By Genoa Barrow | OBSERVER Senior Staff Writer

Maurice Connor and Logan Harris train together locally and also at times perform as a tag team. They’re among several Black wrestlers bringing awareness to the sport.
Maurice Connor and Logan Harris train together locally and also at times perform as a tag team. They’re among several Black wrestlers bringing awareness to the sport. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

For many, the mention of professional wrestling conjures childhood memories of Saturday mornings spent in front of the television watching and attempting to emulate the over-the-top moves of larger-than-life characters. Some recall going to venues like Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium and the Colonial Theatre to see them live and others remember arguing about contentious cage matches with their buddies and having the “is it real or fake?” debate.

As characters like Hulk Hogan, Andre the Giant, Hacksaw Jim Duggan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage rose to fame in what then was the World Wrestling Federation (WWF) and became part of popular culture, they were featured in cartoons and had action figures that bore their likenesses. Fans also were introduced to Black wrestlers such as Mr. T, Junkyard Dog and Koko B. Ware. These veteran wrestlers and others of color often share stories of also battling racism and unscrupulous promoters in pursuit of careers at the professional level.

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is perhaps the most famous Black professional wrestler, rising from the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) company. Johnson, the son of famed wrestler Rocky Johnson, is now a Hollywood heavyweight with films like “Black Adam,” “Red Notice,” “Jumanji,” “Walking Tall,” and several “Fast & Furious” sequels under his gold belt.

More recently WWE has made stars out of Blacks such as Kofi Kingston, R-Truth, Titus O’Neil, and Bobby Lashley. There’s also Bianca Belair, Naomi and Alicia Fox. 

The OBSERVER sat down with three local Black wrestlers – Maurice Connor, Logan Harris and Chris Campbell – who are among those trying to solidify their own place in pro wrestling, one match at a time.

“Sacramento has a pretty deep history of wrestling events happening here,” said Connor, who wrestles under the name BLAQLight. “In recent years there’s been a greater interest in having a diverse roster and audience. A lot of us as Black wrestlers are very mindful of the obstacles that Black wrestlers before us faced, from racism to sexual abuse, and we are wanting to show that everyone can enjoy this sport and even become wrestlers themselves.”

Connor, Harris and Campbell are preparing for an upcoming show at Rio Linda High School on Saturday, Feb. 25. “My Bloody Valentine’s Day” is presented by Next Level Wrestling.

 Maurice Connor aka BLAQLight

Maurice Connor goes by different names at different events, but he’s particularly proud of his main character, a superhero named BLAQLight.
Maurice Connor goes by different names at different events, but he’s particularly proud of his main character, a superhero named BLAQLight. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Maurice Connor is prone to theatrics. It’s par for the course when you’re a pro wrestler. Connor grew up watching WWE on TV. His favorite wrestlers included Stone Cold Steve Austin and Cain the Undertaker.

“Seeing their characters having elements of supernatural abilities and them being able to seemingly control fire and lightning and all of that stuff, it really got a hold on me,” he said.

In high school, Connor’s sport of choice was baseball. He didn’t take a swing at wrestling until attending CSU Chico, when he discovered an independent wrestling circuit. He started training at age 20 at what was then called the Pro Championship Wrestling Work Farm, near Oroville. But then he got hurt and the injury became his worst opponent.

“I tore my stomach muscles from my ribs,” he said. “Physically it set me back.”

The pain wasn’t just physical. The injury took a psychological and emotional toll as well.

Connor, racked with self-doubt, took a 12-year break, not returning to consistent training until April 2022.

“I came into the business already with a laundry list of injuries from my previous sports endeavors, playing baseball, and I also tried to go into competitive strongman as well,” Connor said. “By the time I finally debuted in 2022, I’d had, I think, 11 or 12 different surgeries.”

During his absence from wrestling, Connor was a special education teacher at John F. Kennedy High School, where his two worlds collided.

