It was the fall of 2009, President Barack Obama had just made history by becoming the first-ever African-American President of the United States of America. I was a sophomore at Mitchell College and was writing for The Resident Newspaper owned by U.S. Army veteran Alexis Ann. The publication was a bimonthly newspaper that focused on local news in the southeastern Connecticut area.

I was also interning at the local radio station 98.7 WBLQ, where I met Jim Cimalore, also known as Da’Gorrila. He had a radio show called The Renegade Express that focused on heavy metal and featured local greats like New England Music Hall of Fame inductee Matthias Steele. Cimalore was also a trained chef and would always make things for the radio station staff.

Jim and I had an instant friendship, we especially clicked when we began to rattle off about pro wrestling tag teams like Doom — Ron Simmons and Butch Reed — and arguably the most influential tag team in history, The Fabulous Freebirds.

When I met Jim, I was under both an academic and athletic scholarship with the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), and unfortunately, I was in a four-year contractual agreement. The contract did forbid me from partaking in any professional sport. If I was to participate in anything that would be deemed a professional sport, I would lose my amateur status and athletic scholarship.

Deep down, all I wanted to be was a pro wrestler, but the best I could do at that time was write about it for my local newspaper any chance I got. Unfortunately, the local news in the area was over-saturated with stories about nautical jargon and sailboats.

One day, I was at the old WBLQ radio station location in Dunns Corners, Rhode Island, across from the abandoned “Benny’s” recording voice-over for commercials and editing copy for the news. Suddenly, I heard a crash at the door and my name being yelled out. It was Jim out of breath with his fur coat on and a giant pro wrestling poster in his hands that read, “Saturday night one night only Eastern Pro Wrestling at the Westerly Armory with WWE legend Ron Simmons.”

Eastern Pro Wrestling’s promoter was former Ring of Honor standout and New England legend, “Brutal” Bob Evans. Along with the promotion, Evans also owned a wrestling school called, Slam Tech Academy.

While Eastern Pro Wrestling was not around for a long period of time, the promotion had a lot of legendary wrestlers make special guest appearances such as WWE Hall of Famers James J. Dillon, Jerry “The King” Lawler, and “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan.

Jim spoke to Evans to get us both press passes to the event and he convinced our station manager Chris DiPaola to do a live remover for WBLQ. I convinced my then-editor, Alexis Ann, to cover it for The Resident Newspaper because the pro wrestling event was also a food drive for the Pawcatuck Neighborhood Center.

The special attraction for the show, Ron Simmons, was a standout football defensive tackle at Florida State University and received All-America honors in 1979 and 1980. The Seminoles were 39-8 during Simmons’ years at the school and he assisted the Seminoles on back-to-back Orange Bowl trips during his junior and senior seasons. He’d been taken in the sixth round of the 1981 NFL draft and played for the Cleveland Browns in 1981 and 1982. He then took his career to the Canadian Football League with the Ottawa Rough Riders, and then the United States Football League with the Tampa Bay Bandits from 1983 to 1985. Simmons was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008 and the Florida Seminoles retired his #50 jersey.

Ron Simmons at FSU.

After his football career ended, Simmons pursued pro wrestling and was trained by the legendary trainer and wrestler Hiro Matsuda in Florida. In his 30-plus year career, Simmons wrestled for a number of promotions including Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW), World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and World Championship Wrestling (WCW).

He was famously in a number of teams and factions including Doom with Reed, The Nation in WWE, and also The Acolytes/APA with Bradshaw in WWE.

Aside from the teams, it was in WCW where he made pro wrestling history becoming the first-ever African-American to win a World Heavyweight Championship in a major promotion.

Throughout his hall of fame career, Simmons had a number of accomplishments that include: Pro Wrestling Illustrated Inspirational Wrestler of the Year (1992), Stanley Weston Award (2021), WCW World Heavyweight Champion (1 time), WCW/NWA World Tag Team Champion (1 time) – with Butch Reed, WCW United States Tag Team Champion (1 time) – with Big Josh, WWE Tag Team Champions (3 times) – with Bradshaw, and WWE Hall of Famer (Class of 2012).

The day of the event we arrived at the Westerly Armory early and Jim and I watched Ron Simmons conduct a master class in pro wrestling to the students of Evans’ school. Simmons’ approach to the students was very informative and was similar to how a good football coach would help a struggling player.

He would work out each student’s issues in the ring and have them run their spot over and over, each time slightly adjusting and fine-tuning the wrestler’s execution. He made sure everyone’s fundamentals were solid, but most importantly he gave them life lessons.

“Ladies and gentlemen pro wrestling is a wonderful thing, but it’s very difficult to make a living off it. Whatever you do in life make sure you get an education or learn a job skill. Always take care of yourself and always put food on your family’s table,” Simmons cautioned.

After the seminar, Jim used his chef skills to treat Simmons to a homemade pizza that he made himself. Ron was incredibly grateful for it and to show his gratitude he took the time to answer any questions we had.

When asked what it was like to team up with Butch Reed, Simmons said, “I was very thankful for Butch Reed and tagging with him. I haven’t seen Butch in a long time, but we have the type of relationship where even if we don’t talk to each other as much as we want, we will always be friends. I really enjoyed him as a wrestler and friend.” (Reed died in February 2021.)

When asked what he enjoys doing with his spare time Simmons said, “I love to go and interact with young adults and kids who maybe didn’t get a fair shake at life. People attribute tragedy or a setback to failure. I know what it is like to come from nothing. When I was eight my mother passed away, and my father left me at nine years old.”

“So, if I could help kids now and teach them never to be bitter but grateful for the things they have. That is the message I want to give to them, that and to be around the right people. I may not have had immediate family members, but I had people in my life that always helped me. The one thing I will always tell them is never forget where you came from. I get great fulfillment in teaching them that if you really want to do something you can find a way to do it.”

We also asked him what he felt about the comparison between him and Obama when it came to breaking color barriers. A teary-eyed Simmons said, “Well I don’t think the value of my title compares to the President’s, but I feel that our situation is the same. I feel that it is a tremendous accomplishment. I never thought this was something that I would see in my lifetime. America is a wonderful place and I feel that we have proven ourselves to be the land of opportunity, especially during these past several decades. When I won the WCW belt, I feel that in a way broke down a barrier for other ethnicities to become successful in my business.”

After the pro-wrestling show, Jim and I would discuss that great interview and experience until Jim passed on in 2017. That interview inspired us to be more involved in black history and Black History Month.

Ron Simmons will be appearing Saturday, May 20, 2023, at Wrestle Show sponsored by GTG Productions at the Middle Town Sports Complex in Middletown, New Jersey.

TOP PHOTO: Jim Cimalore, Ron Simmons and Christopher Annino.