A Mark’s Eye View is a weekly look at some of the things that made me a huge fan of professional wrestling.
Even professional wrestling’s most ardent defenders will admit that it is not the best vehicle for enacting change. The sport has always more about entertainment than delivering a message, but every once in a while, a wrestler will point a mirror back at society. Through their actions and decisions, they cause changes that wrestling would not otherwise be able to do. Here are five of the most groundbreaking professional wrestlers.
For whatever reason, WWE seems content to consider Ron Simmons’s greatest contribution to pro wrestling to be the recognizable way he says “Damn!” Vince McMahon has never been one to talk up accomplishments done in another promotion (unless it fits the narrative being told), but rarely acknowledging Simmons being the first African American to win a world title just seems silly. (Some dispute this, as Bearcat Wright and Bobo Brazil held the WWA World Title. More confusingly, those were in two entirely different promotions. Only in wrestling.) Simmons held the title for five months in 1992. Though the reign was not particularly memorable, it showed that fans were willing to accept a World Champion of color.
Fans of mid 1980s WWF will not remember anything of great importance done by JYD, while 1990s WCW fans try to forget everything about him. But in the early 1980s, there were few grapplers as popular as Dog. Even more amazingly, JYD’s enormous popularity was during his Mid-South run. Many feel that crossing the color line in Louisiana is one of the most impressive accomplishments of JYD’s career. It definitely paved the path for Simmons and others.
Big Van Vader
There was a time when big men were little more than novelty acts. Andre the Giant made a career out of travelling the world as a special attraction, but he never had a true World Title reign, though. The majority of Hulk Hogan’s first WWF Title run consisted of him taking on the largest heels in the company. Men like Big Bossman, One Man Gang, and Kamala seemed doomed to stay in the midcard. Vader changed that perception. His WCW stint showed that a big man could flourish in the sport’s top spot.
While she did not start any sort of revolution and it would be decades before women’s wrestling would be taken seriously in the United States, Richter was an important piece of the Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Connection. She became a household name and proved that fans would accept women in a wrestling ring as more than an attraction or eye candy. Others may have done more to change the perception, but Richter helped get things started.
What Richter started in 1985, Stratus completed in the early 21st century. At first, Stratus was treated as an object. She was marketed as a sex symbol and it seemed her legacy would be bra and panties matches. Instead, Stratus went from being a simple blonde bombshell to one of the greatest female wrestlers of all time. She has served as an inspiration to the likes of Alexa Bliss, Bayley, and the entire current crop of female WWE Superstars.
Next week: That’s it for the best; time for the rest
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