When Vince McMahon essentially monopolized the pro-wrestling industry in 1985 after a record-breaking buy-rate for the first ever Wrestlemania, the product was relatively conservative. Foreigners getting choked out by the American heroes and musclemen telling the audience to say their prayers and take their vitamins were commonplace in the WWF. The golden age of wrestling, as it’s usually called, was a product of its time, as instead of appealing to a fringe group of hardcore professional wrestling fans, the goal of McMahon was to make professional wrestling a pop-culture powerhouse. Children, parents and grandparents would gather around the old CRT to watch their superheroes defeat their respective supervillains. The WWF was family friendly entertainment in the 1980s in the same way that Saturday morning cartoons were.
You know what else is fun for the whole family? Black magic! I should preface before I get into the nitty-gritty of this voodoo practitioner, that Charles Wright, the man behind the face-paint is a legendary professional wrestler and this one-year stint should not dictate his entire career.
Photo credit: WWE.com
Now that that’s out of the way, Papa Shango was voted both the “worst gimmick” and “most embarrassing wrestler” in 1992’s Wrestling Observer Newsletter. Sorry, I just needed to pull the bandaid off. What could go wrong with putting a 330-pound man in a necklace made of obviously plastic bones, a top hat, a white feathered cape and skeleton makeup? Lots of crying children. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch some Papa Shango’s matches on the WWE Network. It’s pretty hilarious watching a gyrating man holding a smoking skull on a wooden stake, only for the camera to cut to tears rolling down a bunch of kids’ faces.
The true comedy comes in when you see the adult fans in the audience, often laughing or shaking their heads in disapproval. While the scares must have worked for the youth in attendance, it’s not a stretch to feel as if your intelligence is being insulted as an adult watching a Papa Shango match. And God forbid someone walks in on you while watching one of those. You’re probably better off switching to porn because it would be easier to explain.
At Wrestlemania VIII, Shango was set to interfere in the main event of Hulk Hogan vs. Sid Justice, causing a disqualification and setting up for the triumphant return of Ultimate Warrior, who had been absent for nearly a year, to come to Hogan’s rescue. Unfortunately, he was very late… Very… Late. According to all accounts, this was not his fault, though he had inadvertently caused the main event of Wrestlemania to be ruined. Sid ended up kicking out of Hogan’s almighty leg drop, and nonsensical chaos ensued until Shango made his run-in, followed soon after by the Warrior. The match was a disaster from bell to bell. Often cited as the worst Wrestlemania match of all time, it’s very difficult to separate Papa Shango’s likeness from the bout, and took away any bit of momentum the character had.
So how did the WWE fix this? I’ll give you a moment to guess. Done? Okay. If you guessed he would use black magic to make the Ultimate Warrior spew black ooze from his mouth all over medics and interviewers, congratulations! The gimmick was doomed from the start. Despite the stupidity of the character, in retrospect, there’s a charm to Papa Shango. For children, he must have been the product of nightmares. I wonder how many kids' first exposure to wrestling was the Ultimate Warrior puking black. It may have been silly, but it was definitely memorable. Papa Shango, and gimmicks of the sort are a representation of simpler times in the wrestling industry. If I ever want to shut off my brain for a few minutes, I know I can count on some early 90s WWF and be content. I’m grateful that I have that luxury.