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Typhoon made his first appearance in the WWF in June 1989 in a dark match under the ring name Big Steel Man with Slick as his manager. That September, his name was changed to Tugboat Tyler, then Tugboat Thomas, as he portrayed a fan favorite on house shows, defeating the likes of Barry Horowitz, The Brooklyn Brawler and Boris Zhukov. He debuted on WWF television on the January 27, 1990 episode of Superstars under the Tugboat Thomas moniker and defeated Iron Mike Sharpe. His ring name was soon after shortened to Tugboat. His costume consisted of a red striped shirt, white pants, and a sailor's hat. Part of his gimmick included miming pulling the cord of an airhorn and making a "Toot-toot" noise, like a foghorn on a ship. Tugboat aided Hulk Hogan in his feud with Earthquake and "Canada's Strongest Man" Dino Bravo. This coincided with a substantial push that saw Tugboat emerging victorious on television against numerous opponents. He made his pay-per-view debut at that November's Survivor Series, where he teamed with Hogan, The Big Boss Man and Hacksaw Jim Duggan to face the team of Earthquake, Dino Bravo, Haku and The Barbarian. Tugboat was eliminated when he and Earthquake fought to a double count-out, and Hogan went on to be the sole survivor. In the early part of 1991, Tugboat was used as the first true test of The Undertaker, who defeated Tugboat at a number of events.

In May 1991, Tugboat teased a heel turn by attacking Hulk Hogan in a battle royal on NBC's Saturday Night's Main Event. Tugboat completed the turn on the May 28 episode of WWF Superstars. Tugboat and The Bushwhackers were facing The Nasty Boys and Earthquake in a six-man tag team match when Tugboat attacked his teammates, allowing Earthquake to hit the Earthquake Splash on Bushwhacker Luke and pin him. On the June 17 episode of Prime Time Wrestling, Earthquake's manager, Jimmy Hart, reintroduced Tugboat as Typhoon, and he and Earthquake became known as The Natural Disasters. As part of the character change, Ottman began wearing a red, white and black singlet with a tidal wave on the front and "Typhoon" in black letters under it (to match the design on Earthquake's wrestling gear, seismograph lines and "Earthquake" in red letters across the middle).

The Natural Disasters dumped Hart and turned into fan favorites in early 1992, feuding with and winning, in July, the WWF Tag Team Championship from Hart's new top team, Money Inc. ("Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase and Irwin R. Schyster). They lost the title back to Money Inc. three months later. After Earthquake took a leave of absence from the WWF early in 1993, Typhoon wrestled in singles matches before leaving the company that spring.

Typhoon returned to the WWF in May 1994, primarily putting over Yokozuna, before departing in August.

Ottman was one of the participants in the 20-man Gimmick Battle Royal match at WrestleMania X-Seven as Tugboat, and was eliminated by his former partner, Earthquake.