In Defense Of… Lex Luger
A version of this article originally appeared on 411mania.com and was updated for the book IN DEFENSE OF… EXONERATING PROFESSIONAL WRESTLING’S MOST HATED. Learn more at https://www.jpprag.com
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum rap. Some writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
Some dame walked into my office and said…
Well, it all started on May 15, 2005 with resident Eric Bischoff hater (more than Joe Boo) MATTHEW Roberts:
The Defense Of Lex Luger. Yes, he is a drug addict and scum bag now. However he was super over and a decent wrestler in the late 1980’s. Yes, if Ric Flair had done business the right way and done 1 job for Luger from 1988 to 1991, Luger could have been a huge star. Yes, if Vince McMahon had given him the title following the Lex Express, he would have been a decent draw (definitely no worse than Chunkyzuna was).
Always interesting with the naming of things. Later on, Ronevsorg said:
What about Lex Luger?……………
To which I wondered what all the periods were about, but then I said, “I’ll take the case!” Well, actually I said I already took the case, but that he’d get credit, too.
After announcing the case, I did receive this from Uncle Jason:
You see, no matter what you say about [Luger], I’m voting Guilty. I don’t care if he was forced to have totally-suck-ass matches with his children at gunpoint. I don’t care if his mother is needing medicine & he was working to help her. I don’t care if he’s been feeding starving people around the globe & healing the blind & teaching the lame to walk.
I don’t care. I hate Lex Luger.
That’s a ringing endorsement right there!
Lex Luger is a man who has been mired in personal problems, especially since the demise of WCW. He came from an interesting time in wrestling, appearing just past the beginning of Hulk-a-mania, but before the complete demise of the territory system. He was a product of his generation, for better or for worse, and grew up to be a multi-time champion with a career spanning almost two decades long.
Yet, because of his recent personal problems, history has chosen to remember him unkindly. Suddenly, he was not the genetic marvel he was during the day, only a long line of people with a narcissist gimmick. He was not the PWI Rookie of the Year (1986), Comeback of Year (1993), Most Popular Wrestler of Year (1993), and Wrestler of Year (1997), but was a joke. He never belonged in this business; he was a loser who was pushed down our throats. Anyone with a modicum of muscle and gab could have been Lex Luger.
Of course, none of these lamentations on Luger are true. He has given so much to this business and we the fans, and his push to the top were the result of his hard work. Has he fallen mightily from grace (should he ever have been in grace)? There is no doubt. But should we kick him when he is down and bury his legacy as if he were a mere footnote at the bottom of a mud-caked shoe? I think not.
And to prove that, there is only one place to start: the beginning.
He loves me, he loves me not
We’re diving right in, because the biggest lie I read about Lex Luger is that he has no love for the business and was only in it for the money. While money was definitely a motivating factor in Mr. Luger’s life, that was hardly his sole reason for sacrificing himself to this business for so long.
Like many future wrestlers, especially from in and around his time, Luger (born Larry Pfohl, but that’s the last time we’ll be calling him THAT) found his athleticism expressed through football. He played college ball for the Penn State before transferring to the University of Miami in 1978. After college, he joined the USFL playing for the Memphis Showboats and then the Tampa Bay Bandits. This went on for a bit until he found himself in the CFL playing for the Montreal Alouettes before finally making it to the big leagues and playing for the Green Bay Packers in the NFL.
While out on a celebrity golf tournament, Luger met Florida wrestling legend Bob Roop. The two hit it off, and it was Roop who was convinced that Luger had what it took to be in the wrestling business. In case you were wondering about the credibility of Roop to make such a decision, here is Roop’s description of himself:
I had an 18-year career as a professional wrestler. The first 15 of them I worked steadily, seldom having more than a day or two off at a time. Making a lot of money was not my goal, travel and adventure lit my fire. I made three trips to Japan and Australia, wrestled in Korea, New Zealand, Tasmania, England, Scotland, Germany, Iraq, the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Grand Cayman, and from one side of the U.S. to the other. There were adventures along the way, some tragic in the form of a fatal plane crash, and others merely terrifying in the form of engine failures and near crashes or flying with maniacal wrestlers piloting their own planes…
This was a former Olympian who had been on the professional scene for years before he met Luger. He understood the business and saw that Luger had the potential and the heart for it.
Just to make sure, Roop brought in Hiro Matsuda, who you might remember as the man that had previously trained Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff. So no, you were not going to get the technical expertise of someone trained by Stu Hart, nor the high flying prowess of someone trained by the Gory Guerrero, but he was going to learn how to excite a crowd and hold them in the palm of his hand.
