The man… the myth… the compulsive masterpiece… but enough about the host. Presented here is special You Total Cult podcast episode dedicated exclusively to an interview with Mat Ricardo.
Mat is an award winning juggler in the truest sense of the term- which is fully explained within this episode. We delve into Mat’s considerable, and talented, mind to cover topics including modern variety, juggling dangers, heckling and even men in lycra.
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Whew, the You Total Cult Blog is back from the dead-or at least a semi-serious coma.
When I left off the previous You Total Cult blog in early July, I hinted that the next entry would feature a voodoo aspect. Well that sure has come to pass since the You Total Cult blog is effectively returning from the grave. Since You Total Cult empire has had to move to its own website, the time normally spent blogging has instead been spent learning how to build a website. If you’re reading this then it has worked. (Here’s hoping).
So back to basics of the YTC Blog, and back to the hinted-at topic at hand; the dead. Zombies. Voodoo. Who do? Do what? Vodoo. Voodoo? Why, Papa Shango does Voodoo!
So who is this Papa Shango fella? Well he’s visually akin to Baron Samedi from 007: Live And Let Die.
Baron Samedi himself is not just a James Bond villian. Rather this 007 henchmen was based on a real Voodoo icon.
Considered to be a Loa of the dead, the mythological Samedi is- in incredibly broad terms- a sort of middle-man between humanity and God when it comes to matters of death. Samedi has his own distinct powers and personality and can potentially be contacted, pleaded and bargained with by certain voodoo practitioners, but essentially we live to serve him and not the other way around.
According to some research books and Wikipedia, Baron Samedi favours rum and tobacco, and swears like a Sailor who has stubbed his toe. I’m not making this up by the way, feel free to double check here.
In some ways Samedi is an Independent Contractor of the Grim Reaper profession. Sure he has a job to do, but he he will grumble whilst going about it and occasionally delve off to do his own things.
So how does a potty-mouthed, emissary of death fit into the world of wrestling? Well it’s just dumb luck, apparently.
By all accounts, bar tender and biker Charles Wright was talked into becoming a professional wrestler by various patrons of a bar/strip club that he worked at in Las Vegas. As a large, muscular man covered in tattoos he was approached about giving the business a go by established professional wrestlers. Agreeing to give it a shot, Wright was named in the Indie-Wrestling scene as The Soultaker based on one of his pre-existing tattoos.
Unfortunately I cannot find an image of the actual tattoo that inspired the name Soultaker so I will just assume it was this;
By the time Wright made it to WWF (aka WWE), hew was tweaked into Papa Shango, a Witch Doctor who had quite the edge in matches. Shango would simply curse his opponents to make them vulnerable and then beat them to a pulp!
Carrying a skull that billowed smoke, uttering ancient phrases and sometimes stealing the hair of his targets, Shango had his voodoo techniques down, and they just so happened to be nicely cinematic.
Seriously, how cool are these images for kids to watch as Shango goes about his Voodoo-ways?
Perhaps the most infamous example of this was against the superhero-esque good guy, The Ultimate Warrior. Papa Shango cursed Warrior on live TV in 1992, making a mysterious black goo pour from Warriors scalp and drip down his face. (Luckily the special effects team didn’t go with a white liquid. That could have led wrestling being labelled with some sort of ridiculous homosexual tag).
Shango did other curses too, usually involving giving his opponents cramps or mysterious bleeding. Perhaps his true rival should have been a maxi-pad.
Not that it mattered particularly who Shango’s rival was as he never actually saw his feud come to any sort of conclusion. Instead The Ultimate Warrior just casually moved onto a different, higher placed feud. Poor old Shango was left to just hang around for a whole. He wrestled at a lot of PPV events but never really had any traction again. No big wins and no more big feuds meant Papa Shango was left to wither.
What makes this waste of Shango all the more odd is that during the start of their feud, Papa Shango had actually been featured in the WrestleMania VIII main event. He had teamed up with a character called Sid Justice to attack Hulk Hogan and, ultimately, The Ultimate Warrior at the end of this Pay Per View.
Now both Warrior and Hogan were huge wrestling names, Hogan arguably the biggest of all time. For Shango to share the spotlight with them only a few months after his WWF debut, during the biggest Wrestling moment of the year this implied that Shango would be a big time villain for years to come. In Hollywood terms it would be as if John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart were attacked during the closing of the Oscars. Wrestling exposure simply does not get much bigger than a WresteleMania Main Event.
Regrettably though, once the aforementioned Warrior-angle dried up with no conclusion, things only got worse for Shango. Sid Justice was released from WWE’s employ leaving Shango out of both an opponent and partner and a story. He managed to hang on until November of 1992 when he would finally face The Ultimate Warrior… only for Warrior to leave WWE too!
