Professional Wrestling has featured many African American stars. Before them, one man was broke down the color barrier in pro wrestling: Bobo Brazil.
Bobo Brazil, whose real name is Houston Harris, was born on July 10, 1924, and died on January 20, 1998. Bobo Brazil stood 6 feet 6 inches and weighed 270 pounds; he was a promoter’s dream wrestler because of his height and weight.
Bobo was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and would later in life move to Benton Harbor, Michigan, where he would go on to be trained by professional wrestler Joe Savoldi who would also be the one to give Harris his first wrestling name: Boo Boo Brazil. Still, a wrestling promoter made a mistake and advertised Harris as “BoBo Brazil”, and the name stuck with the fans.
Harris would become a colossal success wrestling in the Detroit area, where he entered a bloody rivalry with the original Sheik that helped make him a household name. The rivalry with the original Shiek lasted for decades, and they fought over a number of championships during this period.
Even though Harris was becoming known as a great professional wrestler, that still didn’t stop him from dealing with bigotry and discrimination during that time. In the era when Harris ascended to stardom, African American fans were forced to sit in areas that made it hard to see Bobo matches; even Harris himself was banned from going to restaurants, hotels, and even wrestling in certain territories due to the color of his skin.
Harris spent most of the early years of his career wrestling with other African American wrestlers and would take that opportunity to prove that African Americans could craft matches on par with, or better than, their white counterparts. Harris’s memorable matches with Abdullah The Butcher, for example, created a buzz that wrestling promoters could no longer ignore.
When the rivalries weren’t restricted by segregation, amazing feuds would occur, such as the one with Mr. Ito that would lead to the first racially mixed match in Atlanta sports history. Over time, Bobo Brazil would become a huge success and would get to a point where the race would hardly become an issue for him, allowing him to enter into some good feuds.
The six-foot-six giant would not only break down racial barriers in professional wrestling, but he would destroy them and inspire more African Americans to step in the ring. Brazil would have classic matches with WWE legend Bruno Sammartino for the then-WWWF Heavyweight championship throughout the 1960s. Even though Brazil never won the world title, wrestling promoters worldwide could see that an African American could bring crowds to big arenas and have fans cheering his name.
Brazil was a massive star that achieved success everywhere he went. His most successful run was when he held many different championships from the NWA wrestling territories, including Detroit, Toronto, and Florida. Brazil also held the United States Championship in the Mid-Atlantic region nine different times.
The History books show that the legendary Ron Simmons is the first African American World champion after he won the WCW World Championship in 1992, but Brazil is actually the first; he won the NWA Heavyweight championship from “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in 1961, but Brazil refused to accept the title because Rogers was injured and couldn’t wrestle at the level Brazil wanted him to wrestle and beat him at. The injury ended up being part of a storyline angle that saw Buddy Rogers win the title back the next day. The NWA never recognized the title change, which would get swept under the professional wrestling rug.
Brazil would wrestle for four decades and become a huge inspiration to not only wrestlers but boxers like Joe Frazier as well. He would become a mentor to other African American wrestlers, including the famous Rocky Johnson when his career took off.
Bobo Brazil will go down as the most Important African American wrestler because he was a pioneer in professional wrestling. The struggles and pain that he went through to make it to the top would allow wrestlers like Ron Simmons, The Rock, Booker T, and Mark Henry to become household names in a sport where African Americans weren’t seen as huge draws in wrestling.