“There’s a student who was a huge pro wrestling fan and he would find ways to tie any assignment that he could to professional wrestling,” Connor said. “So it was pretty cool. For example, for the different cultural heritage months, I would assign a research project and he would do a project on a pro wrestler that aligned with that heritage.”

The student always got an A. Connor swears it was based on the strength of the work, not any bias on his part.

Connor left the classroom, but continued to go deeper into the realm of working in the populations of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). He worked as a program specialist for the nonprofit Futures Explored, creating life maps for people with an IDD. Today he works for Alta California Regional Center as a community services specialist, connecting community-based groups to state and federal funding that allows them to provide services to people with an IDD.

It’s a case of art imitating life and vice versa. His BLAQLight persona is a superhero with a heart.

“It’s been fulfilling for me,” Connor said of his day job. “It’s a big reason why the character that I’ve been portraying means a lot to me. Being able to come out and be a superhero and have the connections that I have to the community in terms of being connected to the Black community and being connected to people in IDD communities. Just being someone who is tangible, real life, a superhero.”

Connor prides himself in being a good guy inside the ring and out of it. He lends himself, and his character, to projects and events, such as a recent benefit for the George S. Spanky Roberts Chapter of the Tuskegee Airmen. He also loves interacting with fans. Performing mostly in small, intimate settings gives him plenty of opportunities.

“The people who are coming to the shows, they’re really passionate about pro wrestling,” he said. “That’s why they’re coming to a show that’s in Sacramento in a high school gym or auto garage somewhere, because they love it.”

Connor encourages more African Americans to come to shows to be entertained and explore opportunities to enter the business. Representation has been a big topic of discussion of late, he said.

“In pro wrestling as a whole, especially in California, there’s been a really huge shift in wanting to try to increase representation. It is still pretty White male-dominated, but there’s a lot more openness when it comes to communities of color and the LGBTQ community,” Connor said.

“There’s even shows that are themed, like in San Francisco, there’s a show called Full Queer. It’s exactly that. The most prominent wrestlers don’t identify as straight. There’s a lot of showcasing of talents in the business who aren’t traditional. It’s pretty cool.”

Logan Harris aka Lo Devereaux 

Logan Harris turns into Lo Devereaux in the ring. Here he’s shown with a doll made in his likeness.
Logan Harris turns into Lo Devereaux in the ring. Here he’s shown with a doll made in his likeness. Verbal Adam, OBSERVER

Today he’s a pro wrestler, but when given a choice back in middle school between wrestling and gymnastics, Logan Harris chose the latter.

“I liked doing the flips and all the girls were in gymnastics,” said Harris, who now goes by Lo Devereaux in the ring.

An obsession with pro wrestling had a young Harris glued to the TV when it came on every week. He once got banned from watching when he copied an inappropriate gesture made popular by wrestlers Triple H and Shawn Michaels. Other than that brief time he was forced to sit in the corner, he has been all in.

“There’s no art form like wrestling to me,” Harris said. “It’s an amalgam of everything. You get your combat. You get your athleticism. You get the pageantry and just the beauty of some of these people’s costumes and the way they present themselves. There’s no other form like it at all. There’s nothing where one moment you go in being like, ‘Oh, this is fake’ and then you’ll look at me like ‘Oh, but that was kind of cool.’

“There’s nothing else in the world, I think, that matches up to it.”

The Lo Devereaux character is neither all good nor bad, but a bit of both. “I would like to say Lo Devereaux was like me,” Harris said. “We have our ups and downs. One moment, we may be perceived as a bad guy because we’re pissed about something, we’re angry. But in most of our neutral moments we will be seen as a good guy.”

The character can be funny and irritating, Harris added. His favorite shirt to wear before entering the ring features a picture of elderly serial killer Dorothea Puente that reads “Sacramento, I dig it.”

Harris also wrestles in the Bay Area, joining fellow Sacramento wrestler Maurice Connor as the tag team The Cutie and The Beast. Harris is “The Cutie.”

