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The Freakzilla’s Last Act

Maybe more than anyone else in wrestling, Scott Steiner has had two distinctly different careers and personalities. But now, with a recent health scare and approaching 60 with a gimmick that’s growing more dated every day, how can he reinvent himself once more?

Last week, the legendary Scott Steiner collapsed in the locker room at an Impact Wrestling TV taping, reportedly as part of some kind of cardiac episode. Thankfully, he’s expected to make a full recovery. In the meantime, though, it’s inspired an outpouring of goodwill for a man who is beloved in spite of himself. 

More than anything else, what makes Steiner unique is that he’s had two distinct careers: first as an athletic marvel of a good guy; and then in the persona that he continues to inhabit to this day — the villainous “Big Poppa Pump.”

Sporting a gorgeous mullet of dark brown hair, Steiner originally made his name in 1989, when he showed up in World Championship Wrestling to assist his brother, Rick, in his feud with Rick’s former cohorts in the villainous Varsity Club. (Think the most subtle possible allusion to secret societies, with evil mastermind Kevin Sullivan corrupting a bunch of clean-cut former college athletes.) Rick, in his guise of an overgrown, powerful simpleton who knew only the love of his dog/sometimes ringside manager Arnold and his imaginary friend Alex, had become one of the most popular wrestlers in the U.S., and Steiner was his perfect counterpart. They had similar styles — both explosive athletes who threw opponents around the ring using the skills they’d cultivated as All-American wrestlers at the University of Michigan. (They’re originally from nearby Bay City.) The difference was that Scott was the clean-cut prom king type, albeit a kindly one, in sharp contrast to Rick’s goofy exterior and rough edges, while also being flashier in the ring.

As much as it’s said that wrestlers mainly get over on their personalities, and as much as it’s usually true, Steiner became a star based entirely on his wrestling. Even in a promotion full of athletic heavyweights like Sting, Lex Luger, Barry Windham and The Great Muta, all of whom made their WWF counterparts look like the plodding non-athletes that they were, Steiner still stood out. He had all sorts of cool moves, including numerous varieties of suplex to throw his opponents around with, but they were nothing compared to his signature move, the Frankensteiner. Seemingly defying the laws of physics, he would send his opponent into the ropes, jump straight up in the air, grab their head with his legs and flip backwards, spiking their head into the mat with a flying headscissors takeover of sorts. Similar moves existed before — and have long continued to exist since — but few have tried to repeat this one.

There were two problems with him becoming a breakout superstar, however — at least if you set aside WCW’s general mismanagement:

  1. Rick and Scott long refused to break up the team.
  2. Steiner was, by most accounts, kind of a dick behind the scenes. 

On the latter count, Bret Hart’s memoir, for example, relays a story of Steiner bullying little-person wrestler Tiger Jackson: “The Steiners wouldn’t be gone soon enough for poor Tiger, who meekly pulled his cap off and tucked his chin in, like a sad little ghoul, so that Scotty could slobber on two of his fingers and slap Tiger hard on the top of his bald head,” Hart wrote. “Tiger had learned from too much experience: If he didn’t cooperate by taking his hat off, Scotty would hit him in the head 10 times.”

This resulted in the feeling that Steiner would be a good heel. But to point number one, the Steiners didn’t want to embark on solo careers. And so, they left WCW for runs in the WWF, New Japan Pro-Wrestling, and briefly, Extreme Championship Wrestling. By the time they returned under different management in 1996, however, the brothers had slowed down and Scott had put on a lot of additional muscle. 

He was always big and jacked up, but Steiner was starting to look freakish, with his arms looking particularly (and unusually) bulging. He denies taking steroids but admits to using the prohormone/steroid precursor androstenedione — colloquially “androstene” — which converts to a steroid in the body. (He doesn’t appear to have ever addressed the allegations that he used injections of synthol — an oil that creates the illusion of muscular growth — to enhance his biceps, though.) “Say what you will, I never failed a drug test,” he told interviewer Michael Bochicchio in a DVD interview for Highspots.com. “[As a] matter of fact, when I went up to WWE, they call me, call my lawyer, and said, ‘Oh, they wanna drug test you.’ [We said], ‘Yeah, fine, have Hunter [Hearst Helmsley] pick him up in the limo, they’ll both go together.’ That was the end of that.” 

