"Hurricane" Shane Helms recently spoke with Raj Giri of WrestlingINC.com about his time in the business, being there when WWE purchased WCW, his time with WWE, working with The Rock and Steve Austin and much more. Here is part one of the interview, make sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the interview where Helms talks about his WWE departure, his conversation with Chris Benoit before the tragedy, his motorcycle accident last year and more.
Also, make sure to download Helm's app Shane Event at iTunes by clicking here.
WrestlingINC: It's been 20 years that you've been been involved in the business.
Helms: Yeah, I've been involved in the business, as well, over 20 years but as far as actually in the ring performing - 1991 was my first match.
WrestlingINC: Who were some of the guys you looked up to?
Helms: Ric Flair and Randy Savage were my all time two favorites, still to this day. Those are the guys I watched as far as American style. When you go to Lucha, Negro Cases was my favorite… Rey Mysterio of course, but he wasn't there at first when I first started watching. In Japan, you just had so many guys to choose from the Tiger Mask to the White Tiger, [Jushin] Liger. That stuff is revolutionary. It hadn't been seen at all in America so when I would go do it on the independent scene it was just crazy.
WrestlingINC: I was always impressed with your style. It was impressive even though you had wrestled mostly in the states up until that point.
Helms: Yeah, I think the only place I had been… I mean, I had been to Germany. That was the only international experience I had before WCW. I just wrestled Americans over there so it wasn't like I went over there and got European experience. Still, the indie scene had never been on TV and getting international footing was very hard at the time.
WrestlingINC: How did you pick up the Lucha style and all that? Was it from your independent days?
Helms: Yeah, I was always a student of the game. I always just watched wrestling. Even today when I talk to guys and ask if they watch the show - when I hear that they don't, that just seems weird to me. If you want to be successful in this business you got to watch it. Sometimes you got to watch the bad with the good. It's just important to know what to not to do as what to do. I studied Lucha. I was a cruiserweight before there were cruiserweights.
When I started in '91 there were no small guys around. It was me and I had to fight for my life so I had to come up with stuff that would really impress guys. I watched Lucha and that Japanese stuff just so I could impress the American promoters to give a guy who was my size a chance. I was right at 6 foot but I was so skinny. From years of doing amateur wrestling, I kept my weight down. I slowly started to bulk up once I started going pro full-time but for amateur I had to keep my body weight incredibly lean.
WrestlingINC: I remember in 1997 you had the three big - WCW, ECW and WWF. Had you ever thought about going to ECW during that time? It seemed like you would have been a good fit.
Helms: Yeah, actually me and my partner, Mike Maverick, we actually did a tryout with ECW. We did pretty good; everybody was pretty happy with us and we had another one. We did a loop in the Carolinas and we were supposed to go do another one or whatever and just in between that time I got my contract with WCW.
WrestlingINC: What was the appearance like on ECW?
Helms: We went and worked out in the ring. I know one of the guys was [Super] Nova and I want to say the other guy was Steve Corino. I may be mistaken about that but I think it was Steve Corino and Nova. The only real memory I have was that I never do head butts and for some reason I did and I head butted the absolute piss out of Nova and about knocked us both out. We ended up laughing about it; it was no big deal. I liked ECW, especially at that time. I liked the atmosphere and I think I would have done well there. The WCW had guaranteed money whereas the ECW didn't. That decision kind of made itself.
WrestlingINC: From there you went to WCW as a member of 3 Count. I thought that gimmick had potential with all the boy bands at that time but they had a hard time pushing smaller guys and they didn't push you to the full potential. What do you remember about signing with WCW?
Helms: Me and Shannon had done a gimmick kind of similar in Music City Wrestling leading up to that. The hard part of the gimmick was I don't like that kind of music. When you're coming out to that music… I'm not a boy band guy. I grew up on hip-hop and rap and sh-t like that. That was the hard part of the gimmick but I knew what makes those bands successful. Guys hate them because their girlfriends love them. Guys hate them because their sister loves them. I knew if we could get the girls to like us - and we did - that would make guys hate us even more. It was a heat getting gimmick. There were several times when we'd get more heat than anybody on that show no matter who was on that show.
WrestlingINC: Do you feel like you were pushed correctly?
