FROM THE ARCHIVES: Hurricane left success in his wake

 Editor’s note: Originally published in the Kingston Whig-Standard on Jan. 10, 2013. All rights reserved. For the original, please go to
 Some people spend their entires 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.”
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 say, 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.
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.
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,” Helms 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 fan who 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.”
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.”
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.”
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 WWE broadcaster 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 to 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.”
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. Anytime 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 ShaneHelms’ 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 enough, the pain serves as a great reminder.
“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.”
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,” he joked.
“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.”
This from a man who knows a thing or two about entertaining.