SLAM! Sports SLAM! Wrestling
   November 23, 2014



News & Rumours
Bios
Obits
Canadian Hall of Fame
WrestleMania 30
WrestleMania 30 photos
Video
Movie Database
Minority Mat Report
Columnists
Features
Results Archive
PPV Reviews
SLAM! Wrestling store
On Facebook
On Twitter
Send Feedback




Photo Galleries

House of Hardcore VII


Signmania VIII


Beulah McGillicutty


Big Event 7 fan fest


Raw in Buffalo


SHIMMER tapings


Alexia Nicole







SCOREBOARD
PHOTO GALLERY
VIDEO GALLERY
COMMENT





The Hurricane left success in his wake
By JAN MURPHY - Kingston Whig-Standard


Shane Helms, better known to wrestling fans as The Hurricane, became a fan of pro wrestling at a very young age. Photo courtesy Shane Helms

Some people spend their entire lives in search of their dream job. Many never find it.

Others have a date with destiny, sometimes even from a very young age.

Count Shane Helms among those who fall in among the latter. The man who would become known to wrestling fans as The Hurricane was but a boy when he was bitten by the pro wrestling bug. In fact, he counts wrestling among his earliest childhood memories.

"It's the first thing I ever remember seeing on TV," he said in an interview this week. "Before cartoons or anything."

The young Helms would watch wrestling alongside his dad.

"My earliest memories of childhood watching TV ... (for) most kids it was Bugs Bunny and stuff like that ... but for me, what I remember first, was watching wrestling and I was just hooked from childhood," he said, adding that he attended his first live event at the tender age of five. "I've been in love with it since."

In those days, and in Helms's hometown, National Wrestling Alliance ruled.

"I'm from North Carolina, so we didn't get (what was) WWF at the time, it was all NWA guys," Helms said. Among his early heroes: "(Ricky) Steamboat, (Jimmy) Snuka, Ric Flair of course. Once I got older, I started liking the heels, the bad guys. Of course, this being Ric Flair country, I idolized Ric Flair going through my teenage years."

He continued: "Rock 'n' Roll Express, Dusty (Rhodes), Nikita (Koloff) ... all the NWA mid-Atlantic guys."

In fact, there weren't many guys the young Helms didn't admire.

"I actually was one of those guys, who, as opposed to having favourites, I liked everybody," he said. "I liked wrestling as a product so much that even the guys that would go out there and get beat all the time -- we're talking about a George South or Sam Houston or somebody like that -- I would like those guys, too. I just liked it all."

By the time he was a teen, Helms had his eyes on the prize, a career in pro wrestling.

"When I was 13 years old, I went to an indy show that came to my town in Wendell, North Carolina, and I just hung around after the show, talked to some of the guys, expressed my interest, (which) I'm sure they'd heard from a hundred other kids at some point," Helms said.

A nearby training centre is where Helms would cut his teeth in the business.

"I figured out early on that some of those guys didn't know exactly what they were doing (at the centre)," he said with a chuckle. "It wasn't long before I was kind of teaching (them) some stuff. Thirteen, going on 14 years old, and here I am teaching moves in this wrestling school. It's a pretty unique story how I came up and got involved."

Within a few years, Helms, self-trained, got his first shot.

"At 16 years old, I was at a show and somebody didn't show up and I had my gear -- and by gear I just mean my amateur things that I wrestled at high school in, my shoes and kneepads -- and I filled in for him."

The rest, as they, is history. Well, not exactly.

Helms would spend the next eight and a half years of his life wrestling on the independent scene before eventually landing his first pro gig with now defunct World Championship Wrestling.


3 Count in WCW were Shane Helms, Evan Karagias and Shannon Moore.
Helms was WCW's cruiserweight champion at the time the company was purchased by rival WWE. His was one of only 20 contracts WWE purchased in the deal. The first, in fact.

"I was actually the first guy they called, for some reason," he revealed. "I've never asked them why," he added with a laugh. "Once they bought WCW, none of us really knew what was going to happen.

