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Black History Month:
Pro Wrestling's Black Stars, Part 3
February 21, 2002

by Denny Burkholder
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com


This is Part 3 (of 4) in Circa's look at the history of black performers in pro wrestling, in recognition of Black History Month in the United States. If you missed the first two installments highlighting the pioneering black wrestlers from the late 1800s through the 1970s, just click the links at the bottom of this column.

As the 1970s ended, there were still several pioneers in the game. But a new generation had emerged, including a sizeable crop of athletic and charismatic performers who would light up the business in the decade of Pac-Man, breakdancing, and - oh yeah - a certain boom in popularity for wrestling.



Rufus R. Jones (Carey Lloyd) debuted in 1969. He competed in the AWA, NWA and Mid-Atlantic, among other regions, throughout the 70s and 80s. Active in both singles and tag ranks, Jones either teamed or locked horns with most of the stars of those promotions, including The Crusher, Ric Flair, and the Andersons. Jones was well known for his power and his head butt, not to mention his infamous (and highly amusing) quote: "My name is Rufus R. Jones, and the 'R' stands for 'guts.'"

Jones died in 1993 at age 60.


S.D. Jones (Conrad Efraim) debuted in 1961. In light of the standard set by Bobo Brazil, Jones -- who also wrestled as "Roosevelt Jones" for a time -- would also adopt the head butt as a signature maneuver over the years. He is best known as an upper-level "jobber" in the WWF during its 1980s rise to national prominence, but believe it or not, Jones did have his share of success in the business prior to those days. In 1975, he teamed up with Porkchop Cash to win the NWA Americas Title in Los Angeles.

With a smile on his face, Hawaiian shirt and headband, S.D. gave his all in every match. While his win-loss record was not the greatest, fans all over the world cheered for S.D. every time he came to town, and entertaining fans at the expense of personal gain is the mark of a class act. S.D. Jones was a true professional his entire career.

Jones is now retired from wrestling.


"The Unpredictable" Johnny Rodz (Johnny Rodriguez) saw work in high-profile rings starting in the late 1960s. Rodz is best known for his time in the WWF, which lasted into the 1980s. Rodz had more than his share of bouts in the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, and was formally inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame in 1996.

Today, Rodz might be better known as a successful trainer. Among the names that emerged from Rodz's wrestling school in Brooklyn are Tazz, D-Von Dudley, Tommy Dreamer, Hugh Morrus, Big Vito, and Angel (the former ECW "Baldie").


"Pistol" Pez made his rounds through just about every major promotion in his active days. Most successful in southern-based promotions, Pistol Pez Whatley has absorbed the spotlight in both the NWA and WWF. Whatley teamed with Ray Candy to hold Mid-America tag title in 1977. As a singles competitor, he held the NWA Southern title in Fla. several times in 1984. Pistol Pez teamed with Tiger Conway as The Jive Tones in the late '80s NWA.

Whatley also worked behind the scenes for Ted Turner's WCW in that company's later years.


Tiger Conway, Sr. was a well-known wrestler for territories such as the young WWWF, and for Paul Boesch. Today, his respect for the business makes him a frequent guest at gatherings such as the Cauliflower Alley Club banquet. His son was a proverbial chip off the old block.

Tiger Conway, Jr. made his mark in the Mid-Atlantic area, Texas, and other NWA territories. He collected titles while teaming with the likes of Steve Keirn, Dino Bravo, and King Parsons. He also teamed as the "Jive-Tones" with Pez Whatley in the late 1980s NWA.


The JYD (Sylvester Ritter) debuted in the wrestling business in 1977 for promoter Jerry Jarrett. Trained by fellow black wrestling legend Sonny King in North Carolina, Ritter was physically impressive at 6'4",  270 lbs. Ritter honed his skills in Tennessee and eventually began wrestling for promoter Nick Gulas as "Leroy Rochester." Leroy Rochester was the real name of wrestler Leroy Brown, but sounded a bit more imposing than Sylvester Ritter did, so they went with it.

