The Mean 7.14.01: Buff Bagwell

G’day ladies and gents, welcome to the Mean, as always I am Ben. I apologize for the sporadic nature of the column lately, but I’m currently working at a summer camp with limited access to one computer (that I share with thirty other staff members) that graciously allows me to download one word a minute (on good days). Nonetheless, here I come atcha live from the woods of East Brookfield, MA…

Not much response from last week’s column on Jerry Lynn, but hey, I wasn’t expecting much; like I said, the guy is what he is. I’m enjoying the current TV stuff (well, what little I can get taped by my girlfriend and mailed to me), but I’ll leave the commentary to others. So far up in the boonies am I that I don’t even have the option of copying and pasting the most famous opening paragraph in the history of internet wrestling/philosophy columns. By now most of you hopefully know the gist…but if not, click the archive for the Jerry Lynn article (I need the hits). Now, onto the column…

There is a saying that ignorance makes one blind. In the wrestling world, that’s only the tip of the iceberg; in wrestling a dash of ignorance, tempered by a whole lot of ego and the wrong voices whispering in your ear will make anybody blind to what seems obvious to everybody else. Nobody is a better example of this axiom than Marcus “Buff” Bagwell, whose recent firing from the WWF after only a one week stint there is only the latest in a long series of roadblocks that Bagwell has placed himself on a path that was supposed to lead to ensured superstardom. Let’s take a look back on the career of “Buff Daddy…”

Marcus Alexander Bagwell made his debut in wrestling in the early ’90s in the Texas based Global Wrestling Federation. He was known as the “Handsome Stranger,” wearing a lone ranger maks and playing up his impressive physique. It was known from day one that it was his good look and musculature that made Bagwell a potential superstar in the mat game, not any sort of acumen for actual wrestling.

In 1992, Bagwell was signed to wrestle under his real name by Bill Watts, who was running WCW at the time. Bagwell was given the cliched “rookie of the year” push, being promoted as the eager young babyface who had a lot to prove, but unlimited potential. He received decent initial reactions from the crowds based on look and promotion, but his wrestling skills left a lot to be desired. For this reason, Bagwell was put in matches with capable veterans such as Terry Taylor and Greg Valentine, who were able to make the green Bagwell seem much better than he was. Bagwell went over his fair share, but not all the time as Watts believed in disciplining his young stars (with the exception of his son Erik of course, but that’s another column…).

As 1993 rolled around, WCW management was again changing and Bagwell’s future was up in the air. He was over as a mid-card babyface, but didn’t have the in-ring skill to be a legitimate main event foil for Vader or Rick Rude. WCW’s solution was to place Bagwell in a tag team until he was able to develop. They first placed him with Tom Zenk, but the team didn’t last long for various reasons (teams with Tom Zenk in them never seem to last very long). However, WCW found a much better partner for Bagwell when they stuck him with 2 Cold Scorpio. Scorpio did not have much more experience than Bagwell, but he had the “make others look good” demeanor of a veteran and with his high-flyng skills had no problem carrying a match. With Bagwell’s look and slowly developing skills along with Scorpio’s breathtaking moves, the team got over hard and fast.

Bagwell and Scorpio were given an upset win over Tag Team champions The Nasty Boys to a huge pop and had a fluke title reign of a couple weeks before dropping the titles back to the former champs. It seemed as if it would be only a matter of time before the Bagwell/Scorpio team would have a more significant title reign, but Scorpio abruptly left the promotion in early 1994, putting a halt to those plans. Bagwell floundered as a singles competitor for a few months before WCW gave him a new partner: the masked Patriot.

The Patriot was not much better than Bagwell in the ring, but he also had a tremendous build, and the look combined with the tried and true “USA” gimmicks served to get “Stars & Stripes” over enough that they were given two runs with the Tag titles in late 1994 before ultimately ropping them to Harlem Heat. However bad luck kicked in again for Bagwell as Patriot elected to leave WCW for Japan just as the team was becoming firmly established.

It was now 1995 and the “rookie” shine was wearing off Bagwell. WCW tried to fight the inevitable by pairing him with anoter good looking up and comer named Scotty Riggs as the American Males. They were intended to be a modern day Rock & Roll Express, but the fans rejected them and save for a brief title reign that lasted all of a week, they accomplished next to nothing. Still, after all this time WCW still saw potential and Bagwell and decided to go in an entirely new direction with him.

In the summer of 1996, the hottest angle of the year and arguably the decade was the renegade nWo’s invasion of WCW. WCW figured by infusing Bagwell’s look with some nWo attitude they could finally create the star they had been searching five years for. The newly rechristened “Buff Bagwell” took to the heel role he had never before played with zeal, creating the mannerisms we today associate so closely with him, refining his in-ring style, and finally trimming the pompadour hairstyle that had been the source of great ridicule. He was put over in a brief program with former partner Riggs and was getting excellent reactions.

Though not a tremendous superstar, Buff was definitely beginning to develop in 1997 and probably should have been groomed for a TV or U.S. title run. The problem was that the nWo (and WCW) was expanding rapidly, and Buff became lost in the shuffle of big names like Hulk Hogan and Kevin Nash. Though fans perceived Buff as a cut above nWo members like Vincent and Big Bubba, he was clearly still a member of the “B-Team.” WCW did further damage by sticking him in a tag team with the plodding Scott Norton. Nevertheless, Buff did his best during his time as Norton’s partner, refining his heel act and learning to carry matches.