“I will proudly yell from the rooftops and all that I’m the cutest man in Sacramento,” Harris said. “Why wouldn’t I? I have two very beautiful parents that loved me and cared for me growing up and gave me the confidence that I need to step out into the world as a young man approaching my 30s. So why wouldn’t I think I’m the cutest?” he said in character.

Some see wrestling and wonder why guys like Harris haven’t “grown up.” Harris shakes it off like a pesky opponent. He’s serious about what he does and why he does it.

“It’s something to get me recognized, something to take me out of every situation that I’ve been in, whether it be physically or mentally,” he said. “Wrestling has always been my escape ever since I watched it as a kid with my dad and my grandpa. Wrestling has always had my back. It’s never done me wrong.

“When I go out in front of all these people, especially when I see the children, whether I’m being a bad guy or not, when you see a child in the audience, you see yourself. I see a young Lo Devereaux sitting in the audience, just looking at whoever comes out next and being so giddy at what they’re going to do. So when I set out to step out of the curtain, I come out as full-energy as I can because I want to find that one kid that was me.”

Out of the ring, Harris works as an instructional aide at a high school: “It’s taught me a lot of stuff as a human being. It’s taught me a lot of responsibilities that I don’t think I would have gained elsewhere.”

Harris’ students have emotional and intellectual challenges.

“These kids, they let you know how they feel and for me, that’s good because I’d rather them be real with me than struggle to be themselves,” he said. “I remember feeling that way as a kid, feeling like I couldn’t fully be myself. I don’t want these kids to feel that way with me.”

For Harris, being a positive role model means more than getting points for having a cool side job.

He names a pioneering wrestler from the 1940s and 1950s, Sputnik Monroe, as one of his own role models.

“He is the reason why I, as a Black man, am allowed to wrestle with White people, with other races. He was the Martin Luther King Jr. of wrestling,” Harris said. “Without that man, a lot of Black wrestlers wouldn’t have the opportunity they have today. He wrestled with Black people. This was in the South, in the Memphis area, but he would not wrestle on the show if Black fans were not allowed in, if Black wrestlers weren’t wrestling on the show alongside him.”

Harris wants to be remembered in the same vein as legends like Monroe, Bobo Brazil and Rocky Johnson, as well as modern wrestlers like Kofi Kingston, Bobby Lashley, Big E and Xavier Woods. He has studied the greats and plans to be great himself.

As for the match at Rio Linda High, Harris promises a good show.

“I’m bringing all the energy. I’m going to make you laugh, I’m going to make you mad. I’m going to make you question if you like me or not,” he said. “A lot of wrestling runs off good guys and bad guys being distinct. I like to think that I run in the line of, ‘Hey, I’m like a Sour Patch Kid for some sweet and then I’m sour, but you still like me.’”

Chris Campbell aka Hellraiser Blaze aka Chris Blaze 

Chris Campbell goes by Hellraiser Blaze in the ring.
Chris Campbell goes by Hellraiser Blaze in the ring. Photo Courtesy of Chris Campbell

With a father who was a pro wrestler, Chris Campbell literally had a front row seat to the action. The pair also followed big name stars on TV.

“We watched a lot when I was a little kid, so it’s always something I wanted to do,” Campbell said.

Dad went by Brian Baldwin in the indie scene. Campbell, a nonbinary wrestler referred to as they/them and he/him, goes by the names Hellraiser Blaze and Chris Blaze in the ring.

“I’m a big fan of horror movies,” they said of the Hellraiser Blaze persona. “My favorite one is called ‘Hellraiser,’ so that’s where I take a lot of my character from.”

Hellraiser is definitely a bad guy.

“We call them heels,” they said. “I kind of just try to be really creepy. I wear this really creepy mask. It’s actually a Halloween mask that I found at Spirit [Halloween]. I wear that and black food coloring to make my mouth black and I paint my face underneath the mask.”

