Viro Small (Black Sam) was a collar-and-elbow wrestler and boxer of African descent who was active in the late 19th century. He is notable for being one of the first professionals of African descent in these fields in the United States.
Small was born into slavery in Buford, South Carolina in 1854. After gaining his freedom after the Civil War, he moved North.
Small’s boxing career began in the late 1870s or early 1880s, there is no proof of the exact date. In 1881, Small stood in for another wrestler in a collar-and-elbow match against Mike Horogan. While he lost, Horogan was very impressed with Small’s ability and agreed to train him.
After the match, Small’s career took off. He often wrestled under the name Black Sam, out of St. Albans and Rutland, Vermont, Small won 63 matches between 1882 and 1892 and the Vermont Collar and Elbow Championship twice. These wins made him possibly the first champion of African descent in the United States, but there are conflicting accounts and competing claims to this distinction. These titles also gave Small the chance to travel in the county fair circuits in New England.
Small eventually moved to New York City where he wrestled in some of the roughest parts of the city. One of the taverns he wrestled in was called Bastille of the Bowery, owned by former boxer Owney Geoghegan. The bar contained two rings for boxing and wrestling contests and was notorious for crooked management, rowdy patrons and an overall seedy atmosphere.
On September 3, 1882, at Bowery, Small had a match with Billy McCallum that ended in a no-contest after a major argument started between them. Upset by the fight, McCallum attempted to murder Small later that evening while he was asleep. McCallum shot Small in the neck, but Small survived. There are no other recorded matches for after 1885.