First African-American World Heavyweight Champion
February 1, 2012 by staff
First African-American World Heavyweight Champion, Throughout wrestling history, there’s a topic that’s constantly come up on wrestling shows when a black wrestler had a world heavyweight title shot: “Could [X] become the first black world heavyweight champion?”
On history-oriented wrestling message boards, trying to figure out who the first black world heavyweight champion was has always been a popular topic of discussion. Since it’s pro wrestling, there are a lot of different versions of the “world heavyweight title” to discuss, and even though it’s not a legitimate sport, the idea of whether or not a certain title was “really a world title” often comes into play.
Before the end of segregation, there was some kid of “World Negro Heavyweight Title.” The first known champion was Ras Samara in Iowa the ’40s, but in his case, it may have been more of a gimmick than an actual title, as was common with other “ethnic” wrestlers, as it was common to see a “Jewish Champion” in some markets. He was eventually billed as “former champion,” so without better records, it’s hard to figure out. After Samara, most of the champions were based out of Texas, with none of them being anyone you probably would have heard of until the mid-’50s, when Luther Lindsay became champion.
Nowadays, Lindsay is known as being one of the greatest shooters in wrestling history and the only wrestler who Stu Hart would say he couldn’t handle. As legend has it, in the legendary “Dungeon” basement of the Hart family’s house, Lindsay was able to reverse everything Stu tried to hook him with and kept him tied up for a while. Stu claimed the phone was ringing so Luther would let him out, only to be told that if it was important, the person would call back. The two became best friends, and Hart was devastated when Lindsay died in February 1972 of a heart attack during a match for Jim Crockett Promotions in the Carolinas. Luther meant so much to him Stu that a photograph of him was in Hart’s wallet until the day he died in 2003.
Into the ’60s, other famous wrestlers held the title, starting with high flying Jamaican bodybuilder Dory Dixon, who also wrestled as Calypso Kid. While he did well in the U.S., main evening Madison Square Garden against NWA World Heavyweight Champion “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers, he was a huge star in Mexico. When many wrestlers split from EMLL (the established promotion for decades) to form LLI (better known as the UWA because that was the governing body that oversaw its titles), Dixon being one of those to jump was a key in their success. The other three known champions were “Sailor” Art Thomas (last one in Texas), Bearcat Wright (in Michigan), and Bobo Brazil (in Georgia and Florida.) We’ll talk about them more later.
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