They describe their style as hard-hitting. “I throw a lot of strikes and a lot of slams,” Campbell said. 

Campbell, 28, started wrestling in high school.

“I did want to start earlier than I did, but my parents wouldn’t let me. My dad didn’t want me to even get into the business,” Campbell explained. “He didn’t have the greatest experiences when he was doing it, so when I told him I wanted to do it, he tried to steer me away from it.”

Being an African American in pro wrestling can come with some negatives, including slurs hurled by opponents and audience members who are hyped up on beer, racism and adrenaline.

“I’m sure there was some of that but, honestly, there’s a lot of different bad people within wrestling and he was just doing business with the wrong group that was taking advantage of not just him, but anybody that worked for them,” Campbell said. “They weren’t paid enough, they were having to set up the ring – just everything bad you can think of, it was happening.”

Campbell took things up a notch when a friend introduced him to a man who had a ring in his backyard. Ironically, the man was his father’s former tag team partner.

In addition to a scarier character named Hellraiser Blaze, nonbinary wrestler also enters the ring as another persona, Chris Blaze.

Today they live and train near Yuba City. As a nonbinary person, Campbell and Hellraiser Blaze are blazing a trail. Pro wrestling has traditionally had very specific, however archaic, gender roles. Characters have had very exaggerated displays of masculinity and femininity. Men often tear off their shirts to show off oiled muscles and “ring girls” wear skimpy outfits.

Things are changing somewhat. Two nonbinary wrestlers, Max the Impaler and Nyla Rose, battled each other last year in an All Elite Wrestling match held during Pride Month. The match was billed as “The Non-Binary Nightmare.”

“It’s a new thing for me,” Campbell said. “I’ve only been exploring it for a couple years, so I haven’t really gotten too deep into it. I haven’t really had to deal with too much negativity from it.”

“It’s just, honestly, something that just is,” they added. “There’s a lot of stigmas attached to it; a lot of people just say, ‘Oh, you’re just saying this for attention.’ I just like to say, ‘In professional wrestling, everything that we do is for attention.’”

Campbell said Hellraiser Blaze is quiet, but deliberately so.

“My character doesn’t really talk much. I do this thing where I have a split personality,” shared Campbell, who identifies with horror movie villains.

In pro wrestling, African Americans have played both heroes and villains. Black characters also have furthered racist stereotypes. Crossover star Mr. T wore multiple gold chains. Kamala, aka “The Ugandan Giant,” who wrestled in the WWF in the 1980s, wore African face paint and carried a spear and shield. His manager, Slick, shared the characteristics of a fast-talking, sharply dressed pimp. The character later “found Jesus” and became Reverend Slick.

Representation is important, Campbell said, but they want to see it expanded.

“When I was growing up, it’s weird [because] I didn’t really look up to a lot of African American wrestlers, I looked up to more so the luchadores like Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio,” Campbell said. “People like that, people that were doing all the cool flips and jumps off the top rope and stuff.

“Because I’m mixed – African American and Caucasian – honestly, I really only see a lot of either African American or just Caucasian. There’s not really a lot of mixed professional wrestlers, at least on the big scale. I’d like to see a lot more of that.”

Outside the ring, Campbell has found camaraderie with other local Black wrestlers like Maurice Connor and Logan Harris. They all appear in area events and promote themselves online.

“Social media is how a lot of us get booked for shows now,” Campbell said.

It’s also where you’ll find videos of wrestlers talking to fans and talking smack about their opponents.

“Social media has been a real big help in this business,” Campbell said.

They look forward to the Rio Linda High event, where the first cruiserweight competition will be crowned. The intimate setting will allow unique access to the action. Folks really get into it.

“Independent crowds, they’re similar but different from a big WWE crowd because you can get more up close and personal,” Campbell said. “You can actually get in their faces because there’s no barricades or anything like that cutting you off. I’ve seen fans almost get into fights with wrestlers at independent shows.”