JYD was originally a heel of the Ernie Ladd ilk, but quickly found his place as a fan favorite. In 1978 JYD left the Tennessee area and worked briefly in Germany before settling in Stu Hart's Calgary Stampede promotion in Canada. There, he worked as "Big Daddy Ritter" and won the Stampede North American title twice in the late-1970s before finally turning up in Bill Watts' Mid-South territory as Junkyard Dog. JYD would become the most popular wrestler in Louisiana in the early 1980s against such heels as a young Ted DiBiase, The Freebirds, and Paul "Mr. Wonderful" Orndorff.

It wasn't long before the WWF came calling, and JYD fast became one of the most popular babyfaces in the burgeoning fed. JYD often generated crowd pops second only to those of Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, while running through foes like Terry Funk, Harley Race and Roddy Piper. When fans heard "Another One Bites the Dust" or "Grab Them Cakes" blare from the PA, they knew to expect Junkyard Dog to emerge growling from the locker room, grasping at the chain hooked to his collar. Stocky and powerful, JYD was famous for devastating head butts and his powerslam finisher.

While a solid marquee name, JYD never won a title in the WWF. He moved on to the NWA/WCW in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and from there, eased out of the spotlight.

Ritter died in 1998 after a fatal car accident. He was 45.


With the physique of a world-class bodybuilder, Tony Atlas gained initial fame in the WWF by taking on the meanest heels, including a young, pre-Hulkamania Hulk Hogan, against whom Atlas scored clean victories. His WWF tenure peaked when he won the tag team titles with partner Rocky Johnson in 1983.

Since the mid-80s, Atlas has been highly involved with several independent companies all over the country. He still wrestles and promotes indie matches today.


Short in stature but high on charisma, "The Birdman" Koko B. Ware (James Ware) was one of the most popular WWF babyfaces in the 80s and early 90s. With sunglasses, brightly colored outfits, his trusty Macaw mascot Frankie, and the impressive ability to soulfully sing his promos, Koko was over with fans in a big way.

Koko debuted in 1978 and spent his early days in the sport in the Mid-South, Georgia and other NWA territories. It was here where Koko earned his reputation as a gifted mat wrestler and high-flyer. He portrayed the characters "Sweet Brown Sugar" and "Stagger Lee" at different times, and won tag titles with partners such as future Midnight Express member Bobby Eaton. Just before signing with the WWF, Koko was part of the PYT Express tag team with Norvell Austin in Florida and Memphis. Whether it was his dead-on dropkicks or his "ghostbuster" finisher, Koko's foes had plenty to watch out for.

Koko never won a title in the WWF, but he always put on a great show for fans, and they returned the favor with loud cheers. Koko is still active today in Memphis Power Pro Wrestling.


Harlem native Bad News Allen (Allen Coage) is probably best known to today's breed of wrestling fan as Bad News Brown, the moniker he used in the WWF in the late '80s and early '90s. Coage was a multi-sport star, winning a bronze medal in judo for the U.S. at the Montreal Olympics in 1976, as well as two gold medals at the Pan-American games. Trained in part by Japanese legend Antonio Inoki, Brown's "Ghetto Blaster" enzuigiri kick finisher was one of the most feared in the sport.

Debuting in 1978, Coage was a tough-as-nails heel in numerous promotions, including Stu Hart's Stampede promotion in Calgary, where he played villain to the likes of Owen Hart and The Dynamite Kid. In the WWF, Brown won the WrestleMania IV battle royal by last eliminating Bret Hart. During his stay with the WWF, "Bad News" had memorable feuds with Hart, Roddy Piper and Randy Savage, although he never won any gold (he would later claim in various interviews that Vince McMahon promised him a reign as heel WWF Champion, but reneged on his word). Because of his all-black ring wear, his nasty disposition, his beard and his bald head, "Bad News" could be considered a predecessor to today's "Stone Cold" Steve Austin character.

Coage recently worked with the new Stampede in Calgary as a color commentator.