After a relative short while, Luger made his professional debut in 1985 in Florida. He would have a monumental start, defeating Wahoo McDaniels for the Southern Heavyweight title on November 19th of that year. He would lose the title and win it back from Jesse Bar in February 1986, and do the same again in July 1986 with the Masked Superstar. He would later go on to also win the Bahamas title before being given a World Heavyweight Championship shot against Ric Flair at Battle of the Belts III. This match would go to a sixty-minute draw.
Sixty minutes? Lex Luger? Let’s keep that in mind for later.
The point of all that success is that everyone from Roop to Matsuda to Kevin Sullivan (who ran the Florida territory) to Ric Flair saw the potential in Luger. He was not immediately given everything, though, despite what it may seem. Those were only Florida championships, and Crocket was the big game in the South at the point. Until he made it there, it was just like working in ROH today. Sure, he was succeeding at one of the biggest indies going, but it was still an indie.
But the opportunity came for Luger to join Ric Flair’s Four Horsemen in 1987, and he jumped at the chance. The Big Show shares this memory:
I was bit by the wrestling bug as a kid. I remember when Lex Luger debuted. We were watching Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Ric Flair was talking about “The Phenom”, and Lex came out, and I remember my dad and I were like, “Holy smoke! Look at that guy!” I had never seen anybody on TV with muscles like that at the time. At the time, he was so shredded. There are 30 guys in our locker room right now that look better, but back then it was unbelievable.
And thus Lex Luger’s real path to wrestling glory began. He went on have multiple US and Tag Title runs. He fought for the side of good, he fought for the side of evil. But it would not be until 1991 that he rose to the top when he pinned Barry Windham to become the WCW champion after Ric Flair left the organization. So for four years he worked in the mid card and fought his way up the ranks of the NWA/WCW. Nothing was handed to him overnight.
And why would he stick around? He could have gone into modeling with his body or tried for football once more. He obviously had a degree from the University of Miami or could have gone for more education.
But he kept on striving for more, and plenty of people all over the NWA put faith into him. Now why would they go ahead and do a thing like that? Because Lex Luger belonged in the wrestling business and loved it. He sacrificed on the smaller circuits, gave up big NFL money to take a chance to be trained, and ran with the ball when it was given to him. He could have packed up and gone home anytime, especially in the years of frustration that Ric Flair did not put him over. But he waited and waited, beating his body down, until his body could handle it no more.
Feeling frustrated by nagging injuries and the direction of WCW, Luger dropped the World Heavyweight Championship to Sting at SuperBrawl II in February 1992 and forthwith quit WCW. But his contract would not allow him to wrestle anywhere else until it ran out the following year (something Vince McMahon should have paid attention to later), so Luger joined Vince McMahon’s World Bodybuilding Federation. Luger, unfortunately, was involved in a motorcycle accident that put him out of commission for the rest of the WBF’s life. Without a wrestling contract and never getting to perform in the WBF, Luger signed on to the WWF at the Narcissist, but that is a story for another section.
But why did Luger come back at all? Was it for the money? No, he could have sat home and did nothing and made money. He wanted to wrestle, he wanted to be out there. On an interview on Live Audio Wrestling, Luger said he would rather perform and earn his money than sit home and just get paid like he did with his Time Warner contract. Just because he was smart enough to not to give up millions of dollars does not mean he loved wrestling any less. He is even at the time of this writing working with AWE in Winnipeg.
Lex Luger, if he wanted to, could leave wrestling forever. He still has his gyms, he still has real estate, he still has other investments. But he wants to go out there and wrestle.
The question is, do any of us want to see him?
Who needs mat skills when you’ve got pecks like these?
The complaint has been that Luger is a punch-kick-clothesline-rack kind of wrestler, and that’s all he does. First off, the vast majority of Lex Luger’s matches are just that: he hits someone a few times, slams them around, and then puts them a torture rack to submit. But that is what he is paid to do! Look, his gimmick is a big strong guy with amazing muscles. As an entertainer, he is to go out there and perform what the crowd wants to see. Much like Goldberg and Kevin Nash, Luger was not destined to go out there and have half-hour classics every time up (although he has had several, back to that in a minute). The crowds, whether cheering him or booing him, wanted to see fast hard-hitting action with a few power moves whenever he appeared.
And that is what Lex Luger delivered. He was trained by some of the best and had years to learn in Florida and the NWA from Sullivan, Flair, Anderson, Sting, the Steiners, and others. During those years he not only learned how to push the boundaries of his abilities, but also learned how to reel them him. Luger learned a less-is-more mentality, and how to keep the fans interested in his matches. That’s why when he defeated Hollywood Hogan for the title on the Nitro before Road Wild 1997 the fans were screaming and champaign was flying in the back. Luger did not need to perform a million moves a minute, he just needed a few.
