Revolution Pro Wrestling has developed a reputation over the years for producing some of the most consistent wrestling shows on the planet. Combining homegrown British stars with top class international talent courtesy of a link-up with New Japan Pro Wrestling, RevPro’s York Hall shows in London have become must-see attractions for wrestling fans. Inside The Ropes’ Dante Richardson sat down with RevPro promoter Andy Quildan in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder in May to discuss the topic of racism in wrestling and his experiences as a person of colour within the wrestling industry.
Did you face any difficulties breaking into the business because of your race?
I don’t believe it had any bearing on me getting into wrestling – there was no negative or positive discrimination that helped or prevented me from getting into the business. I tend to find that people within wrestling are some of the most accepting people who embrace all kinds of different characters. Some of the characters you meet in wrestling and the stories you hear . . . if you told any of your non-wrestling friends, they wouldn’t believe you. And that goes a long way to saying just how accepting wrestling is of everyone.
Can you give some instances of when race directly affected your career – be it behind the scenes or in front of the camera?
I’ve been called every single famous black person you can think of. When I refereed, everyone used to call me Theo Walcott. But I’ve been called everyone – Jonathan Coachman, Byron Saxton – any man of colour you can think of, I’ve been called those names. I’ve never particularly taken offence to them, but many of the people I’ve been likened to, I don’t even look like. It’s more, ‘Oh look, a black person in wrestling – he looks like him.’
I also believe – whether it’s conscious or subconscious – from a promoter’s perspective that I get attacked (online) a lot more because of my colour. There’s been a number of instances of this sort of behaviour towards myself – it gets to me a lot because I have always tried to be open and transparent. I tell people straight – I don’t bullshit, I tell it as it is. If we do something wrong, I put my hands up and say it has gone wrong. It doesn’t matter what you say, you’re going to be attacked. You just can’t win.
I think if you asked the people attacking me, they would say they are not racist and it has nothing to do with it, but that’s the vibe I get. I’m not sure if I’m being overly sensitive, but in general I don’t think that I am. Throughout my life I’ve encountered racist behaviour and it has always been water off a duck’s back. In many ways it still is, but I am a lot less tolerant of it now as we, as a society, become more educated.
I feel that a lot of people preach inclusivity and think that makes them exempt from ever displaying any forms of racism or what have you. Almost as if they wave their flag long and hard enough and raise their voice loud enough on social matters, they almost feel they have a free pass to say and do whatever they like – they’re not racist because they do ‘this’. That’s a big one and it extends to more than just racism. Look at the #BeKind movement – the second someone makes a mistake everyone piles in on them and creates that angry environment. Just because you say ‘be kind’ doesn’t give you a free pass to then say and do whatever you like.
Can you share any experiences – positive or negative – of fan or wrestler interactions relating to the colour of your skin?
I think I’ve experienced the, ‘He’s my black friend’ thing and people being overly kind to overcompensate. But then again, as a promoter you get that anyway – everyone wants to be your friend because you have something you can do for them.
Coming from a mixed family I’ve experienced both sides. When I was growing up with a white mum, everyone would always think she had adopted me and she would have to tell them, ‘No, they’re mine’. She would be so proud about saying we were hers. I’ve also had a lot of times in wrestling – society and wrestling aren’t so far apart – where I get asked where I am from. The answer is always ‘England’, because I am English, but they still ask, ‘No, but where are you from.’ I get that a lot. It’s not malicious, that’s just people not realising they are being racist.
Because of that background I look at everyone as absolutely equal. I’ve never made a point of marketing RevPro as an all-inclusive wrestling promotion, because I just take it for granted that that’s what we are. I’ve never felt the need to make the point that this guy is black, this guy is a Martian, or whatever. We are all one. We are all human beings. As a result, I believe I treat all of my wrestlers equally. A lot of promotions have to have a token black guy and don’t know how to use them. To me, it doesn’t matter their colour, their sexual orientation, or whatever else. None of it matters. What matters is their talent and that underneath everything else they are humans.
What do you think of the way black wrestlers have been portrayed by major companies over the years?
