Thursday, February 2, 2012

Black History Month: Tony Atlas

Tony Atlas
By Kevin Hunsperger
@kevinhunsperger on Twitter

Tony Atlas is known by today's fans as the laughing sidekick of Abraham Washington on ECW and as Mark Henry's former manager.  Fans from the early 90's might remember his stint in the WWF as Saba Simba.  He's had quite a career, and is still seen from time to time with the WWE.

One of my first memories of Mr. USA came during an arm wrestling challenge with Jesse "the Body" Ventura.  This was before I was a real fan of wrestling, it was sometime in 1983, and I was casually watching the WWF at that point.  Of course Jesse was losing and put a thumb into Tony's eye, then dragged him over the table and whacked him with a chair.

Atlas and Rocky Johnson
Another memory, and by this time I was watching more regularly, was in late 1983 when Tony and Rocky Johnson teamed up to beat the Wild Samoans for the WWF tag team titles.  This was quite a feat for the duo, as they were the first black tag team champions in the history of the company.  I know there hadn't been any other black champions (world or intercontinental at that point, so they definitely blazed a trail back then)  They only held the titles about five months, but they were the first tag team champions I actually remember seeing in the ring.

After dropping the belts to Adrian Adonis and Dick Murdoch, Rocky and Tony split.  But it wasn't like the WWE tag team splits you see today.  They didn't feud or fight, they just went their separate ways.  Tony kinda jobbed for a while and then headed to World Class Championship Wrestling where he became the Black Superman.

Saba Simba
Eventually he would return to the WWF in 1991 (I think) as Saba Simba, a character that many find to be insulting.  Basically Tony came to the ring in an African tribal outfit, complete with a headdress and shield.  Think of him as a more fit version of Kamala.  The gimmick did nothing to get Atlas over and if memory serves me, he was gone again.  I've heard from past interviews that Tony had fallen on hard times and this was Vince McMahon's way of reaching out to the down superstar to try and give him a second chance.

I don't remember much of what happened to Atlas after that.  I know he had a stint in WCW, and I'm sure he worked the indy scene before eventually being inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame in 2006.  That was my first HOF ceremony, and it was great to see him be honored for his accomplishments in the ring.  He also started managing Mark Henry and from what I've heard helping to keep the big man on the straight and narrow while on the road too.

Hogan gets pressed...

I never actually saw the match between them, but I do remember seeing pics in the old wrestling magazines when I was a kid of Hulk Hogan battling Tony.  There aren't many guys in the business who can say they made Hogan look like a chump, but Tony Atlas can.  In fact, it was the cover story back in 1981.  This of course was before the birth of Hulkamania.  I'd be curious to see what would have happened had the two collided after Hogan's face turn.  Imagine a bad ass Tony Atlas tossing Hogan around the ring again trying to win the WWF title...

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