The late '80s/early '90s were a pretty crappy time for professional wrestling. The last generation of big stars, like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant, were starting to lose a step or had already bowed out, but the next generation, like Steve Austin and The Rock, hadn't found the right gimmick or were just too green. That's probably why the WWF turned so cartoony in those days - it was easier to sell storylines with stereotypes and caricatures than with the jobbers they actually employed. For instance, take a look at the wrestling voodoo priest, Papa Shango.
were actually becoming kind of plentiful back then, riding on the coattails of the Undertaker's original zombie persona. Papa Shango would come to ringside with a skull that spewed smoke and, after defeating whatever loser was helping him get over that week, would shake it at them as they twitched and writhed in pain. His greatest achievement was ridding the WWF of raging nutbar the Ultimate Warrior.
While the Warrior was going through his usual "speedfreak meets 'roid rage" post-win celebration after yet another lop-sided match against a nobody - snorting, bellowing, running around the ring and shaking the ropes, pooping in his own hand and throwing it at his keepers [I think he's just kidding about that last one, folks; or at least, I hope so. --ed.] - Shango appeared in the aisle and, with nothing more than a few gestures, caused the Warrior to double over in pain and have to be helped back to the dressing room. When the show came back from commercial, the Warrior was laid out on a table, in obvious pain, and eventually horked some thick green liquid all over himself. Later, in an interview segment, black goop began to run from Warrior's eyes and scalp. It wasn't long after that when Warrior left (or was fired, depending on who you ask) pro wrestling again, dropping off the face of the earth for a good five years, making it seem like Papa Shango really had done something to him.
Papa Shango had a great look, for the time.
As the wrestling voodoo priest, he played into the stereotype that most people would recognize: chicken bones, a top hat and skeletal facepaint. He looked like that 7 Up guy in that James Bond movie, which makes sense since they were both patterned after the loa (god or divine spirit) Baron Samedi. Baron Samedi is a Guede, a loa of death, cemeteries and other firmly phsyical concerns, and even his name means death, in a roundabout way: "Samedi" comes from Saturday, the Sabbath, the day of death and endings. If you want to communicate with the dead, you have to ask Baron Samedi's permission, and the first burial in a new cemetery is dedicated to him. Samedi is a New World loa, not one of the ones brought over from Africa, which is probably why he's slightly more modern than some of his pantheon: the Baron is usually depicted as a raucous skeleton in a top hat and tails - he dresses like an undertaker.
The figure is just over 7" tall, and moves at the ankles, knees, hips, waist, wrists, elbows, biceps, shoulders and neck. The shoulders and neck are balljoints, and the wrists are doubled up, so they have a similar range of motion. Papa Shango was bald, so they didn't have to worry about making his hair look right, but he's got a great angry look on his face, and he actually seems to have the right body type under his little onesie - Jakks sometimes has a tendency to "over-buff" the wrestlers.
The paint is really good, and it's fairly intricate.
He's got the skull face painted on, and the black of his suit doesn't spill onto his skin at all. His fingernails should probably be black, but that's a minor thing. There are red voodoo symbols on the legs and abdomen,
but the really impressive bit is on his chest and arms. Papa Shango was rocking some pretty extensive tats, and the figure's got them, too. Skulls, whorls, all that sorts of stuff. He's nearly got full sleeves and both pecs are covered, but the tiny, thin details are all crisp. If the tattoos were muddy at all, they'd end up looking like crap, but that's definitely not the case here.
Papa Shango has two accessories, both of which make perfect sense. First is his bone necklace, a single plastic piece molded in black with off-white paint
for the bones. It drops down over his head easily, and while it may not lay exactly right across his chest, it gets the feeling across. His other accessory is his top hat, and it fits nicely on his head. The prototype figure and the picture on the back of the packaging showed a real (synthetic) feather in the brim of the hat, but the final product just has an anemic-looking red feather painted on a white patch on the front. While the real feather would have been preferable, the painted version is acceptable. Sadly, Papa Shango does not come with his magic skull.
Starting with Series 9 and continuing throughout 2006, all the Classic Superstars figures come with a replica WrestleMania ticket - collect all 22, and you can send away for an exclusive figure (to be announced later). Papa Shango comes with a ticket for WrestleMania V, demonstrating that the ticket included with any given figure has nothing to do with the character: not only was Papa Shango not involved in WrestleMania V, he wasn't even with the company yet. He did have a run-in appearance at WM8 (another one of those "depends on who you ask" stories - he was either hastily sent in when Sid Vicious went off-script or he was scheduled to appear and missed his cue) and actually fought a dark match at WM9, but that was the extent of his involvement with WrestleMania.
The Papa Shango character faded away by 1994, but Charles Wright, the man who played him, wasn't done yet. He came back a year later as "Kama, the Supreme Fighting Machine," then was recast as a black militant. That lasted until 1998, when the WWF's constant ratings losses to rival WCW caused the company to try an ever-escalating (or descending) series of provocative and controversial angles, including Wright's re-imagining as The Godfather, the wrestling pimp. Yeah. After that it was the Goodfather, a nominal bastion of decency, and then semi-retirement. You can track the trends of pro wrestling in the '90s by following Wright's career from cartoon character to over-blown personal exaggeration (with a few stops along the way). And while more people may recognize Wright as the Godfather, it's hard to deny the visual appeal of a wrestling voodoo priest, or that Papa Shango is a definite classic.
Who'd win in a fight between the wrestling witchdoctor and the wrestling pimp? Tell us on our message board, The Loafing Lounge.