The Paul Roma vs Koko B. Ware fight happened three decades ago, yet because it hasn’t been discussed much, the story didn’t become well known until many years later.
Fight: Paul Roma vs Koko B. Ware
Location: Rosemont Horizon in Chicago, IL
Source: The Steve Austin Show Unleashed
Since no one has come forward with their versions of the story, we’re left with Paul Roma’s version. As such, it’s best to remain skeptical due to Roma’s interest in protecting his tough guy reputation. From the way he told the story, it’s clear he has a macho ego and his version is going to wind up with him saving face and looking good in the end.
Koko B. Ware did speak about the fight in a shoot interview, but didn’t go into details. We’ll try to piece everything together to paint a picture of what really happened.
Paul Roma looked like a million bucks, having the perfect body, the perfect tan, the perfect hair, and the perfect face to be a good looking star in pro wrestling. He never reached the heights he should have, for a variety of reasons. Roma did admit in the early 90s that he was offered sex with a male WWE executive in order to get a bigger push, but that wasn’t the sole reason he never reached his potential. He was good in the ring, but not great, and was a very average promo.
Still, considering his body and good looks, it’s surprising the WWF didn’t give him a bigger push at a time when muscles were a lot more important than they are today.
Koko B. Ware was an athletic worker with a high dropkick and good charisma. But he was exceedingly short (5’-6”) for a pro wrestler in the ‘80s, and would even be considered short today when size means less than it used to. Still, he received a sizeable push in 1987 as the voice of the “Piledriver” song, which was the lead single for the “Piledriver” album the WWF put out that year. They even filmed a video for the song (which I attended live at the Cow Palace) that featured him singing alone in a wrestling ring.
Paul Roma was a name that never came up when people spoke about the toughest wrestlers in the business, perhaps because his tag team partner Paul Orndorff really was very tough and it made people overlook Roma. But according to Roma, he’s not only extremely tough, but also his biggest “fear” is what he’s capable of doing to someone. Roma does have boxing experience, and after his initial WWF run (pre-WCW) he did have a short boxing career.
Paul Roma was a recent guest on Steve Austin’s podcast, and one of the stories he told was an incident with Koko B. Ware that he claims wasn’t a fight, but clearly it was. He didn’t give the year, but he said Koko was in the midst of a big push, so it was likely 1987 and possibly 1988.
The two were backstage at a show, and Koko approached Roma aggressively and said Roma had said something derogatory about him. Roma didn’t say what it was, but acted like it wasn’t true. According to Koko in a later shoot interview, Roma had a chip on his shoulder and had called him “Buckwheat” (a character Eddie Murphy played on Saturday Night Live that was often used as a derogatory term for blacks). It should be noted that Jesse Ventura used the term “Buckwheat” often when he did color commentary for the WWF back then, specifically implying that’s what the “B” stood for in Koko B. Ware.
Roma at first thought Koko was joking, but soon Koko was cussing at him and it turned serious. Koko later claimed that Roma called him Buckwheat because that’s what he is, which if true, Roma always left that part out of the story. Roma told him to relax and that he didn’t know what he was talking about. Again, this is all Roma’s version of the story, so keep that in mind. He also claimed Koko was “f*cked up on drugs all the time,” and even if that’s true, Koko was hardly alone when it came to drug use in the WWF in the late 80s.
Koko then punched Roma in the face. It was likely a jab, not meant to knock him out but more to goad him into a fight. Roma flinched, was surprised, but still stood there. When telling the story, Roma said that if he punches a guy and he’s still standing, then he’s going to apologize because clearly the other guy is tough and he’s not able to take you out. His point was that Koko should’ve stopped at that point because Roma was still standing, unharmed.
Roma told Koko to stop and that he didn’t want to fight and get fired. Koko then punched him two more times. Roma then thought to himself, “I gotta stop this guy but I don’t want to hurt him,” so he claimed to grab him in a front facelock. As they’re standing there, Koko bit him. He thought, “This son of a bitch is biting me!” but tried to remain calm about everything. He went to pull him down to stay on top of him, but he slipped and ended up on his back, with Koko on top in a full mount.
Roma thought, “I gotta get him off of me, because this is not a good position to be in.” He was able to get Koko off, and Koko started screaming, “I’m gonna kick your ass!” Roma thought to himself, “You just punched me three times in the face; you CAN’T kick my ass! What is it you’re not getting??” Roma gave him a quick left that stopped him in his tracks, and then Jack Lanza (former wrestler and agent with WWF at the time) jumped in. Roma tried to keep Lanza between them so that the fight would be broken up. Koko shouted that he was going to complain to the office, and Roma figured that was the end of his job because Koko was the one getting the push.
Bobby Heenan came up to Roma and asked why he didn’t fight back. Roma said he knew Koko was getting the push and he didn’t want to jeopardize his job. Heenan said he knows he didn’t start anything, and that if Roma wanted to go after Koko and straighten this out, that he’d go to bat for him if Vince McMahon got mad. And go after him is what Roma did.
Later he went downstairs to Koko’s private room (he had a private room because he had Frankie, the bird, traveling with him at all times). Roma knocked on the door and Koko asked who it was.
“It’s Roma! Open up, I’m gonna kick the sh*t out of you!”
“F*ck off, I’m going to the office tomorrow!” shouted Koko back.
“Open up the door!” shouted back Roma, who threw in a few other choice words. “I’m gonna beat the living sh*t out of you!”
“Go away!” said Koko. Roma eventually walked away when Koko wouldn’t open the door.
The next day, Pat Patterson grabbed Paul Roma and said he heard he got into a fight last night. It’s not known if Koko told him or if Lanza told him, but Patterson was the #2 or #3 guy in the WWF at the time in terms of power and corporate hierarchy.
Roma said there was no fight, and that Koko punched him three times in the face, but that he didn’t consider that fighting because he didn’t really hit him back (even though he did). Patterson was dumbfounded and said, “I guess.” Roma said, “There’s nothing really to talk about,” and Patterson let him go. While Roma’s downplaying of the incident saved him from any trouble, he shouldn’t have gotten into trouble anyway because Koko was the one who threw the first blow.
A week or two later, they were all on the plane. Koko was in the back, and Roma walked back there to use the restroom. The boys all thought, “Oh boy, here we go.” Koko looked up at Roma and said he was sorry about what happened. Roma said, “It’s ok, there’s nothing you could do to hurt me anyway,” used the bathroom, and then walked back to his seat. He figured he’d get Koko riled up, but he wouldn’t bite.
Roma said it was no big deal, and that he’s afraid of what he can do because he knows what kind of punches he can take (from kickboxing and boxing). When he trained for kickboxing, he had four friends join him and none of them would fight him, even though two were cops. So Roma had to instead fight the instructors.
We wish we could hear a more detailed version of Koko’s side of the story, or of an eyewitness. Until then, Roma’s version is all we have to go by. We’ve never heard stories of Koko being a street fighter, but that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Roma was significantly taller, bigger, and in better shape and had real fighting experience. If something had gone down, Roma would’ve had to have been the favorite. But that’s still speculation, and thankfully things didn’t escalate beyond what they could have.