Date: Early July, 2001
Source: Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Sam Roberts’ Wrestling Podcast, Armpit readers Doug Adams, Trevor, and Chris
Buff Bagwell was never in the plans to be a major player when the WWF purchased WCW in 2001. But that all changed on the night Vince McMahon went into the ring and famously mentioned some WCW names and asked the fans if they wanted to see them wrestle in WWF. Bagwell’s name got a surprisingly big response, and that, along with his body, put him in Vince’s good graces temporarily.
Vince had big plans for WCW, including giving them their own show. Unfortunately none of that ever materialized. The WWF never picked up the expensive contracts of WCW’s highest paid talent, so rather than a roster filled with big WCW names like Hogan, Nash, Flair, Goldberg, Steiner, etc, they got the cheaper midcard talent that had less name value. The nail in the coffin was when WWF fans crapped on WCW matches on a live Raw show in Tacoma, WA. After that night, Vince scrapped all his plans and rushed the invasion angle to the point it did a fraction of the business it could have.
Backstage, it was a different story. The new WCW talent, many of whom were very inexperienced, had major heat on them because of the way they composed themselves backstage. They violated several unwritten rules of locker room demeanor and offended many of the veterans with their attitude that, in their opinion, showed a lack of respect. Among those was Buff Bagwell, who wasn’t a newcomer, but did have a reputation for arrogance and disrespect even in the WCW locker room.
For example, Bagwell and Lex Luger would laugh at the cruiserweights behind their backs and joke that they were the problem with the company. One time Dean Malenko had a great match and people were congratulating him backstage. Bagwell went up to him and made fun of him, telling him that the wrestling business wasn’t about having great matches, but about having a great body.
This arrogance led to an argument with Shane “Hurricane” Helms while Helms was training with WWE officials backstage in early July (the WCW purchase happened in March). Bagwell told Helms he would never be a superstar in the business because he was too small, not muscular enough, and didn’t look tough in real life. While Helms was not as big of a star as Bagwell at the time, and definitely on the smaller side, he was far more talented in the ring, worked much harder, and was popular backstage because he was quiet and respectful.
Helms responded with a comment about Bagwell being on steroids, although it’s not known exactly what he said. At that point Bagwell slapped him hard from behind. The way Helms described it, he was in the ring while Bagwell was on the floor outside. For him to have slapped Helms, he would’ve had to jump up and slap him.
Helms was either holding a bottle of water, or grabbed one from nearby. He hurled it at Bagwell, splitting his head open and drawing blood.
There are different reports about what happened next. Bagwell claimed it was a frozen bottle, or that the bottle had ice in it. Helms claimed that wasn’t the case, it was just a plain water bottle with water in it. If Helms is correct, the bottle must’ve been thrown extremely hard in order to have the impact it did. It was also known among everyone there that Helms had a bad shoulder at the time.
A couple reports said Helms then got in a few blows, while other reports said it was quelled before Helms ever got to him. Helms did say he was going to punch him in the face, but stopped once he saw his head was split open, which he claimed was never his intention to do in the first place. He said he threw the bottle at him just to distract him until he got to him, and acknowledged he was outweighed by 50 pounds.
The incident had significant ramifications. When Bagwell showed up for TV that week in Atlanta on July 9, he was fired. While certainly the company used this fight as an excuse (since he threw the first punch and Helms was defending himself), odds are he may have been let go anyways. Bagwell’s match with Booker T was very bad, and didn’t help matters (and Bagwell, not Booker, got the blame for that). In terms of storylines, Helms was supposed to feud with Chavo Guerrero before dropping his cruiserweight title to Billy Kidman in Kidman’s hometown of Atlanta. Kidman would then unify the title with X-Pac. With Bagwell gone, they hotshotted the angle and it happened far sooner than planned.
The incident also helped Helms’ perception backstage. At the time, the locker rooms were segregated with WWF on one side and WCW on the other. When the boys heard what Helms did to the unpopular Bagwell, he became a hero. Ron Simmons and Bradshaw (who teamed as the APA back then) took Helms’ bags and moved them to the WWF side. Steve Austin, who knew Bagwell from his early WCW days, patted Helms on the back.
In Bagwell’s final match with the WWF, he was booked against Bradshaw. Bradshaw had a reputation for stiffing guys on their way out, especially those who had heat with the boys backstage. He gave Bagwell a very stiff powerbomb, after which Bagwell complained because he told him he broke his neck a few years ago (in a botched bulldog spot with the Steiners on WCW Thunder that was big news at the time). Bradshaw called him a “p*ssy” and powerbombed him again.
Bagwell never worked for the WWF/WWE again. For the past few years he has worked as a male escort, and has been very successful in that role.