In an in-depth and honest interview on Pro Wrestling Stories’s The Genius Cast, Fred Ottman opens up about his unforgettable debut as The Shockmaster. What went wrong? Why did things go amiss? Plus, how did his life change as a result of his botched debut at WCW Clash of the Champions 24?
"All I have to say is, our partner is going to shock the world!"
The Shockmaster Fred Ottman – Early Life
Fred Ottman was born and raised in South Florida.
"My father was little, but he was strong," Ottman shares, "He used to amaze me with his one arm pull-ups, the clapping push-ups, and I thought he was the most amazing guy. He lacked in stature and size, but he was always a big motivation for me. I always wanted to be as strong as my dad."
He indeed became like his dad and even surpassed him by bench pressing 650 lbs, deadlifting as he calls it a "respectable" 800 lbs, and squatting a little over 900 lbs.
As a young man, Fred liked anything that had to do with lifting, pulling, shot put, and discus in high school. He trained with Ricky Bruch, who was a Swedish Silver Medalist in 1972, and is described by Fred as incredibly strong, a big, giant crazy Viking. He inspired Fred and taught him a lot on how to lift and train.
When it came to learning the trade of professional wrestling, Ottman trained under the tutelage of Karl Von Stroheim and "Professor" Boris Malenko, the latter whom he considered as a second dad.
"[Malenko] wasn’t just a trainer and mentor," Ottman began, "he gave great life advice. He trained us old school with respect for the business and respect for one another and how we treated one another inside the ring and outside the ring. ‘The Professor’ was an incredible human being, and I’m proud to say a part of my life. The good die young. He had a wonderful heart and a vast amount of knowledge.
"When I first started wrestling, there were guys in the territories that didn’t have to talk with me, help me or give me insight. I feel blessed. There were many people who were good to me, took the time, and were kind and educated me. I remember riding in the car with veterans like Cyclone Negro and Tony Marino. I was advised by my parents when I was young to talk to older people, to gain knowledge, and learn about their life experiences. That’s helped me a lot in life and gave me a lot of outlook on how I treat people and how I kind of embrace life. I feel blessed that I had that."
Fred Ottman as Tugboat and Typhoon in the WWE
Fred Ottman debuted in 1984 and competed in wrestling for sixteen years before retiring in 2000. Along the way, he adopted several gimmicks. As Tugboat in the WWE, he was a key babyface and ally to none other than Hulk Hogan, where he also had several matches against The Undertaker.
He would later turn heel as Typhoon, one half of The Natural Disasters, where he teamed up with Earthquake (John Tenta), who he calls "his brother from another mother."
With both gimmicks, it can be said that he obtained moderate success, especially when he became the WWE tag team champion with Earthquake. But he is arguably best known for one of the worst debuts in the sport’s history when he joined WCW in 1993 as The Shockmaster. It was a gimmick with a debut so ridiculously memorable; fans will likely still be talking about it for years to come.
"After [Fred Ottman] left WWE in the early 1990s," WWE.com staff writer Zack Zeigler once wrote, "he emerged in WCW as The Shockmaster. Upon his first entrance—a debacle many still consider one of the worst gaffs in the history of sports-entertainment — The Shockmaster’s glitter-ridden, Star Wars Stormtrooper replica helmet hindered his vision. Instead of making a grand entrance, he stumbled through a wall, belly-flopping onto the floor as his helmet rolled across the ground. The commentators, the other superstars, and the fans in attendance were, for lack of a better word, shocked. In the following months, The Shockmaster’s sports-entertainment career fizzled."
So, where did things go wrong? The way Fred recounts it, "The glitter was getting in my eyes. The secretary peeled off pieces of her pantyhose, made them into patches, and glued them over the eye holes. I could barely see out of the eye holes, but now I was totally blind. They also told me they hadn’t gimmicked the wall. It was just like a wall, like if you’d go from your kitchen to your dining room. I had to bust through it. They told me I was going to have to hit it hard. I was benching almost 600 lbs at that point; I was strong and everything. I told Mike Graham not to worry, that I could bust through the wall. It wasn’t the first thing I’ve busted through in my life or broken, I told him! I got the cue, and I made a double axe handle, raised my arms above my head, and blasted the wall. I was standing 5 or 6 inches from it as I hit it as hard as I could. I blew the wall out and became a human teeter-totter because of an unstable board just below my knees. I really did shock the world!"
"So you’re the man who rules the world. They call me, The Shockmaster! You’ve ruled the world long enough, Sid Vicious. Get ready! C’mon. You want a piece of me? You want a piece of me? Come and get me! Come after me, Sid. I’m ready! Along with Davey Boy, Sting, and Dusty Rhodes, we’ll see you at the Fall Brawl, at the War Games. Until then, Ha! Ha! Ha!"
– The Shockmaster, after his memorable debut
The Botched Debut of The Shockmaster
There’s a case to be made that The Shockmaster’s debut at WCW Clash of the Champions XXIV is the greatest of all time — albeit for all the wrong reasons. The well-documented incident is often cited as one of the funniest moments ever and the most epic fail in the history of sports-entertainment. Yet, Fred is maybe one of the happiest guys you’ll ever meet and is at peace with that embarrassing entrance and character first seen on "A Flair For The Gold" back in 1993.
