Why aren’t there more black WWE stars?

Jeremy Harriot, The Root | 9/2/2017, 10:36 a.m.
Black success in wrestling has never been an issue of skill or talent; it has always been a matter of ...
Photo Illustration by Elena Scotti/The Root/GMG; photos via WWE

The first time I remember consciously turning on the TV to watch wrestling, I saw the Heartbreak Kid, Shawn Michaels, squaring off against Mike Tyson.

I watched in confusion as the two superstars threatened to hit each other and Michaels ripped open Tyson’s shirt to the thunderous roar of the audience, indicating that they’d formed an alliance. I didn’t know what had just happened, but I knew that whatever I had just witnessed was an epic moment for everyone in the crowd, and I wanted to be a part of that crowd. Over a decade and a half later, I’m still a fan.

Fast-forward to this year’s recent SummerSlam event. World Wrestling Entertainment champion Jinder Mahal retained his title after pinning the challenger, Shinsuke Nakamura, in the middle of the ring. At this point it dawns on me that I’m watching an Indian wrestler who often directly addresses the people of his home nation in his native tongue defeating a Japanese opponent who barely speaks English. All of this happens in New York, arguably the most diverse city in America.

As I marvel at this moment of diversity, I can hear in my head the voice of my father, who died a few years ago, questioning, “Where are the black guys?” In that moment my brain quickly scrambles to come up with a retort to the unasked question. Responses like, “They’re just not on-screen right now,” and “They were in the tag team match,” are all I can come up with at the moment.

Then I pull out my phone and look back over the history of the top title in WWE, trying to find out when was the last time someone with black skin held the company’s championship. Of the few dozen men to claim the title, few of them have been black. This is the point where some will point out Booker T and Mark Henry, both of whom held the WWE Heavyweight Championship—mostly relegated to being the top title of the SmackDown brand, which was considered the “B-show” during the brand split of the 2000s.

This designation in many ways would make it a secondary title. Others will throw the Rock’s name into the fray. His black heritage has been downplayed in favor of his Samoan heritage, so it makes him eligible for this argument but also easily skippable. In addition, WWE likes to recognize Ron Simmons as the first major black champion. Unfortunately, his title run happened in World Championship Wrestling, which only counts in WWE’s eyes because it acquired WCW in 2001.

Crunching the Numbers

Because of brand splits and title unifications, it makes it difficult to chart a clean history of the titles, but in mapping out what’s made available, blacks appear with the top title approximately half as often as they would appear as U.S. president—about once out of every 90 title changes. The frequency for Mexicans-Hispanics-Latinos is more than quadruple the rate for blacks, thanks to multiple reigns by Eddie Guerrero, Alberto Del Rio, Pedro Morales and Rey Mysterio. If you’re of Indian descent, your odds are similar to those of blacks, thanks to single outings from the Great Khali and current champion Jinder Mahal. And being Samoan gets you nearly a dozen title reigns in your corner, thanks to the Rock and Roman Reigns.