Bearcat Wright – The Forgotten World Champion

As this is my first wrestling column for approximately 15 years I thought I should briefly introduce myself. My name is David born and raised in the United Kingdom I have been a passionate wrestling fan for pretty much 30 years. In my childhood, I was raised on a staple of WWE and WCW both on the television and videocassette (yes I am that old!!). In the current wrestling climate I enjoy and try to keep up with Ring Of Honor, Evolve, PWG, WWE, NJPW, Lucha Underground and IMPACT! Wrestling. My favourite wrestlers include Okada, Kenny Omega, Jushin “Thunder” Lyger, AJ Styles, Daniel Bryan, Kevin Owens, Steve Austin, Mick Foley, Matt Riddle, Zac Sabre Jr and Pentagon Jr amongst many others far too many to list on this bio; I consider Ric Flair to be the greatest of all time. I look forward to having discussions and debate about our love and our passion, professional wrestling.

On August 2nd 1992 Ron Simmons became the WCW World Heavyweight Champion by pinning Vader in an upset victory. Simmons was able to challenge for the belt that night as Sting; who was Vader’s original opponent, was injured (kayfabe) at Vader’s own cause; as a result of the injuries, Sting could not recover in time. To make up for Sting’s unavailability, WCW President Bill Watts decided at the show a raffle draw would take place to determine Vader’s opponent, Simmons won the raffle and subsequently the WCW World Heavyweight Championship.

I don’t believe any child in the United Kingdom marked out more than I did when this took place. Ever since this historic event, Ron Simmons has been proclaimed by the WCW, WWE and various wrestling publications as the first Black World Heavyweight Champion. However, this article challenge’s this claim; arguing that it is revisionist history promoted in recent times and the title of first Black Heavyweight Champion should actually belong to a wrestler by the name of Bearcat Wright.

To support this claim, it is important to understand the promotion where Bearcat captured his championship; the Worldwide Wrestling Associates, what this promotion represented and why their Title can be considered a World Title.

The formation of this promotion took place in 1958 under the name North American Wrestling Alliance. This territory, based in Southern California was founded by Cal and Aileen Eaton. The promotions bookers included Freddie Blassie, Jules Strongbow (no real life relation to Chief Jay Strongbow) and Gory Guerrero. By 1959, the promotion withdrew from the NWA; partly because they had not paid their dues since 1955, the promotion renamed Worldwide Wrestling Associates. The WWA Édouard Carpentier as their first World Champion and his reign was backdated to July 14th, 1957 when he wrestled and lost to Lou Thesz in controversial circumstances. This caused a rift within the NWA as to who was the rightful champion. The WWA used this falling out to their advantage and withdrew from the NWA; renaming Carpentier their first champion. The WWA would establish working relationships with New Japan Pro Wrestling and the Japanese Wrestling Association; both Japanese promotions recognised the title which further legitimised its World Title status. There was even an overseas title change as wrestler KIM II won the title in South Korea in 1967. The WWA World Title was also defended across various other parts of America. The WWA would re-join the NWA in 1968 and was renamed NWA Hollywood until the closure of the territory in 1982. However, between 1959 and 1968 they were very.

Keeping that brief history in mind, we turn to the man of the hour and for me the first Black World Heavyweight Wrestling champion, Bearcat Wright. Bearcat Wright was born in 1932; billed from Kingston, Jamaica, Bearcat stood at 6 foot 6 inches and weighed 275 pounds. Bearcat worked as both a heel and babyface throughout his career; his style as a babyface was that of a highflyer (despite his size) as he was known for his moves off the top rope such as the top rope splash and his flying dropkicks. As a heel, however, he wrestled more of a brawling style. His finisher as both face and heel was the Claw hold, a move also used famously later on by the Von Erich family. Wright, not only a successful singles competitor; tagged with Bobo Brazil and achieved success in the tag team ranks in various territories. Bearcat Wright also used his notoriety to help fight racism in America; he staged a protest against segregation in wrestling to the point where he was actually banned in Indiana by the State Athletic Commission for refusing to wrestle in front of segregated crowds. His crowning glory came on August 23rd 1963 when he captured the Worldwide Wrestling Associates, World Heavyweight Championship. Wright defeating Freddie Blassie by count out to capture this very belt.

There is a story/rumour that Wright actually went into business for himself in this match, legitimately head-butting Blassie, dazing Blassie to where he was unable to continue. However, the title win still stood. Wright would be WWA World Champion for 115 days, making successful defences against former champion Freddie Blassie amongst others, and also took it abroad. He lost the title in controversial circumstances as he refused to drop the belt to Edouard Carpentier; so the WWA booked a match with legitimate shooter ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell to ensure that they could take the belt off Wright by force. However, Wright no-showed for this match and the belt was forfeited to Carpentier on the 16th December 1963. Due to this episode, Wright was blackballed from certain promotions, and the controversy surrounding his title loss did harm his career. Wright continued to work up until his retirement in 1974. Tragedy struck when Bearcat Wright passed away at the young age of 50 in 1982.  Wright would become a member of the WWE Hall of Fame’s Legacy Wing, posthumously in 2017. However, it should be noted that on his WWE Hall of Fame profile, there isn’t a mention of him being a World Champion.

I believe Bearcat Wright to be the first Black World Heavyweight Champion. He wrestled for a promotion that worked and had their title defended overseas and changed hands in places such as South Korea. He defended the belt in various territories across the United States. The WWA title represented the first break in NWA lineage (1959) and pre-dated both the AWA (founded in 1960) and the WWWF (founded in 1963) World Titles. The WWA was able to break away and create a successful promotion outside the NWA banner; this is something that was rare at the time in the United States. Because of this, I believe the title of first Black Heavyweight Champion should belong to Bearcat Wright and not as the revisionist historians at the WWE would have you believe Ron Simmons.