"I’d rather be happy than miserable. Mean people suck; they’re horrible. You can die any day. You can walk off a curb, you get hit by a car, and you’d be gone. My last minute of the day isn’t going to be me upset, mean, unhappy. I got two arms, two legs, I’m breathing, I’ve been around many people. If you think you have a horrible life, maybe you should go to a burn unit in a hospital or a kid’s cancer unit and seeing these kids and what they have to deal with in their life. Or people coming back from being overseas in battles and missing legs and arms and PTSD and all kinds of issues going on. Everybody’s got problems."
Ottman continues, "Everybody has had a Shockmaster moment. Stuff happens. The best thing — and I tell everyone all the time — you take whatever negative there may be and turn it into a positive. [The Shockmaster gimmick] has been very good to me. Millions of views on YouTube, they came out with the action figure, and that premiered at the 2016 San Diego Comic-Con. The people there were buying them left and right."
Fans have embraced The Shockmaster character. Those lucky enough to meet Ottman in person are thrilled when Fred offers the chance for them to be able to don the more than two-decade-old glittery Stormtrooper helmet at conventions and get their picture taken with it. People who aren’t even wrestling fans recognize the helmet and are drawn to him.
"We all have trials and tribulations… but I would rather be happy than miserable."
– Fred Ottman
Fred Ottman on Shockmaster Criticism
When what Fred Ottman calls "armchair wrestling fans" grumble and claim that The Shockmaster was the most horrible gimmick in history, he compared it to a similarly uniquely characters that didn’t take off. The Powerful Oz (Kevin Nash in WCW), Lord Humongous in Memphis (several different wrestlers portrayed Humongous, but most famously was perhaps Sid Vicious), and Mantaur are gimmicks that come to mind for Ottman. Lanny Poffo, who was conducting the interview, mentioned The Red Rooster (Terry Taylor) as well.
"All of us have crosses to bear," Ottman shares. "It’s what you do with the cross after you’ve been put to it."
"The people who meet Fred fall in love with him," Lanny Poffo gushes sweetly about his friend. "That’s the impression he makes. Can you imagine, with how big he is if he was a mean guy? Nobody would want anything to do with him. He’s a prince of a fellow. If everyone in the business would’ve been like him, we’d have gotten along much better. He’s a very kind person and always looking to help others."
WCW creative did try to salvage the atrocious introduction of The Shockmaster by altering his character. The changes led to The Shockmaster becoming an enthusiastic, bumbling big man who implies that he was pushed into the limelight too quickly, but now "means business." He’s "like a shark in the water, and he’s really hungry." In the video that follows, you can see a short interview conducted by Tony Schiavone where shoot style elements are incorporated to varying degrees of effectiveness. This is the other Shockmaster character most fans do not remember.
Now that The Shockmaster is retired, Ottman does have some pointed observations on how the sport and especially the heels had changed from when he was taking bumps in the squared circle.
"I feel like a lot is missing from wrestling today, although I do like a lot of different guys. I’m an admirer of Braun Strowman, one of the first big men that can talk. A lot of the big guys aren’t noted for stellar interviews. He seems very bright and intelligent. I’ve heard from many people that he’s a very nice guy.
"I feel like the stories are missing from wrestling now, and it’s become cookie cutter. I see matches and see wrestlers doing the same things over and over. I don’t see them working a hold like back in the day.
"Heels back in the day were vicious. Now the heat they get, if any at all, is cheap heat. I remember wrestling in territories where guys were so hated when they left the building that they’d have four flat tires waiting for them or a busted out window. They were hated legitimately. Back in the day, I’ve had cups of dip thrown on me, been hit with an umbrella by old ladies. Heels had legitimate heat, and they were vicious. They didn’t want to sign autographs; they wanted people to hate them. They used to teach me back in the day that I had to live my gimmick. If you’re a badass son of a gun, then that’s what you are. Make people hate you."
In a very litigious society, Fred Ottman has preferred to be responsible for his actions. He didn’t participate in the class-action lawsuit, which alleged that WWE failed to provide adequate protection for the head trauma and concussions that ultimately led to significant health issues and even death for the wrestlers under their purview. The reason for this is that he feels that it’s unfair just to point the finger at one company when he was involved with many promotions. He admits to having had "so many concussions throughout the years that it’s scary." This includes other sports he’s participated in, like football, and even going back to his Little League Baseball days where he says that he got hit in the head with a baseball.
To him, it has been a blessing being able to wrestle in the former territories and to be part of a great business. Ottman also points out that Vince McMahan had some of the best wrestling rings, implying that they were safe to work in. He remembers a former partner named Goliath when he wrestled in Pittsburgh before his days in WWE, where he got a compound fracture after his body kept moving forward when he was caught in as something as simple as a loose mat.
"All of the choices to be involved in the wrestling business and on the road were mine. Nobody put a gun to my head."
He doesn’t feel that workers should be taking risky bumps like The Beverly Brother’s "Shaker Heights Spike" either because you’d need a crash helmet first and a neck brace afterward. "If you can’t work, you can’t make money in this business. There’s no workman’s comp. When I was starting in the business and was getting trained, we were taught to take care of each other in the ring."
Before signing off, Fred Ottman gave thanks to the fans and offered a bit of profound life advice to live by.
"I thank all the fans because, without them, we’d be nothing. Be open-minded, enjoy and embrace what you have instead of complaining constantly. If you’re having a bad day, look at this video and have a better day at my expense!"
Watch the Botched Debut of The Shockmaster:
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