Helms: No, we definitely could have been pushed a lot better. When you're generating that kind of heat, no matter what size you are or how new you are in the company, that's something you got to run with. Stuff like that doesn't come along all the time. Of course like you said, WCW at that time wasn't keen on pushing smaller guys in a heavy weight division. It could have worked in a tag team division. We could have done the Freebird role with all three of us somehow, winning the tag titles and interchanging. They definitely should have done a little more with it.
WrestlingINC: What do you remember about that time? It was a wild time in that organization's history.
Helms: Yeah, that's one way of putting it. [laughs] It was chaotic. I don't even know how many different bosses I had then. I wasn't there that long. I signed in '99 and they got bought out in 2001. It was just under two years and I can't remember how many bosses I had. It was pretty wild but I was in a position in the business where I couldn't really complain about anything. I was making good money; I was having a lot of fun, having good matches - especially toward the end. I know toward the end if there was a match of the night and WCW Sugar Shane was in it pretty much 9 times out of 10. That time of my life I was having a lot of fun. I can't really complain about anything.
WrestlingINC: I thought your feud with the Young Dragons was phenomenal and then your feud with Chavo Guerrero. Your matches were just insane.
Helms: Yeah, we had a lot of fun and Chavo taught me a lot, helped me out. I knew I had what they were looking for at the time, especially with that cruiserweight division. They were looking for an American that put it all together, all the different styles, the hybrids of styles - the Lucha, the Japanese and the American styles. I knew I had all that; it was just a matter of breaking away from the 3 Count thing to get involved.
WrestlingINC: What are your thoughts on Eric Bischoff as a boss at that time?
Helms: I didn't ever have to deal with the maniacal Eric. I came after his little fall from grace and he's the one that hired me. I can't say anything bad about that. I never saw anything bad, he was always cool to me and he's the guy who hired me.
WrestlingINC: What about Vince Russo?
Helms: Russo's the guy who put us on TV. He saw immediately the 3 Count gimmick had some heat to it. Those green circle things [in their video] was actually an accident. We'd actually filmed that video standing on those green circles and they were supposed to superimpose those out so that it looked like we were standing in space or on the water. You know how like green screens work. That's what those circles were supposed to be. WCW left the green circles in everything by accident. Russo was the one who thought that was funny and came up with the idea of us - I don't know who made them but we showed up one day and they got green circles and we're going to carry them around with us forever. I only dealt with him a little bit and, like I said, he was cool to me too.
WrestlingINC: Overall, how would you rate your time with WCW?
Helms: In WWE they did the rise and fall of WCW and because I was one of the guys who survived and I was still in WWE at the time, they brought me in and interviewed me for it. I kind of got the feeling they wanted me to say something bad but I just didn't have nothing bad to say. I knew that bad sh-t went on around me and before I got there and stuff like that but nothing bad happened directly to me and everybody was nice to me and cool and they gave me opportunities. I made the most of those opportunities. I didn't want to jump on that bandwagon that so many guys did and bash it when I didn't have anything really bad to say.
WrestlingINC: Then you joined with WWE. You were only one of 20-25 guys that they brought over.
Helms: I don't know how many guys. They brought over so many guys but then like half of them went to Cincinnati or OVW or some nonsense like that. I don't know how many guys they brought initially.
WrestlingINC: What was the feeling like backstage towards end of WCW? It must have been crazy.
Helms: Yeah, it was and towards those last two months we would hear a different story every week on who was buying the company. It would just be it was Colonel Sanders this week; it was Ronald McDonald the next week. We just heard so many stories we didn't know what to believe. At that last Nitro we heard the WWE office was trying to work us so much and just they were trying to tell us everything's going to be alright but obviously the company was in shambles. We didn't know what to believe from them. Even when we saw the signs - it had WWF on one of the doors or whatever - we still didn't believe that. We didn't believe it until Shane McMahon walked into that room. Once we saw Shane McMahon it was like, okay, sh-t's on now I guess.
WrestlingINC: What was your reaction like when he walked in?
Helms: It was just wild because we just knew that this was something. This was going to change the future of the industry, not just for us but for fans and everybody that's involved or watches the business. We knew that this was a monumental moment. It was wild and don't let anybody tell you anything different. Everybody was worried about their jobs, from top guy to bottom guy. None of us knew - were they just going to get rid of it? Was it going to take us all in? None of us knew what the hell was going on.
