Tom Lawlor is a character. Or is that "character™"?
The UFC fighter and former pro-wrestling message-board fanatic is a walking, breathing version of the Wacky Waving Inflatable Arm-Flailing Tubeman, last seen at every Southern car dealership ever.
Antics are his thing, and he makes his living being the one zany guy at the very, very serious bro-fest that is the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
When Lawlor is on the card, you know he's going to bring his A-game—if not to the fight itself, at the very least to the weigh-ins. He's come out as Hulk Hogan and Dan Severn. Crossed racial divides to enter the arena as Rocky's Apollo Creed and UFC 1 laughingstock Art Jimmerson. Once he even came out as Tom Lawlor.
But at UFC 154, Lawlor topped himself, creating a gimmick so arcane that only a handful of the most inveterate pro-wrestling nerds on earth would get the reference. To most it must have looked like Lawlor was goofing around and tripped. Was that a bootleg stormtrooper helmet on his head? What, exactly, was going on?
While Canada wondered, obsessed wrestling fans in their 30s just shook their heads and smiled. We knew what Lawlor was up to. That was no random costume. Lawlor was the Shockmaster.
The legend of the Shockmaster, immortalized by RD Reynolds in his great book Wrestlecrap, has earned new life on YouTube. Before that, however, only the select few who were tuned in to WTBS on August 18, 1993 had the pleasure of seeing this glorious, glorious failure.
Fred Ottman, an enormously obese wrestler who had played the role of one of Hulk Hogan's sidekicks, Tugboat, for the WWF, was set to make his debut as a major player in WCW. It was a gimmick destined to fail, considering it involved both a beglittered stormtrooper mask and the remarkably inept Ottman.
WCW, to their credit, were at least going to give it a shot. Ottman was introduced by no less than Ric Flair and Sting, the promotion's biggest stars, on their premiere free television show. He was going to be given every chance to succeed, teaming with Sting and the British Bulldog to take on Sid Vicious and Harlem Heat.
Ole Anderson even lent Ottman and the Shockmaster his voice, telling his foes in a voiceover "They call me the Shockmaster! You ruled the world long enough, Sid Vicious. Get ready. Come on, you want a piece of me? You want a piece of me? Come get me."
And then the Shockmaster tripped. Not just a little stumble, which would have been bad enough. I mean tripped. On his face, glittery stormtrooper helmet rolling right off his enormous gourd. It was one of the best moments of unintentional comedy in television history.
To his credit, Anderson went right ahead with his tough-talking rhetoric. Sid Vicious did his best to look scared. No one else could keep character. "Oh God," Flair was heard to exclaim as the live television audience heard Harlem Heat's Booker T ask "Who is this motherf***er?" and a distraught British Bulldog groan "He fell flat on his f***ing arse."
Poor Ottman stood tall and proud with his helmet back on his head and continued with the skit. But the Shockmaster was dead. Announcer Jesse Ventura put the nail in the coffin with his response to the debacle. The amused future governor simply said "What an entrance by the Shockmaster! We're full of spectacular entrances!"
A dejected Ottman returned to the back, his big WCW run dead on arrival.
"He knelt down and he flopped that helmet down," Dusty Rhodes, who masterminded the skit, remembered. "I couldn't even talk. He said 'I f-ed this up didn't I?' I laughed so hard, they had to take me to my room. It was an amazing moment."
One of Us
For years the UFC has attempted to convince fans that the fighters are just like us. Not yet lavishly rich like their professional sports counterparts, UFC stars could very easily be the accountant in the next cubicle or the guy who rules your local softball league.
I don't know how true that is. But Tom Lawlor? That guy is one of us. He's a wrestling nerd who grew up, not just to watch fights, but to actively participate in them. He's the keyboard warrior made good.
Will Lawlor win his bout with rising star Francis Carmont? Probably not. In all honesty, he's not supposed to. He's a stepping stone for Carmont on his road to a potential title shot.
I don't remember a single moment of any Tom Lawlor fight. As an athlete, he's the definition of ordinary. Does that matter, really, in the scheme of things?
Fight week is a long grind for everyone involved with the UFC. From press conferences to open workouts to weigh-ins, it's a never-ending succession of similar-looking guys standing around in their underwear. If nothing else, Tom Lawlor breaks up the monotony.
The truth is, Georges St-Pierre is never going to shine brightly in the moments leading up to a fight. His already-leaden personality has been drained of any life by the demands of his ever-increasing corporate sponsors. GSP and the UFC need a guy like Tom Lawlor to carry the load in a manner that would be undignified for the champion to be a part of.
We need Tom Lawlor in his sumo diaper rolling around on the mat. We all need, dare I say it, a little Shockmaster in our lives.