It’s a tough one. Wrestling was one of the first mainstream products I saw as a child that highlighted the black athlete. There’s two sides of the coin. Let’s start with the positive – when Ron Simmons won the WCW World Heavyweight Title, that is a memory that stands out for me as a five-year-old. It was just this huge moment for me. Trust me when I say this, there was never a point where I was like, ‘I’m rooting for this black wrestler’, but almost subconsciously it was like someone who was like me had achieved something which I didn’t think was possible, even at that young age. When he wins the title you see kids jumping up and down in the front row – that was me at home. It was insane.
My friends in wrestling talk about old wrestlers and there’s always this joke that if there’s a black wrestler then ‘I really used to like him as a child’, even if they weren’t good wrestlers. If they were a heel I would like them, but the positive role models I really liked. Seeing representation of colour in such a way was big for me.
On the other hand, I always look at WWE’s Black History Month and cringe. When they were pushing guys they used to do it because they were chasing money. At the end of the day, it’s always about money. Even if the people running the promotion were racist – and I am not saying they were – they knew that by putting a black role model on TV they were chasing the black dollar. That’s why I believe on one side you have Kamala, but on the other side you have Ron Simmons. Rocky Johnson is another example – he was someone who during the Attitude Era when WWF Classics was on Sky, his athleticism was highlighted a lot.
I believe that a lot of it was not to all be equals, but ‘where’s my token black guy to generate some revenue to bring in the minority crowds’. And you can argue that the intent behind it was a bad thing, but the positive was the millions of children watching wrestling of any colour and ethnicity were seeing positive black role models on TV. That’s a big positive.
I don’t think we can just forget about stuff with time – we can’t take stuff away – but we can contextualise it based on when it was written or when it happened. For example, I think old comedy shows getting taken away because of someone doing black face is the wrong move. It just fuels racial hatred. A better way of doing it would be to contextualise it before the piece airs, have something saying ‘we used to do that and we realise how wrong it was’. It’s an important part of our history.
In wrestling you look back at those characters, like Virgil the slave to the rich man or Kamala the Ugandan giant who can’t speak English, and you do cringe, but things have evolved a lot since then. Our understanding and tolerance has changed for the better. We can use those characters as examples to educate ourselves for how far as a public we have come.
WWE did not crown an African-American WWE Champion until 2019 (although there were several others who held variants of the World Title). Do you put that down to racial prejudice or was Kofi Kingston the first viable African-American candidate to hold the title?
For me, the Kofi thing was almost like a missed opportunity – the way he went back to just being Kofi it was like they just did it for the sake of doing it. It was just a moment. It’s interesting, I remember wondering when the term ‘Kofimania’ was going around whether people would be saying that if it was a white performer who caught on fire. It was just weird how he caught on fire and won the title then went back to exactly where he was. It felt like Kofimania was a publicity stunt more than anything else.
I listened to a New Day podcast and all three spoke so articulately on the subject and I believe it’s a completely missed opportunity to not have them speaking on behalf of WWE. With Kofi, Big E and Xavier they have a real opportunity to educate because they can all articulate so well. Don’t get me wrong, some people are just not born to speak on social matters because they just can’t articulate it, but those three guys are very eloquent and I believe they could be fantastic ambassadors for the company to shine light on real world issues. It’s a shame they’ve not been given the opportunity to do that.
Do you think that too many well-known racist incidents in wrestling have been swept under the carpet and forgotten about too quickly?
People don’t care until it matters. A lot of people are overly-sensitive and a lot of people are actively looking to be offended over anything. Calling our unnecessary things and just getting offended for the sake of being offended I think almost dilutes the message. So, when something happens that you can really take offence to, it’s lost in the sea.
The Hulk Hogan thing – what he said was completely out of line, absolutely ludicrous, but I don’t harbour resentment towards him for it. It’s almost like because growing up he was my hero, I’ve tried to separate Hulk Hogan the character from Terry Bollea the human being. That’s how I dealt with it.
The Booker T and Triple H WrestleMania XIX storyline was terrible, but I believe if Booker had won that fake wrestling match – which seems so ridiculous – I could have somehow justified it. Wrestling has always been a story of good versus evil and if something evil happens and it gets a fairytale ending, it justifies it. That’s life. You have times where evil is on the up but if good triumphs you walk away happy, hopefully having learned something – that being good and standing up against these things will get positive results.