WrestlingINC: When you signed with WWE in 2001 were you nervous?
Helms: No, I knew if I could get out of that last Nitro with the Cruiserweight Title, I knew they would bring me up at least to lose the champion. I knew I had a chance to come in as the champion. I thought if anything - a WCW versus WWE - but they would have to have opportunities there so I thought as long as I retained that title, which I did. I thought I had a good chance of going and doing something.
My initial reservations were just about the name brand. I knew because of Shane McMahon that I might lose my name; I might not be able to be called Shane. I was worried because Triple H and Helmsley being so close to Helms. Obviously Helmsley's not his real name but I was worried that I might not get to do that either. That was the only reservation I had. I had full confidence that if they saw me they would like what I could do. I wasn't sure if they watched WCW. You always heard stuff that they did and I heard that Vince liked the 3 Count. I heard that while we were in WCW. I thought if they ever saw me they would see something.
WrestlingINC: So then you came in as "Hollywood" Greg Helms.
Helms: Yeah. I did "Sugar" Shane at the house shows. We did a couple house shows in the loop and it was mainly me, Kidman and Chavo going in three ways or stuff like that, just different tag matches. I know there was one where we kind of mixed it up. It was WCW on one side and WWE. I think it was me and Kidman against Tajiri and X-Pac or something like that. They kept them kind of like that. Once that debuted on TV it was only at TV that day that they told me I couldn't be "Sugar" Shane no more.
WrestlingINC: Did they come up with the Hollywood nickname or was that something you came up with?
Helms: Hell no, that wasn't something I came up with; they came up with it. It only was that first night. I don't think they even called me Hollywood but you could see it on the typetron in the background I believe.
WrestlingINC: You became The Hurricane almost immediately after that, right?
Helms: Oh yeah, on the plane ride home that night I was on the plane writing down every gimmick name I ever used and every one I could even think of. I knew Gregory Helms as a baby face and at that time I was. I need a moniker, I need a handle, I need a gimmick. I had just lost the title so now I got to start from scratch. They took a lot from me. It's really weird when I tell people.
I did have a fear there, that first night when they said, 'You can't be Shane. Since you're not Shane you're not going to do the Sugar thing.' 'Okay.' 'You can't do the Vertaebreaker anymore. They were terrified of that. I kind of did it a couple times later on, which they were just so worried about it that they kind of came down on me a little for doing it. I couldn't do my finishing moves therefore I couldn't use my entrance song because my entrance song was the Vertaebreaker; it was about the move. I'm not going to have the Sugar Babies with me. 'Oh, and you're going to lose the title tonight.' I was like, 'Damn, you just took it all from me.'
WrestlingINC: What was it like being in the locker room there at the beginning? It seemed like WWE lost money with angles left on the table and the WCW invasion was one where I thought they could make a ton of money. They dropped the ball on it.
Helms: They never really had a chance either to make that a success because they didn't have the A listers from WCW. They could have done that angle 10 times better but it would never have been as good as it could have been because there was no Hogan, no Goldberg, no Sting. DDP didn't come over right away. Steiner didn't come over right away; all the top guys didn't come. They had those crazy guaranteed contracts, which is one of the things that killed WCW from an accountant's standpoint. It's like here's WCW but none of the Varsity team; we're going to bring the JV. That's what hurt it. No matter what they would have done…
WrestlingINC: Do you think it would have been better for them to wait a couple years for the bigger names or would it have been too late by that point anyway?
Helms: Yeah, it would have been too late at that point any way. I mean, they had to do something with the rest of the guys. They couldn't have just been paying those guys to sit at home and wait for these other guy's contracts to run out so they could sign to WWF contracts. They had to do something with the guys. It was just not enough. I think the only top guy we really had right away was Booker, if I'm not mistaken. I think [Diamond Dallas] Page also but I'm not sure.
WrestlingINC: Yeah, I think he was later that year. They didn't even bring him in as WCW, he was brought in with that Undertaker feud.
Helms: Yeah, that crazy sh-t.
WrestlingINC: It seemed like they were burying all the new guys that did come in. Basically the whole WWF locker room beat that tag team up.
