Let’s talk about the Yeti. Even if you’ve never watched wrestling, you might’ve heard of him. (Maybe from me, come to think of it!)
The Yeti is widely considered to be one of pro-wrestling’s worst-ever characters, and through an objective lens, I can’t disagree. He was a seven foot dude covered in so much gauze that he could barely walk. His one wrestling maneuver was best described as a dry hump. He was also very obviously a MUMMY.
He was easy to make fun of and everyone did, but I loved the Yeti, and in fact once ordered a high-priced PPV event specifically to see him. The monsters of wrestling always fascinated me, and I can’t throw too much shade at one that pushed the envelope this far.
Below: The history of wrestling’s infamous abominable snowman, in WrestleCrap GIF style. (Hi, RD!)
Before we get to the Yeti’s stunning debut, I need to set the stage.
In 1994, Hulk Hogan joined World Championship Wrestling. That probably wouldn’t have happened had Vince McMahon not believed that Hulk’s best days were behind him, but even if they were, Hogan was a huge score for a wrestling company that had long been #2.
A year or so later, a new stable of monster-themed wrestlers was introduced. Led by “Taskmaster” Kevin Sullivan, the Dungeon of Doom’s entire reason for being was to destroy Hulkamania. In storyline terms, at least.
Behind the scenes, the Dungeon of Doom was conceived to ease Hogan’s transition and make him less paranoid about his new wrestling home. It was no coincidence that the stable was filled with wrestlers that Hogan was already familiar with from his WWF days. Some he considered outright friends. These were safe guys to wrestle and none of them posed any threat to him.
I won’t pretend that the Dungeon of Doom wasn’t hokey. The stablemates included a headhunting cannibal and a human shark, after all. It wasn’t a critical success, but I’d have to call it a commercial one: WCW got a lot of mileage out of some pretty cheap tools.
Now let’s get to that damn Yeti:
October 23rd, 1995. Monday Nitro. This was WCW’s new flagship show: A live broadcast that competed directly with the WWF’s Monday Night Raw. The WWF had better production values, sure, but WCW’s willingness to throw PPV-caliber matches on free TV made Nitro competitive from the start.
On this night, the Master, who was basically the Dungeon’s non-wrestling “boss,” made a rare appearance outside of his usual smoky cave. I could barely understand a word he said, but the gist was that he’d imported a giant block of ice to the arena, with the implication being that some new wrestler was hiding inside. In more ways than one, this was WCW’s version of the Gobbledy Gooker.
Fast forward to the end of that same episode. As Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage fought off various Dungeon monsters, the lights started flickering and the arena began to rumble.
And then, IT HAPPENED. Just before Nitro went off the air, the Yeti busted out of his frozen prison. Our first glimpse of this new superstar lasted only a few seconds, but even that was enough to send shockwaves throughout the industry. Was WCW really gonna use a wrestling mummy?
We wouldn’t have to wait long for confirmation.
About a week after Nitro came WCW’s annual Halloween Havoc pay-per-view event. This had historically been WCW’s “spooky” pay-per-view, but the 1995 edition turned out to be the last one that really lived up to the name.
In the main event, Hogan defended his WCW championship against the Giant, who by that point was the Dungeon’s shining star. Billed as the “son of Andre,” the Giant was unusually athletic for such a big man, and would later find even more success as WWE’s Big Show. (…who still wrestles, and in fact is probably gonna wrestle Shaq of all people at this year’s WrestleMania!)
The match ended in a huge clusterfuck. At the time, it seemed like every WCW main event did. I won’t bore you with a play-by-play, but basically, a bunch of good guys “went bad,” and everyone was beating up on poor Hulk Hogan. There was already enough meat on the bone to consider it an effective ending to the PPV, but WCW had one last trick up its sleeve:
That ridiculous Yeti.
Lumbering to the ring, the Yeti seemed impossible even by wrestling standards. Taller than the Giant and covered in what honestly appeared to be used toilet paper, it was immediately clear that whoever was in that costume had about as much mobility as Ralphie’s kid brother in his winter coat.
In wrestling, first impressions count for a lot. I can’t say that the Yeti’s went off without a hitch. Scripted to aid the Giant in a “double bearhug” on Hulk Hogan, the Yeti looked more like he was trying to hump the Hulkster. It was… it wasn’t good.
The Yeti spent most of the following month in hiding, but was then advertised as part of WCW’s inaugural World War 3 PPV event.
Sixty men would square off in a three-ring battle royal to determine the new WCW champion. As if that wasn’t “gimmick enough,” each of those rings was to include “one giant.” The Yeti was advertised as one of the three.
I ordered this event, and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the Yeti was the only reason. I didn’t expect him to win, but the idea that I could see a yeti/mummy attempt to actually wrestle and not just randomly hug a guy seemed well worth my parents’ money.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t:
The Yeti indeed participated in the match, just as advertised. The problem was that he’d somehow morphed into a giant ninja. One of the commentators speculated that he’d “thawed out,” but I knew bullshit when I saw it.
The offense might’ve been more forgivable had the Yeti become a cool ninja, but this one was just the pits. He looked like he was wearing a giant-sized version of the same stupid Halloween costume I got from Kmart in the second grade.
Worst of all, the Yeti barely competed in the match. He was tossed out of the battle royal within seconds, and even then, most of his appearance transpired off-screen.
WCW had clearly lost faith in the Yeti concept, and just did the bare minimum necessary to make good on what was advertised.
In fact, the Yeti’s throwaway appearance at World War 3 was basically all she wrote for the character. He never appeared at another PPV event, let alone on a Monday Nitro, which by then was even more important than the PPVs. Curiously, none of his friends in the Dungeon of Doom ever spoke of him again.
Yet the Yeti actually did soldier on, albeit on a smaller stage. Still in his ninja garb, he competed in a quickie squash match on one of WCW’s least important shows. I’ll say this for the ninja costume: It at least let the Yeti pull off a few moves.
Interestingly, his name was spelled “Yetti” during this match. I believe it was the only time that WCW showed his name onscreen. I’d love to say that they intentionally stylized it for merchandising reasons, but 10-to-1, nobody at WCW bothered to look up the spelling.
That match marked the end of the Yeti’s (or Yetti’s) run, but he technically competed again that month, on another of WCW’s lesser shows. Billed as the Super Giant Ninja, the Yeti was the same in everything but name. As a final insult, he lost to the One Man Gang, who pretended to have no idea that he was wrestling a fellow member of the Dungeon of Doom!
Ron Reis, who portrayed the Yeti, would later get to compete without the burden of silly costumes. Wrestling fans may remember him best as Reese from Raven’s Flock.
In a shoot interview years later, Reis claimed that he was always supposed to be a giant ninja character, and was only drafted into “yetidom” because new signee Jorge Gonzalez (El Gigante/Giant Gonzales) became too ill to do the job. Oh, what could’ve been!
These days, I can’t help but appreciate the fact that WCW’s “Yeti” was actually a mummy, and then later a giant ninja. That sort of ridiculousness was unique to WCW, and for as much as everyone poked fun, the bizarre nonsense sure kept things interesting.
I’m not even counting it as “ironic love,” either. I genuinely dig it when wrestling goes nuts.
Mr. Reis, wherever you are: Just know that there was at least one person who was truly invested in your work as a wrestling’s only yeti-mummy-ninja. I still want an action figure of you.