Funny how our worlds collide sometimes. Yesterday, I was sitting at my desk. If you haven’t read my little bio at the bottom of this article, then let me explain…
When I’m not out saving the world from Lex Luthor, I work as a mild-mannered reporter for the Evening Times, a small daily paper in the Memphis area. Now if you’re a long-time wrestling fan you probably already know that Memphis is the home of Jerry “The King” Lawler and the promotion that largely centered around him for more than 30 years.
Whether you know it as the CWA, the USWA, or simply “Memphis,” there’s a ton of wrestling history surrounding Memphis, and a lot of the guys who wrestled here are still in the area. Not that I hang out with “Superstar” Bill Dundee or anything, but these guys are around.
So, I was surprised, but not completely shocked when the Ad Manager where I work walked over to my desk chatting with a large black fellow and saying something about a “great feature story” as they approached.
The large black fellow turned out to be a preacher at a small town church in a small neighboring city, but he also turned out to be The Snowman. Well, he used to be anyway.
Eddie – or “E.L.” as it said on his card – Crawford was one of wrestling promoter Bill Watts’ (of Mid-South, UWF and WCW fame) attempts at recreating the super-popular Junkyard Dog in the Mid-South territory after JYD left for the bright lights of the WWF in the mid-1980s. Snowman was a moderate success by most accounts. He drew fairly well for a few months, though not like the 20,000-plus fans the Dog drew.
“How you doin’?” the man asked as he held out his hand. I heard them mention wrestling but I didn’t recognize him immediately. I started plowing though 35 years of wrestling history in my mental Rolodex as he handed be his business card.
“E.L. Crawford aka Snowman,” it read.
“The Snowman!” I said excitedly, probably moreso that his star-power warranted, and almost surely moreso than he had received any time recently. My Ad Manager was confused but he smiled.
“Nick, it’s the Snowman!” I repeated for his benefit. I pulled a fact out my butt. “Former USWA Unified World Heavyweight Champion? The Snowman!” Nick seemed to have someone to tag off to and left me with Mr. Crawford.
Or should I say Reverend Crawford? Yes…yes, I should.
It seems that at some point along the way the Snowman had found a Higher Power, and I don’t mean Vince McMahon. Crawford was now pastoring New Day Church in Hughes, Arkansas, as well as using his status as a wrestling personality for a number of other positive purposes.
Turns out that after putting his faith in the Lord, the Snowman began doing charity work for some of the local Boys and Girls Clubs, LeBonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, and doing some motivational speaking for troubled youth.
Discovering I was a wrestling fan, the Snowman recalled for me some of his defining moments, including a match in the Superdome in which he pinned Jake “The Snake” Roberts for the Mid-South TV Title. He said it was a sold-out show, but I suspect that might be stretching it a bit.
Then, of course, being the intrepid reporter that I am I had to ask.
“So, champ,” I asked, “What about you pawning the World Title Belt?” He grinned.
“I’m glad you asked,” said. “You know, Lawler and them said I sold the belt to a drug dealer or I hocked it or whatever. They never did get their story straight, did they?” Snowman claimed to still have the belt, and in fact the picture on his business card shows him with the USWA title belt and the picture was no more than a couple of years old by the looks of it. Snowman won the title from Lawler in 1990.
“I told ‘em, if he wants the belt back he’s gonna have to beat me for it,” he said. “If they think I sold it, why didn’t Lawler ever ask me for a rematch?” I’m not sure what the logic of that argument was but I didn’t mention it.
Anyway, we chatted for a good 20 minutes and I arranged for another time to do a full interview for a feature story for the paper. He had promised to bring the belt and a flash drive full of pictures, so we’ll see where that goes.
The whole experience got my wheels to turning, though, as I began to think about the Common Denominator this week. It also works out that February is Black History Month, and Snowman’s title run was centered around a black/white angle, so I thought I’d look at black wrestlers of today and yesterday and see what has transpired.
First off, I’d like to point out that Mark Henry is the latest and one of the few “all black” World Champions in wrestling history. I mean, unless you count Booker T’s WCW title reign during the Invasion period (let’s not), Booker’s 2006 run with the belt is the only other one in WWE ever. We all know the Rock is half-Samoan, and if you’re really keeping score (let’s) Randy Savage is like a quarter black. Booker had three title reigns in WCW before it folded, and Ron Simmons was the “first black World Champion,” that is in the major feds. In the name of completion, Ron Killings (R-Truth) held the NWA World Title in TNA a couple of times in the promotion’s first year of existence, so good for them. Do Bobby Lashley and Ezekiel Jackson’s reigns in ECW 2.0 count? (I’m inclined to say no).
