Professional wrestling has been a major part of Black culture for generations, from Bobo Brazil in the 1960s, Ernie Ladd in the 1970s, Junkyard Dog in the 1980s, Ron Simmons in the 1990s and The Rock in the 2000s. But as wrestling has ebbed and flowed in and out of the mainstream, Black culture has been at the forefront of wrestling fandom. Black creatives in music, fashion and comedy have kept wrestling relevant, but are we getting what we deserve from the industry? I invited Sway Archer to offer his perspective on Black wrestling.
Braven: Who are you and what do you do?
Sway: I’m Sway Archer. I’m a professional wrestler, gear maker, and creative mind.
Braven: What got you into wrestling?
Sway: Well, I watched wrestling quite a bit as a really young kid with my dad, and the second I turned fifteen, I started looking up places that I could train. I always loved the pageantry of it, I was a big fan of really showboat-type wrestlers: The Rock, Shawn Michaels, later on, Dolph Ziggler, John Morrison. So once I got the opportunity to be like them, I took it.
Braven: Was your dad a big wrestling fan?
Sway: It sort of gave me my start, and I don’t think I would have naturally watched wrestling if it wasn’t on in my household because I didn’t have many friends who watched it. I think the first time I had a friend who liked wrestling I was eleven years old, and we would play Day Of Reckoning and the games like that. Before that though, it was only really family stuff. So without my dad watching, I probably wouldn’t have fallen in love with it as early, if at all.
Braven: Who were your dad’s favorite wrestlers? You mentioned Carlos Colon, what did he mean to you?
Sway: Carlos Colon wasn’t someone I knew much about until later on, so he didn’t mean a whole lot to me as a kid. I loved Carlito [Carlos Colon’s son, who had a run in WWE from 2003-2010] though, for what it’s worth. My dad is hard to read, but he always did get a smile every time Ron Simmons planted someone with a spinebuster, and later on every time Kofi would do something crazy.
Braven: You’ve mentioned a lot of Black wrestlers from a lot of culturally distinct backgrounds. The Rock is Black Nova Scotian and Samoan, Carlos Colon is Afro-Puerto Rican, Ron Simmons is Black American and Kofi Kingston is Ghanaian. What does having Black wrestlers like that mean to you?
Sway: Having Black wrestlers around, especially in prominent positions has had a clear impact on how I perceive the possibility of success. You know, wherever you come from, as a Black person you can achieve levels of success. Especially having people like The Rock, who looked incredibly similar to me, even tone-wise, and now to people like [AEW star Ricky] Starks, and [WWE star Carmelo] Hayes, those guys are inspirations to me currently, and I would assume to kids who looked like me.
Braven: It’s pretty rare to hear someone mention their contemporaries as inspiration, typically it’s legends. What are Ricky Starks and Carmelo Hayes doing that inspire you?
Sway: Those guys are not my contemporaries, they are miles ahead of me, like, I aspire to be on their levels, respectively. They are some of the most charismatic people in the business right now. They are unapologetically confident in themselves, and their abilities, and I love that. I always want to be that, because that was the type of role model I needed as a kid.
Braven: I meant contemporaries by age, but that brings up a good point. What does it mean to be an independent wrestler?
Sway: I think it’s the most multifaceted job there is. You wear so many hats. There’s nobody scripting your promos, so you’re a writer. There’s no film crew for your promos, you’re a director, a camera person, an editor. You’re your own social media marketing team. Your own merch team. That’s just the public-facing side of things, you’re also expected to be a bodybuilder and potentially a gymnast, you’ve got to train the actual wrestling portion. The psychological character-building aspect, public relations. It’s the most anyone can ever do as a business, you run a one-man show every week, potentially every day.
Braven: What keeps you going?
Sway: A crippling fear of having wasted my time, and the knowledge that if I don’t have wrestling I have nothing motivating me to progress in life. That’s the god-honest answer, with me making gear full-time and wrestling on weekends, wrestling is it. That’s my life. I hated 9-5 work so I’d really not be happy if I went back to that with no future plans in sight.
Braven: What are your goals as far as wrestling goes?
Sway: I want to be comfortable and I want to be happy. In that order. Being comfortable will lessen the burden I have on my future partner, on my parents, and being happy will lessen the burden on my own mind. Aside from that, I want to create art. I want people to look at the things I do, and be awestruck by them. I want to have a body of work that is revered, even if it’s by a small section of the community, I want to do something that matters to somebody, that they feel is fantastic.
Braven: You mentioned you’re a creative mind, how do you explore that in your wrestling?
