Shock and Awe: The oral history of the Shockmaster incident
In 1993, the sports-entertainment world was shocked to its very core. At WCW’s Clash of the Champions XXIV, a grand unveiling was planned during Ric Flair’s “Flair for the Gold” talk-show segment: The Dirtiest Player in the Game would assist Sting & The British Bulldog in revealing their mystery partner for the upcoming WarGames match that would ultimately pit them against Sid, Vader & Harlem Heat. (A pre-face paint Dustin Rhodes would complete the team of fan favorites.) Sting proclaimed the mystery man would “shock the world” and he certainly did: Introduced with the fanfare of a conquering king and clad in a piecemeal outfit right off the clearance rack, The Shockmaster — aka Fred Ottman, previously the WWE Superstar Tugboat/Typhoon — crashed through a wall between two sets of bargain basement pyro and promptly fell on his face, losing his glitter-glued, “Star Wars” Stormtrooper helmet in the process (his furry vest remained intact).
The debut immediately lodged itself in wrestling infamy, and The Shockmaster’s legend has only grown over the last two decades. As it turns out, the incident wasn’t just an aberration, but an odd connecting point for the careers of several intersecting Superstars, all of whom remember things just a little bit differently. So, 21 years after the world was shocked, four of the players involved spoke with WWE.com and shared their thoughts and memories of the most infamous debut in the history of professional wrestling.
BOOKER T: The Shockmaster wasn’t supposed to go like that.
STING: If I remember correctly, he was going to be a machine, a crusher, invincible, like a [human] wall.
THE SHOCKMASTER: I thought the idea was pretty cool. It was basically supposed to be like a superhero costume.
DUSTY RHODES: The original plan when I brought in Shockmaster was just working toward that 8-Man Tag Team Match and that kind of group-oriented deal. Plug him in for a real quick fix — well, not a fix, but a character just to kind of even up the sides.
BOOKER: As far as the character goes, I thought the character sucked from the beginning. It was totally outdated. Ole Anderson was doing the voice-over; I don’t think it was something that could have lasted more than six weeks without the fans hating it and saying, “God, please, just let this go away!” So that’s what I thought about the character ... But for it to happen like that I felt bad. I felt bad for Fred, because he was a really, really nice guy, you know?
SHOCKMASTER: I’ve never said no to a gimmick … and it sounded like a fun thing that would have been cool to work with.
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I. THE OUTFIT:
RHODES: Really, [the costume] was thought up as something really wonky, off-the-wall. The helmet originally was designed to be something like Vader’s. It was supposed to be more elaborate.I basically became a human teeter-totter.
SHOCKMASTER: What I wore on “Flair for the Gold” wasn’t the original outfit. That was just for going out on that segment. I still have the original outfit, matter of fact. It’s blue and it has gold lightning bolts going down the legs … and a Mexican-style mask with a lightning bolt going through the face and the top was where my hair would come out. So that was an actual wrestling outfit. The outfit you saw was what they wanted me to go out in, you know. Just take the shirt off, put on the top, which actually belonged to one of the Colossal Kongs. And the helmet itself was a “Here, put this on and see if you can see out of it” kind of deal. Last minute. [Laughs]
BOOKER: It had like a boatload of glitter on it. It looked like somebody took hours getting the glitter on there.
SHOCKMASTER: They put it over my head, and the glitter was coming through the eyeholes and into my eyes. So they got a pair of dark pantyhose from a secretary, cut out two pieces, glued them and put ‘em over the eye holes so the glitter wouldn’t come into my eyes.
II. THE INCIDENT:
BOOKER: We actually went out and rehearsed it, but right before we actually went live, for some reason they had put a 2x4 right down at the floor and I don’t think Fred could see that with the mask on.
