He began his profession at a time when his race was often not ideal for the industry. Real name Houston Harris, he was promoted as Bobo Brazil and toured many towns within the wrestling world drawing thousands of fans. He is remembered for his matches with famous wrestlers like André the Giant, Bruno Sammartino, or “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers.
And most importantly, Bobo Brazil played an immense role in ending segregation in the world of pro-wrestling, opening the door for many more wrestlers of color in the years following his debut.
For those who may not be familiar with the name Bobo Brazil, here are seven things you should know about one of wrestling’s first Black superstars.
His first wrestling name was Boo Boo Brazil
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Bobo Brazil later moved to Benton Harbor, Michigan. There, he was trained by professional wrestler Joe Savoldi who gave him his first wrestling name — Boo Boo Brazil. A wrestling promoter made a mistake and advertised him as “BoBo Brazil”, and fans became used to that name. Bobo Brazil, who stood 6 feet 6 inches and weighed 270 pounds, became a promoter’s dream wrestler largely due to his height and weight.
The “Jackie Robinson Of Professional Wrestling”
Before entering professional wrestling, Bobo Brazil was a gifted baseball player. But he liked to attend wrestling matches when he was not busy. Breaking racial barriers in professional wrestling, he would become known as the “Jackie Robinson Of Professional Wrestling”. He inspired more African Americans to step in the ring, and even though he never won the world title, he proved to wrestling promoters that an African American could draw huge crowds to matches.
He faced discrimination
Even though Bobo Brazil became a well-known professional wrestler, he was often banned from going to hotels and restaurants due to the color of his skin. He could also not wrestle in certain areas because of his race. And during many of his matches, African-American fans were forced to sit in areas that made it hard to see him wrestling. But he didn’t let those challenges stop him from becoming a star. According to Fansided, he held many different championships from the NWA wrestling territories, including Detroit, Toronto, and Florida. Bobo Brazil also held the United States Championship in the Mid-Atlantic region nine different times.
He was well-known in Japan
Bobo Brazil began wrestling in Japan as early as the 1950s. He even became the Japan Pro Wrestling Alliance NWA International Heavyweight Champion on one occasion.
The first “unofficial African American world champion”
History shows the legendary Ron Simmons as the first African American World champion after he won the WCW World Championship in 1992. However, Bobo Brazil is the first. He won the NWA Heavyweight championship from “Nature Boy” Buddy Rogers in the 1960s, but he refused to accept the title because Rogers was injured. Bobo Brazil said he wanted to have a rematch (all part of a storyline) once Rogers was fit to wrestle. The rematch happened the next day and Rogers won the title. And even though the local promotion welcomed Bobo Brazil’s victory, the NWA never recognized his title reign.
Mentored “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, the late father of The Rock
Bobo Brazil did not inspire only wrestlers but boxers like Joe Frazier as well. “I was about 17 when I got interested in boxing, and the guys I remember hearing about were Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Hurricane Jackson, and Bobo Brazil,” Frazier said in a 1970 interview with The New York Times. Bobo Brazil would also become a mentor to the famous Rocky Johnson when the latter began his career. Johnson, the late father of future WWE Champion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, secured the WWF World Tag Team Championship in 1983 along with his tag team partner Tony Atlas, making them the first black champions in the promotion’s history.
He became the first African-American wrestler to be inducted into the WWE Hall Of Fame
Two years after Bobo Brazil retired in 1992, he was inducted into the WWF Hall of Fame. Besides Bobo Brazil, the WWE Hall of Fame class of 1994 included Arnold Skaaland, Buddy Rogers, Chief Jay Strongbow, “Classy” Freddie Blassie, Gorilla Monsoon, and James Dudley. Having joined the distinguished group of wrestlers and managers, Bobo Brazil further paved the way for other wrestlers of color including Ernie Ladd, Junkyard Dog, and Rocky Johnson to brighten the sport. Bobo Brazil died on January 20, 1998.