Icons of Wrestling #34 – Tugboat

Jamie Lithgow

Height: 6’3″
Weight: 383lbs
Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia
Glory Days: 1989-1991
Fun Fact: Fred ‘Tugboat’ Ottman is an uncle to Cody Rhodes and Goldust, as is Nasty Boy Jerry Saggs.


Some truly shocking – get it?! – ring gear on display from Big Steel Man

Back in the late 1980s and early 1990s, a large proportion of wrestlers in the World Wrestling Federation moonlighted with second jobs. The Undertaker was an undertaker, Rick Martel was as a model, The Big Boss Man worked nights at Cobb County Jail, Brutus Beefcake owned a barber shop and Tugboat was a boat, I guess.

Initially entering the WWF in the spring of 1989, Tugboat was initially known as Big Steel Man, a gimmick he had used in Florida Championship Wrestling (not that one) which would later be known as the Pro Wrestling Federation (PWF). Big Steel Man’s outings were limited to a few and resigned to dark matches. Later that year, Big Steel Man reappeared in dark matches and house shows only this time he was dressed like a bottle of Matey bubble bath and called Tugboat Thomas. Tugger’s transition from a Big Steel Man to a marine vessel took a few months to complete but by December of ’89 the fist-pumping babyface known as Tugboat was a feature on house shows.

After a month of smashing jobbers on house shows, Tugbpat Thomas made his television debut on the January 27th 1990 episode of Superstars by defeating Iron Mike Sharpe. Not unlike many modern-day WWE performers, Tugboat would quickly drop his surname before continuing to smash jobbers, on house shows and on TV. Our man’s first angle of significance came in May when Hulk Hogan put him over in a promo on Wrestling Challenge, he even took credit for helping to train Tugger. The Hulkster would endorse Tugboat by raising his hand later in that same show. This positioned Tugboat as Hulk’s main cheerleader and well-wisher after the former champ was sat on by Earthquake. In reality, Hogan was actually off filming Suburban Commando.

Best buds, brother!

In addition to winning squash matches, Tug’s job now included encouraging fans to write letters of support to The Hulkster. So, when Hogan returned to action in time to face Earthquake at Summerslam – and with Hogan’s bottom bitch, Brutus Beefcake, almost losing his face in a parasailing accident – did Tugger get rewarded with a spot by Hogan’s side for the big showdown? Nope, that role went to The Big Boss Man, for some reason. Tugboat did get his reward though and sporadically teamed with Hogan for the next few months. This included Tugboat making his pay per view debut on The Hulkster’s team at Survivor Series. He got himself counted out but also eliminated Earthquake in the process, so not a bad night’s work. Tugboat would also accompany Hogan in victories over Earthquake and Dino Bravo in December and January. However, at the 1991 Royal Rumble Hogan eliminated Tugboat from the match. Our man took it all in stride, but did not forget these actions from his ‘friend’.

Having been left off the Wrestlemania card again, Tugboat faced Mr. Perfect for the Intercontinental Title at house shows and TV tapings during April and May. He was not successful, obviously. Also, on Saturday Night’s Main Event from April 27th, Tugboat tried to gain a measure of revenge on his old pal Hulk Hogan. During a 20 man battle royal, Tugboat challenged Hogan and the two traded blows. Ever the dickhead, Hogan resorted to raking his friend’s eyes in order to gain the advantage. Ultimately, Hogan eliminated Tugger, but again we assumed all was good between the pair.

Skipping forward to June of ‘91 and it finally happened, Tugboat turned heel. Not on Hogan though, on The Bushwhackers. Tugger was teaming with Luke and Butch against Earthquake and The Nasty Boys when first he appeared to get cold feet when opposed by Earthquake before nailing Butch with his Tidal Wave splash to gift the win to his opponents. Afterwards Tugboat celebrated with Jimmy Hart and his stable. A couple of days later it was revealed that Tugboat had changed his name to Typhoon and formed a tag team with Earthquake known as The Natural Disasters. Tugboat’s motivation for turning heel was not feeling appreciated by the fans or Hulk Hogan, while Hogan constantly eliminating him from battle royals probably didn’t help either. This heel turn barely lasted six months. By early 1992 The Natural Disasters turned babyface and ditched Jimmy Hart as their manager.

It may surprise you to know that as Tugboat, Fred Ottman’s only singles defeats came at the hands of The Undertaker and Mr. Perfect. As Typhoon he rarely lost clean and is a former one-time Tag Team Champion (with Earthquake). Having left for WCW in 1993, Ottman briefly returned to the WWF in 1994 as Typhoon. The highlight of this brief run was a disqualification victory over Yokozuna, after Crush interfered. Ottman’s final appearance in WWE came at Wrestlemania 17, where he competed in the Gimmick Battle Royal as Tugboat.

All previous ‘Icons of Wrestling’ can be read here.


3 thoughts on “Icons of Wrestling #34 – Tugboat

  1. In my opinion, the Natural Disasters are the most underrated tag teams ever. Huge guys who could move pretty well and Earthquake was over.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pingback: Icons of Wrestling #35 – The Shockmaster | Ring the Damn Bell

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