Before carving out a fantastic and successful legacy in WWE, Helms made some headlines over an incident involving another wrestler, Buff Bagwell.

The incident is well documented online, though not exactly accurately, Helms says.

"His version of the story is not the truth, but my version and the 20 other guys that were there is the truth," he said.

The incident took place as a group of wrestlers, including Helms, were training in Connecticut, where WWE is based. "Long story short," Helms said, "he started trash talking and he decided to pick me out of the guys to trash talk. People that know me know that I'm really good at that trash talk. I've got a pretty good wit and I'm a nasty smart ass, especially if need be. I was actually hurt that day," he added. "I had hurt my shoulder pretty bad -- I ended up having a small tear.

"I had a little water bottle that I had put in the refrigerator, not the freezer or anything like that. It wasn't frozen, as some of the stories have suggested. I was just sitting in the ring, with my back against the bottom rope and I had that water bottle. Like I said, it was a plastic -- not a glass -- just a little, tiny plastic water bottle, sitting there rubbing it on my shoulder.

"Anyway, when Buff starts talking trash, I started talking it back and he gets insulted and comes and hits me from behind. I'm sitting down, he's standing, he's on the floor. I'm in the ring with my back against the bottom rope. He knows I'm hurt, everybody knows I'm hurt, he outweighs me by about 50 pounds and he hits me from behind. And he started the trash talking. I didn't start it. So I just turned around and whacked him in the head with that bottle, but that was mainly just to distract him because then I jumped out of the ring and was coming for him. I didn't want to fight the guy, but once you lay hands on me, to me the decision's been made at that point. That was pretty much the end of it. He begged off and that was it."

Well, almost. As it turned out, Bagwell would play an integral role in Helms' WWE debut, albeit unintentionally.

Following the water bottle incident, Bagwell had a less-than-memorable match with Booker T, and eventually was released. Fast forward to Helms' debut, and Bagwell strikes again.

Bagwell's match with Booker T, Helms explained, was meant to be WCW's introduction to WWE's audience.

"It didn't go over well at all," Helms reveals.

Before that, Helms said, the plan was "to introduce me as the Cruiserweight champion. I was going to do a little thing with Chavo (Guerrero) for a couple weeks and eventually I was going to work Billy Kidman in Atlanta. Billy Kidman was going to have the Cruiserweight title. At that time, Billy Kidman was definitely a bigger star than I was. I understand that.

"Anyway, the Bagwell-Booker T match was so bad that they decided me and Billy could have the best match of the guys that they had and decided to go ahead and hot shot that angle to pop the crowd and switch the title that night. So my introduction to the WWE audience was actually me losing the Cruiserweight title."


Hurricane Helms nails Shelton Benjamin at a T.O.W. show in September 2010 in Montreal. Photo by Minas Panagiotakis, www.photography514.com
It was the beginning of a nearly decade-long run with the best wrestling company in the world, during the greatest era in history. The very humble and grounded Helms admits he has reflected on his WWE legacy, though only when he's pressed to do so.

"I try not to think about myself too much unless I really have to," he said. "There's been a couple times, moreso recently, that that happened. I was working with these people and I wanted to help make a championship that only masked wrestlers could have."

While thinking about which mask to put on said championship, it was suggested to Helms that none were more fitting than the mask he made famous as The Hurricane.

"I was like, 'No, no, no, I'm not trying to make this about me.' And they said, 'Dude, do you know how many masked American cruiserweight wrestlers happened just because of you?' It's hard to tell this story without sounding like I'm patting myself on the ass, I don't really mean for it to sound like that. After that conversation, I kind of realized that that was going to be my legacy. In the last 20 years, it would be me and Kane without a doubt. Rey (Mysterio) is Mexican so ..."

If his work as The Hurricane is remembered with such fondness, so too, is his work as a trailblazer for cruiserweights.

For his part, Helms is proud of his accomplishments, even if he doesn't give them much thought.

