That is the word to describe Ron Simmons’ excitement about coming to South Florida for the Magic City Comic Con from Jan. 16-18 at the Miami Airport Convention Center.
The WWE and college football Hall of Famer, by way of Florida State University, will be joined by other wrestling superstars including Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Raven, Shane Douglas, Bill Goldberg, Al Snow, Matt Sydal (Evan Bourne in WWE), Colt Cabana, “Hacksaw” Jim Duggan and “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka.
“This is a great thing for me since I’ve retired from football and wrestling, to come out and greet a lot of the fans and thank them for the support they’ve given me over the years,” he said. “I was really looking forward to this one and coming back to Florida because I can’t express enough what the state of Florida means and has done for me. Wrestling and football, this is especially great for me to come back, especially to Miami. On the road you don’t have the time to stop and chat with fans and have fans sometimes thinking you’re being rude or impolite. Now I have the time, and I’m really looking forward to this.”
Those who aren’t wearing Seminoles colors are more than welcome to visit his table. The All-American college football standout is ready to share his experiences on the gridiron, as well as in the ring.
“When I started in the late 1970s into 1980s, before then a lot of the rest of the country considered the state of Florida, particularly in football, to be soft,” Simmons said. “They expected these sunshine guys lying on the beach. That myth was killed thanks to the University of Miami, Florida State, Florida. You go anywhere in the country and everyone knows the state of Florida for being one hell of a football state. That’s with all the universities there. So when my school isn’t competing, I’m always pulling for all of the Florida schools to win.
“Whether it’s Miami, Florida, Florida International University and University of South Florida, all of them I’m always pulling for them. That is accept when they are playing my team. I know I’ve been on the field playing teams with signs in the crowd saying, ‘Beat those beach bums!’ You don’t forget that kind of thing. Times have changed.”
Simmons recalls his beginnings as a pro wrestler working out in Tampa under the great Hiro Matsuda. Names during the time included Lex Luger. From there, it became a nonstop whirlwind of traveling around the world and establishing himself. These days he is happy living a “normal” life, healing his body after more than 35 years of punishment and making the occasional WWE appearance.
Simmons is encouraged by the emerging talent he sees on television and events. He also takes pride in helping budding careers when he led the Nation of Domination. The faction that preached African-American empowerment was made up of established guys and a young Mark Henry and The Rock.
“The best thing about Rocky, Dwayne [Johnson] as he likes to be referred to now, Mark Henry, Savio Vega, Crush, all of the guys was they were willing to learn and asked questions,” Simmons said. “That was part of it. They knew once they got in with me and asking advice on how we should go about being with ring presence, stage presence and everything else. We used to help them find their niche. That is what we used to work on. I used to always tell them to find their own comfort zone. As you can see they all did that in getting their separate identities away from the Nation.
“That is what I used to tell them all the time. Form your own identity within the group so when you leave here, it will carry on. As you can see, it worked well for all of them when they left the Nation. Particularly with Rocky, who has gone on to carry it on a lot further and Mark Henry also, I’m really proud of them.”
The Rock ended up unseating Simmons during the later days of the Nation of Domination. The veteran saw the big picture.
“When you have things happen to you in your life, you have to know and understand that you’ve been blessed with good fortune,” he said. “It’s your duty to help the next guy or girl coming along to enhance their abilities to the best they can be. I felt so good to be in that position to help them, and I still feel that way. Even when we talk now, Mark Henry and Rock, when I see them they always want to know in my view how I see them. That is what makes me feel good, having that role. I couldn’t be more proud of them because I feel comfortable that I made a contribution in some way. That is the biggest thing that means a lot to me.”
Simmons formed a similar bond with John “Bradshaw” Layfield when the two teamed together as the Acolytes. They dominated during the “Attitude Era’ and even did some onscreen mercenary work with their Acolytes Protection Agency. The experience helped current WWE broadcast commentator break out of his shell more on television, which ultimately led to more success down the line.
“There were struggles with him early on in his career until he and I really got together,” Simmons said. “He found his niche and comfort zone. He went on to become world champion and do things outside of wrestling. It’s just great. I’m just so happy and proud whenever I think of that. Knowing that I have a little small hand in it, I can go on living the rest of my life knowing I did something a lot of other people should do. Help people along the way.”
Simmons’ contributions to his industry can’t be denied. Above all he has accomplished, at the top of the list is becoming the first African-American heavyweight champion in professional wrestling. It happened in 1992 when Simmons defeated Vader in the now defunct World Championship Wrestling. The impact of the historic moment changed the game.
“It provided more opportunities,” he said. “After that, it was not only an inspiration for black Americans, but for what was considered to be underprivileged people. It showed no matter what color, you can achieve your dreams. It was such an inspiration. I still, to this day, get people come up to me and tell me what an inspiration that was to them.
“They said, ‘Not only did it inspire me in a way to succeed in professional wrestling, but it made me wanted to succeed in what I wanted to do in life.’ Those words were what I like to hear. That is what really resonates with me. It opened so many doors for men and women of color. The biggest thing I tell them is the opportunity is there if you have the heart and want to work and stick with it.”
For Simmons, there are more opportunities for up-and-comers than ever before.
“If you look at the TV now, it makes me feel proud, even with the gimmicks they are doing with Big E and all those guys,” he said. “You can still see reminisces of what I’ve done from the Nation. It feels good and makes me feel proud they still look at some of the things in the past and still feed off of it. I’m proud of them. I like to watch them and see their stage presence and how they are with the camera. They are coming along really well. I like to see that. They will inspire even more kids to take a chance and become a professional wrestler or put the computer down and be active in something. That’s what I strive for is to get kids active.”
Thanks to the WWE Network, fans can watch many of Simmons’ greatest matches and moments. Newer members of the WWE Universe will see he is more than, “Damn!” The word has become the grappler’s catchphrase.
“When JBL and I were in the ring, and I would think something would go wrong or I would get hurt in a way or pull a muscle, people in the first 10 rows could hear me say, ‘Damn!,’” Simmons recalled. “I would say that out of anguish because I got poked in the eye, got a black eye or got hurt somehow…The writers caught on to it. Then we debuted that officially in Chicago with Booker T. and John Cena when they had their thing going between them. I came out and just as Booker T. was going to do his thing, I just said, ‘Damn!’ That caught on. The reason I think it did was everyone has to say that at some point every day. Whether you are stuck in traffic or someone cut you off or there is someone you don’t like, it just resonates with everyone. Somebody makes us say it at some point.”
Simmons sometimes sits in what he calls his awards room as a reminder of everything he has done in his career. It’s still surreal to him.
“Any athletes you talk to will tell you it feels like a dream,” he said. “I look at the college hall of fame and awards. I look at the hall of fame from wrestling and thinking that I was a young man looking up to Ric Flair, Dusty Rhodes and all of those guys. Never in my wildest dreams did I believe or think I would be sitting there in the WWE Hall of Fame worthy of being next to them. The same applies to football. To be in the hall of fame with, such as, Troy Aikman in college football and Jim Brown, it is unbelievable. I can say this now and mean it that I still don’t think it’s real. Maybe at some point, I will believe it…It really is a great honor.”
- Ron Simmons joins fellow pro wrestling stars, actors, artists and other forms of pop culture at Magic City Comic Con Jan. 16-18 at the Miami Airport Convention Center.
Visit www.MagicCityCon.com for information.
Visit www.roninprowrestling.com for details on the Ronin Pro Wrestling show on Saturday, Jan. 17 at the event.
- Follow me on Twitter @smFISHMAN
PRO WRESTLING ON THE WEB