Buff’s big break came in early 1998 when longtime babyface Scott Steiner jumped to the nWo. Buff was pulled away from Norton and made into Steiner’s comedic sidekick, given that both had large physiques and because Steiner needed somebody to talk for him. The duo got over well, being perceived as both cool and deadly by the fans. However, tragedy struck in May of ’98 when during a match with Scott’s brother Rick, Buff took a top rope bulldog badly and ended up injuring several vertebrae in his neck. It was only due to Bagwell’s tremendous neck muscles that he did not end up paralyzed, but it was clear he would not be wrestling for awhile.

Rather than go for the sympathy route, upon Buff’s return he became more obnoxious than ever, serving as the non-wrestling moutpiece for Steiner. He was gradually becoming one of WCW’s best talkers and was more over than he had been in his entire career. When the nWo reorganized in 1999 into a set “A” and “B” team, Buff joined Hogan, Nash, Steiner, Scott Hall, and Lex Luger as the surprise member of the A Team.

Buff returned to the ring about a year after his injury and initially showed little ring rust, but as time went on the effects of his injury began to show. Still, Buff was over and garnering babyface pops no less, so WCW decided to turn him on Steiner and run with it. But after yars of being told of his potential by so many, and because he had accomplished such an amazing feat bouncing back from neck surgery, Buff was getting a swelled head in the back, and began down the road that would ultimately destroy his career.

Because of his poor backstage attitude, the big push was never given to Buff, although there were hints of it in the summer of ’99 with wins over Ric Flair and Roddy Piper. But when Buff became frustrated and made the first of many outlandish claims that he could leave WCW for the WWF at any time, he was stuck back in the midcard feuding with the likes of The Cat and Alex Wright.

Buff was put over former World champion Diamond Dallas Page at Souled Out 2000, but shortly after was relegated to reserve status due to more neck related problems. When he returned in April of 2000, WCW was preparing to embark on the “ground-breaking” New Blood angle (that was supposed to rival the nWo), and Buff was set to be one of the centerpieces.

The “New Blood” angle focused on WCW’s younger superstars who had been held back for years (truth) lashing out again the older, more established stars who had been doing the restraining. The twist was to be that this time WCW heads Vince Russo and Eric Bischoff were on the side of the young guys (in reality, neither guy was on the same page, and the old guys weren’t ready to let go…but again, another column). Buff was teamed with Shane Douglas, turned heel again, and placed in a feud with veterans Flair and Lex Luger (whom Buff had worked with many times before). Buff & Douglas were given the Tag titles and seen as a centerpiece of the then hot New Blood angle…until Buff had a backstage temper tantrum and attacked a crew member for screwing up his entrance, earning him a length suspension.

When Buff returned, the heat of the New Blood was dying, and Buff was hastily turned face again to do the logical feud with Douglas, the partner he “abandoned.” However Buff was still throwing fits backstage, and after jobbing to Douglas then engaging in a horribly booked feud with Chris Kanyon, was again sent home.

For the remainder of 2000 and into 2001 up until WCW’s demise, Buff was seemingly turning heel to face and back again by the week, and losing bit by bit any heat he had left. He was given another shot at being a bigtime tag team player paired with Luger, but again pissed it away when he and Luger both displayed poor backstage attitudes. When WCW was absorbed by the WWF, Buff was lucky enough to be brought long despite his reputation based on solid fan reaction. Immediately Buff was up to his old tricks, no-showing shows and whining backstage. After only a few weeks, Buff was released by the WWF.

Buff Bagwell has been up and down the road of professional wrestling to know better by now. He had been in and out of favor with management, over and not over, talented and untalented; you name it. He has been given numerous reprieves when by all rights his career should have been over, whether it was due to injury or attitude, but he never seems to get it. Why is that? Let’s take a closer look…

THE MARK: As Marcus Alexander Bagwell, the marks were never kind to this man. Other than a few teenage girls and wide eyed kids, who wants to root for the virtuous up and coming rookie (remember, marks or not these are wrestling fans we’re talking about here)? Once he became Buff, Bagwell received a much better reaction from the fans. He now had a cool attitude tomatch his cool look. In the marks’ eyes, regardless of in-ring deterioration, bad attitude, whatever, the Buff Bagwell image has a coolness stigma attatched to it; see the crowd reaction from the RAW when Vince took over WCW for the best example.

THE SMART: Buff Bagwell was an internet darling for about five minutes in 1998 before he broke his neck and possibly five more minutes right after he came back. As a dull babyface, he simply ducked under the internet radar. However, when he began getting over as a heel, suddenly his years of hard work and dedication to his craft meant something to the smarts. After the injury however, when Buff returned with deteriorated skills and a bad attitude to match, he lost the smarts’ support and has never gotten it back. Today he is seen on the internet as an overpushed crybaby and is greatly resented.

And finally…

THE MEAN: When you’ve got people telling you for years how good you’re going to be and then after all tha waiting you finally get there, it’s gotta be hard not to get cocky. For that reason, I give Buff Bagwell a little more leeway than most internet guys would. However, the bottom line is that wrestling and business, just like life, are about learning from your mistakes and not repeating them. Buff has had opportunity after opportunity handed to him on a silver platter, and for some reason always barks down the same wrong path. By this point even a dog would have learned by repetition alone. Buff can only lay so much blame on the people who were whispering in his ears; at some point, he missed the part where he was supposed to grow up and start acting like an adult.

I’m not ashamed to say I have always been a Buff Bagwell fan. I like his look, his style, his image and persona; I’m very much a mark for all that you might say. However, I can live without Buff Bagwell, and apparently so can the wrestling industry. Perhaps some day Buff will prove himself enough in the indys to again return to the WWF, but I sincerely doubt it. It’s a shame; Buff had so many opportunities to be something truly special, but we can only speculate…

In the mean time, thanks for reading