Still, when he wanted to, Luger could pull out all the stops. That is why in 1987 he was nominated for the PWI Match of the Year award. Oh wait, that was a War Games match, can’t attribute his contribution to that, no way. Well how about in 1991 when he WON the PWI Match of the Year Award? Wait, wait, that was because he was teaming with Sting and fighting the Steiner Brothers. Of course he had nothing to do with that match. Oh, what’s this? That same year he was nominated for another match? Wait, am I saying that Luger was nominated for two matches of the year awards in one year? And the other one was a single’s match? Against Ron Simmons?
That’s history folks. Luger can pull out all the stops and impress when he needs to. Is he going to be in the match of the night most nights? Absolutely not! But that is not his job. He is a main event power wrestler who is supposed to go out there and perform big devastating moves. There is a balance to watching a wrestling show. So when Luger defeated Hollywood Hogan, the match before it was Villano IV y V vs. Hector Garza and Lizmark Jr. The fans got to see the high flying action to get them pumped up, and then a big powerhouse main event that sent them home happy and feeling like they got their money’s worth.
But did the fans get what they paid for? Is Lex Luger really worth it? I mean, what has this man actually done?
I can’t remember anything important…
Many have claimed that Luger was never a part of anything big, that he was just bit player here and there that never had the spotlight. Well look into the last section: first off, he was a major player in WCW vs. nWo, a member of Team WCW in almost every super-tag match versus the fledgling nWo, and one of only three men to defeat Hollywood Hogan for the title while Hogan was with the nWo (the other two being Sting and Bill Goldberg). Also, Luger was in the nWo Wolfpac, both the face and heel versions.
Of course, this was not his first foray into group ventures. Luger was a prominent member of the Horsemen for a while, and fought against them for even longer.
Still, he had many memorable feuds besides these, especially those with Barry Windham (over the US and later World Title), Ron Simmons, and of course his on-again, off-again relationship with Sting.
More than these, though, is that Luger has been involved in some seriously shocking moments. On July 4, 1993 Luger landed a helicopter on board the USS Intrepid and body slammed Yokozuna to kick off the Lex Express (who saw that one coming?). He and Bret Hart were co-winners of the Royal Rumble when both of them touched the floor at the same time (an ending that would oft be repeated). But bigger than all of that was the day he returned to WCW in September 1995. It was the very first Nitro from the Mall of America, and out through the fans walked Lex Luger in an absolute shock to the world, especially since he had just wrestled for Vince the night before. But it turned out Luger was wrestling without a contact and as a favor to Sting, Eric Bischoff brought him on board. This ended up being a great benefit as it gave Nitro that “anything can happen” feeling that was so important at the beginning.
And despite the fact that Bischoff had no love for Luger, Luger would still go on to win both Tag Team and World gold. The man overcame the absolute disdain from his boss to prove he could be in the main event. What more could you want then that?
Boy this arena sure is empty
Oh, that’s right: sales. Well, how do the numbers stack with Mr. Luger?
Well, first we can look at SummerSlam 1993 when he fought Yokozuna for the title. As we know, Luger was given his position because Hogan had left the company. And of course, the Lex Express became a complete joke that no fan could get behind. Except for one problem: the fans did get behind it. SummerSlam scored a 1.2 that year. Let’s fast forward to later that year when Luger and Hart were set to fight Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania. That event drew an impressive 1.68.
Perhaps I am going about this all wrong. Let’s jump to WCW in 1997 at Road Wild. Luger was defending his newly won championship against Hollywood Hogan. That only brought in a 0.65. But I will contend that that is because people already saw the main event on the Nitro beforehand and had no reason to tune in. They already saw what they were looking for. And taking a quick look, that night Nitro got a 4.4 rating to RAW’s 2.7. I’d say Luger was holding interest there.
As for merchandise sales, well, it’s hard to say. I do not have a copy of WCW’s and WWE’s books. But I do know that Luger was featured on credit cards, t-shirts, posters, toys, cards, magazines, and video games. And all of that is not sitting in a warehouse somewhere. People bought and owned Luger gear, and loved him as a wrestler.
Of course, when you get that high, you often come crashing down.
Damn that boy is jacked!
First, though, we really need to look at what got Lex Luger to the game. As noted by the Big Show earlier, there may have been a thousand guys with physiques as good (if not better) since Lex Luger, but Luger was the first. For his time he was unique, and don’t forget it.
Of course, you are going to ask, “But JP, how did Luger get so jacked? Didn’t he take supplements?”
And I’m going to tell you yes, yes he did.
OK, let’s take a trip way back in time. Do you know why marijuana is an illegal substance in the United States?