By this point Shango had started with a high-profile feud, been completely forgotten about in the midst of said feud, he spun his wheels for a while and then been vaguely remembered by his original rival only to once more lose his chance to get any at any character or narrative closure. Left to wander the wrestling world as a shell of his former self, Shango would occasionally appear, get beaten quickly and then shuffle off to wait for his next summoning to the ring. WWE Career-wise, Papa Shango had become a real zombie; one that was raised from the grave, attacked and then left for dead whenever a punching bag was needed.
It is not all bad news though. Mr Wright went through a few dicey gimmicks before finally hitting on a role that made him smile ear-to-ear. During Wrestling’s biggest economic boom, known to fans as The Attitude Era, Wright became a beloved Pimp known as The Godfather. Dressed in bright suits and surrounded by beautiful women, Wright was cheered en-masse and even went on to win both the Intercontinental Title and the Tag Team titles during this time period. He still appears on cameos as The Godfather on WWE Television appearing most recently during the 2013 Royal Rumble PPV. It was onwards and upwards for the wrestler, even if not the original character.
Still, the later success of Charles Wright aside, this YTC entry is dedicated to the persona of Papa Shango. A master of the dark arts who resembled a foul-mouthed, heavy drinking Voodoo Loa, Shango deserves to be remembered fondly for the sheer bizarreness of it all. Although Papa Shango crashed and burned into an early grave, he made one hell of an impact on this young viewers mind. Papa Shango’s was not a long run, but it was a memorable one.
Who knows how far the character could have gone with feuds against that Western zombie, The Undertaker or ‘The Devils Favourite Demon’ Kane or even the unstable Goldust.Unfortunately wrestling fans will never know.Bad luck certainly helped ruin Charles Wright’s run as Papa Shango.
In fact, you could say that he was cursed.
Next time will be time for a ghost, a sword and affordable rent. And out of those three topics, affordable rent is clearly the most fantastical concept.
When I was a wee child, I wandered into a toy shop and walked out with a small, slim shiny pack. Clearly I was too young for condoms, so what could it be? Why I believe it was a 1989 set of Classic WWF cards.
Sure, I had a vague notion of Professional Wrestling from the fat blokes on ITV in the 1980’s. I had also heard about the slicker, American version that the kids at school who could afford Sky TV were watching. But I hadn’t seen any of the American stuff myself, and this little card pack was a gateway into knowing a bit more about what the better-off kids at school were discussing.
Having bought the pack and opened it, the images of these ‘Professional Wrestlers’ fed my mind with the possibility that Superheroes were just a tiny bit closer to existing in real life.
Admittedly they also, they wore a lot less clothes and were all more baby-oiled-up, but in the days before Hollywood cared about Superheroes, us nerds took any approximation that we could on TV.
Immediately I could see the vibrant colours of the Ultimate Warrior. I bore witness to the cool villainy of Bret Hart in his reflective shades. I puzzled how a chubby, balding Sgt. Slaughter with a chin the size of a ski slope could be a threat to these other athletes. But amongst all of these cards was that one special one. This was the one character who was on the top of the opened pack. In fact, this one character was my first glimpse of the alien world of WWF Wrestling as a child. This one character was never destined for greatness in wrestling terms, but he was one who left an impact on me.
If American professional wrestlers really were closer to real-life superheroes, then this guy looked like a cheap vigilante. Well, actually more of a grimy bad guy. A low life thug. Gritty, even He seemed to almost be slumming it. This guy seemed to be someone flirting with the big time, but with no class. But that was a-OK with me. I was from a Working Class home by Watford- we had no class either!
Ladies and gentlemen, this WWF card was of… the one… the only… The Brooklyn Brawler!
A new feature of the You Total Cult will be to look at the more unusual pro-Wrestlers. People, or their gimmicks, that somehow stand out like a neon sign of cult-oddness in the otherwise perfectly bizarre ‘sport‘ of hairless men in Lycra grunting a lot as they slap one another.
Since The Brooklyn Brawler is linked to my first experiences of professional Wrestling, his seems the apt wrestler to kick off this new feature.
The character of The Brooklyn Brawler is that of a slob. The Brawler is a guy in dirty, ripped clothing who has all the finesse of a drunk fighting off muggers and all the charisma of some saliva in a urinal.
In reality- if such a thing can ever be worked out by wrestling fans- The Brooklyn Brawler is long-serving WWF (now WWE) employee and respected wrestler, Steve Lombardi. Despite having a long and varied career (more on that later) this You Total Cult entry is focusing primarily on Lombardi’s best known alter ego, The Brooklyn Brawler.
It was in 1983 that The Brooklyn Brawler character first really took form. That from is, put simply, half-thug and a half-bum. This was clear from his very entrance and outfit. Where as many superstars wore larger than life outfits filled with colour, The Brawler would wrestle in a ripped Yankees shirt and damaged jeans. This gear led to a chorus of boos anywhere but in New York- or sometimes even in New York too if there were Mets fans present.