Sway: I write relentlessly. I write so many story progressions and promos that at this point Sway Archer could be a Choose Your Own Adventure book. Gear is the other way, I take a lot of inspiration from pop culture -except for comics because every motherfucker does that- and sneaker culture, and that’s how I like to design for myself, but I also like to design for others as a creative outlet, even if they haven’t come to me for work yet.
Braven: You mentioned sneaker culture, how has Black culture pushed wrestling?
Sway: On-screen, Black culture was often just stolen from or stereotyped up until a few years back. We either had white rapper gimmicks that were really cringey, or we had gimmicks that were super distasteful, whether they were come up with by the workers that portrayed them or not. In terms of how Black culture has pushed wrestling, I think Black culture becoming mainstream has forced wrestling to be dragged from the Stone Age on a lot of things. This is the first year in my memory WWE has had a TV show theme song that was explicitly rap, with Wale doing the theme for NXT. That’s with hip-hop and rap being mainstream for twenty some-odd years, and they’re just getting into that.
Braven: In the past thirty years, we’ve only had a handful of Black champions, Ron Simmons and Booker T in World Championship Wrestling, Lashley in Impact and Jay Lethal in Ring Of Honor come to mind. But in the past three years or so, Black wrestlers have become bigger stars than we’ve seen in years. What’s contributed to that?
Sway: I would like to be able to say “Oh they’re finally realizing the successes of people like Kofi [Kingston, who won the WWE Championship in 2019] and Bobby [Lashley, who won the WWE Championship in 2021], and finally believing in new stars like Big E”, and I think it’s a little bit of that, but I also believe that it’s a level of atonement to it. There’s a level of “Oh man, we have never had a Black WWE champion, but we’ve had these guys who are definitely good enough, so we should probably have them reach that peak. Like, Kofi should have been champion around when he was feuding with Randy [Orton, who Kingston had a program with in 2009], personally, although we wouldn’t have got the fantastic story we got this time around.
Braven: How important is it to have Black champions in wrestling?
Sway: I think without Black champions, and not tag champs or mid-card champs but MAIN champs, there’s gonna feel like there’s something missing. If any demographic can be seen up and down the card, but they’re never in the main event, and they’re never champions, they’re gonna seem like bit players. And in America, where most of the Black wrestlers are, you’re gonna notice that even more. That disparity is crystal clear, so if there’s no Black main eventers and champions, it wouldn’t seem to infer that even with all the Black people they have, that none of them are seen as worthy of that honour. It’s incredibly important.
Braven: Do you foresee Black champions in promotions like Mexico’s Lucha Libre AAA or Japan’s New Japan Pro-Wrestling?
Sway: I can honestly say not in my lifetime, unfortunately. Maybe an Afro-Latino champ in AAA if there hasn’t been already, but in NJPW definitely not.
Braven: Do you feel restricted where you can wrestle?
Sway: Somewhat. I feel that there’s promotions that wouldn’t book me outright -places I probably wouldn’t want to wrestle anyway- and promotions that probably wouldn’t do anything meaningful with me. That could be because of a boys’ club mentality, where if you’re not friends with the promoter or the top guys, you’re probably not gonna be anywhere near the top. Sometimes that barrier is just “Well, I’m not their friend”, sometimes that barrier is “I’m not their friend and all their friends are white so there’s no chance I’m going to be”. Unfortunately that writes off some places, but as we progress as an industry I hope we get to a place where the biggest stages in wrestling don’t have that barrier.
Braven: Where do you envision Black wrestling in…one year, five years, ten years?
Sway: One year? I think not very different, Big E will have hopefully had a meaningful run, I hope to see Carmelo get a shot at the NXT Championship and a meaningful story there, I don’t see another Black AEW champion in that time, and indies wise, I think the Black people will continue to show out as they always have, so long as they’re given the opportunities.
Five years, I want the Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora Championship to be a coveted prize in wrestling. I wholeheartedly believe that championship is off to a great start in its lineage and it will and can get better. While I am skeptical of whether it’ll happen or not, I don’t see a Black AEW world champion in that time, maybe a TNT champion, maybe Jade picks up the women’s belt. WWE, I hope Xavier [Woods] wins the title in the end of those five years if it’s built up meaningfully, because at the end of those five years, he’ll have been in WWE longer than Kofi was when he won his championship, and I think that could be really cool to give him a similar payoff to time put in. Indies, once again black people are gonna continue to show out. I want places like Paradigm to be talked about in the same conversations as PWG [Pro Wrestling Guerrilla, a major California-based independent promotion] and GCW [Game Changer Wrestling, a major New Jersey-based independent promotion]. I want promotions that care about and feature Black wrestlers on every show to be revered as important promotions.
