Black Wrestler Of The Month, Vol. 1: Koko B. Ware
The ’80s wrestler is memorable for his charisma and a bop that you have to see to believe.
I’m a wrestling fan. I’m Black. This presents a conflict: Wrestling is massively racist and always has been. The older I get and the more I understand this, the more I appreciate the Black talent that persevered despite the obstacles in their way. These are the people who captured my imagination and made me fall in love with the genre; their accomplishments are only amplified by what it took for them to succeed. Sadly, the same things that held them back also often lessened their respective impacts—so I want to give these Black wrestlers their flowers.
If you were a wrestling fan in the ’80s, then you know about Koko B. Ware. He was a symbol of the first wrestling boom and one of the most charismatic characters from the era. Later he’d be able to show off his undervalued athleticism. As popular as Koko would end up being, though, he still could have been so much more.
James Ware got his start in the southern wrestling territories in the early ’80s, namely Mid-South Wrestling. He was in some high-profile feuds with the likes of Bobby Eaton, and tried out a few gimmicks—including one as masked man Stagger Lee, which made him a fan favorite—but it was the Koko B. Ware gimmick that stuck. He’d come to the ring to Morris Day’s “The Bird” and flap his arms.
Eventually Ware’s popularity would get mainstream attention and become part of Vince McMahon’s acquisition of nationwide talent. This was 1986, just as the wrestling bubble was reaching maximum inflation. Hulkamania was ruling the world, WWF (as it was named at the time) was as mainstream as ever, and Vince McMahon had America wrapped around his finger. The WWF aesthetic was big, bright, and outrageous. So naturally, Koko B. Ware wouldn’t just flap his arms like a bird. He’d go to the ring with a whole-ass bird on his shoulder.
As bombastic and loud as he was, his natural charisma made it work; unfortunately, he was never really given much of a story to sink his teeth into. Koko B. Ware was mostly just someone who lost to the bigger talent. He never held a title in the company.
But he did give us this:
When I tell you that WWF was on a roll, this is what I mean. Everything they touched turned into a championship, including two albums of original music released on Epic Records. The second, Piledriver: The Wrestling Album II, featured Koko B. Ware using his real, actually impressive voice to sing the titular song. While the song and subsequent music video — three minutes of ’roided up wrestlers sexually harassing women who pass them by — are objectively absurd, they put Koko next to wrestling’s biggest stars, making him look like he belonged.
Koko B. Ware would end up being so popular in the ’80s and early ’90s that he’d be remembered for decades even though he rarely won a match. Towards the end of his run, he’d team up with a rookie Owen Hart and show just how overlooked and underutilized his athleticism was.
In the end, Koko B. Ware’s charisma and gimmick transcended his actual win-loss record. In the era of Hogan, Savage, and The Hart Foundation, he stood out and became a household name even, as he was overlooked as an in-ring star. He should have gotten an Intercontinental Title run at some point; instead, Koko B. Ware ended up a Hall of Famer and one of the more recognizable stars in the era of stars.
Now, excuse me while I turn up to this “Piledriver.”