Is it because it is an intoxicating substance? Is it because it is dangerous to the health and wellbeing of the people who use it? Is it because of its debilitating long-term effects on regular users?
Absolutely not — it’s because of outside interests.
Prior to 1937, marijuana was mostly legal across all of America. In the 19th century and early 20th century, marijuana could be purchased at shops or (according to wikipedia.com) “it could be openly purchased in bulk from grocers or in cigarette form at newsstands”. Then in 1937, a law was passed (against the advice of American Medical Association) to make it illegal to transport or possess cannabis. Now what would suddenly cause this change in attitude?
(1) Black culture — during the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Jazz scene exploded into the American underground and semi-mainstream society. The conservatives of this country feared the growth of Jazz and black culture in America and labeled it as the complete moral decay of society (hmmm… that story sounds familiar). Many jazz musicians were well known proponents and users of marijuana, especially the legendary Louis Armstrong. So, as an attempt to hold back black culture, white conservatives sought to make marijuana illegal.
(2) But they really wanted it illegal because these people were the same ones who got prohibition passed. You see, on January 16, 1920 the eighteenth amendment went into effect, thus making the transportation and possession of alcohol illegal in the United States. This, of course, paved the way for organized crime, importation from Canada, the growth of underground jazz bars, and the use of marijuana, but that is beside the point. The eighteenth amendment was repealed by the twenty-first amendment on February 17, 1933. Thus the Temperance movement needed to set their sights on a substance that they knew they could make illegal without an amendment, and one that most people would not miss. So they set their sights on marijuana and scared white America into buying the idea by saying blacks would be impregnating their daughters if they continued to let marijuana spread. Their plan worked.
(3) Still, there was one man who was most responsible for getting marijuana on the bad-guys book, and that was William Hearst, chief stockholder of DuPont. DuPont, as a chemical and materials processing company, had a heavy interest in a fabric called nylon. By eliminating hemp from the equation, nylon, cotton, wool, and linen sales went up, as did DuPont’s profits. You see, it was Mr. Hearst’s testimony to Congress that put the final nail in the head of marijuana in the United States, at least for a few decades.
In 1969, the Supreme Court overturned the laws against marijuana due to a loophole in it that violated the fifth amendment. In response, in 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, and quickly added marijuana to the list of controlled substances. And that is where it has remained since, although some controls have been loosened for medical purposes in some states.
Now what the heck does this have to do with Lex Luger?
Well, those “supplements” that he was taking in the 1980’s, they were just like marijuana. At the time, they were not illegal; they were just supplements! Weight trainers and other athletes are constantly taking supplements. The drug of choice today is guarana, which is really just a water retainer. It makes you look bulkier without adding real mass and also provides energy. But a few years ago ephedra was the drug of choice as a weight controller until it was banned by the Food and Drug Administration on December 30, 2003. How long until guarana or taurine meets a similar fate?
So Luger took those supplements for years. But wait, it was not until 1991 that anabolic steroids joined the list of drugs on the Controlled Substance Act, the same act that was created to control marijuana!
And why were anabolic steroids and other similar substances added to the list? Was it because of health concerns? Was it because of a fear for of long-term effects on the people using them and their families?
No! It was all about sports, a many-many-many billion-dollar business throughout the country and world-wide. Sports realized they had problem with their athletes using the substances to get better at their game while others chose not to. They then changed the public’s perception AGAINST these supplements, saying they were illegal performance enhancing substances (long before they were illegal). Why do you think the US Congress was involved with the baseball steroids scandal? Was it because it was an important issue? No, it was because it would get them a lot of attention and they could talk about it with voters. Thus Congress became involved in 1991 with sports so that their constituents would re-elect them after the sports industry management turned against their athletes.
But by then, it was way too late for many workers. Luger was one of those men. He had been taking supplements for a decade and, at least in his own head, had seen no detrimental side effects. We know this is not true, but from his perspective he was fine. In reality, Luger was hooked. He continued to use substances as time went on, not aware of the effect on his body and mind.
Listen, up until the 1950’s, doctors in China used to prescribe cigarettes for people who had bad coughs. How were they supposed to know it would make them worse over time? They didn’t have the training or knowledge; no one around them did! The same with Luger — how was he supposed to know the long-term dangers of the supplements he took in the 1980s? Did you know the dangers of ephedra before it was made illegal?