"I knew (in my Sugar Shane) days that style that I was helping create, combining the Mexican, the Japanese and the American styles. I think I was the first little guy on TV that had the little tights and the little kick pads," he added with a chuckle. "I remember coming out there with my skinny little legs, I remember everybody was like, 'Man, little guys shouldn't wear that stuff.' And now that's what everybody wears."

And it's not just the ring attire that looks familiar to Helms.

"I'll still go to shows and I'll see guys doing moves that I created," he said. "I definitely know I had an impact. How great or how small is for other people to decide, but I know in my heart that I did something good."

For everything he did in his entire career -- including an incredible year-long-plus stint as WWE Cruiserweight champion -- nothing was a bigger hit among wrestling fans than Helms' run as The Hurricane, a comic book-like hero, complete with mask and cape.

Helms, a lifelong comic book hero, sports a Green Lantern tattoo on his right shoulder, turned his love of comics into a very successful wrestler.

"It was mainly (WWE's) idea," he said of The Hurricane character. "I had the Green Lantern on my shoulder, which you would see in every match. I would wear comic book T-shirts all the time."

It was during a now-famous segment with the legendary "Stone Cold" Steve Austin that a superhero was born.

"I was doing a backstage skit with Steve Austin," Helms recalled. "The promos back then were nowhere near as scripted as they are now. I kind of had a gist of what was going to happen, but I really didn't know what I was going to say because I wasn't sure what Steve was going to say. And he's Steve Austin. He can say whatever he wants. I'm just Hurricane Helms at this time. I'm lucky to be there.

"He asked me about my tattoo and I just started talking about the Green Lantern like he was a real person. I'm not even really sure why."

That wasn't Helms' only memorable exchange with a legendary superstar.

He also found greatness alongside The Rock. And a victory over the great one, too.

"It was great," Helms said. "You hit the nail right on the head (about The Rock). If you get in the ring with Evander Holyfield, you better have your game up. If you're going to play basketball with Michael Jordan, you better have your game up. That's what he does."

The encounter with The Rock was only supposed to be a short encounter when it was first devised in Toronto, Helms said.

"We were just going to do something that night and that was just to fill time in on a show," he said. "Then it was so good and so well received, we ended up locking up in a battle royal that night, and when we started trading punches with each other, the crowd just erupted."

Helms credits the creative team at the time, and The Rock, for recognizing the chemistry the duo shared.

That was something that I don't know if today's creative team could pick up on," he said. "Rock picked up on it. It was Rock's idea for most of what we did, leading up to the match and me going over in the match. That was all Rock. They would never normally have a guy going into main event WrestleMania on a loss. They never would do that. But Rock saw something in me. It was great, man."

To this day, Helms still calls The Rock a friend.

"He's always been super generous and courteous and never came off like a top guy who thought he was better than anybody, at least not to me. I've always enjoyed working with him and any conversation that we had."

Helms, Austin and The Rock shared more in common than promos and matches. They all played a role in the now legendary Attitude Era, the most successful time in WWE history.

But much like his own legacy, Helms tries to avoid spending much time thinking about his role in that era.

"I think it can be dangerous for guys to try to pump themselves up too much. I've got friends that do that. It always comes off wrong, you know. I try not to think too much about it. I knew I was having fun. I knew that the business was in a good spot at that time. I was just living a really ridiculous life. Not everybody can live their dream, just literally having fun, 24 hours a day all day long.

That's not to say it was easy. Anyone who knows the first thing about pro wrestling, and the WWE, knows the talent face rigorous work and travel schedules and a tough lifestyle.

"The travel ... definitely that kills," Helms said. "That's the work. That beats you to death," he said. "The ring isn't bad. If you did every match where you could still sleep in the same bed and not have to travel a couple hundred miles and then having to get on a plane, the injuries would be nowhere as bad. The travel wears you down."

It's all about approach, Helms said.

"It's definitely hard, but at the same time, you've got be one of those guys that kind of sucks it up every morning (and says) 'Yeah this is hard, but I'm very fortunate to be doing what I'm doing' and just keep that smile on your face."

It also doesn't hurt to have a sense of humour, Helms said, adding he figures his was one of the keys to his longevity in the WWE.