And outside of some regional “World Champions” like Bobo Brazil, Bearcat Wright, Ernie Ladd and the bunch of black wrestlers (like the Snowman up there) who won the USWA Unified title, that’s really about it. If you really need that list, it includes (and really you could have just Wikipedia’d this yourself, I suppose) Papa Shango, King Cobra (who?), Koko B. Ware, Kamala, JYD, Butch Reed, Ahmed Johnson and Reggie B. Fine (don’t ask).
Now, there have been a lot of successful black wrestlers. And I hope I don’t offend anyone by using the term “black” instead of African-American, but I’d rather do that than call, say Kofi Kingston African-American, since he’s like, from Ghana, and (spoiler alert) Kamala is not from Uganda. I don’t know if Bobo Brazil is from Brazil or not, but I’m pretty sure Abdullah the Butcher is from Canada. Anyway…
I’m glad that we have at least reached a point in race relations today where it’s not important to point out that Mark Henry is black in the same sentence that it is mentioned that he won the World title (I mean, he’s obviously black…in fact, he’s really black. No Samoan in there, and that’s just fine). If you look back to the 80s and 90s, there were some angles built entirely around racial tensions. Look at the Bad News Brown-Roddy Piper feud that had Piper painting his face half-black. Virgil as DiBiase’s manservant. Don’t even get me started on the whole Akeem the African Dream or Tony “Saba Simba” Atlas gimmicks. In the 90s, there was the Nation of Domination, with Ron “Farooq” Simmons and his posse, which did at least lead us to the Rock.
But where’s the common denominator today? Who do we have as potential break-out black stars? I mentioned Kofi. He’s in the Elimination Chamber match (along with R-Truth unless he really was hurt Monday night), but does anyone see him winning the belt and going on to defend it aw Wrestlemania? Maybe at some point, but not now (and probably not ever, honestly). What about Truth? While his current run is the hottest he’s ever been, his “Little Jimmy” gimmick is really going to limit his credibility in the title scene. Henry’s now held the belt, but let’s face it: That was the culmination of 15 years of a not-so-great career, and seemingly more of a “Thank you” from Vince than anything else.
So, where are we then? David Otunga? I’d actually be surprised if Otunga is still wrestling a year from now. And, he’ll probably have a great career doing something else, so I wouldn’t worry about him. Ezekiel Jackson has the look, but it seems like the luster is already fading there. What is Brodus Clay anyway?
TNA might have the answer in The Pope. He was right in the world title hunt for a while, and he’s someone who might be able to make a go of it by returning to WWE, much the same way R-Truth did.
Other than that, I’m drawing a blank. Well, there’s Kharma, I guess.
So, just so you can say you’ve seen it, here’s Simmons winning the WCW title from Big Van Vader back in 1992. I was a Vader fan, but I popped for the title change, and the whole thing seemed to involve a lot of genuine emotion (probably aided by Jim Ross’s excellent announcing). The match has a spot where there’s a clip, but I don’t think the match was really much longer than that. It might have been a commercial break.
I’ve seen the “everybody-runs-to-the-ring-to-celebrate-with-the-champ” bit a few times, most notably Sting-Hogan at Starrcade ’97, but this one is pretty cool. You know what would be awesome? If some heel, let’s say Dolph Ziggler, won the WWE title and all the heels came out and celebrated while the crowd booed. Kind of like the “Fingerpoke of Doom,” but with you know, non-promotion-destroying consequences.
And just because I got to talk to the Snowman, here’s a video of Snowman teaming up with “Soul Train” Mike Jones, who would later go on to become Virgil in the aforementioned role of Ted DiBiase’s manservant. This was in 1987, when Lawler had been put out of commission in a red-hot angle with Austin Idol and Tommy Rich. Jones had vowed to take it to Rich and Idol while Lawler was out. Well, he needed a partner, so he turned to the Snowman to take care of business. Enjoy.
Well, that does it for this week. Thanks for reading.
Tags: Ahmed Johnson, Bobby Lashley, Booker T, common denominator, D'Angelo Dinero, David Otunga, Ezekiel Jackson, Junkyard Dog, Kamala, kharma, Kofi Kingston, Koko B. Ware, Mark Henry, R-Truth, Ron Killings, The Pope, TNA, WWE