By TONY BAUGHMAN Staff writer
Buff Bagwell still remembers the days when he shared the wrestling ring with legendary grapplers Ric Flair, Hulk Hogan and others in front of 75,000 screaming fans.
But "Buff the Stuff" maintains he is just as satisfied playing in more "intimate" venues such as the Aiken High gym, where Bagwell and other independent wrestlers will appear Saturday, Jan. 13. NWA Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling, based in Charlotte, will stage a benefit for the Aiken High athletic booster club that night, starting at 8 p.m.
"Mid-Atlantic is one of the best independent groups there is," Bagwell said in a telephone interview from his Marietta, Ga., home. "They're very organized. They run a very clean show, no cussing or things like that. It's back to what made WCW popular."
Bagwell should know. From 1992 to 2001, he worked for World Championship Wrestling, the Atlanta-based promotion that evolved from regional Georgia Championship Wrestling in the 1970s to the highest rated program in cable television by 1997 thanks in part to the financial bankroll and TV exposure offered by media mogul Ted Turner.
Bagwell, then a 22-year-old former football player who worked in his family's lumberyard, joined WCW and quickly became a popular singles performer in storylines with veteran wrestlers Flair, Hogan and Roddy Piper. He also won five WCW World Tag Team titles with three different partners.
When WCW was acquired by Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation in 2001, Bagwell worked briefly for the WWF then disappeared, finding work in smaller independent promotions like Mid-Atlantic. Though the big-time was lucrative and an adrenaline rush while it lasted, small shows such as the one coming to Aiken have their perks, according to "Buff."
"A lot of time when you watch wrestling on TV, you see two matches and 17 interviews," said Bagwell, now 36. "When you go to a show like (Aiken), you get a chance, up close and personal, to meet everybody. I can't tell you the times I wrestled in front of 75,000 people and didn't meet anybody. I'm a people person. So it's a real good thing for a fan because they get a chance to really meet you and ask you questions, but it's a good thing for me, too."
Bagwell will be joined on the Aiken wrestling card by several other names likely familiar to die-hard Southern wrestling fans: "Big Poppa Pump" Scott Steiner, Rick Steiner, the Midnight Express and the Rock-and-Roll Express, among others. In all, six matches are scheduled, according to promoter Rick Nelson.
Tickets for the Aiken High benefit are $10 ringside, $8 for general admission. Local ticket outlets include City Billiards, Bobby's BBQ in Langley and the high school front office.
For the money, Bagwell and his fellow wrestlers promise a night of quality, family-friendly entertainment.
"For me personally, I'd much rather go see something like this because I'm able to come up and meet the guys. This is a very nice, laid-back show with some good wrestling and a good feel about it a good ring, music and lighting and everything. It's just a real good show."