By JIM VARSALLONE
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 19, 2001
Ready to hang up the football cleats in the early 1980s, and beginning a career in law enforcement in Tampa, FSU great Ron Simmons met Hiro Matsuda, a man who made an immediate impact on his life and lifestyle.
Matsuda, a long-time professional wrestler and master trainer, searched for athletic talent in the Sunshine State.
"I was working at the detention center in Hillsborough County in Tampa, and right behind the center was Hiro Matsuda's training facility," said Simmons, also known as WWF star Faarooq. "A TV crew was there one day, and I went to see what they were doing. Hiro saw me, came over and asked me who I was and to give him a little background on me. He also wanted to know what kind of health I was in.
"I thought he was out of his mind. Why was this man asking me all these questions? He didn't know who I was, and he had no interest in football. His daughter attended FSU, but I didn't know that till later on."
"I told him I was in good health and asked him why he was asking me all these funny questions. He asked me if I would consider getting involved in professional wrestling, and I told him he was out of his mind. I had just finished playing football, and I wanted nothing to do with any bodily contact."
Simmons, who majored in communication, played football for the Ottawa Rough Riders in the Canadian Football League and the Tampa Bay Bandits in the USFL.
"He (Matsuda) did mention the profits that could come from it. At how much I was making at that point in comparison to what he said, I thought,'Well, it might be something to consider.' "
About a month later, Simmons attended Matsuda's wrestling school. Matsuda not only developed Simmons, the pride of Florida State University football, but also Hulk Hogan, Paul Orndorf, Scott Hall and former University of Miami football player Larry Pfohl (better known to wrestling fans as World Championship Wrestling star Lex Luger).
After stints with Florida Championship Wrestling, the UWF and the NWA, Simmons rose to the top and became the first African-American to win the WCW world title.
"There was no question winning the world title set a precedent," Simmons said. "It's no secret. If you look at the older tapes of professional wrestling, what did you see? It was mostly white. The sport at that point was monopolized by whites. Most times blacks have figured they didn't stand a chance. As in everything, there has to be somebody to break the ground.
"There's nothing like the feeling of being a world champion. There's a lot of work that goes into it, and only when you get to that level do you really appreciate it. It's like climbing a 15,000-foot mountain, when you finally get to the top. That's the feeling."
He spent some time in ECW and later jumped to the WWF as Faarooq, a great warrior managed by the beautiful Sunny. Eventually, the 6-foot-2, 270-pound gladiator left Sunny and followed his roots, forming the Nation of Domination with the Godfather Kama Mustafa, D-Lo Brown and the Rock. Then the Acolytes (Faarooq and Bradshaw) were born when the Undertaker established a demonic entourage.
"We weren't really demonic," Simmons said, "but we approached things aggressively and with the mindset that no one was going to defeat us."
Currently, the Acolytes are two beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, card-playing men who love to hang out at bars and brawl. They even formed the Acolyte Protection Agency, providing protection to any WWF star who has plenty of cash and doesn't tick them off. Of course, they don't save the money. They just buy more beer.
"We go out there to win matches and give the people what they pay to see," Simmons said. 'It's fun as the Acolytes, but I'm not advocating big beer drinking, cigar smoking and all that. Some people are cut out for that, and some people aren't. That's not our everyday routine."
Twice Faarooq wore WWF tag team gold. "Bradshaw has been a fantastic partner, and he probably is the best partner I've ever had," Simmons said. "He is a good guy, a gentleman and a great wrestler. He is a very solid person all around, as a wrestler and as a human being."
Simmons added: "We also share stock tips, but those are secret." Bradshaw follows the stock market and has appeared on cable channel MSNBC to discuss stocks.
Simmons, perhaps the greatest defender in FSU history, totaled 25 quarterback sacks and 44 tackles for losses -- both FSU records -- during his career from 1977-80. Leading Florida State to consecutive Orange Bowl appearances (1979-80), he became the first Seminoles defender to have his number (50) retired by the university.
WWF star D-Lo Brown recalls traveling with Faarooq for a WWF show in Tallahassee just a few years ago. Simmons is a legend at FSU. "From the moment we stepped off the plane, people were pointing and saying, There's No. 50," Brown said. "We went to a restaurant, and when we went to pay, the owners said, "Your money is no good here." They treated us so well. It was incredible. He is like a god there."
WWF's pay-per-view No Way Out is 8 p.m. Sunday.
NWA Florida is at the Armory in Tampa on Tuesday with Steve Corino vs. Colorado Kid Mike Rapada for the NWA World Title, and Horace Hogan and Dan the Beast Severn vs. B. Brian Blair and Cyborg for the NWA Florida tag team titles. Tickets are on sale at all Ticketmaster locations.
IPW Hardcore Professional Wrestling, operated by Ron Niemi in conjunction with the Florida Wrestleplex, presents IPW March Madness: Enter Sandman! on March 9 at the IPW Wrestleplex, 4055 35th St. N, Suite 1 in St. Petersburg.
The Sandman, a five-time ECW World Heavyweight Champion and one-time ECW Tag Team Champion with 2 Cold Scorpio, will invade IPW. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Bell time is 8 p.m.
Along with the Sandman, you'll see all the regular IPW wrestlers such as Barry Horowitz, Mike Sullivan, Rastaman, Scoot Andrews, Wrongful Death, the Snack Pack, Seijin Akki and more.
Tickets are on sale at all Ticketmaster locations or go online at http://www.nwa-florida.com or charge by phone. In Tampa call (813) 287-8844. In St. Petersburg call (727) 898-2100. Tickets may also be purchased at participating K-mart and select Spec's Music stores. For more information, call the NWA Florida Hotline at (813) 960-4168.
Pro wrestling columnist Jim Varsallone can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.