Current stars of the WWE such as R-Truth, Kofi Kingston, Big E Langston, Darren Young, Titus O’Neil, David Otunga, Ezekiel Jackson, Alicia Fox, Cameron and Naomi may not of been in the WWE or have a career in Pro-Wrestling at all if not for one individual. Past legends such as Reginald “Reg” Siki, Luther Lindsey, Shag Thomas, Bo Bo Brazil, Booker T and The Rock would not even help pave the way for the current crop of pro-wrestling stars if it was not for one man.
That man is Viro Small who is arguably known as the first champion of African descent in the United States. Without him, many of the future eras legends and today’s stars may not have existed as Pro-Wrestlers. This man paved away for others to attain higher success than he could ever reach.
Small was born into slavery, and his birth was during an era where he was considered more as a white man’s property than as a human being. He was born during a time when a man was still judge by the color of his skin than by the content of his character. He grew up in turbulent times and possibly faced a bleak future as a slave till his death.
Yet, he only suffered, and persevered under the callous system of slavery for the first elven years of his life. Then the American Civil War erupted. It was a war that pitted father against son, mother against daughter and neighbor against neighbor. Many fields were colored a red hue due to the ferocious battles that occurred between the Union, and the Confederacy.
It wasn’t until after thousands upon thousands of lives were lost in the battles of Antietam, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. After families were torn apart, and blood soaked fields dried to a crimson red that the war ended in 1865. Thus, slavery came to its end and that Small finally became a free man, or as free as a black individual could be of that era.
With his new found freedom, and drive to use that very freedom to pursue whatever his heart desired. Yet, he did not know he would soon be making history, and causing a chain reaction which would be felt for generations to come. It was in 1870 that he decided to begin his boxing career, and possibly started his wrestling career during that same year.
In 1881 Mike Horogan faced a dilemma of sorts. The wrestler he was supposed to face in a collar-and-elbow match was for whatever reason not available. The match had to happen thus a replacement was needed. Enter Viro Small whom ended up as the substitute, and proceeded to face off against Horogan. Small utilize his raw athleticism, and agility to give his opponent a run for his money. Small had ultimately lost the match, but gained Horogan as a trainer due to being impressed with his spectacular wrestling abilities.
Small decided to wrestle under the name Black Sam and proceeded to become a legend in the next decade by winning sixty-three matches. It was during this time that he won the Vermont Collar and Elbow Championship, twice. Thus he had arguably become the first champion of African heritage.
Becoming champion gave him more opportunities, and had countless matches while traveling the county fair circuits in New England. Members of the audience would be asked to go one on one against Small and possibly be awarded with a cash prize if they lasted for a certain amount of time. Lasting against a wrestler of his caliber was feat that rarely occurred due to Small’s skills as a wrestler.
Sometime in the future Small decided moved to New York City, and wrestled in some of the toughest, gnarliest and downright horrifying parts of the famed city. The most infamous of those locations was the Bastille of the Bowery which had both a boxing ring and wrestling ring. It was a seedy bar in which the patrons were a wild and somewhat deadly bunch.
Legend has it that the owner, former boxer Owney Geoghegan won a match by coaxing the referee into handing the win to him. Geoghegan’s method of persuasion was having one of his henchmen aim a gun at the referee’s head at the conclusion of the match. The Bastille of the Bowery’s cruel nature, and rough attitude would have made The Hart family’s dungeon appear to be a neutered version of the bar.
It was at this bar that Smalls nearly lost his life. No, it didn’t occur during a bout but due to the results of his match. His match ended in a no-decision due to Smalls, and his opponent, Billy McCallum having a heated argument that broke out between the two men. McCallum still unhinged due to that fight decided to try and end Small’s life once and for all.
McCallum chosen method was a firearm, and proceeded to arrive as wherever Small laid his head down at night. He carefully and slowly inched his way to where Small was sound asleep. Raised his firearm, and reached his limit, and truly became mentally unbalanced, shot Small in the neck. Miraculously Small survived the attempt of murder, and lived to fight another day.
Small’s last recorded match took place in 1885. What he did beyond 1885, or how he died is forever lost to the annals of history. We may never know what had become of Viro Small but I do know his legacy was passed on through many generations of stars whom all continued to pave the way to the point of today’s African American and Black Pro-Wrestlers being able to entertain the masses. The Pro-Wrestling landscape would have been drastically different if not for impact made by Viro Small.
Photo Credit: blackamericaweb.com