Call him "Hacksaw," "The Natural," or "Doom #1," Butch Reed was a major contributor in many different promotions throughout the 80s and 90s. Debuting in 1978, Reed first gained recognition in the early 80s when he took NWA big shot Ric Flair to the limit in a televised match. The previously unheralded "Hacksaw" continued up the ladder of stardom throughout the rest of the decade.

In 1987, Reed emerged in the red-hot WWF with blonde hair and sunglasses a la Sweet Daddy Siki, calling himself "The Natural" and chumming around with wiry manager Slick. Reed wrestled the likes of Hulk Hogan, Koko B. Ware, Bam Bam Bigelow and Ken Patera while in the WWF, but never won any gold.

Reed returned to the NWA/WCW in 1989 as a member of masked tag team Doom with Ron Simmons. The duo won the tag team titles and competed against The Road Warriors and The Steiner Brothers before splitting up and feuding.

Reed is still active in certain indie promotions, such as Harley Race's World League Wrestling. Reed was WLW Heavyweight Champion before losing the strap on January 25 of this year.


Southern wrestling fans -- particularly those in Texas -- may beg to differ with those who recognize Ron Simmons as the first black world champion of a major U.S. organization. "Iceman" King Parsons, adorned with neon green tights and braided hair, captured the WCCW Texas American Title in 1985. And in Texas in 1985, WCCW was a very major organization.

Parsons, a native of St. Louis, was a big star in the 80s and early 90s southern wrestling circuit. He wrestled in high profile matches with the likes of the Von Erichs, Chris Adams and Jerry Lawler. He also wrestled as the Blackbirds in WCCW in 1993 with Perry "Action" Jackson. Flashy and outgoing, Parsons was a favorite of many fans.


Dark Journey was one of a small number of black female stars in the game's history. She competed and acted as a valet in southern promotions in the mid-80s, walking the aisle with men such as Dick Slater and (briefly) Ric Flair. She is most famous for her feud with fellow valet Missy Hyatt in the UWF. Dark Journey never made it to the big time, but she did capture many fans' hearts.


Large and muscular, "Lethal" Larry Cameron dominated competition in Canada and Europe, while never really planting his flag in any U.S. promotion. A former champion in Stu Hart's Stampede organization in the mid-80s, Cameron made his presence known worldwide. In fact, Cameron was a product of the fabled Hart family dungeon, and trained along side Chris Benoit, Brian Pillman and others.

Cameron's life ended tragically when he died in the ring during a match in Bremen, Germany, in 1993, the result of a heart attack. He was 41.


Zeus was the big, evil enemy of Hulk Hogan's "Rip" character (which was no far stretch from Hogan's actual persona) in the 1989 movie No Holds Barred. In the long-standing tradition of WWF cross-promotion, actor Tom "Tiny" Lister, the man who played Zeus, was brought into the fed upon the movie's premiere so he could work a post-movie angle with Hogan on WWF TV. The Zeus character was cross-eyed and nearly impervious to pain. WWF fans initially played along, but ultimately, the Hogan-Zeus feud was not as well received as Vince McMahon had hoped, nor was the movie a big success in the box office.

Lister, who is probably best remembered as Debo in the Friday movies or as the President of the United States in The Fifth Element, has continued acting. After the WWF, he wrestled a few times in Puerto Rico, and briefly resurfaced as "Z-Gangsta" in mid-90s WCW to once again confront Hogan.


"The Doctor of Style" Slick (Kenneth Johnson) was introduced to WWF fans in 1986 by "Classy" Fred Blassie, who was preparing to retire from the business. "The Slickster," as Gorilla Monsoon enjoyed calling him, took over Blassie's managing duties. Slick was a skinny, jive-talking man with a jheri curl haircut and a tendency to perform a pre-match dance in the ring before his wrestlers competed. As with most managers of the day, Slick carried a weapon with him for interference in matches -- his being a cane, just like Blassie before him.

