Remember Papa Shango? If you’re too young, haven’t been following wrestling for that long, or simply blocked it out of your memory then there are some interesting things awaiting you on the WWE Network.
For the most part, the voodoo gimmick played by Charles Wright from 1991-93 is thought of as a bit of a joke; an entry into “WrestleCrap” and a perennially listed item on various “Top Ten Gimmicks We Want to Forget” articles. But personally, I loved Papa Shango, and for some reason I want others to as well.
Baron Samedi as Papa Shango
For starters, Papa Shango’s look is based off a real deity. No, not one of the 7 deities that Matt Hardy follows (actually, maybe) but a real god in the Haitian Voodoo religion. The god that Papa Shango’s character was created in the image of is named Baron Samedi.
It is said that Samedi is a crass god who loves to drink gin, smoke cigars, and lust after mortal women, which may partly explain how Shango would later transition into the Godfather.
The painted skull face, top hat, and red and black attire that Papa Shango adorned during the early 90s is the same as how Baron Samedi is illustrated by Voodoo practitioners.
Samedi is also the god responsible for helping lost souls cross over to the after-life. He can even grant them new life, if it so suits his desires. Perhaps Charles Wright paid a sacrifice to Samedi, as he was given new life several times, later as “Kama the Supreme Fighting Machine”, then as just “Kama” from the Nation of Domination, next it was “the Godfather”, and then of course as “the Good Father” in the Right to Censor.
Voodoo in the WWF
At the time Papa Shango debuted, there was only 4 PPVs and a few Saturday Night’s Main Events to compliment the 52 weeks of squash matches a year. It sounds agonizing, but we didn’t know there was any other way at the time. Papa Shango’s squash matches presented something unique however. While the actual matches weren’t any different than the others, especially considering his finishing move was an un-inspiring shoulder-breaker, the fun really started when the match ended.
As a sort of “Voodoo-dessert” to the squash-match main course, Shango would place a curse on the jobber he just defeated, adding a super-natural element we wouldn’t see again until Undertaker rose from the dead at the 1994 Royal Rumble. Sometimes there wasn’t even a match, Shango would just curse the jobber and that would be that.
Often it would be a body part on fire, or a black ooze dripping down someone’s forehead. It was definitely a notch more drastic than Ted Dibiase shoving money down his opponent’s throat.
Poor Fan Response and WrestleMania 8
Vince wanted to go all the way with the character, but many fans weren’t having it. Shango was booked to interfere in the main event of WrestleMania 8, though things didn’t go exactly as planned. During the Sid vs. Hulk Hogan match, Shango was supposed to run out and cause the disqualification. Hogan hit Sid with the big leg drop and went for the pin, but Shango wasn’t there in time to make the save. Sid got his shoulder up to prevent fans from seeing him be pinned.
Despite the botched WM finish, it appeared Shango was in-line for a push. That Vince booked him to be involved in the WrestleMania main event, showed how committed he was to the character.
He later began a feud with the Ultimate Warrior. This led to a memorable moment on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event. Shango put a curse on the Warrior, causing him to double over in pain and had to be helped to the back. Cameras captured Warrior vomiting over medical personnel backstage as the commentators speculated it was due to Shango’s voodoo. It was unlike anything fans had become accustomed to at the time.
The feud was abandoned without a televised conclusion. It had become clear the WWF audience wasn’t yet ready for a super-natural element to their wrestling.
Vince didn’t give up in his pursuit of adding super-natural elements to his wrestling show however. The Undertaker character succeeded where Shango did not. Eventually by WrestleMania 14 Kane and the Undertaker were shooting lightning and fire at each other. Fans, contrary to how they felt about Shango, loved this super-natural angle and often chanted “Magic! Magic!” during segments.
Perhaps Papa Shango helped pave the way for such sci-fi/fantasy in wrestling.
The Wrestling Observer Newsletter voted him “Worst Gimmick” and “Most Embarrassing Wrestler” in 1992. But perhaps there are others out there who agree that the Papa Shango character was simply ahead of its time.
Written by Ian Carey,
Originally posted on CagesideSeats.com