In honor of Black History Month, we here at Last Word on Pro Wrestling will be conducting a series of articles on pioneers in the world of professional wrestling involving African-Americans (or in some cases, African-Canadian or African-British). This piece involves the first black woman to win a major World Championship, although it wasn’t an African-American – it was an African-Canadian named Sandy Parker.
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, Sandy Parker was hooked on pro wrestling at an early age. A self-professed tomboy and raised by grandparents, Parker was a constant fixture at local wrestling events in the 1960’s, even travelling across to the States to see matches in Seattle once a month. By the late 60’s, she had moved to Windsor, Ontario, Canada and finally found someone willing to train the 5’2″ Parker – Lou Klein, who worked with Ed Farhat (the original Sheik) in NWA Big Time Wrestling in Detroit, just across the river. Klein was a wrestler himself, known as Lou Bastien, who was part of the championship tag team The Bastien Brothers. Parker braved the politically charged climate of the times, taking a bus from Windsor across the border to train in some of the shadiest parts of Detroit, but she was determined to become a wrestler.
Following her preliminary training in Detroit, Parker moved to South Carolina to continue her training with the Fabulous Moolah. But Parker was strong willed and bull headed and often found herself at odds with her new teacher – she wouldn’t be pushed around like the other girls and often found herself on Moolah’s bad side. Parker was angered at finding out that Moolah was pocketing most of her pay and further put off when Moolah would try and push her on the other men that Moolah was prone to do to secure bookings – Parker, herself, was a lesbian (something Moolah full well knew) and apart from trying to hook her up with men, she also forbade Parker from attending any gay bars on her downtime. Finally enough was enough and Parker left Moolah’s camp and joined up with her rival, Mildred Burke.
With Moolah holding an iron fist monopoly on North American women’s wrestling, Burke sent Parker overseas to Japan. When Burke had separated from her husband Billy Wolfe (another notorious abuser who held the monopoly prior to Moolah), she herself headed to Japan and started up women’s wrestling over there. Burke became a legend as big as any other American to influence the sport. It was in Japan that Sandy Parker would find her greatest success.
She joined All-Japan’s Women’s Wrestling (AJW) and formed a formidable tag team with Betty Nicoli, winning the WWWA World Tag Team titles four times together. In total, she held the tag titles eight times during her stay in Japan. But her crowning moment came on May 15, 1973, when she ended Miyoko Hoshino‘s 293 day reign as the WWWA World Champion to become World champion herself, marking the first black woman to capture a major women’s World Championship. AJW was the premier women’s wrestling promotion for most of the 1970s, thanks in part to Moolah’s stagnation of women’s wrestling in the United States during her stranglehold. AJW continued to be a revolutionary force in women’s wrestling up until the early 2000s – following Parker’s title victory, the WWWA World Championship was held by such legends of Japanese women’s wrestling as Jaguar Yokota, Crush Gals‘ Chigusa Nagayo and Lioness Asuka, Bull Nakano, Aja Kong and Manami Toyota to name but a few.
Sandy Parker returned to the United States and continued wrestling, retiring in 1986. She grew disinterested with pro wrestling as it became commercialized and mainstream. But she broke new ground when she won the WWWA World Championship in Japan in 1973 – sadly, it would take over 20 years for the United States to catch up. In 2004, she was inducted into the Cauliflower Alley Club, an organization that has honored pro wrestlers and boxers since 1965.