RHODES: There was sabotage involved, I really believe that. [Producer] David Crockett was on the payroll with us at that time … the takeover had just begun, with Eric Bischoff and the Hogan era and all that stuff. We rehearsed it during the day, it went perfectly, and like I say, sabotage came into play — building up about four or five different floorboards and not telling him about it. “When the smoke goes off, he trips and falls on his ass and we make big fun of it, and Dusty falls on his ass.” There was a lot of that going on back then in our business. Any chance you get to take someone out of power and just have a big laugh, they took. I’ve done it! I’ve been the [saboteur]. When I say sabotage, I don’t mean like, “Boy, this is serious stuff.” It’s just the wrestling business. “You got an extra board? Put it on there, maybe he won’t see it.” Well, he didn’t see it. Or maybe it’s just my imagination.
SHOCKMASTER: The wall itself was just built like a wall in your house, like sheetrock with a 2x4 every 12-15 inches off-center — kind of like you’d build a normal wall in your house. And there was a board just below my knee that was there for support. I got there, and when it was time to go, they said, “You’re going to have to hit this wall really hard to bust out,” because it wasn’t a gimmick wall. So I put my hands above my head, double-axe handle, and when I got the cue, I was going to blast through the wall. Well, I blew the top out, but didn’t take that bottom board out, so I basically was a human teeter-totter.
BOOKER: He just barreled through, like we did at rehearsal, but he ran right into the piece of wood and tumbled over, and the mask came off, of course.
RHODES: I would’ve looked down. I would’ve looked it over right before I came out.
SHOCKMASTER: I blew out the top of the wall and I actually flipped over. And when I felt myself go, all I could think about was turning my head to protect my identity when I did hit the floor, because the helmet popped off.
RHODES: Holy cow! His head’s rolling across the floor like “Game of Thrones” and he’s trying to pick it up and put it back on? The only thing that would have been funnier is if he’d have put it on backwards.
SHOCKMASTER: I hit the floor, popped the helmet on my head and jumped up so that Ole could do the promo, because there was no way to mic the helmet, so Ole did the voice-over. And the rest is history.
Next: Dusty rolls with the punches, and Shockmaster finally finds his niche. Does inner peace await at the end of the road?
III. THE FALLOUT:
RHODES: I remember Cody was a young baby, a young kid. He and all the nephews and cousins were watching TV live, and when the helmet rolled across the floor, Cody looked up and said — and this is just a kid here, we’re talking young — he looked up and said, “That looks like Uncle Fred!”
STING: I don’t remember the actual day [that it happened], but I remember the moment, just standing there in disbelief. “Oh, is this really happening? Oh, man.”
BOOKER: That was just like the beginning of one of the moments, you know? I’ve been like a fly on the wall in so many moments, seeing everything happening. That just happened to be one of those moments where my brother and I, two green guys, just happened to be Sid’s protégés, and we just happened to be in that main event picture with all of those top guys. Sid, British Bulldog and us. It was just like, “Wow!” You know, it was a moment.
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STING: It was a shock for everybody, everybody was in disbelief.
RHODES: Booker T, his brother Stevie Ray, Davey Boy, I mean, they reacted perfectly. And even Ole Anderson, who was doing the voice-over across the arena, the Shockmaster’s voice, reacted like, “Wow.”
STING: I was embarrassed for him; I was embarrassed for the company, for everybody.
SHOCKMASTER: It was live TV. There’s no do-overs, no “I’m sorry” or whatever … Everybody, I’m sure, got a good laugh at it.
RHODES: I laughed so hard I nearly passed out. They had to bring me to, I think, because it was an amazing moment … I don’t even remember the next segment. We were live and I don’t even remember what we were doing next because it was so unbelievably funny.
BOOKER: It was like comic relief. It was funny for everybody, except Fred.
WWE Network: Where does Shockmaster rank on Greatest Blunders?
STING: It’s just one of those moments where you just have a complete backfire. Just a complete flop. You have two choices: either put it in the can and don’t do anything about it, or you try to carry on with the, “he trips everywhere, he falls everywhere” kind of gimmick. I think we tried that.