"I was one of those guys, I always just felt like they kept me around just because I kept the locker room laughing. I know I did good work and stuff, but I think there was a piece of me that always felt like that, too.

"You need guys in the locker room that keep things happy and happening and even when everybody's kind of worn out or just exhausted from trips, having somebody there who's able to provide smiles and stuff like that. I was definitely one of those class clowns, so to speak."

Helms believes his long run as Cruiserweight champ was his best work inside the squared circle.

"As The Hurricane, I actually had to tone down the wrestling a little bit because it just didn't fit the character. People would ask me about that a lot, 'Why didn't you wrestle like Gregory Helms when you were The Hurricane?' The Hurricane was kind of a comedic character, you know. If you're doing a comedy, you can't just break out into a dramatic skit all the time. That character didn't really call for a lot of the stuff I that did as Sugar Shane and didn't really call for the style that I did as Gregory Helms. As far as in-ring work and what I was doing, Gregory Helms was definitely the bastion."

A nearly 13-month reign as any champion in WWE is a rarity, making Helms' belief hard to argue.

"I had that belt on TV, I bet, more than any champion in the last 10 years, or before it was gone," he said. "I went against the U.S. champion, the heavyweight champion, the tag team champions ... that belt was more visible when I held it than just about when anybody ever held it. I did what I could with it.

But in wrestling, as in many things in life, all good things come to an end, be it a good feud, a storyline or, sadly, a run with the company. For Helms, his very successful run came to an end in 2010. But, he says, it was time.

"I had already talked to (WWE officials) because my contract was going to be up in July ... we were talking about re-signing. I had already talked to (then Senior Vice President of Talent Operations) Johnny (Laurinitis). I wasn't happy on that ECW show," Helms said, adding that while he is often listed as an ECW alum, he doesn't consider the WWE incarnation of ECW anything like the original.

"I just wasn't happy on that show," Helms said. "That was like the C show, we were so handicapped and handcuffed with what they would let us do."

"Talent," Helms said, "would be told, 'we want you guys to have a good match, but we don't want it to be too good because we've got to do SmackDown after that.' It was just so aggravating."

His ECW run came after returning from a career-threatening neck injury that saw him miss a year of action.

"I wasn't quite where I needed to be at first," he said. "When I first started doing The Hurricane on ECW, I was getting my groove back, but I still just wasn't happy with that show and I wasn't happy there. I wanted to still wrestle. I wasn't one of these guys that ever lost my desire for wrestling. It was just in that particular environment, some of the politics I didn't like, and it was getting more and more and more political as time went on. I just kind of wanted a break from that."

The call was a short one, Helms recalled.

When the release happened, it was probably Johnny's shortest phone call ever," he joked. "He was like, 'Yeah, we've got to let you go,' I was like, 'Yeah, I figured that.' He goes 'Everything good?' and I go 'Yeah, I'm cool, you cool?' and he goes 'Yeah, I hate to make the phone call.' I was like, 'Yeah, that's cool man, no worries.' 'All right, I'll call you next week.'"

Following his departure from WWE, Helms again worked on the independent circuit, but began carving out a reputation as wrestling's greatest social media talent, lighting up Twitter, MySpace, Facebook and even creating smartphone apps ... very successful ones at that.

"I was the first (wrestler) on MySpace, I was the first guy on Twitter," he said. "I went to college for computer programming back in the day so I've kind of always been in that world, with new technologies and stuff."

And long before Michael Cole was going on about which superstar was trending worldwide on Twitter, it was Helms who tried to get WWE interested in the social media site.

"I remember trying to get WWE to use Twitter when I was there and they wouldn't do it," he said. "I was trying to explain to them what it was and they weren't hearing me," he said.

"As far as the apps," he said, "that was an idea I had in WWE too, when apps were starting get pretty big and I was like, 'Man, that'd be cool to have my own app,' but I was afraid to do it because if I did it when I worked with them, they would take it and it would be a John Cena app or a somebody else app ... wouldn't be no Hurricane app."

