The day Fred Ottman donned a Stormtrooper mask adorned in purple glitter, crashed through a wall and — quite literally — stumbled through his 1993 World Championship Wrestling debut as the Shockmaster was one that he could never forget, even if he wanted to.
“My biggest thing was it’s live TV,” Ottman recalled.
He grabbed the helmet that fell off during his tumble and continued on the best he could, pantomiming his promo as planned. The others involved in the debut segment at Clash of Champions XXIV were in more “shock and awe” than the Shockmaster himself, according to Ottman. But he insists that anyone having a bad day or week can watch that debut and feel better at his expense.
“It’s just so overwhelming because I’m not the only one to ever have one of those faux pas, so to speak,” Ottman said. “I’ve seen ‘top-rope guys’ go to hop over the top rope and fall … at least I did it with color. Everybody has one of those moments. [For] all my years in the business, it’s the best feel good blooper in professional [wrestling].”
What initially was a “horrible” day for Ottman, who had previous runs with then-World Wrestling Federation as Tugboat and Typhoon, respectively, quickly morphed into something he embraced. The ill-fated debut was more of a shot to his ego, he said, than anything else.
“You always want to do the best that you can with everything that you do… It was just so extreme,” Ottman said. “It just broke my heart.”
Speaking with SLAM! Wrestling ahead of his appearance Saturday in Kingston, Ontario, at the Chinlock for Charity Legends Convention and Chinlock 5 wrestling show, Ottman said “several million” people have watched the clip of his Shockmaster debut.
“It was horrible the night it happened,” Ottman recalled, “and it was live TV. I tell people all the time, it was a live event… [and it] wasn’t a gimmicked wall. It was horrible, but I’ve had fun with it.”
Before his infamous WCW debut, Ottman took to the ring sporting a red-and-white striped shirt and a sailor’s cap. Fans would come to know him as Tugboat, but for the first months of his then-WWF career, Ottman wrestled as Big Steel Man — a character he had taken on in Florida.
Roughly eight months later, Ottman was approached with the Tugboat concept. As a self-proclaimed “big kid” who collects toys and builds “hot rods,” Ottman had no qualms about taking on that role. As Tugboat, he connected with the audience, and children related to his “sailor cartoonish” vibe.
“I could be a cross between Popeye and Brutus all in one character… They gave me that, and then on top of that I wound up getting teamed with Hulk Hogan,” Ottman said. “I was like, ‘Oh my god, he’s the greatest babyface in the business.’ I became almost like his cheerleader.”
The nearly 12 months spent with Hogan (Terry Bollea) were “great” for Ottman.
“Terry’s a great guy,” Ottman said. “It’s hard for me to explain, but any person that he has been in contact with and touched in this business, he was so over and still remains over as a character and as an individual. The first night I remember getting in there having butterflies.”
TRANSFORMING INTO TYPHOON
Ottman’s time with Hogan was to be short lived, as he ultimately turned on his partner and formed the Natural Disasters with Earthquake, former sumo wrestler, John Tenta, from Vancouver, BC. As Typhoon and Earthquake, the two would go on to capture the WWF Tag Team Championships from Money Inc. (Ted Dibiase and Irwin R. Schyster).
The day Ottman learned he would undergo a character change to Typhoon and team with Tenta, he had just seen a prototype for a Tugboat action figure and learned that there would be a Tugboat t-shirt.
“It’s actually a funny story,” Ottman said. “They were going to do a Hasbro [action figure]. I had just finished doing photo shoot in Rhode Island on some tugboats.”
He went straight from the photo shoot to a TV taping, and Vince McMahon called Ottman into a meeting with Pat Patterson. It was then that he got the news. Despite seeing the new Tugboat merchandise, Ottman said he looked at the “big picture” and was on board for the change. Transitioning to Typhoon was “nothing” for Ottman, who said he loved dishing out “nasty promos.”
“They would, for TV, feed us the young talent working independent territories… We would just beat them up, be mean and nasty and the whole nine yards and just have fun doing it,” Ottman said. “And I think it all transferred across in how the people saw us.”
Ottman and his “nasty, mean” heel of a tag team partner Tenta “worked well together,” and Ottman looked at Tenta as a brother, “not just another wrestling partner.”
“We didn’t get into trouble. We didn’t have problems… I really miss him and he died way too young,” Ottman said. “He was a lot younger than me. The good Lord took him way too young.”
Tenta died in 2006 due to bladder cancer at 42 years old.
READY TO ‘SHOCK’ KINGSTON
This weekend in Kingston, Ottman will reunite with his former Natural Disasters manager, Jimmy Hart, and a plethora of others at the Legends Convention, hosted by Chinlock Wrestling, at Leon’s Centre. Ottman said he is looking forward to meeting the fans.
“Fans are what make the wrestlers. The wrestlers don’t make the fan. And I did this business for the love of those people who come to watch me,” Ottman said. “I think it’s wonderful they still want to see me.”
Proceeds from this weekend’s events will go Youth Diversion, a Kingston-based charity that assists the area’s children.
“A lot of that money is going to help kids,” Ottman said. “It doesn’t get any better than that, and it gives you a great feeling to be part of something like that.”
Though Ottman doesn’t get in the ring these days, he still loves being around the business. Born and raised in Miami, Fla., he has been a fan since he was about 10 years old. He grew up watching Florida Championship Wrestling, but it was his first live show that really hooked the future tag team champion.
“It was the most amazing time of my life… I [had] seen a very young Andre the Giant, and I seen Dusty Rhodes and the man who trained me, the Great Malenko.”
He considers himself a wrestling fan to this day, currently is under a WWE legends contract and attends independent wrestling shows with his wife. And, come Saturday, he’ll have the original Shockmaster mask in tow for the legends convention.
- Mar. 31, 2014: Tugboat/Typhoon’s torrent of WrestleMania memories
- Oct. 14, 1998: Experiencing a Natural Disaster with Typhoon