Professional wrestler Johnny Smith, better known as Sweet Johnny Velvet of Fort Lauderdale, has become the first out gay world heavyweight champion for the South Florida promotion Fighting Evolution Wrestling (FEW).
“I feel just as good as when [basketball player] Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors finally closed out and he finally got his gold ring in the NBA finals,” he said. “When you have been doing something for so long and so well and now to get the recognition is like a breath of fresh air. I was so emotional. I was crying. It finally happened.”
The athlete, 36, defeated his former tag team partner Reggie Rhythm June 10 at FEW’s Summer Showdown 2 at Coral Springs High School.
The victory came as a surprise as for the most part matches are predetermined, but Smith was caught off guard.
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“It was one of those moments facing my former tag team partner and I pinned him 1-2-3. I know in wrestling some things are predetermined but I really didn’t know anything,” he said.
Smith, who started wrestling when he was in his early 20s, is one of only a few LGBTQ pro wrestlers to come out publicly, along with legendary WWE wrestler Pat Patterson and, most recently in 2013, WWE superstar Darren Young of Miami.
The Sweet Johnny Velvet persona is compared to the likes of Nature Boy Ric Flair and the late Dusty Rhodes, two wrestlers who are part of the WWE Hall of Fame and became household name in the 1980s.
Wearing colorful attire, usually including a boa, Smith works the crowd with his charisma.
He won the title days before the one-year anniversary of The Pulse nightclub massacre and during pride month.
Smith said he feels blessed to become a champion and he hopes he’s paving the way for others in the sport of wrestling.
“You can do anything as long as you set your mind to it you can accomplish anything,” he said. “Anything can be done as long as the opponent is there. You can always rise to the occasion. What would be awesome is a gay president. If Donald Trump became president why not?”