Whilst walking to the ring, Brawler would always have a big stogie in his mouth, though clearly it was never lit. Maybe this was because a lit cigar could encourage smoking. Or maybe it was because this guy is a professional athlete. Or maybe it was made of chocolate. At any rate, accompanying his cigar, Brawler tended to don a Leather Cap.
Presumably this was a ‘blue-collar tough’ look in the late 1980’s, although to my mind it equally screams cruising bars lie Police Academy’s Blue Oyster club.
Here is a look at one of Brawler’s early entrance videos. This would play to fans in the Arena to give an idea to the vibe of nay character about to wrestle.
Brawler begin this first stage of his career in great hands. His manger was the legendary WWF Manager, Bobby ‘The Brain’ Heenan.
Heenan was a major player in several decades of Wrestling so being associated on air with Heenan implied that The Brooklyn Brawler could have been in for one heck of a career. Sadly for us BB fans, this was not really the case.
According to the plot that led to ol ‘BB being managed by Heenan, the Brawler was something of a patsy. He was only brought in to battle a previous client of Heenan’s, the Red Rooster.
Yes, by the way Red Rooster was essentially a giant man-chicken. I do not mean a coward, I mean an actual man-chicken. I would write ‘chicken-man’ but that implies some level of super heroics, no matter how lame. The reality was far, far worse.
Brawler was clearly brought in as a low-level player in the World Wrestling Federation. Not just because his character was based on a chump being given a shot, but also because he actually was bested in this feud but the Rooster. Consequently Brawler’s character was doomed from the get go.
It is important to note that Steve Lombardi was not doomed. Far from it. His character was indeed a loser, but the man was not. In the world of wrestling every successful winner only exists because someone else has been hired to lose. Lombardi, like many professionals, was a man doing a job and doing it perfectly well.
The Brooklyn Brawler’s losses actually made Lombardi’s career. Fromthe 1980’s to the present day, WWF has had Brawlerface- and lose- to almost every other WWF/E star ever employed by the company.
It is the equivalent of being a good stunt man in Hollywood. OK, you never get the lead role or the big bucks but you do get to stay employed, make regular appearances on screen and are clearly trusted by your employers.
Despite never having had much of a featured feud on Television again, the character of The Brooklyn Brawler did still have several stand-out moments over the next three decades. One of these was a shocking 14years after the Brawler’s début when the perennial loser actually got a World heavyweight Championships match!
In 1997 the Brawler took part in a Battle Royal to determine who would face then-champion, Shawn Michaels in a show at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Spurred on by the home field advantage, the Brawler won the battle Royal match and earned his shot for later that night.
Naturally, the Brawler lost but the very fact that BB got there showed the character, even as a loser, still had a place in the hearts of the local fans.
Of course The Brooklyn Brawler character being scuzzy bad guy, this place in the hearts of the fans could never last. By 2004 the New York Yankees lost the 2004 World Series baseball championship to their, the Boston Red Sox. Ever the scumbag, the Brooklyn Brawler gave up his customary Yankees top and re-dubbed himself the Boston Brawler. That vile turncoat!
Down but never out, the Brooklyn Brawler had yet another return in him, this time as a piece of plastic. In 2006, the WWE Toy Company responsible for the WWE Classic Superstars chose to make a Brooklyn Brawler action figure!
Based on how many of these unopened figures can be bought on ebay cheaply, The Brooklyn Brawler figure was probably not a best seller. But the fact that Lmbardi’s character got immortalised for essentially being one of the most memorable losers in WWE history is actually a testament to his characters durability.
The 2012 TLC PPV took place in Brooklyn came out as a mystery partner to join former World Champion headline Superstars Alberto Del Rio and the Miz take on three low-level joke characters, 3MB. Brawler ended up winning the match for his team via submission with a move called ‘The Boston Crab’, or more accurately on this occasion ‘The Brooklyn Crab’.
How’s that for an unexpected twist in The Brooklyn Brawler saga?!? Interestingly, Steve Lombardi has also appeared as all manner of additional C-List style roles in WWF/E . These have been far less successful the his Brooklyn Brawler persona but are equally memorable to fans of the sillier-side of wrestling. Amongst them are Kim Chee who acted as a Safari-guide for a cannibal, Abe ‘Knuckelball’ Shwartz a dangerous Baseball player and one of many, many Doink The Clowns.
Lomabardi may never have set the wrestling world alight in any single wrestling persona, but he has always remained present as The Brooklyn Brawler in some capacity since 1984. In addition to longevity, the Brawler has had his share of memorable wrestling moments, become a toy figure and even managed a PPV win 28 years after is début.
Even if the below video shows that The Brawler character hates the English, he’ll always have a place in this Briton’s heart. Hell, I even dressed like him for a Wresting show with my lovely lady.
BB is proof that every dog can indeed have his day- even the mangiest of mutts.
For the next time I have absolutely no idea what I will be writing about. Fortunately that has never stood in my way before.
Thanks for reading,
There's no 'i' in 'team', but there is a 'u' in 'cult'.