A couple of more crimes
Still, it is obvious that either the long-term effects of drugs, two decades on the road, a career being started and halted a number of times, or a combination of all of that and more had a detrimental impact on Luger. He began to make life decisions that were not for the best. None of us can judge him because we do not know all the facts. But here is what we do know:
Ms. Elizabeth died in his house. From the Smokinggun.com:
AUGUST 5 — The wrestling personality known as Miss Elizabeth died from a lethal combination of booze and prescription drugs, according to this autopsy report from the Cobb County Medical Examiner. The coroner determined that the May 1 death of Elizabeth Hulette, 42, was an accident resulting from “acute toxicity-multiple drugs.” Hulette was stricken at the Georgia home she shared with live-in boyfriend Lawrence Pfohl, who wrestles professionally as Lex Luger. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital, where a police detective told the ME’s investigator that Hulette “had been observed drinking Vodka and taking Soma and Loritabs several hours” prior to her demise. A toxicology screen found evidence of anxiety, muscle relaxation, nausea, and pain drugs in Hulette’s system. Her blood alcohol level was measured at a whopping .299. As a result of the police investigation of Hulette’s death, cops arrested Pfohl after discovering illegal bodybuilding drugs in his home.
Now, maybe Luger had the supply of those drugs on hand. And as we previously discussed, that is because of his earlier conditioning, not because he was a degenerate abuser. The man needed help and obviously was not getting it. His addiction was a disease, but that does not mean he is responsible for spreading the infection. Elizabeth had problems of her own, problems that far outweighed physical pain. Why in the world would anyone even have a blood-alcohol level of .299 to begin with? And then mix that with drugs? Something deeper was going on. From the LAW:
When asked about the last few years including the death of Elizabeth Huelette, [Luger] says is a very private person as was Elizabeth and that it’s been very mentally tough. He says the real story has never been told and he wants to be private about that issue out of respect to Elizabeth’s family. He says if he could change places with her he would have and misses her.
Read between the lines. Luger was trying to protect Elizabeth. He may have been the one trying to wean her off of drugs for all we know. But we don’t. Sting further alludes to Elizabeth’s problems:
You know, it’s all over out there. It’s just … there. You know actors and actresses in Hollywood and movies, sports, baseball, football, basketball it’s everywhere, it’s not just wrestling. Wrestling is set apart though because it’s not seasonal. We don’t go for 6 to 8 months to film a big blockbuster movie and go home. We don’t play baseball for 6 to 8 months out of the year and come home. You know we’re gone, traveling, and turning the light switch on every day of our lives. Every day. Actually, you’re this super ball and bounce around and play and get trounced on and try to stay in shape and deal with the press and deal with the stress of traveling, and you know, it takes its toll. It takes its toll.
Sting will not talk about it, but he put the idea out there. Luger will not talk about it either, and he will protect Elizabeth for the rest of his years. Say what you want to about Luger, but he cared for Elizabeth. And under no circumstances did he kill her.
In the months that followed, Luger’s grief was strong and got him arrested again. On February 1, 2005, Luger was arrested for DUI. The problem was, he was not driving the car. He had passed out in the car drunk, and when the cops woke him up he tried to start the engine, so they booked him. He had expired tags and other illegal documents.
Almost two months later he was arrested again for failure to pay child support. Things were looking bleak.
But do you know what I say:
GIVE THE MAN A BREAK!
His live-in girlfriend DIED in his house! Stop all the jokes, that is seriously painful. Are you telling me that you would not be completely messed up if the person you loved, who you lived with, who was having problems, suddenly and violently died in front of you? How long would need before you could even BEGAN to function semi-normally again?
Luger obviously needed time. He was not in a good place, and with reason. Was being drunk behind the wheel right? No. Is not paying your child support legal? Absolutely not. But can we understand where Luger was coming from? Sure, he was in a hard place and needed time to recover. He needed to prove he was worth another shot.
Giving the boy a shot
Just six months after the death of Ms. Elizabeth, TNA’s Dixie Carter had this to say:
It is rare that TNA ever responds to media, no matter how off it may be from fact. But we strongly believe it is appropriate at this time to address what is being said about Lex Luger appearing on our November 12th pay-per-view telecast.
TNA is about opportunity — for wrestlers new and established. For the fans, TNA provides a weekly program that showcases today’s hottest talent, introduces the stars of tomorrow, and provides the opportunity to re-experience wrestling icons. Since its inception, TNA has paid homage to NWA legends who have laid the foundation for our company.
As far as TNA talent is considered, we could not be more proud of our entire roster who give their heart and soul week after week to build this special group. We believe in being compassionate and giving guys a chance. From new, incredibly talented young men to veterans who may need lifting up when trying to change their lives. Surrounding a man with the kind of environment we enjoy backstage at TNA can only be considered a very good thing. We are about accentuating the positive, not the negative.
When our talent approaches management and recommends giving someone an opportunity, we listen, and that is the case with Lex Luger, as well as others. The success of bringing Lex to TNA won’t be measured with pay-per-view buys. It will be measured by what a man does with an opportunity given.
