The late, great Orange Bowl Stadium elicits fond memories for the Miami Dolphins, the University of Miami and Fred Ottman.
Ottman -- better known as WWF’s Tugboat and Typhoon -- not only played high school football in the Orange Bowl, not only played in the high school band in the Orange Bowl, but he also played as an extra in the movie “Smokey and the Bandit II” in the Orange Bowl.
Pittsburgh Steelers legends Terry Bradshaw and Mean Joe Greene made guest appearances as themselves in “Smokey and the Bandit II,” released in 1980 and starring Burt Reynolds, Sally Field, Jerry Reed, Dom DeLuise and Jackie Gleason. The Orange Bowl housed Bradshaw and Greene’s football scene with the movie stars, and extras were needed as football players. The local gridiron guy Ottman got the gig.
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Ottman’s led an interesting life.
Born at Mercy Hospital, Ottman grew up in Miami. Always big for his age, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound athlete starred in football and track & field for Miami Senior High School. This defensive end also marched in the school’s band, banging the drums for the Stingarees (school nickname, nothing to do with Sting).
A 1974 Miami Senior High School graduate, Ottman earned a track & field scholarship to Miami-Dade North Community College. He excelled in the discus and shot put. That’s when he started to focus on weightlifting. He began powerlifting at the Coral Gables Health Spa at age 17 and transformed into a strong physical specimen, benching 650 pounds, deadlifting 800 and squatting 900 in the gym.
Ottman entered a bench press competition at the Downtown Y as a novice at age 18, benching 450. During the contest, he noticed someone from one of his favorite television shows -- Mike Graham, a Championship Wrestling from Florida wrestler. Graham, a tremendous powerlifter, especially for his size, also registered for the event. Ottman was not only amazed by Graham’s celebrity but also the amount of weight the 5-8 athlete cleared.
“[Graham] bench pressed 450 pounds in the Open Division and then wrestled later that night,” Ottman recalled.
As a high school student, Ottman attended his first pro wrestling match, CWF at the Miami Beach Convention Center. Prior, he watched CWF (hosted by legendary commentator Gordon Solie) regularly at noon Saturdays on WCIX Ch.6. He recalled Andre the Giant, the Brisco Brothers (Jack and Jerry - 4315 North Hubert Avenue), Graham, and Professor Boris Malenko, a/k/a The Great Malenko.
Malenko is actually the man who trained Ottman to become a professional wrestling.
When CWF made its Wednesday stop in Miami, some of the wrestlers trained at the Coral Gables Health Spa. Ottman did some amateur wrestling at school for conditioning during the football off-season, before track & field in the spring, but he had no idea what it took to earn his pro wrestling stripes.
While training in college at that Coral Gables Health Spa with the likes of 1972 Olympic bronze medalist discus thrower Ricky Bruch of Sweden and 1976 Olympic silver medalist high jumper Greg Joy of Canada, the wrestlers noticed Ottman. How could you miss him?
The Fabulous Kangaroos (Al Costello and Don Kent) talked to Ottman, noting that Malenko taught pro wrestling in Fort Lauderdale; so Ottman eventually decided to test his mettle. Also training there included Dr. Red Roberts, Millionaire Ted Vernon and South Florida legend Rusty Brooks.
First, Ottman left college to help his family as his father, Charles, a mechanic for Eastern Airlines, took ill. Ottman, who learned auto mechanics at an early age, enjoys getting his hands dirty. He acquired that blue collar work ethic from his father, a man’s man who worked two or three jobs to support the family. When Ottman was 11, he landed a job at a Phillps 66 service station on North River Drive, his first job. He learned to change tires, rebuild an engine, change the oil, tune-ups, pump gas; he did it all.
Ottman is into cars -- classic, hot rods, all kinds.
As he got older, his friends, steel workers.
Ottman’s real life blue collar mantra serviced his CWF wrestling name, The Big Steel Man, a blue collar guy with a service station shirt, long pants, workman’s boots and a construction hat.
“The hat I wore to the ring was from the president of the local union,” Ottman said. “He was a friend of a friend of mine.”
Ottman made many friends in and out of the ring, including his CWF managers Diamond Dallas Page and the late, great Sir Oliver Humperdink.
Pro wrestling actually helped Ottman open up, reveal his personality.
“I was an introvert growing up,” he said. “I was always big for my age, and people would always stare at me. I hated going to the mall, when I was young, because people would always look strangely at me.”
People in pro wrestling establish their own fraternity. Looking different is better than OK; it’s good, actually encouraged.
Ottman did something right because he landed in WWF during the days of Hulk-a-Mania, and it didn’t take long for him to stand out from the crowd. In his first WWF angle in 1990, the company aligned him with Hogan. The Hulkster needed a friend to help him combat the growing number of evil-doers collaborating to not only destroy but end Hulk-a-Mania. The mighty Tugboat was born. Ottman described Tugboat as a combination of Brutus and Popeye, and he loved it.
Tugboat wore a red striped shirt, white pants and a sailor's hat. Part of his gimmick included miming pulling the cord of an airhorn and making a ‘Toot-Toot noise,’ like a foghorn on a ship. Tugboat aided Hogan in his feud with Earthquake and Canada’s Strongest Man Dino Bravo, managed by Mouth of the South Jimmy Hart.
