Each week during the month of February, we will highlight the contributions of one of the many African-American wrestlers who have helped shape the landscape of the WWE.
The 2017 college football National Signing Day wrapped up on Wednesday, February 1st. Across the nation, hundreds of the best high school football players made their decisions about where to attend college and play for the next level in their sport. Some of these players will have stellar college careers and go on to play professional football in the NFL while others will pursue different endeavors off the field. Florida State University alumni Ron “Faarooq” Simmons decided to do both.
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Considered one of Florida State University’s “greatest recruiting victories” Simmons played from 1977-1980 under legendary coach Bobby Bowden. Simmons was a Consensus All-American in 1979 and 1980 and the Seminoles had a win/loss record of 39–8 during his tenure, finishing in the Top 20 during three of his four seasons. In 1988, Simmons’ jersey was retired by FSU, marking only the third time a number had been granted this honor in school history, and making him one of only seven players to receive this honor to date. Simmons had a brief stint in the NFL in 1981-1982 when he played for the Cleveland Browns. He then played for the Tampa Bay Bandits of the USFL from 1983-1985 and it was there he met teammate and future colleague Lex Luger.
Simmons joined WCW in 1987 where he made an immediate impact. He would work alongside superstars such as Junk Yard Dog, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Express, and the Four Horsemen. In 1992, Simmons defeated Big Van Vader for the WCW World Heavyweight Championship. In doing so, he became the first African American to win a WCW Heavyweight belt and the second to ever win a World Heavyweight title. After he left WCW, he wrestled briefly in ECW against the likes of Shane Douglas, Mikey Whipwreck, and 911 before making his transition to the WWE in 1996.
Upon entering the WWE (then known as WWF), Simmons formed and led the militant stable known as the Nation of Domination along with his manager Clarence Mason and three unnamed accomplices (Albert Armstrong, Charles Hines, and Richard Beach) who represented followers/security guards for the group similar to those within the Nation of Islam on whom the group was loosely based. Over the years, additional members would include D’Lo Brown, Savio Vega, Mark Henry, Owen Hart, and most notably, The Rock. During the group’s tenure, the NOD was one of the most popular and hated heel factions in the WWE.
After The Rock seized control of the NOD in 1998, Simmons teamed up with John “Bradshaw” Layfield as The Acolytes, who soon rebranded themselves as the Ministry of Darkness led by The Undertaker. Simmons and Bradshaw had two reigns as tag team champions and when the gimmick was abandoned in late 1999 due to an injury suffered by The Undertaker, the two men continued working as bodyguards-for-hire known as the Acolytes Protection Agency (APA), where they would capture a third tag team championship. This APA was officially disbanded in 2003 when Simmons formally retired from the WWE.
Simmons has made sporadic appearances in the WWE over the last few years. He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the WWE Hall of Fame in 2012. He was featured in backstage segments at both WrestleMania 30 and 31 and his signature catchphrase of “Damn!” remains incredibly popular with fans. Simmons was not only an important character during the Attitude Era but the popularity of the APA ensured he would remain one of the most respected stars in WWE history. His professional resume includes some of the biggest names in the business and his success undoubtedly paved the way for future African American stars such as Shelton Benjamin, Bobby Lashley, and the New Day.