Helms: Oh, O'Haire and Palumbo. One of the things I heard at WCW… the words youth movement come up a lot in the business. I said in WWE; we had a talent meeting one time and they kept talking about youth movement and I spoke up and said, 'We don't need a youth movement. We need a talent movement. I don't think the crowd gives a damn how old somebody is. As long as they're good they'll like them; they'll react.'
WCW tried to do one of those youth movements and what they did was they flooded the WCW market with a bunch of guys that nobody knew. You would go to these live events, these house shows and none of the stars would be there, and it'd just be a bunch of those new guys. You can trickle new guys in here and there but you can't flood the market with them. I don't care what show you like or you're a fan of. If you're a fan of Star Trek or whatever and you turn it on and there's no Kirk, no Spock, there's nobody. Just one week there's a whole bunch of new guys you're like, 'What the f-ck is this?' That hurt WCW and a lot of those guys really weren't ready for the response either.
When they came up and they started working WWE guys, it quickly came to knowledge that these guys weren't quite as good as WWE hoped they would be.
WrestlingINC: I thought that was one of the problems when they did the WCW reboot. They were trying to push too many people that hadn't been in the spotlight yet and when you push everyone, no one gets over.
Helms: Yeah I totally agree. Everybody can't win every match. You're going to have losers. You just got to do it a little at a time. They just really flooded the market with a bunch of new guys. Even if they were great it takes time for fans to get behind people. You don't want to just go out there and cheer like hell for somebody you don't know. That's not how it works.
WrestlingINC: It's crazy to look back at the guys who came from WCW who were there at the end. Really the only guys that had real success with longevity were you and Booker T.
Helms: Yeah, I'd throw Chavo in there too. We were the WCW three. Politics aside, the cream usually does rise in the business and we survived; we survived all the nonsense.
WrestlingINC: You were the Hurricane. That gimmick lasted a long time. Was it because you were a fan of the Green Lantern?
Helms: I was a comic book fan. I liked the idea; the Green Lantern symbol means willpower and I was the small guy on the wrestling team, small guy on the football team so the willpower thing was just something I liked. Yeah, I'm a Green Lantern fan but that was the reason I got the tattoo.
WrestlingINC: Was the mask your idea?
Helms: No, not at all. Once they did the Hollywood Gregory Helms thing - and that was in Washington so we had red eyes out that night. We had red eyes out and I'm writing all these names down. I was the Hurricane Kid for a brief moment in a very early part of my career. For most of my indie career I was called Kid Vicious. It was my little moniker. I just thought the name was funny. It was just me being a skinny ass kid being called Kid Vicious.
WrestlingINC: I remember you being mentioned in Pro Wrestling Illustrated back in the day about that gimmick.
Helms: Yeah. I remember when I started using my name, Shane Helms; I was the Show Shane Helms in OMEGA. Before I became the Show, Shane Hurricane Helms was the name I was going to use too and just because it rhymed. People always want a story on why I chose the Hurricane but there's no good story; it just rhymed with Shane. It had a nice ring to it. The very next week I came and Stephanie was the one that was working with me back in those days creatively. She was the one that told me I couldn't be called Sugar Shane. I went to her and said, 'What do you think about Hurricane Helms?' She goes, 'Well, let me run it by legal,' but I could tell she liked it.
I got to the building early to catch them early to tell them that. Evidently when they went and had their little meeting she ran it by them. I'm in catering and I'm coming out of catering and Vince walks by and goes, 'Hurricane Helms! I like it!' Then that slowly trickled into becoming The Hurricane, which was because of the tattoos. It was part of the invasion angle and there was a backstage gimmick where I was talking to Steve Austin and the only direction I had was, 'Maybe Steve will talk about your tattoo or something.' I didn't know what I was going to say because I didn't know what Steve was going to say.
Steve and I just talked about this. We stay in touch a lot and were talking about bullsh-t and it just came up. We were talking about our promos because he just did an interview recently about how the promos suck because they're so scripted. The best promos just kind of happen sometimes and I totally agree with him 100% and this is one example. I didn't know what I was going to say because I didn't know what he was going to say. He's Steve Austin; he can say whatever the hell he wants. I'm just Hurricane Helms; I'm just lucky to even have a name at this point.
So I didn't know what I was going to say. He started talking about and I started talking about the Green Lantern like it was a real person. Everyone starts laughing their ass off and he just loved it. That right there is how the whole Hurricane gimmick happened.
