It’s really hard to be a black wrestling fan. It really is. Between all of the racial stereotypes that have permeated the genre for my entire life and the lack of black champions, I’ve found it really difficult to justify why I tune in to WWE’s ever-growing repertoire of shows. Things have been a little better as of late with more representations of black faces and culture. This has been incredibly refreshing. I know it hasn’t been easy for these stars to represent people who look like me so I want to celebrate their efforts. And show the happiness I feel when I see them on TV.
With that said, here are 10 incredibly black moments from 2016 that make me feel warm and fuzzy in my inside place. You can revisit 2015’s blackest moments here.
Seth Rollins And Sami Zayn Get Woke
Both Sami Zayn and Seth Rollins watched Ava Duvernay’s incredible documentary 13th — about the racism of America’s prison industrial complex — and got themselves woke. So they tweeted out #BlackLivesMatter. Babyface move for the ages, kids.
Booker T schools Randy Orton
Randy Orton went full All Lives Matter over Colin Kaepernick’s protests. He got on his high horse about disrespecting the military as if Kaep went AWOL or something. So Booker T had him on his podcast and really broke race relations down in a way that was admirable and well thought out. Kudos to Book.
Cedric Alexander’s Contract
If you didn’t get the sugar lump in your throat after Cedric put on a classic match, got cheered and was pretty much given a kayfabe contract on the spot, I don’t know what to tell you.
And now, the top 10.
10. WWE Are The Streets
Here’s how imagine Diddy’s relationship with WWE went down: Diddy’s artist Machine Gun Kelly performs at WrestleMania 28. Diddy looks at the check. Diddy says SWEET MERRY HOT DAMN WWE CUTS CHECKS. Kevin Owens power bombs Machine Gun Kelly to hell. Diddy takes all the gigs MGK could have had and becomes WWE’s new rap ambassador. That’s how Diddy works. And that’s how he ended up on RAW. But Diddy hosting RAW doesn’t in itself qualify for a Blackest moment. But The Lox getting a damn mention is certainly black as hell. I mean, it’s The Lox. Styles P. Sheek. Kiss. One of the greatest groups of all time. This is better than the time The Beatnuts rapped on Shotgun Saturday Night*
*The Beatnuts never rapped on Shotgun Saturday Night.
9. Wale’s Kicks
My first article ever for The Smoking Section back in 1998 was about how Ric Flair was the embodiment of Hip-Hop and its culture. The bling, attitude and swagger is embedded in rap culture in the same way it was personified in Flair’s style. Rap and wrestling are aspirational. So it makes sense that there’s always been a connection between the two genres. Nobody in the last few years has exemplified that bond in mainstream rap like Wale. He’s made wrestling as part of his image as his iconic dreds. So it was only natural that when he got to make a shoe with Asics it was designed after the old school IC belt. The shoes are fly as hell and I’m mad I don’t have a pair. Thanks, Obama.
8. New Day Rapping Juvenile
You wanna know why shows like Atlanta and Insecure were so popular? It’s because they gave black people situations and experiences on TV that reflect our own. It’s such a simple but effective strategy that took TV people too damn long to realize. So when I saw New Day on an episode of Ride Along on the Network recreating Juvenile’s “Ha” song and holding a conversation ending every sentence with “Ha” I felt instant gratification. It was three black guys doing something I grew up doing and it’s the type of thing that’s too rare but always appreciated. Now try to go a full day without trying to talk like Juve. You’re welcome.
7. New Day’s Raw
New Day has had an inconsistent 2016. At times they’ve been hitting on all cylinders. Other times, they have random fans in the ring to make fun of his fake name. But for one Raw, they were the central focus. They beat half of the Raw roster and had the sendoff to their title run they deserved.
6. Biggie’s Promo
When New Day hit up Brooklyn for Summerslam, they opened up their match quoting Biggie. And instead of rapping to an oblivious audience, the BK audience finished the damn promo.
5. When Ranallo Gets It Right
Mauro Ranallo is a self-proclaimed Hip-Hop head and when he’s dropping references at the right time, it’s a fresh infusion of a culture I love getting shine on WWE. I also wonder if Vince knows what the hell he’s saying half the time.
4. Sasha Banks
Sasha Banks is just going to be on this list every year. She had the feud of the year. Won the Women’s title three times, had the best match at WrestleMania and helped elevate the Women’s division to main event level. All the while Vince McMahon reportedly doubted her ability to perform. If that isn’t the black woman experience I don’t know what is.
3. The Nakamura Entrance
I cried. I sobbed. I wept tears of pride and joy. This was maybe the best entrance in WWE history and it all started with a black guy playing the violin. Solo. Bonus for this being the closest thing to a PPV main event title match a black guy has had since, like, 2014.
2. Code Switching With Rocky
People get really weird about Rock’s blackness. He’s a black man. That should settle it. But there’s been so much debate about if he’s black enough or embraces his blackness or whatever nitpicky issue there is with him and how he carries himself. But let’s not get it twisted: Dwayne The Rock Johnson is a black man. He’s also a black man who’s had to navigate white spaces his whole life, which means he’s the master at code switching. So during a really long (too long) Raw segment, Rock walks around, guffaws with Big Show, carries on his tradition of calling attractive women sluts and chops it up with Rick Ross. Dapping him up and everything.
Then he gets to the ring. And he proceeds to get a bit too comfortable, dismissing Byron Saxton as some black guy. It’s a joke that gets laughs but when New Day comes out, they set the record straight, informing Rock that Saxton is the best in the business.
It’s just so dope to me for a few reasons: it shows the camaraderie the black superstars have developed to keep looking out for each other. Which, trust me, is needed in places like WWE. And it’s dope to see that New Day was able to pretty much carry Rocky for a 20-minute segment that was his best since he stopped wrestling full time. Can’t remember a time I ever saw that many black wrestlers on TV for that long.
Like I said, being a black wrestling fan is hard. We’ve been relegated to finding small battles to celebrate. The picture Big E posted earlier this month of Sasha Banks, New Day and Rich Homie Swann. All black. All holding belts, with the hashtag #BlackExcellence. It wasn’t only a powerful picture of how far black wrestlers have come, but it’s also an all-important acknowledgement of black pride.
For someone who lived through The Godfather, Booker T losing against Triple H at WrestleMania 19 after being called too ghetto to win the belt, Vincent K. McMahon saying the N-word and too many infuriating instances to count, this felt like a victory I’ve been waiting for my whole life. Sasha Banks has been doubted since she got to the main roster. New Day was burdened with a stereotypical preacher gimmick. And Swann has overcome obstacles that most of us would crumble against. And they’re there. I want this picture framed. I want it hanging in my kids’ rooms. In a shitty 2016, this was a light that I really needed.