In Defense of…
By JP Prag
Lex Luger (Part 1 of 2)
Hello people who normally click here, and those who accidentally did thinking they were clicking on Evolution Schematic, and welcome to In Defense Of…! Last week my time was limited (as I knew it was going to be), so we took on the one-shot case of the IWC vs. WCW Thunder. Wonder how that tantalizing subject did?
Well, with 89.4% of the vote, WCW Thunder has been found:
Another lower voting (compared to the likes of Goldberg or the Fingerpoke of Doom), but high scoring case. I was happy to find many other people who enjoyed Thunder for what it was, and even more who were like me and preferred Thunder to Nitro. Who knew? Now it’s IWC fact!
Then again, some people apparently don’t pay attention to the case results. I’m looking RIGHT at you, Clark and Rossi. That was not a nice way to treat the Fingerpoke of Doom in your article, which was found NOT GUILTY right here in these very pages. Well, I suppose it’s only fair since I took a shot at you a couple of weeks ago in Hidden Highlights.
Speaking of Hidden Highlights, have you had a chance to check it out yet? JT and I bring you a great positive article that is all about changing the way we watch and enjoy wrestling. Watch for all the subtle bits that make wrestling great, and check it out each and every Sunday morning.
But enough plugging myself, I actually do want to recommend reading Joe Boo’s Let It Out! on WWE hypocrisy, especially concerning the Ultimate Warrior. I don’t agree with everything Mr. Boo says, especially concerning my former client Eric Bischoff, but it provides a nice start to my future In Defense Of… The Ultimate Warrior (issues number 42-44). Also attacking the credibility of the witnesses Jim Ross and Bobby Hennan will help that case, and I will expand further on that. On top of all that, I’ll (ugh, can’t believe I’m doing this) give Cook some props for saying that many of the Warrior’s arguments are much more legitimate then the WWE would have us believe. I can’t wait to read through ten years of Warrior posts looking for relevant information! But for now, it’s time for In Defense Of…!
Perhaps this is your first time clicking on In Defense Of…? Maybe you didn’t read about WCW Thunder, the Brand Extension, Goldberg, Vince not buying out WCW’s contracts, Earl Hebner Screwing Bret Hart, Dusty Rhodes: Head Booker, The Finger Poke of Doom, Kevin Nash, the Elimination Chamber, or even Eric Bischoff. It might be that you are really into meatheads that seemingly have no love of this business or their own bodies. Well, for those new to the concept, this article has a pretty simple premise:
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum wrap. Certain 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!
And that’s what I intend to do.
Me? I’m the One and Only JP, and at the time of this writing I had been in new home for about 14 hours total. Currently, I’m 3000 miles away. Maybe one day I’ll live there?
Some dame walked into my office and said…
Well, it all started on May 15, 2005 with resident Eric Bischoff hater (more then 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 is definitely a motivating factor in Mr. Luger’s life, that is 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 (both strangely which are clients of mine). 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 opportunity. 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 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. He was not handed everything 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), and 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 then 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 now working with AWE in Winnipeg, which has an event this Saturday October 8th at the University of Manitoba.
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-clotheline-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 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 match 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 fighting against them for even longer.
Still, he has 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 then 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 then 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 turns 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 on the nWo.
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, and loved him as a wrestler.
Of course, when you get that high, you often come crashing down.
Seems like a good place to stop. This week was all about setting up what Lex Luger was like in the ring. Next week is all about exploring who he is on the personal side (which is extremely tough with this very private man), and finding out two things: what is his fault, and should it matter to us?
So when we return, we’ll have sex, drugs, and murder. No, seriously. This one is going to be heavy…
So tune in next week for In Defense of… Lex Luger (Part 2 of 2)!!
Of course, be sure to check out Hidden Highlights in the meantime! Don’t forget to send JT and I your Hidden Highlights for RAW, SmackDown!, Heat, Velocity, Impact, or any other show you saw this week (that includes house shows and indy events, you know)!
Until then, the defense rests!
Know a particular person, event, organization, storyline, etc… in wrestling history that needs a defense? E-mail the One and Only JP at email@example.com, and I’ll be glad to hear your case.