You see, despite everything, wrestling companies still see a reason to talk to and book Luger. He was on the WWA world tours. He has had informal talks with the WWE. His legacy in wrestling is not forgotten. And Lex has learned a lot, too. From the LAW again:
He says he blames no one but himself and wants to talk to youngsters about how he did things wrong.
Luger has come to a point of understanding with his personal life. He is not all the way there yet, but he is getting there. But despite all of his personal problems, should we judge his final legacy on the mistakes of a few years that have nothing to with the ring?
Listen to the fans
If the e-mails I have already received are any indication, the answer is no. Charlie S. shares some memories:
I started watching WWF in 1991 and wasn’t familiar with the man who said, “I’m the total package.” I just wanted to say that to stress that I didn’t know Lex Luger when he was arguably at his peak. Instead, I knew Luger as the guy who beat up Mr. Perfect a few times then “saw the light” and became the All-American. For those that don’t remember, Yokozuna was astonishing when he started. He tore through the WWF. He put several people in the hospital (Jim Duggan for one), he dominated the Rumble, he beat Bret Hart, lost to Hogan (but who didn’t), and then he KILLED Hulkamania (WWF Magazine, probably June or so 93). Alright, he’s a HUGE heal, we get it. Then Lex comes around and slams him on a military ship after flying down in a helicopter, now that is excellent booking. Then he starts Lex Express. He burns across America building HUGE momentum going into SummerSlam. He battles the unbeatable Yokozuna, knocks him out, and wins… by countout? No worries, he’ll get another chance right? He battles through the Rumble, wins it (with Bret)! They both go to Mania for a showdown with the monster (who by the way, just beat Undertaker in a casket match with 11 guys, but still impressive to win a casket match against Taker). Now, if I remember correctly, Luger gets screwed over at Mania, Bret wins the title back, blah, blah. Luger’s not done yet right? I mean he’s still at the top with Bret and Yoko. Wait, who’s this Diesel guy? Bob Backlund (well that chickenwing crossface is a cool move, I guess)? How can Shawn wrestle for a belt, he’s too small? At WM 11, Luger will be back at the main event. He deserves it. What, he’s teaming with British Bulldog as the “Allied Powers”. He goes back to WCW and does a great job, winning the title in the feud with Hogan. Always a contender and a guy that kind of got left behind by Sting. You mentioned that he beat Hogan, but you need to point out that after Macho turned, it was basically Luger + WCW wrestler v. NWO. Luger was good, he knew how to work a crowd and he was not as shitty as people complain about in the ring. Vince McMahon and booking alone cannot sentence a man to death.
TTC also shares a more non-kayfabe look at Luger:
I’ve met a handful of wrestlers in my day (at official signings), most just seemed forcibly polite (Kevin Nash and HHH for example), some were downright rude (Ric Flair), but one stood out… Lex Luger took time to have a short conversation with each of the fans in the long, long line. He was friendly and [full of compliments] and overall a really nice guy.
John Waraksa shares an interesting observation:
He was a very legitimate draw. EVERY female wrestling fan I ever met in the around 86 or so until about 94 liked him, and I know if they went to a show they were gonna get a t-shirt (and probably had their boyfriends buy it).
And finally Ron M. sent in something that would have been the Hidden Highlight:
I saw Luger at a house show during the time he was doing the Total Package gimmick with the lights and all (like Masters now). It was at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College and he was complaining about not having the proper lighting. He went on to cut one of the most impressive heel promos I had heard that year. When let loose and comfortable, he is amongst the best. A funny part came when we all started chanting the “We are… Penn State” deal, alluding to his past which you mentioned. He just looked all around, paused for a long time and said “You know, you people are pathetic”. Everybody loved it and laughed. Great stuff.
That is great stuff. The point of all this is that Luger has entertained the fans both in and out the ring for years, and that deserves to be his legacy.
The narcissistic final comment
Lex Luger is a man plagued by personal problems and an ambivalent internet crowd. But his true story is a man who worked his way up through the Florida system and was trained by the legends. He fought amazing contests with the likes of Ric Flair, Sting, Ron Simmons, and Barry Windham. He was involved in exciting stories and angles from the Four Horsemen to the Lex Express to the premier of Nitro to being the standard bearer for WCW against the nWo to being in both versions of the Wolfpac and countless other angles in between. He sold PPVs, he sold house shows, he sold merchandise. This is the man who Lex Luger truly is and was. A few mistakes should not define an entire career. A career should define a career. And more importantly: a legacy.
The defense rests.
