Returning to Canada has more meaning for Ron Simmons than most, as he is “one of the lucky ones” who called the country his home before trading in his cleats for wrestling boots.
Simmons, whose presence is synonymous with a single word in the wrestling world, played for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the 1981 and 1982 seasons. Though the team made it to the Grey Cup finals during his tenure, the first black heavyweight champion said what sticks out the most from his time in the Great White North was the community and cultural diversity.
“More than anything, just the thrill of living there and how friendly the people were… That part I miss, the camaraderie,” Simmons said.
But he’ll have a chance to rediscover those feelings when he returns Saturday, February 24 for Canada Wrestling Elite’s Legends of Wrestling event in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Simmons has rightfully earned his legend status, as he currently resides in halls of fame throughout the football and wrestling worlds, sitting alongside some of his idols in Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in like five halls of fame,” Simmons said. “That’s not bragging, it’s an honor… No one has put anything upon Ron Simmons and made it easy.”
Lex Luger introduced Simmons to the wrestling world in the late 1980s when Simmons was “working a menial job” in Tampa, Fla. At first, Simmons said, he was “apprehensive” about stepping in the ring, but he was told that if could “cut it” in wrestling, he could double his salary. So the two-time All American football player changed his career path.
“That was the catalyst for me getting in,” said Simmons, who began training under Hiro Matsuda.
Matsuda has trained Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorff and Luger, among other ring legends. Though Simmons’ introduction to the squared circle was harder than he anticipated, he said he had been a fan of the industry his entire life. His biggest takeaway from Matsuda was simply being “trained correctly.”
“The idea of what the profession was founded on — That’s the biggest thing that I’m proud of most, having profound respect and appreciation for this business, not forgetting why you do it and who you do it for,” Simmons said.
When he attends events now, he’s in a position to give back to the next generation, like Matsuda did for him.
TAG TEAM ENDEAVOURS
Early in his career, Simmons teamed with fellow professional football alum Butch Reed in World Championship Wrestling, forming Doom from 1989 to 1991. Simmons said that period was a “good moment” in his career and “the timing was right” for the one-time WCW tag champs. Their similar backgrounds cemented the authenticity of the team.
“That made it click just that much more,” Simmons said. “Then we matched up well in size.”
Simmons also said that teaming with John Bradshaw Layfield as the Acolyte Protection Agency (APA) during WWE’s Attitude Era was “among the finest” things he had been involved in.
“JBL and I connected on all points,” Simmons said.
Much like the dynamics of Doom, both men came from a football background. They also had similar interests out of the ring. Together, the APA secured three tag team championship reigns, clotheslined the hell out of their opponents and forced others to literally knock on the door frame to their makeshift office in backstage segments.
“I was very, very, very honoured to have him as a tag partner,” Simmons said.
‘AN ABSOLUTE HONOUR’
In addition to his memorable stints with Doom and the APA, Simmons made history as the first black heavyweight champion. Specifically noting he has “reservations” with the term African-American, Simmons said it was “a thrill” to hold the gold. He won the World Championship Wrestling heavyweight title from Vader in 1992 in Baltimore, Md.
“It was an absolute honour,” Simmons said. “There are not too many days that go by that I don’t think about that day and winning that title.”
In the years since the historic victory, Simmons has had fans tell him how much that win meant to them. But for Simmons, not one story stands out more than another.
“They all carry the same validity, the same weight … There’s not one that you can pinpoint and say that’s more important than the others,” Simmons said. “I view all of those as something of importance [because you] never know what lives you’re affecting.”
For more information on the Legends of Wrestling Event, or to purchase tickets, visit www.cwecanada.ca.
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