Viro Small a.k.a. “Black Sam of Vermont” was one of the first black professional wrestlers in America. The 5′ 10″ heavyweight started as a collar-and-elbow wrestler around 1880. A former slave in Buford, South Carolina, Small’s first documented match was against Mike Horogan. He lost the match but was taken in by Horogan as a trainee. He also occasionally engaged in boxing matches in St. Albans and Rutland, Vermont.
Small used the name “Black Sam” in the wrestling ring. The wrestler won 63 matches over a 10-year period. Among those was a two-time win at the Vermont Collar and Elbow Championship. His wins may have given him the honor of being the first wrestling champion in the United States.
Small traveled throughout the country with Horogan, pleasing the audience with amateur on-the-spot matches. He fought in the slums of New York, at venues like the Bastille of the Bowery. It was said that the owner of the club won a fight once by holding a gun to the referee’s head.
In September 1882, Small had a fight with Billy McCallum. McCallum became bitter over an argument between the two and made a murder attempt on Small’s life by shooting him in the neck. The Black Sam survived and kept fighting until 1885.