Ten Years: I wanna be making a living, have a contract, something, and then just more progress like I said in year five. I want prosperity for Black wrestlers because they were denied it for so long. I don’t want there to be a need for #BlackWrestlingDraws because I want it to be so fucking obvious at that point that if you tried to say that Black wrestlers don’t draw, or that fans wouldn’t care for a Black champion, you’d be laughed out of the room. High hopes, but that’s all I’ve ever wanted. I just want prosperity for Black wrestlers.
Braven: What is the Pan-Afrikan Diaspora Championship?
Sway: The full name is the Pan-Afrikan World Diaspora Wrestling Championship, currently held by Trish Adora. A championship made for Black people, by Black people. It just got officially recognized as a world championship by PWI [Pro Wrestling Illustrated].
Braven: Oh, awesome! How can we watch it?
Sway: IWTV, F1ght Club Pro, I think.
Braven: Can you explain #BlackWrestlingDraws?
Sway: #BlackWrestlingDraws in my mind is a backlash to the overwhelming number of people online who would sort of infer that Black wrestlers weren’t draws, especially in places like AEW [All Elite Wrestling]. When Black people on Twitter were kind of confused that there were no Black wrestlers on these shows, you’d get people making snappy tweets like “Well, there’s not many good black wrestlers”, which then led to everyone and their mother putting out lists upon lists upon lists, if I remember correctly that’s how the BWI 500 came out, was Reg got tired of people saying that shit. Then you’d see pushback of like “Oh well, they’re not world championship material” or “Oh, but they’re not entertaining, they’re not really a draw”. So black fans once again came out and said “How can you not think Ricky Starks is a draw? How are Darius and Dante Martin not draws? How is Lee Moriarty not a draw? Jade Cargill?” Because AEW hasn’t put the time into them yet? They ain’t got the rub yet? A lot of the people saying that shit would always come up with some other excuse why Black people shouldn’t be featured on the show, and Black fans had enough of it.
Braven: The new day has broken a lot of that down, right? “He’s too small”, “He’s not serious enough”, “He’s a tag team guy”, seems like that line of thought has been deaded.
Sway: It’s less people picking on that stuff and more people going “He’s just not good” and then they cream themselves over white wrestlers who typically aren’t that good, and they can defend them being on the shows because “Well, he’s a draw”.
You realize as a fan you determine the draw, right? Like maybe the reason that guy doesn’t “draw” is because there’s a certain subsection of fan that literally just doesn’t wanna see black people [or] women wrestle?
Braven: Me personally, I loved The Rock. But besides him, the only Black guy on TV was Booker T. No disrespect to him, but that’s only one guy. White people have all sorts of wrestlers they can relate to. Are we seeing more black wrestlers across the spectrum of blackness?
Sway: We are now! We’re seeing more characters, and especially if you look at the indies, there’s never been a guy like Trever Aeon that I know of, guys like Miles, guys like Paragon, that are doing these cool characters that don’t even touch black stereotypes, I love that, I’m looking forward to more black characters like that making it on to TV.
Braven: There was a time in WWE where you had three black stables in The New Day, The Hurt Business and Hit Row that were so drastically different than each other. Do we need bigger companies to do more of this or does it start at a lower level?
Sway: It’s already happening in the lower levels. I want larger companies to have that happen, and have it be normal so that we aren’t able to name those times so clearly.
Braven: Do you have anyone to shout out? Anyone you’ve got your eye on, a mentor or a breakout star?
Sway: Shoutout to Suge and Faye, because no one would know who I was if it wasn’t for them. Shoutout to Andino, Eel, Trever, Jordan, a bunch of those people from the DMV [and] Atlanta area, because they’re doing really cool things. And then a special shoutout to Ricky Johnson, The Rock’s uncle, for coming to those Mississauga shows and talking to us, and giving us words of encouragement.
Braven: Cool! And where can we watch you, follow you, all that?
Sway: I’m performing mostly in the Toronto area in Canada right now, I’m trying to expand to the US and get on some streaming services.
@swayarcher on everything, and @archerwrestlingapparel on Instagram for the gear stuff I do.
Braven: Anything you gotta plug, any final thoughts?
Sway: Andrew Yang, you little bitch, you better fix pro wrestling and make it so Canadians can wrestle in the US without being banned from the country. We just wanna fight our friends, okay? On a real note though, invest in yourself. Buy good gear, get constructive feedback from vets on your character, put in effort. That’s about it.
Braven: I love it. Thank you so much for your time!
Sway: Thank you!
My name is Braven Carlsen. I write about Sports, Art, Culture, Music and Travel. To read more work, check out StarvingArtistCreative.com, @starvingartistcreative on Instagram and @starv1ngartist on Twitter. You can also follow me directly @grownupkid94 on everything.