Whatever the cause for his change in appearance, as he got bigger, Steiner slowed down in the ring and lost most of what made him SCOTT STEINER. Take away a lot of the Frankensteiners, all of the flipping power slams and many of the flashy suplexes, and you’re mostly left with an immobile bodybuilder. “It was amazing on WCW Saturday Night when the Steiners, [Scott] Norton and Ice Train did an interview,” wrote Dave Meltzer in a June 1996 issue of his Wrestling Observer Newsletter. “Train’s arms are so huge they actually make Norton and Rick Steiner look small and even dwarf Scott’s bowling ball biceps. Speaking of Scott, if you’re wondering how he looks the way he does, it’s because he has great genetics. Also, guys who haven’t signed contracts (which the Steiners haven’t) don’t get [drug] tested.”

After a while, a bigger change seemed inevitable, especially once Steiner abandoned his trademark look, cutting his hair and growing a goatee. Come SuperBrawl VIII in 1998, he turned on Rick, and that’s when the world was introduced to Big Poppa Pump, the Scott Steiner we all know now.

Bearing a strong resemblance to legends of the past like “Superstar” Billy Graham, the villainous persona was a much crasser version of the bleached-blond, muscle-bound ladies-man-style heel. Graham and others of his ilk were charming, rhyming braggarts, reciting poetry such as, “I am the women’s pet, the men’s regret; what you see is what you get, and what you don’t see is better yet.” Steiner, on the other hand, spoke much more explicitly about how much fucking he was doing. His female companions were his “freaks” and “hooches”; his catchphrase was “Big Poppa Pump is your hookup”; his secondary nickname was “The Big Bad Booty Daddy”; and he’d brag about being able to prove the extent of his prowess to another wrestler’s wife in just one night. Meanwhile, he was also insane enough to throw women out of moving cars if need be. He was Testosterone: The Person, with all the good and bad that came with it. 

Steiner’s promos have never been classically great, but they were now so insane, so confident, so full of bluster, and at times, so downright weird that it didn’t matter. He’d get even wilder and more offensive on the mic post-WCW, which is highlighted particularly well in this Impact Wrestling compilation video. It features everything from him calling women “bitches,” to claiming that Bobby Lashley’s wife wanted him “to bust her out,” to getting math spectacularly wrong. (Just roll with it.)

“You know, they say that all men are created equal,” he begins in the “math” promo, “but you look at me and you look at Samoa Joe, and you can see that statement is not true. See, normally if you go one-on-one with another wrestler, you got a 50/50 chance of winning. But I’m a genetic freak, and I’m not normal! So you got a 25 percent — AT BEST — at beating me. Then you add Kurt Angle to the mix, your chances of winning drastic go down. See, the three-way at Sacrifice, you got a 33 1/3 chance of winning, but I, I got a 66 and 2/3 chance of winning, because Kurt Angle KNOWS he can’t beat me, and he’s not even gonna try! So Samoa Joe, you take your 33 1/3 chance, minus my 25 percent chance and you got an 8 1/3 chance of winning. But then you take my 75 percent chance of winning, if we was to go one-on-one, and then add 66 2/3 percents, I got 141 2/3 chance of winning. See Joe, the numbers don’t lie, and they spell disaster for you.”

Yeah.

If nothing else, he was never boring. At the peak of his powers, Big Poppa Pump was sheer unpredictability, going off on how a female interviewer would inevitably be going down on him later at one moment and getting into a brutal fight with Bill Goldberg the next. And, in WWE, stumping for the invasion of Iraq for some reason. A back injury would limit even more of what he could do physically starting in early 2001, but you could always rely on Steiner still spouting gems like, “See, through all my career, I’ve wrestled a lot of countries,” and, “You, the Dixie Chicks, all those numbnuts that don’t support our troops? You can go straight to hell — or France, same difference!” 

It would be inaccurate to say that Big Poppa Pump’s gimmick was that Steiner was the living embodiment of “roid rage,” but it’s far from an unreasonable reading of the character.

Unfortunately, while Big Poppa Pump was clearly turned up several notches from the actual Scott Rechsteiner, this meant that the actual Scott Rechsteiner still had some Big Poppa Pump in him. Like the time he threatened a road worker and then hit him with his pickup truck. Or when he menaced Kimberly, Diamond Dallas Page’s legitimate wife, out of WCW (he apologized soon after). Or when he went for Page’s eye in a locker room fight he was already winning handily. Or the time that, just five years ago, he grabbed Hulk Hogan’s wife at the airport and told her that he was going to murder her husband as soon as he got off his flight.

Steiner seems like he may have chilled out in the ensuing years (after all, he’s now approaching 60), to the point that Hogan even tweeted out well wishes to him after his collapse. Maybe then that means a third act is in the offing — neither All-American marvel nor ridiculously sculpted Big Bad Booty Daddy, but elder statesman. It’s such a wild notion that it just might fit the Scott Steiner legend.

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