Saturday, February 13, 2021

Bobo Brazil's Wrestling Legacy

Bobo Brazil

Houston Harris was born on July 19, 1924 in Little Rock, Arkansas. He grew up to become Bobo Brazil--the Jackie Robinson of sports-entertainment (professional wrestling). Bobo wasn't the first Black wrestler, but when he signed with the World Wrestling Federation (WWF), Brazil went mainstream to become the sport's first African American megastar.

The six foot, six inch, 270 pounder was playing baseball in the Negro League for The House of David when he was spotted by professional wrestler Joe Savoldi. In 1951, Savoldi suggested Harris give pro-wrestling a try where he could make some real money. At twenty-seven years old, with a wife and a passel of kids to provide for, Harris traveled to Canada from Benton Harbor, Michigan to learn the secrets of the squared circle. Once he knew the fundamentals, Harris began wrestling in small, Canadian and Midwestern venues as Bobo Brazil. 

Before long, he signed with Jack Britton and Bert Ruby of Detroit's Big Time Wrestling. Edward George Farhat, also known in the ring as The (Original) Sheik, bought the organization in 1964. The Sheik and Bobo fought and bled their way through Michigan, Ohio, and Ontario in the longest running feud in professional wrestling. The Sheik was the most hated player in the game. He and Bobo grappled many times over the years trading the United States Heavyweight Champion belt back and forth. In the process, Bobo became a hero to many Black and White wrestling fans who despised The Sheik. His crowd-pleasing, finishing move was the Coco Butt (head butt).

Bobo Brazil was inducted into the WWF class of 1994 by his personal friend Ernie "The Cat" Ladd. Houston "Bobo Brazil" Harris died January 20, 1998 at Lakeland Medical Center in St. Joseph, Michigan after suffering a series of strokes. He was the father of six children.


Born Wayde Douglas Bowles on August 24, 1944 in Amherst, Nova Scotia, Canada, Bowles changed his name to Rocky Johnson when he signed with the National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) in Atlanta, Georgia. His ring name was a tribute to his two favorite boxing greats--Rocky Marciano and Jack Johnson. At six foot/two, 262 pounds, Rocky Johnson cut an imposing figure, but like all Black professional wrestlers before him, Johnson endured racial slurs and battled racism early in his career.


Rocky Johnson with announcer "Mean" Gene Okerlund

"There is a lot of racism in professional wrestling then and now. Only now, it is more covered up," Johnson said in a cable TV interview. "I kept myself in shape, (but) the stuff going on in the South, I wouldn't go for it. They (the promoters) wanted to whip me on TV like a slave, but I said 'No! I came in as an athlete, and I'll leave as an athlete.' They respected me for that."

On December 6, 1974, Rocky Johnson became the first Black Heavyweight World Champion in the state of Georgia. When he teamed up with Tony Atlas, they were known as the Soul Patrol. They were the first Black, tag team champions in the World Wrestling Federation when they defeated the Wild Samoans on December 10, 1983. 

Tony Atlas and Rocky Johnson--The Soul Patrol

Rocky Johnson retired from pro wrestling in 1991 and was inducted in the WWF Hall of Fame in 2008, but before retiring, Rocky Johnson passed the torch to his son Dwayne Johnson when Rocky and his father in law, Peter Maivia, trained Dwayne in 1995 for a career in the family business. After battling a bad cold, Rocky Johnson succumbed to deep vein thrombosis on January15, 2020 at the age of seventy-five.


Dwayne Douglas Johnson was the son of Rocky "Soulman" Johnson. As a boy, he grew up with the dream of playing in the National Football League (NFL). Dwayne entered The University of Miami on a football scholarship and played on their National Championship team during his freshman year 1991. Along the way, Dwayne earned a bachelor's degree in Criminology and Physiology.

Dwayne's childhood dream of going pro was dashed when he went undrafted in the 1995 NFL Draft. Undeterred, he tried out for the Calgary Stampede of the Canadian Football League. Only two months into his first season, he was cut due to injuries. It was then that Dwayne asked his father to train him for a career in professional wrestling. His grandfather Peter Maivia was a NWA wrestler and his father was a WWF wrestler. At six foot/five, 260 pounds, he had the physique for success in the ring but did he have the heart?

Rocky tried to discourage his son at first. He knew first-hand about the difficulties of being on the road away from family. Dwayne had a college education, something no other male in the family had, but he was determined to wrestle. Rocky told his son he would train him on one condition, "I'm going to train you 150% because that's what it takes to be a champion." Rocky was hard on Dwayne, but he never gave up or complained.

Proud son Dwayne Johnson looks on as his father Rocky Johnson is inducted into the WWF/WWE Hall of Fame in 2008.

The following year, Dwayne Johnson signed his first WWF contract and slowly developed his charismatic, brash charm and boastful, trash-talking personality. As a tribute to his father, Dwayne took on the ring persona of The Rock. Within two years of entering Vince McMahon's WWF, The Rock won his first world championship belt, the first of seventeen titles he would hold in the next nine years. The Rock is considered by many as one of the greatest and most popular professional wrestlers of all time.

In 2004, The Rock resumed his Dwayne Johnson identity to pursue an acting career and establish his own film production company becoming one of the world's highest paid actors. Johnson's first starring role was in The Scorpion King along with other hits to follow like the Fast & Furious franchise and two Jumanji movies to name only a few.

As of 2021, forty-nine-year-old Dwayne Johnson's net worth is estimated to be 320 million dollars. His movies have grossed 10.5 billion dollars worldwide. Johnson has twice made Time magazine's 100 Most Influential People in the World list in 2016 and 2019.

In 2006, Johnson founded the Dwayne Johnson Rock Foundation, a charity that works with children who have illnesses, disorders, and disabilities to improve their self-esteem and help empower their lives. As for Dwayne's boyhood football dreams, they get played out yearly watching the Super Bowl like the rest of us.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

"What's the Deal Grosse Ile?" An Elusive Purple Gang Podcast

What's the Deal Grosse Ile?

Last week, I did an hour long podcast on "Prohibition on the Detroit River" in the Downriver area for What's the Deal Grosse Ile?.

I misidentified the state highway numbers of the "Avenues de Booze", also known as the "Rummer Highway(s)"--Dixie Highway is U.S.-25, and Telegraph Road is U.S.-24.

Before National Prohibition took effect, the state of Michigan went "dry" with the enactment of The Damon Act on May 1, 1918 opening up the "Detroit/Toledo Funnel." 

Once National Prohibition became law on January 15, 1920, "The Detroit/Windsor Funnel" put the Detroit River into play making it a battleground for coastal communities up and down the river.

Grosse Ile, Michigan

Downriver Bootlegging on the Detroit River