This edition of Spotlight is on Ahmed Johnson. Born Anthony Norris, he is best known for his appearances in WWE from 1995 to 1998 where he became the first African American to hold the Intercontinental Championship.
Norris played football at the University of Tennessee and went on to join the NFL as a middle linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys in the early 1990s. He first trained as a wrestler under Ivan Putski, Scott Casey, and Skandor Akbar. He spent many years on the independent circuit before signing with the Global Wrestling Federation in 1993 under the ring name Moadib.
After spending time in different territories, Norris first appeared in WWE in mid-1995 under his given name. After signing with the company, he took the name Ahmed Johnson and appeared at In Your House 3 in a non-televised match. Norris’ first television appearance was on Raw on October 23, 1995. The following month he appeared at the 1995 Survivor Series in the wild card match, teaming with Sycho Sid, the British Bulldog, and Shawn Michaels. “Ahmed was impressive in his first pay-per-view appearance,” remembers longtime WWE fan Ben Robles, “he eliminated both Owen Hart and Yokozuna and led his team to victory.”
In early 1996, Ahmed had a short feud with former Intercontinental Champion Jeff Jarrett followed by a feud with members of Camp Cornette, including Owen Hart, “British Bulldog” Davey Boy Smith, and Vader. Ahmed would often team with Jack “The Snake” Roberts at this time. By mid-1996 Johnson had earned the opportunity to challenge Goldust for the Intercontinental Championship. At the King of the Ring pay-per-view that year, Ahmed defeated Goldust for the title. “Ahmed’s Intercontinental Championship win was epic,” remembers wrestling fan Melinda Baines, “he became the first African American to win that title.” The win also made him the first African American to win a singles title in WWE.
After Ahmed’s historic title win, he was paired with WWE Champion Shawn Michaels in several matches, again taking on members of Camp Cornette. On the July 22, 1996 episode of Raw, Ahmed teamed with Michaels to face The Smoking Gunns for the Tag Team Championship. During the bout, Ahmed was attacked at ringside by the debuting Farooq Asad. This was supposed to lead to a match between the two at Summerslam 1996 but it did not happen. As fate would have it, Ahmed developed kidney issues, preventing him from appearing at both Summerslam and Monday Night Raw the following night where he was scheduled to compete for the WWE Championship. As a result of his illness, Ahmed was forced to vacate the Intercontinental Championship which was eventually won by Marc Mero after a tournament.
After recovering several months, Ahmed returned to action in late 1996, resuming his feud with Farooq. By then, Farooq was the leader of the newly-formed stable known as the Nation of Domination. At the 1997 Royal Rumble, the two faced off with Ahmed winning by disqualification. Ahmed began teaming with the Legion of Doom against the Nation shortly afterwards, eventually leading to a Chicago Street Fight between the two teams at Wrestlemania 13. Old school WWE fan Martin Zuniga recalls the match as one of his favorites of that year. “The Chicago Street Fight was awesome to watch,” he remembers, “it was an all-out brawl with almost everything being used that wasn’t tied down.”
In June 1997, Ahmed turned on WWE Champion The Undertaker and actually joined the new Nation of Domination. However, Ahmed was plagued by injuries at the time and was forced to miss a WWE Championship match against The Undertaker at the Canadian Stampede pay-per-view in July. The following month, Ahmed returned from injury but was ousted from the Nation after they turned on him. Ahmed once again became a fan favorite, restarting his feud with the Nation of Domination. At the 1997 Survivor Series, Ahmed’s team defeated the Nation. On February 15, 1998, Ahmed made his final WWE appearance, teaming with Ken Shamrock and the Disciples of Apocalypse to defeat the Nation.
In late 1999, Norris signed with WCW and debuted at the Souled Out pay-per-view as a heel, adopting the name Big T. He joined Stevie Ray to feud with Booker T as Harlem Heat 2000. At Superbrawl 2000, Big T defeated Booker T for the rights to the Harlem Heat name. At Spring Stampede, Harlem Heat 2000 entered a five team tournament for the vacant tag team titles but lost to eventual winners Shane Douglas and Buff Bagwell in the semi-finals. WCW released Norris soon afterwards for ongoing weight issues.
After leaving WCW, Norris wouldn’t compete again until 2002. He had several matches for local promotions on the independent circuit. His final match took place in 2003 for Maximum Pro Wrestling, teaming up with Monty Brown against Sabu and Gangrel. Since retiring, Norris has worked for Booker T and Stevie Ray’s Pro Wrestling Alliance wrestling school. Also after being unable to complete his studies early on, Norris decided to return to college, completing his degree in criminology at Huston-Tillotson University. Years later, Norris continues to be remembered as an important star during WWE’s New Generation era and as the first African American to hold the Intercontinental Championship.