After the Trial
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS LEX LUGER, LEX LUGER HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING A TERRIBLE WRESTLER WHO NO FAN WANTED AT THE TOP BUT WAS PUSHED DOWN OUR THROATS ANYWAY. FURTHERMORE, HIS DESCENT FROM THE TOP WAS DESERVED, AND HIS PERSONAL PROBLEMS ARE JUST A MANIFESTATION OF EVERYTHING HE SHOULD GET FOR YEARS OF HORRIBLE WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT.
With 88.1% of the vote, Lex Luger was found:
When I got into cases about specific wrestlers like this, it usually evoked interesting tales of people’s personal experiences:
A friend of mine is probably the world’s biggest Lex Luger fan. He has sadly never seen him live, but has seen just [about] all there is on tape. In fact, he bought from Ebay a 14 tape set of the mostly complete works of Lex, from Florida to TNA. I watched these tapes with him slowly, over the course of a year or more. I saw every endless Nitro promo, and every WWE Superstars squash. I saw his elbow X-ray, him slamming Yoko, Him teaming with Buff, him beating Hogan and so much more. Let me tell you one thing about Lex Luger:
[T]he man was OVER. He was Over for his entire freakin’ career. [Y]ou know why people hate him on the IWC?
Because he was such a good heel that he got them to hate him for real. Just like HHH.
He learned how to work safe, and had a career largely injury-free. His workrate was fine, he just didn’t have much flash. He knew, however, exactly when to do that powerslam, exactly when to apply the rack, and exactly when to stand up and when to stay down. Lex Luger is an unsung great in the business that the critics just don’t like because he was more successful [than] they’d like him to be. The hell with them. you’ve certainly done it again. NOT GUILTY.
The first PPV I ever saw was Summerslam 93, I was 12, Lex Lugar is wrestling. I saw a house show the following year with Bret and Lex teamed against Owen and Yoko and after Owen [clotheslined] [B]ret from behind when he had Yoko in the sharpshooter Lex came in and they cleaned house after the DQ victory. They spent the next 15 minutes shaking everyone’s hand at ringside.
Men rise and fall, [and] in the end their lives are made up of the moments that are remembered. I was too small and far away to get to the ringside area, but I know he would have shaken my hand, and I remember that.
“A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is braver five minutes longer.”
-Ralph Waldo Emerson
A lot of talk was around “workrate” and this response provided an interesting perspective on what that even means:
This is just another case of the internet “smart” fans arbitrarily deciding what makes a wrestler good and what makes them bad. The fact of the matter is Chris Benoit’s style of wrestling is no more real or legitimate than Lex Luger’s. I watched wrestling before 1993, but I really got into it when Lex Luger was challenging Yokozuna. Summer Slam 93 was the first pay per view I had ever bought. I was pissed when Luger didn’t win the title and was pissed when he lost at WrestleMania X. I was excited when he beat Hogan just before Road Wild a few years later. Just because Luger wasn’t a good “wrestler” doesn’t mean he wasn’t a good wrestler. There is more to wrestling than the matches, and the guy was a part of some really memorable storylines, and played an important part in the history of both WWE and WCW. With “smart” fan hindsight I can say I wouldn’t go out of my way to see too many of his matches, but “smart” fans are just “mark” fans of different aspects of the same performance, and your column has helped me begin to realize that.
Further, this response (among others) brought up memories of my own:
Yeah, he became a slug in the ring in his late years, but during WCW in 1997 (which I hated to death) there was one moment that made me mark out, and that was when Luger beat Hogan on Nitro. I jumped out of my seat and marked out like crazy. I didn’t mark out like that for a wrestling show until Austin won the Rumble in 2001 (my favorite Rumble) and Benoit winning at WrestleMania XX. These are moments when I literally jump out of my seat and totally suspend my disbelief, and that was one of those moments. Luger was always a guy you could throw in there in a feud vs anyone and probably draw some money. He played the face role well, and the heel role well. And in the late 80’s early 90’s, he was a VERY GOOD wrestler.
To which I responded (an amalgamation of several different responses on the same theme):
I was actually at the Fleet Center in Boston the week before Lex won the title from Hollywood Hogan. We were supposed to get that title match, but Hogan chickened out. I was POed, to say the least, but Luger still got the rack on Hogan for the live crowd and made him submit. That sent us home happy. There was no doubt in my mind that Luger was legit over, and that the reaction out back when he won the title was sincere. Hogan had a death grip on the WCW belt, and it was real emotion from the fans and the boys when he won. When he won the title the next week, I completely marked out. It was real emotion from the crowd, and I am convinced the boys in Luger’s backstage celebration were giving their real emotions, too.
Something that is not always abundantly clear is what content has been cut from the case:
I saw no mention of the infamous [Bruiser] Brody cage match.