But that is definitely where the comparison with Blassie ends. Slick managed The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff originally, and over time seconded Hercules Hernandez, Butch Reed, the Bolsheviks (Volkoff and Boris Zukhov), Big Boss Man and Akeem. He's also responsible for one of the most infamous self-sung WWF theme songs ever, the soulful rap ditty "Jive Soul Bro."

Slick left the WWF for a couple years, returning in the early 1990s a real-life minister. His on-air persona was changed to "Reverend Slick," and he took turns commentating on WWF programs. When Kamala turned babyface in 1993, Slick managed him briefly before leaving the business again.

Slick is still preaching in the area of Ft. Worth, Texas, today. He has been known to make special guest appearances at Texas indy shows on occasion.


Norvell Austin is one of wrestling's under-appreciated talents. Austin debuted in the 1960s, and into the next decade he evolved into one of the better heels in Tennessee, Florida and other territories. He was often placed in tag teams with such partners as Rufus R. Jones, Bill Dundee and Pat Barrett. In the early 1980s, he teamed with the young Brad Armstrong and also wrestled under a mask as The Shadow. Austin would continue his tag team work through the middle of the 1980s.

Norvell Austin is an oft-overlooked member of the original Midnight Express in the Continental area, teaming interchangeably with Randy Rose and Dennis Condrey (and serving as manager for the Midnights as well). Austin later formed the Pretty Young Things with Koko B. Ware and enjoyed some success in Florida and Memphis.


Ray Candy debuted in Georgia in 1973. He teamed with Pez Whatley in 1977 to win the Mid-America tag belts, and would see even more fame as a tag wrestler in the 1980s with Leroy Brown in the Zambuie Express.

As part of the Zambuie gimmick, Candy was renamed Kareem Muhammad and Leroy Brown became known as Elijah Akeem. The ZE was quite prominent in the south in the mid-1980s. As a solo, Candy won the WWC Puerto Rican title in 1987. He also took on other various character names, including Blackstud Williams in Oregon (1988) and Commando Ray in WCW (also 1988).

Ray Candy eventually retired to Decatur, Georgia. On May 23, 1994, Candy passed away in Decatur.


It was an all-too-familiar scene in Georgia Championship Wrestling to see "Bad, Bad" Leroy Brown clear the ring of a swarm of heels attacking a babyface, while his theme song (that familiar Jim Croce tune) blared. Brown was a beloved figure in the 1980s for his fight against the "bad guys," including a few famous confrontations with Ric Flair in arm wrestling competitions.

Brown (Leroy Rochester) also worked under the name "Elijah Akeem" as a member of the Zambuie Express tag team with Ray Candy. He was a central figure in Georgia and other NWA regions for years.

Leroy Brown died in Savannah, GA, in 1988. He was 38.


Brickhouse Brown debuted in 1982 after graduating college. He was brought into the wrestling world by Eddie Graham and learned the ropes not through formal training, but by constant experience.

Brown worked successfully as both babyface and heel through several areas in the 1980s and 1990s. In 1989, he won the World Class Texas Title from Iceman King Parsons. Brown competed throughout the 1990s, most notably for the USWA.


Listed below is a sampling of other notable black wrestling stars from the 1980s. These men and women contributed to pro wrestling in many ways, and despite my space and time restraints within this column, all deserve to be recognized. Their efforts are appreciated.


A few black wrestlers and managers who gained initial fame in the 1980s would reach their greatest heights in the 1990s, and thus have been saved for the fourth and final part of this tribute.

[Note: This tribute is by no means an exhaustive list of every black performer in pro wrestling's long and storied history. Exclusions are unintentional and were not done out of spite, but rather in the interest of keeping this already-large column to a respectable size. I apologize in advance for any omissions, and I welcome your feedback.]

Circa's Tribute to Pro Wrestling's Black Stars
Pt.1, the Pioneers -/- Pt. 2, the 60s & 70s -/-
Pt. 3, the 80s -/- Pt. 4, the 90s and Beyond


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