WrestlingINC: I have to agree with you guys about the promos. When you got five writers writing promos for 50 guys it's hard to get any individuality or spontaneous moments out of it. It's kind of a lost art.
Helms: Yeah, I think there are guys that can be good with bullet points and even toward the end they never really scripted my promos for me because they know like I was going to change it anyway. They gave me the idea for the character but I'm the one that created all the intricacies, the little nuances and the crazy things that the Hurricane did - the crazy lips, the stares. I was the one who did all that so I was like, 'You can't tell me how the Hurricane talks because I was the one who created all this sh-t. Kind of tell me what you want me to say, some bullet points to hit and I'll do it the way the Hurricane does it.'
That's really what they need to get too. If you got five guys and these guys generally aren't fighters... I don't want to generalize too much but certainly most of them that I knew weren't fighters. The guys need to be able to put their own spin on it. That's what being an artist is. You don't just go trace over someone else's work. You got to be able to put your own touch on it.
WrestlingINC: You and Lance [Storm] feuded with the Hardys. Was it crazy to be on the big stage with them?
Helms: Yeah, that meant a lot to all of us to finally be at that level. Me and Lance were really good and I think there were talks of me and Lance… at the time they had all the WCW tag team titles - and there were talks of me and Lance of getting them but I already had the European title and they didn't want me to have two titles. If I didn't have the European title me and Lance probably would have gotten the WCW title. I kind of wish we would have had those instead. That would have saved me from a lot of ass whooping that I had as a European champion.
Me and Lance gelled really good for two guys that were just kind of thrown together. Sometimes good tag teams do that.
WrestlingINC: Yeah it seemed like they threw you together because of your names. Was that the idea?
Helms: Yeah, I was doing this backstage then where I was going up to different people saying all kinds of crazy Hurricane sh-t and for whatever reason I started calling everybody citizen. To this day, if you follow Jim Ross' Twitter, he still calls Lance Citizen Storm to this day. It was just something they thought was funny and because the Storm probably had something to do with it. We had a lot of fun.
WrestlingINC: It seemed like the Hurricane really took off with the feud with the Rock in 2003. What was that like?
Helms: That was something just like the Austin thing. It was only going to that first vignette that we did in Toronto. That's all it was going to be. Toronto has a habit of cheering for the bad guys and booing the baby faces. Luckily, as the Hurricane, they always cheered me no matter what. I always appreciated that. You always remember sh-t like that. It was one of those things where they needed somebody that the fans would cheer for against Rock because he was just so over as a character. Even when they wanted him to be heel, sometimes the crowd would pull for him. They just wanted the crowd to not boo me necessarily. That's the only reason we even had this first little locker room interaction.
I remember we did it and it aired. That one wasn't live. I remember just watching it as it played back. All the boys are just laughing their ass off. I saw Kevin Dunn after the show and he was like, 'That's the best backstage vignette we've ever done.'
WrestlingINC: I remember on our site everybody was raving about it.
Helms: Then we tangled with each other in a Battle Royale that night. The second me and him got into it the crowd lit up. I guess they saw there was something with the characters there. It snow balled into a couple more vignettes and then we had the big match in Cleveland.
WrestlingINC: Was it the Rock's idea to put you over? Was that creative's idea?
Helms: That was the Rock's idea. He was going to Mania against Steve. 'You know what's going to make this match even more exciting?' What if before one of the biggest matches of his life he slips on a banana peel and loses to the Hurricane? It was a great idea and nobody expected it. Everybody knows that they kind of wasted me a little bit afterward. It's something they should have run with even more after that but it was a great moment in time.
WrestlingINC: It seemed like the fans were reacting even more to you after that.
Helms: Yeah it was good and the merchandise sales were going through the roof. At that time the only people selling more merch than me was Austin and Rocky. The company was extremely thrilled with me. That's one of the reasons they kept me around so long. Those merchandise sales were doing pretty good.
WrestlingINC: How was Rock to work with? He gets a lot of flak now.
Helms: He was professional; he was open to any idea I had. I have no complaints whatsoever.
Make sure to check back tomorrow for part two of the interview where Helms talks about his WWE departure, his conversation with Chris Benoit before the tragedy, his motorcycle accident last year and more. Also, make sure to download Helm's app Shane Event at iTunes by clicking here.