out and doing business. He could've been difficult and said 'no man, I'm not going to do things this way because Sting's not here.' He went out and he went beyond in my estimation what he delivered in the match. We had a fantastic match. It was so unbelievable. It was a real moment in our business. I never in my wildest dreams would've thought it had gotten to this point, to where people still ask me about it. Not only that but here's the thing that I love about it. Young men, young black men, people of all colors, and young women come up to me and say 'you know what? I want to thank you for what you did for me in my childhood. Because in that moment, seeing it happen, I knew things were possible for me to achieve.' You can't get a more powerful testament to what you've done in life to have something like that happen to you. And for it to have an effects on people's lives? I had absolutely no idea that it was going to be that profound to this day. No way. I never would've predicted it at all."

Simmons also talked about how much pride he took in seeing black wrestling stars like the New Day, Bianca Belair, Bobby Lashley and Sasha Banks have success similar to his in the modern wrestling scene. It gives Simmons a great feeling to know his title victory had an influence in the success those stars are having today.

"Absolutely," Simmons said when asked if he took pride in seeing black wrestling stars follow in his footsteps. "When I see that happen, it's a great feeling to know that in some way, I had something to do with them getting to that point that they did. So yeah, it's a great feeling. Absolutely."

Along with his WCW Championship win and his tag team with Butch Reed called Doom, Simmons is best known for teaming with Bradshaw (the co-host of this podcast) as the tag team APA. Simmons confirmed here that the team would have focused on how Simmons was black and Bradshaw was white, something the two fought against in favor of their personalities being highlighted instead.

"If you're going to move forward in this business and not owe it anything, you've got to move forward and try to break barriers down," Simmons said. "Of course the people can already see different than color in you. You don't have to come down and beat it down their throats all the time. They came to us and said they wanted it to be black and white and we said 'no, we're not going to do that.' Because if they had started that out with John and I together, we wouldn't have morphed into the APA and being who we were. It would've been along color barriers, and it would've been the wrong thing to do. That's why we got out there and we did what we did. We didn't have all the gimmickry, we went out there and worked very hard at what we did. And we worked well together as a tag team.

"We didn't mind going out and doing jobs when we had to do it. We did what it took, and that was come out, put over the people we working, give the people a great show and work together as a tag team. We weren't going to make it a race thing. Secondly, I had already had the success in this business already from tag teams and being in some singles. I had known John's background, I'd watched his path and he had worked every hard in everything he strived to do. It was like 'now let me be more of a professional and enhance his stock. Cause I'm getting older now and my time is winding down. Let him have his opportunity to do the things that I've already had the opportunities to do.' That's the way you should do it, and that's the kind of guy that I've always been."

Finally Simmons took a moment to reflect on his career, his encounters with racism along the way and how he handled it. In the end he can look himself in the mirror and say he did his career the right way, with no regrets on his end.

"It all goes back to 'hey, I'm very thankful for the way that I did it along the way,'" Simmons said. "I'm often asked a lot about racism and coming up with racism along the way. Of course I encountered racism along my way there. But guess what? I handled it the way it should be handled, I handled it right then and there. I didn't need the audience to know what I was going through. I took care of matters right there, because if you take care of it and handle it with the person right in front of you, it will carry itself throughout life. I didn't need an audience for that. Secondly, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to do it the right way. As I've gone through my life, I've never had to pull the race card out of my pocket and play it. To me, as a man, if I couldn't earn your respect as a man, then I didn't want it and I didn't need it, okay? I didn't have to pull that out. I was going to do it the right way, and if I failed at doing it my way, then it's not for me. So along the way, I did it the right way. So when I look at myself in the mirror, I feel absolutely proud of the way I've done it and the things that I've accomplished. Cause I did it the right way."

If you use any of the quotes in this article, please credit Stories With Brisco and Bradshaw and provide a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription