(Much of the information for this article was taken from “The Buzz on Professional Wrestling,Ã¢â‚¬Â by 411 staff member Scott Keith; available at bookstores with discerning taste everywhere)
The ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle believed that everything in life could be broken down into two extremes: excess and deficiency. He believed that if a person could find the medium or mean between the two extremes in all that they did in life, they would travel down the path to happiness and virtue. With pro wrestling fans, the two extremes are clear: the deficient “markÃ¢â‚¬Â enjoys watching wrestling more than anybody but has very little knowledge of anything not on TV, while the excessive “smartÃ¢â‚¬Â knows every backstage dealing, but as a result can become highly bitter and cynical, losing their ability to enjoy the show. These two extremes view each wrestler differently, often disagreeing with each other. Each week I look at both perspectives and then attempt to find “The MeanÃ¢â‚¬Â between the two. This week, let’s take a look at Lex Luger
Nicknames are a funny part of wrestling. Some nicknames can change a wrestler’s career; “StunningÃ¢â‚¬Â Steve, Rocky Maivia and Hunter Hearst Helmsley failed to make much of a dent in the wrestling world, but I don’t think anybody will be forgetting Stonce Cold Steve Austin, The Rock, and Triple H anytime soon. Some nicknames perfectly describe a wrestler’s personality and help them build their characters; the flamboyant Shawn Michaels suited the “Heartbreak KidÃ¢â‚¬Â moniker to a T while the ultra-aggressive Chris Benoit personifies both a “CripplerÃ¢â‚¬Â and a “Rabid Wolverine.Ã¢â‚¬Â Of course some names don’t make all that much sense, but they catch and they’re pretty damn cool; I still don’t know what the hell a “Nature BoyÃ¢â‚¬Â is, even after three (Buddy Rogers, Ric Flair, and Buddy Landell), but damn if Flair wouldn’t sound right without it. Then we come to to Lex Luger the “Total Package.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Save for a comparatively brief stint in the WWF both as the “NarcissistÃ¢â‚¬Â and “Made in the U.S.A.,Ã¢â‚¬Â Lex Luger has been known as the “Total PackageÃ¢â‚¬Â almost his entire career. However, the very nickname would seem to imply that Luger has it all: strength, speed, agility, wrestling ability, the look, etc.; check on the first and last, then put a big question mark next to all the others. Lex Luger has always been tagged as one of wrestling’s biggest flops. The next Hulk Hogan, the NWA’s biggest star, the savior of the WWF he was tagged as all three and failed to deliver. In the 80s he could seemingly do no wrong, and even once the era of all power and no finesse was long gone, promoters still kept giving him chances; so where did Luger go astray? Why was this package left incomplete? Let’s start from the beginning
Larry Pfohl, the man who would become Lex Luger, did not grow up watching Bruno Sammartino and Lou Thesz, dreaming of one day becoming a wrestler; Larry wanted to play football. He nearly reached his goal of playing in the NFL when he played for the practice squad of the Green Bay Packers in the early 80’s, but the chance for upward mobility was slim, and Pfohl was fickle, abandoning his football dreams after a final run in the USFL. At age twenty-seven, carrying over a decade of athletic injuries, Pfohl had to find some other way to make a living; fortunately for Larry, something found him.
Living in Florida in 1985, Pfohl was playing in a celebrity golf tournament where he met well-known Florida wrestler Bob Roop. Pfohl had always prided himself on his chiseled physique and rigorous workout routine, and it was evident to all who came in contact with him, Roop included. Roop suggested to Pfohl that there could be a career for him in wrestling based on look alone, and Pfohl saw dollar signs. Pfohl trained under veteran Japanese wrestler Hiro Matsuda in the basics and took the ring name Lex Luger (originally Lex Lugar). Florida was a hotbed for wrestling at the time, and promoters and fans unlike were as wowed by Luger’s physical tools as Roop had been. His rise was unprecedented as he was put over veterans, including the legendary Wahoo McDaniel, whom he won the prestigious Southern title from only a week into his fledgling career.
While not the most polished student of wrestling in the technical sense, Luger was athletic enough and an impressive enough physical specimen to put on intense, entertaining matches with a variety of opponents. Luger got extremely lucky when the National Wrestling Alliance (of which the Florida territory Luger wrestled in was a member) decided to hold one of it’s “supercards,Ã¢â‚¬Â Battle of the Belts III, in Florida, with the main event seeing Luger take on World champion Ric Flair in a two out of three match. Flair was at his peak, putting on amazing matches with anything that moved at this point, and was able to put on a particularly good match with the green but physically gited Luger that caused promoter Jim Crockett, who controlled the NWA’s primary territory, WCW, where Flair wrestled, to take a second look. Luger was signed quickly and by 1987 was on his way to the WCW territory (at this point WCW and NWA were essentially interchangeable as none of the other territories could even begin to compete with the burgeoning WWF), leapfrogging many veterans and more talented men based primarily on his look.
Jim Crockett knew what he was getting with Luger: a great look but still very raw talent. For this reason, Crockett placed Luger around the best talent in the business: Flair, Arn Anderson, and Tully Blanchard, collectively the Four Horsemen along with Ole Anderson, hoping both that he could both learn from them and that people would not notice his shortcomings with the other Horsemen there to do most of the heavy work while Luger did his small part and looked good. Luger would work as a tag team with Anderson and Blanchard frequently, picking up bits and pieces from two of the best technical wrestlers in history. He’d watch Ric Flair, perhaps the game’s greatest talker, during Horsemen group interviews and study. By the summer of 1987, Luger was ready to make a big splash on his own.
Still a member of the Horsemen, Luger engaged in a series of matches with fellow power wrestler and NWA U.S. champion Nikita Koloff. With his natural athletic gifts and the tricks of the trade he had picked up from the other Horsemen, Luger managed to have a respectable series with Koloff (and even when the matches weren’t the best, the less demanding wrestling audience of the eighties would be awed just watching two impressive physical specimens like Luger and Koloff toss each other around). Once Luger and Koloff had wrestled each other enough and were familiar with one another, Crockett gave them the ball and they ran with it. Luger was booked to win the U.S. title after weeks of DQ losses, and the title changed hands in a stellar forty-minute steel cage match.
Luger was now the U.S. champion, as well as a rapidly improving wrestler, and looked to be on the fast track to the World title, until he ran into two big roadblocks: one was Flair, still a successful World champ and not wanting to turn the title over to Luger, the other went by the name of Dusty Rhodes. Rhodes was the antithesis physically of Luger, overweight and in average shape at best, but he was a popular superstar of the 80s and former World champion primarily on charisma. Now Rhodes had been made head booker of the NWA as his popularity as an in-ring wrestler was waning. In Luger, Rhodes saw an opportunity to leech off the rookie’s heat; also, since as booker it looked irresponsible for Rhodes to book himself as World champ and because he lacked the drawing power besides, he figured a run as U.S. champ was the next best thing. Rhodes pitched both to Luger and the other powers-that-be in the NWA that Luger losing the U.S. title to him would both free Luger up to chase Flair’s World title and give Luger the benefit of getting the “rubÃ¢â‚¬Â from Rhodes. The end result was a steel cage match at Starrcade 1987 that did nothing to help Luger in any way, as Luger did not have the experience to carry Rhodes to a decent match, and it looked somewhat absurd for the young and muscular Luger to lose to the old, out-of-shape Rhodes.
Nonetheless, as 1988 opened, Rhodes stuck to his guns about pushing Luger to the World title, but unfortunately now it was Ric Flair who was causing trouble for “The Total Package.Ã¢â‚¬Â Luger turned against the Horsemen in early 1988 and the fans leaped to support the young stud against the hated heels that had terrorized their heroes for years. But Flair was no great admirer of Luger, who more closely resembled his muscle-bound rival WWF champion Hulk Hogan than Flair himself. Flair wasn’t unwilling to give up the title, but if it was going to be on seemingly a permanent basis, after having carried the NWA through the 80s, Flair wanted to pass the torch to a wrestler more like himself, a technical wrestler, somebody like Sting.
While Flair wrestled Sting to a draw at the first ever Clash of the Champions in 1988, Luger feuded with his former mentors, NWA World Tag Team champions Arn Anderson & Tully Blanchard. However, Luger needed a partner to challenge the champs at the Clash, and so he recruited his best friend from Florida, and another young star Jim Crockett was anxious to get his hands on, Barry Windham. The Clash match was perfect for Luger as he got to work with three great wrestlers in a tag format (meaning Windham could carry the crux of the match and Luger could deal the death blow) and by going over the Horsemen, Luger became an even bigger babyface.
The Luger-Windham team was short-lived as Windham turned on Luger only a couple weeks later, serving only to make Luger an even more sympathetic figure. Luger teamed with fellow rising star Sting to win the Crockett Cup, a tag team tournament, beating Windham & Blanchard to win it all. But as Luger continued his rise in the ring, a power struggle raged behind the scenes that would alter Luger’s career irrevocably. Dusty Rhodes was pushing for Luger to win the World title, partially to legitimize his own victory over Luger, partially because he had issues with Flair and wanted him to give up the belt, and partially because he actually did believe Luger was right for the company (the first two far more than the latter if history of Dusty is any indication). Flair on the other hand was happy to work with Luger, but didn’t feel he was ready for the title just yet.
The results of the backstage power struggle between Dusty Rhodes and Ric Flair were devastating in front of the camera for Lex Luger. Shortly after the Crockett Cup, Luger was set to face Flair at the Great American Bash 1988, and the plan was for Luger to leave Baltimore, Maryland as NWA World champion but plans change. Flair pulled a power play at the last minute saying he wasn’t ready to give up the title, and at that point Flair was important enough to the NWA that Crockett and company had no choice but to acquiesce. The result was a hastily booked finish that saw Luger disqualified after a nick above his eye that could barely qualify as a paper cut violated the Maryland Athletic Commission’s rules against blood in boxing and wrestling. The match once again made Luger look a fool, and though he remained popular, he lost a great deal of credibility as a World title contender.
For the remainder of the year Luger wrestled Flair at every NWA house show, and because Flair would not drop the title, but Rhodes wanted Luger to look better than the champ, Dusty booked absurd finishes involving multiple referees and other convoluted situations. The fans became frustrated with the dumb finishes, and the NWA powers-that-be were becoming frustrated with Dusty. The climax came at Starrcade 1988, as Luger was once again booked to win the title from Flair, Flair once again refused, and both Flair and Rhodes made it clear that the NWA was only big enough for one of them and so Dusty Rhodes would not be seen again in WCW for three years. Luger lost the match cleanly, and once again despite remaining popular, he was stuck with the label of not being able to win the big match.
1989 was a good year for the NWA and for Luger wrestling-wise. As Flair briefly turned babyface and then once he was back to being a heel Sting was his number one pursuer, it was decided that it would be best for U.S. champion Luger to turn back to the heel side. He did so by viciously attacking fan favorite Ricky Steamboat, which was enough to put him over as a heel once again. Luger defeated Steamboat at the Great American Bash 1989 in a fantastic match and spent the rest of the year defending his title successfully against Brian Pillman in a heated series and against other rising NWA fan favorites. Luger had come a long way from the green rookie monster that had stormed the NWA two years earlier; now he was a far better wrestler thanks to fusing his athletic abilities with experience gained by working with veterans and further he possessed a new attitude as cocky jerk who had been spoiled by early success, a personality that fans booed but also in a strange way gravitated to.
As the NWA transformed into the WCW in 1990, Luger was finding his niche as a solid heel U.S. champion. Unfortunately for Luger, circumstances beyond his control would once again influence his career as a knee injury to Sting forced Luger into making a hasty face turn to give Flair a credible opponent. The plan was definitely in place now for Flair to drop the World title to Sting, so Luger merely placeheld Sting’s spot and suffered two more high profile losses to Flair on pay per view. When Sting returned at Great American Bash 1990, Luger was relegated to the undercard successfully defending his title against Mark Callous (later The Undertaker). To conclude the year, in order to shake things up a bit, WCW placed Luger in a feud with veteran Stan Hansen in which he finally lost the U.S. title after over two years then regained it shortly thereafter at Starrcade 1990 in a Bullrope match. Due to Hansen’s advanced age and deteriorated condition the series of matches was hardly a classic, but Luger was quickly eclipsing the popularity of even Sting. It seemed a simple matter that WCW would give Luger at least a shot as World champion (Sting was faring poorly in the role in terms of drawing viewers), but nothing in this story is ever simple.
Lex Luger had begun as a can’t miss prospect who was over simply by virtue of posing in the center of the ring; as he picked up actually wrestling skills over the next few years of his career, nothing should have stopped his ascension to the top, but it was backstage squabbling not even involving the man himself that would undermine Luger’s career at every turn, dealing a near death blow in 1991.
After a disastrous 1990 with Sting as champion, new WCW head Jim Herd turned to Ric Flair to take back the title and bring the company back, with the intention of finally moving the title to the enduringly popular but aging Luger who was to carry the company into the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ90s. At this point after so many years of wrangling, Flair was at last ready to drop the title to Luger and it was built up that the Great American Bash would be the event fans had waited over four years for. But a roadblock once again came about as Flair’s contract was up just after the Bash, and when negotiating to renew it, Herd seriously underestimated the worth of “the Nature Boy.Ã¢â‚¬Â While Luger & Sting were wrestling classic tag matches with the Steiner Brothers and taking turns feuding with a returning Nikita Koloff, Flair and Herd were having a backstage feud that overshadowed everything else that was happening. Herd refused to pay Flair what he wanted and further demanded that Flair reduce his onscreen role to that of a manager. Flair refused, saying he’d rather go to the WWF, and Herd called Flair’s bluff in move that would forever alter wrestling, firing Flair while he was still World champion.
So at the Great American Bash, fans were deprived of their dream match, instead being forced to watch a hastily booked match between Luger and old friend/rival Barry Windham for the vacated title. The fans who were Flair loyalists actively booed just about every part of the show, the main event particularly so. It was a horrible situation for Luger, who had waited years for this day and would not let the fans ruin it; Luger cared far more about his own personal pride and about money than how the fans felt, and it showed here. Luger and Windham had a lackluster match, and in the end, a convoluted finish was booked in order to distract the angry fans as Luger turned heel once again, winning with the help of the hated Harley Race and Mr. Hughes. The choker label that had plagued Luger his entire career now went to a whole new level as it was now the fans’ perception that Luger would never ever do the one thing that had waited years to see: beat Ric Flair. But in Luger’s mind, he was World champion; he was making big money, and the wrestling fans could go to hell for all he cared.
Luger was to no informed observer’s surprise a resounding flop as WCW World champion in 1991 and into 1992. Already well into his thirties at this point, any faÃƒÂ§ade of being a “student of the gameÃ¢â‚¬Â Luger had created was gone at this point, and he was clearly just a guy trying to make a buck by doing as little as possible. He didn’t care if the fans were booing, the crowds were empty, and WCW was losing money in spades, because none of those things affected his personal financial state. Luger trudged through poor matches with Ron Simmons and others as WCW scrambled to run damage control in the wake of Flair’s departure. By the end of 1991, it was decided that the WCW title would go back to Sting, who was still popular and marketable and a decent and motivated wrestler, unlike Luger, to boot. But again, Luger could care less; his WCW contract guaranteed money for at least another year, title or no title.
1992 would again show the transition Luger was making from athlete to businessman. He dropped the title to Sting early on and then mysteriously disappeared from WCW television; even more shockingly, he appeared on the WWF’s Wrestlemania VIII broadcast despite still being under contract to WCW! How was this possible? Simple: Luger had worked all the dates he was obligated to in his WCW contract, and they had to pay him to sit at home or do whatever he chose. As for the WWF thing well, that’s a bit more complicated. Luger’s contract did state that he couldn’t wrestle for the WWF, but it did not prohibit him from signing onto WWF owner Vince McMahon’s new side venture the World Bodybuilding Federation; it also didn’t say he couldn’t be on WWF television (only that he couldn’t wrestle), so he was free to do an interview at Wrestlemania simply as WBF competitor Lex Luger. Now Luger was sitting pretty: he could put the wrestling career he never really wanted behind him, and get paid simply to show off his prized physique. Life was good but not for long.
In mid-92, just before his heralded WBF debut, Luger was in a motorcycle accident in which he injured his forearm and had to get a steel plate put in. The surgery was extensive and put him on the shelf away from any physical competition or training for several months. When Luger returned, raring to go, in late ’92, the WBF had folded, a victim of Vince McMahon’s excesses. With his WCW contract about to run out, Luger was forced to do the thing he had hoped he’d never have to do again in order to continue making money: become a wrestler.
As 1993 kicked off, Lex Luger once again found himself an active wrestler, this time in the WWF. But in the WWF, there weren’t just wrestlers, there were “superstars,Ã¢â‚¬Â or to put it another way, characters. Everybody had a gimmick, and the one Vince McMahon cooked up for Luger was both a perfect way to showcase his impressive physique and at the same time keep Luger happy with a character that required little wrestling. The character was “The Narcissist,Ã¢â‚¬Â a self-obsessed egomaniac who came to the ring with a plethora of mirrors and spent as much time admiring himself as he did wrestling. Because the character was such an arrogant jerk it made sense that he would wrestle in a more lazy manner, not wanting to share himself with the world. It made for an interesting character, but progressively more dull matches, lacking the spark of the younger Luger from his NWA years.
“The NarcissistÃ¢â‚¬Â was unveiled by heel commentator Bobby Heenan at the 1993 Royal Rumble, and immediately began a feud with Heenan rival “Mr. PerfectÃ¢â‚¬Â Curt Hennig; the two had a series of decent matches that culminated with a Luger win at Wrestlemania. A new aspect of the Luger gimmick was that the WWF used his surgery of the previous year, making the steel plate in his forearm an active weapon he would use to knock out opponents. Following the Hennig feud, Luger had some considerably worse matches with the green Tatanka, but it looked as if Luger was being prepped for an extended feud with former World champion Bret Hart down the line. Then, almost on cue it seemed for Luger’s career, backstage happenings once again intervened.
Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s all-American hero for almost a decade, made an abrupt exit from the WWF in 1993 after contract disputes with McMahon coupled with his desire to do more work in movies. McMahon had gotten used to Hogan as his number one babyface opposing freakish and foreign heels, and wasn’t quite confident enough yet to hand the ball to Bret Hart or Shawn Michaels, both smaller technical wrestlers. Instead, McMahon decided to take Luger, already an established star and former World champion who was a traditional power wrestler in the vein of Hogan, yank him away from the “NarcissistÃ¢â‚¬Â gimmick and turn him into a patriotic babyface, stars & stripes tights and all.
The vehicle McMahon used for Luger’s babyface turn was to have the 500 pound Japanese heel World champion Yokozuna (who had ousted Hogan from the WWF) challenge any American athlete to bodyslam him onboard the U.S.S. Intrepid on July 4, 1993. It was looking as if nobody would be able to accomplish the task until Luger emerged from a helicopter and slammed the behemoth. Just like that, Luger was once again on the side of angels.
The summer of 1993 was both a good time and a bad one for Luger. He was pushed to the moon with moderate success as the WWF had him tour cross-country in a patriotic bus (the “Lex ExpressÃ¢â‚¬Â), meeting fans in preparation for his title match with Yokozuna at Summerslam. Some fans loved him (there has never really been a USA babyface without a pretty good fanbase) and to Luger’s credit, he seemed to step it back up a notch, not quite at his early year levels, but definitely a step up from the last couple years. Unfortunately for Luger, the WWF wanted to give him the title, but not quite yet; he had turned so recently that the WWF wanted to build the eventual victory up soon. At the same time, they didn’t want Luger to look bad at Summerslam, so they gave him the win via countout. Unfortunately, in a career filled with choking in big match situations, this was viewed by the fans as just another failure on Luger’s part.
Unfortunately for Luger, the “inevitableÃ¢â‚¬Â plan of him becoming WWF champion did not go as planned. By late 1993, wrestling fans were changing; they were losing interested in the one-dimensional Hoganesque power wrestlers of the 80s and becoming intrigued by the athleticism and craftsmanship of wrestlers like Hart and Michaels. Ironically enough, had Luger continued on the path of dedication to the game he had been on during his NWA days he may have been one of the first wrestlers to successfully blend both styles, but he had long ago become lazy and was now obsolete. After Luger and Hart co-won the 1994 Royal Rumble and Hart received a far more favorable fan reaction, Vince McMahon decided to ditch his master plan of centering the future of the WWF around Luger, and instead placed his faith in Hart, who would win the WWF title from Yokozuna at Wrestlemania X.
After Wrestlemania X, with fellow babyface Hart as WWF champion and with the fans viewing him once again as a failure after his disastrous prolonged campaign against Yokozuna ended with another wrestler defeating the monster, Luger became an upper mid-card babyface used to elevate newly turned heels like Crush and Tatanka. His motivation and enthusiasm waned once more and his matches became as bad as they had ever been. By 1995 he was put into a tag team with Davey Boy Smith in hopes that the two power wrestlers would be able to mesh as a team. The “Allied PowersÃ¢â‚¬Â were over, but the WWF did not have enough faith in either Luger or Smith at this point to push them to the tag team titles. When his contract ran out in the summer of 1995, Luger made another financially motivated jump back to WCW.
By 1995, WCW had been taken over by media mogul Ted Turner and was being run by Eric Bischoff, who employed the strategy of throwing Turner’s money at big name WWF stars like Hogan and Randy Savage and signing them to increase WCW’s mainstream credibility; since Luger had been near the top of the WWF for over two years and fit the bill for a “big name.Ã¢â‚¬Â Luger was signed to a hefty contract and made a surprise appearance on the very first Monday Nitro to boost interest. In Bischoff’s WCW, he signed a slew of talented mid-carders to fill the actual wrestling quotient of the show while the guys making the big money simply had to give interviews, pose a bit, and throw some punches when necessary; this of course appealed to Luger a great deal.
After an initial somewhat intriguing angle in late 1995 and early 1996 in which Luger was playing both sides of the proverbial fence, teaming with Sting but also battling Hogan & Savage (and incidentally having some of his best matches in a couple years), the New World Order angle became the focal point of WCW, and Luger became a permanent (and dull babyface) who was relegated to the role of WCW defender against the NWO menace. This period lasted from 1996 to 1998 with very little change in Luger’s character or even in his wrestling style match to match. By now Luger was in his forties and hardly up for innovating new moves or wrestling long matches; he’d do a few clotheslines, forearms, and finish with the Torture Rack, pop the crowd, and head to the back. Most of the storylines centered around guys like Sting and Roddy Piper battling Hogan and the NWO while Luger took on the lower level members in forgettable feuds and squashes (although he did get a five day World title reign in 1997).
By the middle of 1998, WCW decided to make a run at revitalizing Luger’s character a bit, as they were paying him big money and the fans did react to him. He was made part of the “hipÃ¢â‚¬Â NWO Wolfpac (a rebel babyface faction of the NWO made up of guys in their forties acting like teenagers). Luger continued as before, squashing members of the “badÃ¢â‚¬Â NWO, only now doing it while wearing a red and black t-shirt and doing some kooky hand signals. But by now fans were starting to tire of Luger’s routine; wrestling fans were becoming more interested in the science of the game or in rebellious anti-heroes, and of course Luger was neither. His character had no depth, and an early 1999 heel turn did nothing to change anything. When Luger went out with an injury, it gave WCW executives a few months to try and reinvent Luger’s character and possibly get one last race out of the old horse.
Luger returned in the late summer of 1999, once again a heel, paired up with veteran manager Elizabeth, but with a new character that combined aspects of his earlier years as well as his “NarcissistÃ¢â‚¬Â gimmick. He now insisted on being called by his new name, in fact the nickname he had used for years: “The Total Package.Ã¢â‚¬Â He even went so far as to have a “funeralÃ¢â‚¬Â for Lex Luger and berate any announcers who called him by the wrong name. Luger would engage in a lengthy posing session before each of his matches (certainly evoking “NarcissisticÃ¢â‚¬Â flashbacks for some fans) and constantly point out his low body fat and incredible training regimen. Fan interest was up for Luger’s interviews for one of the few times in his career, but his matches were even worse; slow, plodding, and predictable.
For the better part of 2000, Luger sat at home after a dispute with management while still collecting money. He returned for one final run in late 2000, early 2001, feuding with Bill Goldberg and teaming with Buff Bagwell. When WCW was bought out by the WWF in March of 2001, they did not choose to buy Luger’s contract; what will probably be his final match saw him and Bagwell lose to then-WCW Tag Team champions (and rookies) Sean O’Haire & Chuck Palumbo in a two minute match that resulted in both of the veterans throwing backstage temper tantrums. Ironically enough, after the backstage politics of others had spoiled the better part of his career, Luger chose to get into the game himself in his twilight. Luger is content to sit out at home and collect the remainder of his Time Warner paycheck and after that will probably retire officially and collect money from the various gyms he’s established over the past decade.
Lex Luger entered wrestling in 1985 as a football player who didn’t want to wrestle but did want to make money. Sixteen years later, he left the sport as a man who was probably relieved to be done with it, provided he was still making money. The question is, did Luger have a love for his profession at any point in the decade plus he competed? Let’s take a closer look
THE MARK: Luger had essentially three separate phases in his relationship with the casual fan over the tenure of his career. In the first phase, they cheered him because he was an impressive physical specimen. In the second phase, they cheered him because he was a name. In the third phase, neither of these things were particularly special anymore and they lost interest. Given how many times booking made him look like a choke artist and a loser, it’s impressive Luger held onto any fans as long as he did.
THE SMART: In the late 80s, Luger was the smart fan’s golden boy. He had a better body than the smart Satan, Hulk Hogan, and he could actually wrestle a bit! This was probably why smart fans have had a particular disdain for Luger over the past decade. Around 1991, Luger simply stopped trying, and the smart fans noticed. They felt betrayed by a man they thought was going to possibly turn the sport around, showing that musclebound freaks could be decent wrestlers as well. As the 90s wore on, Luger simply became another dull, aging wrestler whom the smart fans wrote off as simply a roadblock standing in the way of the Benoits and the Guererros, but for the first half of the decade, there were few wrestlers more reviled by the smarts.
THE MEAN: If you work a desk job that you don’t really like, but you do it for the money, that’s no big deal; nobody will hold you at fault for staying with the job just to further yourself financially. However when you’re in a profession such as professional wrestling, even if you find the money appealing, fans and other wrestlers do expect that you will at least have some sort of respect and at least a little bit of love for and pride in what you’re doing. For Lex Luger, it’s always been about the dollars and cents, not about putting together a body of work of which he can be proud. There have most definitely been points in his career where he was motivated, but for the most part Luger never cared if the fans went home happy, so long as he got paid. Lex Luger never wanted to be a professional wrestler, but to a profession that gave him so much, he could have been a bit more appreciative.
People complain about guys like Nash, Hogan, Michaels, HHH, etc. as being the most detestable people in the wrestling business due to their political scheming backstage, their reluctance to job, and their holding back of younger talent. But bad as all those things are, they do this because they want to be the star of the show. It may be selfish, but it shows that they care. Hulk Hogan may have a very skewed perception of how much fan appeal he has, but at least he gets disappointed when the ratings come in and they aren’t reflecting positively for his company. Kevin Nash and Shawn Michaels may throw temper tantrums and refuse to do jobs, but they also spend hours booking (albeit sometimes badly) storylines simply because they love wrestling. HHH plays some nasty backstage politics, but there can be no denying he’s 110 percent committed to wrestling. You really can’t say any of this about Lex Luger. He had the chance to be something special, and it didn’t happen; whether or not it’s his fault that things didn’t work out is debatable, what isn’t is that it didn’t bother him all that much. In the eyes of anybody who loves wrestling, he should have shouldn’t he?
In the mean time, thanks for reading.