Luckily, I had just what Ronevsorg was looking for:
I just ran out of space and it wasn’t going with the tempo of the article. But I did have a blurb about it ready. From the LAW:
“Dan Lovranski finishes off asking about the infamous Cage Match with Bruiser Brody in Florida where Brody started no selling for Luger. He said he was scared to death and walked to the back. After the match he asked if he did something wrong and Brody said “No” and that Brody was going to Dallas as a babyface and that since Luger was going to Crockett he wasn’t going to work with him but that Luger never did anything wrong. Luger just felt it was a lesson to learn as a youngster in the industry.”
And there you have it. Luger tried to treat it like a professional, even after Brody no-sold and stiffed him in the cage. It was Brody who was being unprofessional, not anything Luger had ever done.
Since it was not a 100% win, there were detractors. However, this was the point where I really noticed the turn and got well-reasoned arguments back:
I would vote that Lex Luger is guilty. While I do agree with your comments regarding his recent legal troubles and the death of Miss Elizabeth, you made it seem as though he has only found trouble in his life recently and that it is all related to the death of Miss Elizabeth. You forget that Luger has, for lack of a better term, fucked up before.
By far the best backstage story I have ever heard is how Luger screwed himself out of the world title at WMX. The original booking for the event was that Luger would win the title against Yoko and then go on to defend it successfully against Bret (possibly due to interference by Owen). Instead, Lex got drunk the night before, blabbed the booking to people at a bar where a reporter [overheard] him and the story was on the front page the morning of [W]restlemania. Vince changed the booking for ‘mania and never let Lex get close to the title again as punishment for this.
While you never came out and said it, there seemed to be a sense of “Vince dropped the ball with Luger” in your defense. No, to paraphrase Vince, “Lex screwed Lex” and also showed a great deal of disrespect for the business with his actions. For me, that is why Luger is guilty.
Regardless, I appreciate your work in opening up these dialogues, as it gives many immediately biased IWC’ers food for thought.
And Lex Luger’s personal demons would continue to be an issue, as the next section will show…
Mini-Case: Lex Luger (Follow-Up)
A couple of months after defending Lex Luger, this came up on the newsboard:
Lex Luger was arrested on “outstanding drug charges” Tuesday upon arrival at the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport. Luger was arrested on charges originating from the state of Georgia. He is currently in Minnesota’s Hennepin County Jail and is scheduled for a 12/22 court date. He is being held without bail.
Luger was refused entry into Canada earlier this week by the Canadian Border Services and was later sent back to Minneapolis where he was arrested.
Now, you may think this takes away from my case, but I don’t think so at all. For starters, my case was based off of you should not judge a man’s wrestling legacy by his acts outside of the ring. This is just another moment outside the ring that cannot take away from everything that Lex Luger has accomplished and the major impact he has had on the industry as a whole.
Besides that, do a little reading between the lines (pun intended). He was arrested on OUTSTANDING drug charges… from Georgia! This is all dating back to stuff that happened two years ago. The justice system is slow, folks. Hell, when Luger was arrested in April 2003 for the 1000 pills found in his apartment following the death of Ms. Elizabeth, he was not sentenced until February 5, 2005.
So just because he got arrested again, don’t think for a minute it is something that happened recently. By the way, it’s really odd that he was allowed into Canada in October of this year but not two months later. What changed?
Mike Davidson of AWE (the promotion Luger was to make his second appearance for) had this to say:
“I’m very very frustrated. I guess they’re protecting our country by stopping professional wrestlers from appearing at shows… The Government of Canada just cost a Canadian business a flight and a deposit.”
SLAM! Sports added this:
Loretta Nyhus, a spokeswoman for the Canada Border Services Agency, could not say why Luger was refused entry because of privacy laws, but said there are several reasons someone could be refused, including criminality, a danger to public safety or lack of funds.
People with criminal records can apply either at the border or ahead of time for entry, and the circumstances surrounding each case can affect the decision, she said.
In another article, SLAM! Sports said:
“It’s very rare (wrestlers) can ever come in without a problem,” said Andrew Shallcross, director of operations for Premier Championship Wrestling. “The worst feeling as a promoter is standing at the airport gate waiting to see if your guy comes through.
“I’ve talked to guys who used to be in the WWE and they say Canada’s terrible and Winnipeg is the worst.”
Shallcross said he even had trouble getting Steve Corino, a Winnipeg-born Canadian citizen, into Winnipeg recently. The border officer told Corino someone had phoned ahead and warned them he was coming, something Shallcross says happens suspiciously often in the wrestling world.
It’s all very odd, but in the end it doesn’t change anything. Lex Luger is a former champion and impact player. He’s had a terrible few years in his personal life, and it doesn’t look like it’s about to get any better.