Tugboat made his pay-per-view debut at that November's Survivor Series, where he teamed with Hogan, The Big Boss Man and Hacksaw Jim Duggan against Earthquake, Dino Bravo, Haku and The Barbarian. Tugboat was eliminated when he and Earthquake fought to a double count-out. Hogan was the sole survivor, of course.
Interesting that Tugboat’s next big push occurred when he transformed into Typhoon, and he aligned with his former rival Earthquake as the Natural Disasters, a vicious, heel infused tag team with Hart.
The Natural Disasters won WWF tag team gold when they turned to the good side as fan favorites beating Hart’s new dastardly tandem Money Inc. (Million Dollar Man Ted DiBiase and IRS).
During their tenure, The Natural Disasters also battled The Rockers, The Nasty Boys, The Headshrinkers, The Beverly Brothers, The Bushwhackers, The Legion of Doom.
Ottman later joined WCW, where he will always be remembered -- unfortunately not for a 5-star match.
Introducing The Shockmaster.
Ottman said if you can’t laugh at yourself, what’s the point of life.
The Shockmaster incident on live television is one that highlights wrestling’s funniest moments, bloopers, blunders, unceremonious book and web site lists, and DVDs (”WWE: OMG! Volume 2 - The Top 50 Incidents in WCW History” and “The Rise and Fall of WCW”).
Think about it. How can one man make a Stormtroopers helmet even more famous? Well, Ottman did it.
Bursting through the wall and falling over with the silver glitter covered Stromtroopers helmet mask flying to the ground is not how it was scripted. Maybe not for the right reasons, but it is legendary. Ottman said he could not see through that helmet and stood close to the wall. He stormed through the wall, ala Larry The Axe Hennig, when told to go, but the bottom did not give, so he tripped.
Ottman still owns that enhanced Stormtroopers head gear. Sometimes he brings it with him to fan fests and other wrestling related events, posing for photos with fans while allowing them to wear it.
Let’s face it. It’s live weekly television. For Ottman and his wrestling brethren to do what they do with many, many more rights than mishaps (or mis-steps) is a credit to their profession. Unlike the movies with take after take after take, you have one chance to get it right. Ironically, a familiar face stood by his side, before his big WCW break (and fall), so to speak. Mike Graham worked behind the scenes for WCW and took the task of cuing Shockmaster for his surprise entrance which ended up shocking everyone, including those backstage in the know.
“It’s not what I went to college for,” said Ottman, who enjoys drawing and paitning, “but I wrestled for more than 18 years. It was awesome.”
Also awesome to Ottman the birth of his three children: Bailey, Beau and Berkley. His oldest son, Berkley, works in production for WWE.
Dusty Rhodes and Nasty Boy Jerry Sags are his brothers-in-law, and Goldust and Stardust are his nephews.
Residing now in Lakeland with his lovely wife, Sheila, the 58-year-old Ottman said: “Appreciate what you have and the people around you.”
To appreciate and preserve a piece of wrestling history for the Championship Wrestling from Florida Wall of Fame at the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory in Tampa, a super fan fest fundraiser is 6:30 p.m. EST Thursday, June 11 at the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation in North Tampa.
The wrestlers featured at the fan fest fundraiser include a Who’s Who of talent -- past and present -- including Fred Ottman (The Big Steel Man, Shockmaster, Tugboat, Typhoon).
Joining The Big Steel Man at the fan fest are Ric Flair, Chris Jericho, Rocky Johnson, Roman Reigns, Dory Funk Jr. and Terry Funk, Kofi Kingston, Kevin Sullivan, Sheamus, Jerry Brisco, Steve Keirn, Brian Blair, Dean and Joe Malenko, Robert and Ron Fuller, Danny Miller, Paul Orndorff, Greg Valentine, Ricky Steamboat, Ron Bass, Hector Guerrero, Brutus The Barber Beefcake, J.J. Dillon, Tiger Conway Jr., Bugsy McGraw, The Mighty Yankee, David Penzer, Bray Wyatt and more.
About the fan fest
Long before the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tampa Bay Lightning or Tampa Bay Rays and even before the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Tampa Bay Bandits played in the Big Sombrero, pro wrestling was king in Tampa, drawing huge, raucous crowds to the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory, which featured some mega wrestling cards. Steeped in pro wrestling tradition, all the greats wrestled there during the CWF days.
Tampa’s Jody Simon, the son of the late, great Great Malenko, is working with the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation to organize the fan fest fundraiser, commemorating the history of wrestling at the armory, which is being renovated with plans to reopen as a campus of the JCC late next year.
The fan fest will kick off a fund-raising campaign to pay for a permanent display of photos and memorabilia at the new JCC, celebrating Tampa’s and the armory’s wrestling history.
Jack Ross, executive director of the Tampa JCC, said he is proud that the son of a Jewish wrestler is organizing the event. While Simon said there is no shortage of photos, fight programs and memorabilia available for display, Ross indicated that the size and prominence of the display will depend on the amount of funds raised.
While supporting the history of professional wrestling in Florida, join the stars from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Thursday, June 11 at the Tampa Jewish Community Center & Federation, 13009 Community Campus Dr., Tampa, Fla. 33625.
Tickets will be $60 adult and $38 children.
For information, call 813-264-9000 and visit
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