Wrestling has the power to do that that nothing else does. UFC can’t do that. Walt Harris’s stepdaughter was murdered before his fight with Alistair Overeem, so the storybook ending would have been Harris beating Overeem and dedicating the win to his late daughter. But unfortunately he lost the fight. If UFC controlled the narrative he would have won that fight and had the storybook ending. WWE and all wrestling promotions have the ability to control that narrative, but in the case of WrestleMania XIX they decided not to. Why? That’s the question that has to be asked.
Earlier this year, Jim Cornette was fired from the NWA after making a racist joke on the air. As this was a taped show it went through several filters before it was broadcast on YouTube. Is it fair to say that the issue is more deep-rooted than Cornette’s out-of-time-joke, and that others who heard it not thinking it was a problem was just as big of an issue?
Cornette was the scapegoat. For me, personally, everything is subjective. Let’s say Cody had made that joke, do you think for one second the outpouring of rage would have been as bad? That’s something to remember. I hate that. Don’t use your hatred of someone else to try to pretend you are part of a cause. I think that has to be examined as well.
Intent is so important. Some people may disagree, but I believe if you are going to condemn something you have to look at what the intentions were. Do I believe it was intentionally racist? Absolutely not. Was I offended? No, I wasn’t. Can I see why people were? Yes. Do I know anyone who was ACTUALLY offended? No. People were offended because it was Cornette, that’s why.
If the NWA wanted to fire Jim for saying what he said, that’s fine, but they can’t all hide behind their computers. Dave Lagana should have stood up and said he didn’t realise it was racist. He heard that line – they go through the show meticulously before it goes out – he had to have heard it. They used Cornette as the scapegoat, which in some ways I understand, because as a company what choice did they have? But again, it would be better to own it, to come out and say it was not racially motivated and apologise.
Cornette didn’t quite apologise – he did explain the joke but he didn’t apologise – and I respect that he had principles and stuck by them rather than taking the easy route and apologising. As I said, I don’t believe there was racial intent behind it and that if anyone else had said it, it would have been a non-story. That’s where problems occur. There’s a real message about racism and acceptance and I hate to see that message get muddied by people’s biases for and against certain people.
In your opinion, is racism still prevalent in wrestling locker rooms?
I don’t think so, but it depends what locker rooms. Is it prevalent in mine? No. Is that because I am a person of colour running the show? I don’t know that either. I’ve certainly experienced racism in locker rooms – some of the old-school locker rooms were renowned for having racist people in them. There were some vile human beings who would say some vile racist things. Some of it was a product of the environment. If you are in that toxic environment, you suddenly think it is okay to say those things because your mates say them.
It would be ludicrous to say it has gone completely, but I will say the majority of the young, fresh locker rooms are just human beings who want to share their love of wrestling and don’t care about skin colour or anything like that. I always call wrestling an international language that anyone can understand – it’s one of the most diverse industries in the world no matter what the people at the top are like. Modern wrestling had a whole wave of modern-thinking wrestlers and it’s a different cast of characters of different shapes and sizes. There’s nothing as diverse.
What needs to change in wrestling in order for racial inequality to be removed for good?
A number of things. For one, stereotypical characters need to go. Wrestling needs to start humanising people and acknowledge we live in a real world. You can’t pick and choose what is real and not. Covid-19 is real. Racism is real. So is cancer – that’s why WWE has Connor’s Cure. But they can’t be like ‘We have Connor’s Cure, that’s our charity, we will only focus on that’. Black Lives Matter and black culture isn’t something that should only be celebrated during Black History Month, by WWE or anyone else.
I feel that humanising wrestling and understand real issues in the world is very important. You do that and all of a sudden, the likes of Big E and Kofi Kingston and Xavier Woods can start speaking about these issues.
From a talent level, treating everyone on an even playing field is very important. To use New Day as the example again, the group is three black dudes – why not put a white dude with them? Why are the black guys in wrestling always friends? It’s racial profiling – subtle racism – and it is that which changes the audience’s mindset. At the most basic level we need to forget stereotypes and just concentrate on people and their actual ability rather than what they look like.
And this is important – don’t be afraid to admit when you are wrong. Wrestling promotions are going to make mistakes – we all do – but admit when you are wrong and join that process of education. A lot of black people have had success in wrestling and that has had a lot of positive impact on a lot of people. Wrestling can do so much good.