Multi-gimmicked Mike Shaw -- Norman, Makhan Singh, Bastion Booger -- dead at 53
GREG OLIVER - Producer, SLAM! Wrestling
|Mike Shaw as Makhan Singh.
Mike Shaw, who was known in the wrestling world under various names, including Makhan Singh, Norman the Lunatic and Bastion Booger, and Klondike Mike, died of a heart attack on Saturday. He was 53.
Over the last number of years, Shaw was only loosely associated with the wrestling business, making the occasional appearance at fan fests under his different gimmicks.
Shaw was always lighthearted about his various personas; it's a long way from the lovable Norman the Trucker, treasuring the teddy bears (after he was a Lunatic), to the sadistic, plotting Makhan Singh, to the religiously-inspired Friar Ferguson, to the repugnantly obese Bastion Booger.
"It's funny, in my home town here in Michigan, people on the street still call me Norman," Shaw told this writer in 1999.
He ran a wrestling school in the upper Michigan peninsula for a time, and was a bouncer in a bar in Marquette, Mich., up until 2007.
Born May 9, 1957 in Marquette, Shaw was an amateur star in nearby Skandia and at Gwinn High School in Gwinn. At high school, he won 11 varsity letters -- wrestling (Great Lakes conference heavyweight champion in his senior year), track and field (shot put), football (defensive tackle).
For a time, he played pro softball for the Milwaukee Schlitz, until the American Professional Softball Association folded before the start of its second season, while many of the players, including Shaw, were in Florida for training. It was there that he met an older wrestler (Farmer Brown? Farmer Bill? Stories varied over the years) who suggested he might have a future in the grunt and groan business.
So Shaw set off to Walter "Killer" Kowalski's school in Salem, Mass., to learn pro wrestling.
"Kowalski had a great school. He spent a lot of time with us," Shaw said. "He took a liking to me. I went in there, I was probably one of his bigger guys at that time. I was probably about 6'1", 270, 280 (pounds) at the time. I was training really hard and I had just come out of softball, so I was in really good shape."
According to Shaw, Kowalski was in the ring with the students every day, and after three months of daily training, Shaw started working the small-time shows -- Mike Stryker! -- that Killer put on near the school, and a few WWWF TV tapings as enhancement talent. Kowalski drilled into the bulky Shaw the skills needed to be a non-stop, aggressive heel.
Though still relatively new to the business, Shaw got a publicity photo done up and mailed out promotional packages to 30 territories. The Vancouver All-Star Wrestling promotion, in transition with Sandor Kovacs and Gene Kiniski making way to Al Tomko, were the first to bite. There, his odyssey began as Klondike Mike, a babyface lumberjack.
In a interview with Scott Teal's Whatever Happened To ... newsletter in 1998, Shaw credited veterans such as Moose Morowski, Dean Ho and Eric Froelich for helping him develop.
Up next was Calgary's Stampede Wrestling promotion, the territory he'd be most associated with throughout his career. Though the Vancouver All-Star tapes aired in Calgary, the Alberta promotion made no attempt to explain why Klondike Mike was suddenly a heel in town.
After struggling in Calgary near the bottom of the cards, Shaw headed to South Africa, where he was Big Ben Sharpe for a few months (he would return to South Africa many times). Upon his return to Canada, Mike Shaw saw the natural heat The Great Gama Singh was getting, and sided with him as Makhan Singh, forming what would become known as Karachi Vice.
Gama (Gadowar Singh Sahota) explained how the team came about. "Everybody still talks about the Karachi Vice. It was an accidental thing, how it came about. There was myself and Mike Shaw, who I had changed his name to Makhan Singh, and we had Steve DiSalvo and Kerry Brown. I think we were all doing an interview together, we did a few interviews for a few weeks in a row, and then it just sort of came out. 'This is the Karachi Vice', because Miami Vice, the TV show, was quite hot at the time. And then the people just picked up from that. The following week, we saw all kinds of signs coming out -- Karachi Ice, Karachi Mice and that sort of thing. We just kind of followed through and kept it going from there. It became quite a hot thing for a couple of years at least."
Coinciding with the hot run of Karachi Vice were the up-and-coming babyfaces who would end up both end up famous outside of the wrestling business for tragic reasons -- Chris Benoit and Owen Hart.
With Stampede Wrestling, like most of the territories, sputtering to an end as cable TV took over the wrestling business, Shaw took his skills to World Championship Wrestling. Promos for the incoming Norman the Lunatic ran for months before his debut. Dressed in a straightjacket, and often using a stretcher, Norman was a heel for the first six months until he was "freed" from the control of manager Teddy Long and became a babyface. Fans would sympathize with him, and hand him teddy bears.
Long-term plans for Norman got derailed when Ole Anderson took over as the booker, and he planned to stress wrestling. A cadre of heels descended on Norman the Lunatic, and pummeled him; when Shaw returned to TV, he was Trucker Norm for the three months or so until his contract expired.
Aside from indy bookings in the U.S., Shaw worked in Mexico as Aaron Grundy, "brother" to Solomon Grundy.
Having lost a hair versus mask match in Mexico, Shaw got the call to head to Connecticut and the World Wrestling Federation offices. A number of gimmicks were presented to him as options, including Bastion Booger, and two different monks -- Friar Ferguson and the Mad Monk.
"I think the Booger character would have worked if it got over as a heel, but my heart wasn't into it," conceded Shaw to Teal. "I didn't like the character. I didn't like the outfit. Don't get me wrong. I was happy to be in the WWF. It was something I wanted to do my whole career. I made a good living there."
WHAT YOU THINK
What was your favourite Mike Shaw character?
Makhan Singh - 46%
Bastion Booger - 29%
Norman the Lunatic - 19%
Klondike Mike - 3%
Trucker Norm - 2%
Big Ben Sharpe - 1%
Other! - 1%
Aaron Grundy - 0%
Shaw would always agree that his career ended on a negative, where the bulk of his great work was never seen by the biggest viewership.
After wrestling, he worked at the Ojibwa Casino in security and public relations, as well as running his wrestling school.
Away from the ring, he met his wife, Kelly, while on tour of the Canadian Maritimes, and they married in May 1990. They had two children, Joshua and Amanda, who both share their father's knack for sports.
Mike Shaw Photo Gallery
Makhan Singh in our Canadian Hall of Fame
Previous SLAM! Wrestling obituaries
The funeral for Mike Shaw will be on Thursday, September 16, 2010, from 3-7 p.m. at the Fassbender Funeral Home in Marquette, Michigan.
Greg Oliver has been writing about pro wrestling since 1985. His fifth book, SLAM! Wrestling: Shocking Stories from the Squared Circle came out in the fall of 2009. The four previous books are Benoit: Wrestling with the Horror That Destroyed a Family and Crippled a Sport (with Steven Johnson, Heath McCoy and Irv Muchnick); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Heels (with Steven Johnson); The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Tag Teams (also with Johnson) and The Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame: The Canadians. Order them all from the SLAM! Wrestling Store. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.