To this day, Helms remains incredibly active on social media, particularly on Twitter, where he has nearly 200,000 followers.

So what does it take to get a response from Shane Helms on Twitter? Humour helps, originality counts, but mostly, Helms said, it's timing.

"Sometimes maybe I haven't been on in a couple of hours or maybe all day ... a lot of times it's just about timing. As I'm sitting there typing something, I might look at some responses and there might be something there that catches my eye. But yeah, something funny or original, not the same old, generic questions that I've had a million times. I try to reply a lot. I don't know exactly how many times I've tweeted, but it's got to be a lot."

But not everything has been roses for Helms following his WWE run. Far from it.

He was nearly killed in a serious motorcycle accident in 2011, in which Helms was charged with a DUI. His girlfriend was also on the bike. It's an incident Helms will have to live with for the rest of his life.

"It was definitely life-changing," Helms said. "I almost died on a soccer field. Any time you come that close to death, it'll definitely change the way you think about things.

"I almost lost my foot. There was talk about would I walk again and would I walk normal again and a very massive chance that I was never going to wrestle again."

For his part, Helms accepts full responsibility.

"I didn't have anybody to blame it on but me," he said. "Maybe if I'd have had somebody to blame it on, it would have been a little easier. But it was totally Shane Helms' fault."

Acceptance, Helms said, has played a big role in his recovery.

"Maybe that's what helped motivate me to work so hard to (recover). I'm still not fully healed. It will take a while. Currently I've got four plates and 22 screws in my foot and the plan is to keep them all there. They had to completely reconstruct the foot and put it all together."

If the memory of that awful day, and the long recovery that followed aren't memory enough, the pain surely is.

"It hurts every single day," Helms said. "That's my penance for the mistake I made, that I've got to be in pain, probably for the rest of my life."

Helms admits that while people who watch him wrestle nowadays often tell him he isn't showing any signs of a lingering injury, that's far from the case.

"I think I do real good with hiding the pain," he says, "but when the show's over and everybody leaves, I'm in the locker room and I'm pretty humbled at that point as far as what the pain will do to you."


Shane Helms in action in January 2011 in Los Angeles. Photo by Christine Coons
Not everything, about that accident, however, is negative. Far from it, in fact.

"Out of that, being at home for so long, being laid up, not being able to move, I somehow impregnated my girlfriend," Helms said, referring to their now seven-month-old son, Sebastian.

Sebastian has been a complete life changer for Helms.

"Not only did I never want to have kids, I planned to not have kids," Helms said. "I was the most condom-usingest human being you've ever seen. I kept (condom companies) in business."

"When I was laid up from my accident, all I could do was eat and have sex."

Helms turns serious as we discuss his son.

"It's beautiful (being a father)," he said. "People used to tell me about it -- and I know there's some people that'll be reading this or hearing this, and they're going to be like 'yeah whatever' -- but you don't know it until you see your kid. You don't what it's like until you hold your own kid. It's so life-changing and amazing. If you're cognizant of it, you can actually feel the changes happening.

"I love him to death. I never thought I would be so entertained by a little baby. You give a little baby a bath and he's in there going crazy and it's just hilarious. It's so entertaining."

And this is from a guy who knows a thing or two about entertainment.

Pressed on whether there are plans for another baby, Helms offered this: "I don't know if I'm having another one, because we have stepson too, so two's kind of enough. I just want to make sure I do this one right. There's no education about kids, at least where we're from. There's no classes they teach you in school. When you have a kid, you're just kind of thrown into the deep end of the water and that's where I'm at now. I just kind of want to do my best to make sure I take care of this one."

RELATED LINKS

  • Gregory Helms / The Hurricane bio and story archive
  • ShaneHelms.com
  • Twitter: @ShaneHelmsCom
    Visit the SLAM! Wrestling store!


  • Order a Hurricane Autographed Photo
  • Order a Gregory Helms Autographed Photo
    Jan Murphy is the news editor at the Kingston Whig-Standard and has written about wrestling for 15 years.