Twenty-five years ago this month, Baltimore was the sight of one of the more significant moments in sports history.
Ron Simmons was one of the greatest college football players of all time. His career at Florida State (1977-1980) led to him being inducted to the College Football Hall of Fame in 2008. Despite playing defensive line, Simmons finished in the top 10 in Heisman Trophy voting in 1979. He would go on to play in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns (1981-1982).
But Simmons' historic moment didn't occur on the football field. It actually happened inside what is now known as Royal Farms Arena in downtown Baltimore. Simmons made history in August 1992 when he won the WCW championship and became the first African-American world heavyweight champion in professional wrestling history.
"I re-live that, there's not a day since that happened to be honest with you that I don't re-live it," Simmons said in an
Aug. 23 interview
"Jobbing Out" podcast
while promoting an upcoming return to the area.
"It's something that you never forget, that you always relive, and I've done that ever since that happened," he added. " … It's something that you never get over and you are not only proud of yourself, but also it gives you special meaning when people come up to you and say, 'Thank you for giving me that inspiration from when you won that title that night. Not just because of it being the title but because of it giving me inspiration to go on to do other things with my life.' Now you can't ask for a better compliment than that."
Simmons was merely a mid-card performer at the time of his match with Big Van Vader that night, making a win seem unlikely. He in fact was only in the match because of an injury to superstar Sting. But it wasn't only fans who couldn't have seen the historic victory coming.
"That night there they saw a real moment in professional wrestling," Simmons said. "Which is very rare that they see that kind of thing happen. Because there was no knowledge of that happening -- it wasn't even knowledge [for] me that that was going to take place that night. And I think that's one of the biggest reasons [for] that reaction of the fans. Not only that but they can see from the enthusiasm from me and all of the other guys that this was something that was not scripted of any kind. That wasn't supposed to take place that night."
After the former Seminole won the championship belt, his fellow wrestlers emptied out of the locker room to celebrate with him in the ring. The crowd erupted, with one particular fan in a blue T-shirt (see the 0:57 mark of
) becoming synonymous with the emotions in the arena. Simmons has had the chance to connect with the man whose celebration helped define his championship moment.
"I had the good fortune of running into him," Simmons said. "His enthusiasm -- it's the same to this day as it was on that very night that that happened. And I've always wanted to run into him because he's the one that when you look at it, you can't help but notice. He came to one of the shows I was doing here -- I believe it was somewhere around the Maryland area. I was doing a function of some sort and he was there. Instantly, I knew who he was and the enthusiasm is the exact same as it was when that night happened. And not only for him, but I mean it was a moment to where everybody of all colors shared that same moment, to be honest with you. When you look at it, that reaction, that crowd. And that's the kind of thing we need more of."
The title victory is regarded as one of the most iconic moments in professional wrestling history. But Simmons wasn't aware of the impact it would have when he scored the pin 25 years ago.
"Absolutely not," Simmons said. "And I would be lying if I said that because I had no idea of the impact that it was not only going to have on them but on me and on the world of professional wrestling. When I go back and look at that, just the crowd, just the look on their faces and the reaction of when that happened -- listen, you're not human if you don't get chills when you look at that. Every time I see it ... it just makes my flesh crawl and it almost brings me to tears, to be honest with you."
The WWE Hall of Famer admits Baltimore fans weren't always the easiest to perform in front of, despite of his success here. But ultimately he believes the city was the perfect backdrop for the historic accomplishment.
"Before that had happened, the fans had always been supportive of me," Simmons said. "But the most [interesting] fact of it happening there is that guys that had been in the ring and the women as well, sometimes the Baltimore crowd could be a bit hard and a bit critical of you in the ring.
"It couldn't have happened at a better place because there you had a mixed audience and a mixed crowd there. And the outlet there for Baltimore was there to where all media could easily have access there. And needless to mention that Baltimore had always been a great town and a great city for professional wrestling to come in."
For more from Simmons, listen to the full interview here:
Courtesy of Primal Conflict Wrestling