BOOKER: They just killed it immediately after that and made him Uncle Fred, kind of giving him a lighthearted feel.
SHOCKMASTER: I went along with what the character was going to be, but they weren’t secure enough, I believe, [to continue]. I went with it. They just started to take advantage of the stumbling, bumbling Uncle Fred-type deal.
RHODES: All the kids loved him and you know, he was a little short in the head — not really, you know. He did some funny stuff and we tried to capitalize on the humor [of The Shockmaster]. I was just really shooting in the dark with it.
SHOCKMASTER: Stumbling, bumbling, I’m very good at that. [Laughs] I remember they did the deal for Christmas where they had me dressed as Santa Claus, reading “The Night Before Christmas” to the kids, and then I wound up standing up and crushing all their toys.
STING: It got to a place where after it settled down a bit, now we can all laugh about it. Even him.
IV: THE RECOVERY
SHOCKMASTER: Nowadays, some movies, probably more than half, show the outtakes and the bloopers and the bad things that happen. And sometimes they’re more entertaining than the movie itself. So, going by that, you know, the old adage, if you can’t laugh at yourself …. It was what it was, and like I said, it was live. And there’s nothing that can be done about that. I’ve seen similar things happen to other guys. I remember working in Texas and I saw Kerry Von Erich go to jump over the top rope and both of his feet got hooked on the top and he fell on his face.
RHODES: I thought the polka-dot thing would be the funniest thing I’d ever see ... But I look at that and Shockmaster and I say, if I’m gonna hang my hat on a 47-year career, going on 48 years in the business, on these two things — luckily, I don’t have to — the debut of The Shockmaster is the funniest [idea I ever had].
BOOKER: I’ve heard it was Dusty’s idea, but even geniuses get it wrong sometimes. [Laughs] I think that was just a bad one right there. If Dusty did come up with it, it was probably one of Dusty’s worst ideas in the history of his career.
RHODES: The guys around me now, they always got it on. They’ll bring it up or they’ll turn it on. Billy Gunn will air it all the time. Kidman, Norman Smiley …. Every time I think I’m really smart or did something really good, they’ll bring it up. Hunter will bring it up daily.
BOOKER: It’s one of those great blooper moments that will be immortalized due to YouTube, such as one of my moments. It’ll be here forever.
SHOCKMASTER: It can happen to anybody. And it has happened to many guys, whether [fans] want to believe it or not. Maybe not as bad as mine, but they all have their episodes. So that’s my cross to bear, I guess, in life. But you know what? There’s a lot of people who have it a lot worse, and I enjoy it. I enjoy answering questions from the fans. They’re good. And that’s all that really matters. That, and when you look in the mirror, the opinion you have of yourself. And the opinions of others — some like you and some don’t, just like every other place in this business and any other industry.
RHODES: I was at a fan-fest deal a couple weeks ago and I was looking at the rundown of who was there, because I was isolated in a different room, and it said Fred Ottman — Uncle Fred, The Shockmaster — was signing autographs for two hours or something. And he had the original outfit, so if he can make a buck off of it, it’s cool.
SHOCKMASTER: The Shockmaster travels with me when I do autograph signings and stuff like that. I bring the mask with me, I have fun with it. You’d be surprised how many people take pictures of it; they want to wear it. So it is what it is.
RHODES: Fred’s cool with it, and I’m glad. He’s a good guy. It was an attempt on live TV that failed. And it had a good rehearsal! … That was the funniest thing ever in the history of TV. Not of wrestling. Of TV.
BOOKER: It’s a moment that will live in infamy in the wrestling business.
SHOCKMASTER: Hey, it was my deal and I feel like I dealt with it. I was embarrassed and heartbroken when it happened, but, you know, it was live TV. In this particular case, they had this big, pumped-up deal and all the rigmarole and the mystery partner and everything like that, and it happened. So what can you do? All you can do is laugh.
RHODES: It was funny [stuff], buddy.