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BEST LAID PLANS: THE TRAGIC TALE OF LEX LUGER'S FAILED 1993-95 WWF RUN

By Stuart Carapola on 2010-09-29 09:00:00
From the moment Lex Luger signed on the dotted line with the WWF, a great deal was expected of him. He debuted with great fanfare at Royal Rumble 1993, and from there was off like a shot. There were no doubts about the fact that Vince McMahon had big plans for him, but it's not as if Vince was the first person to see "superstar" written all over the guy. Even going back to his time in the NWA and WCW, he was given the label of "the next Hulk Hogan" and was immediately groomed to one day become the World Champion. After years as a dominant US Champion and being carefully programmed to work with some of the best workers in the world like Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Ricky Steamboat and Brian Pillman, it even gave the impression that he not only had an impressive physique but could work, too. Even though his title reign when he did finally become WCW World Champion fell flat, Vince thought he could do better and was determined to turn him into the star everyone seemed to think he could be.

Part I: Narcissist

Lex Luger was first introduced to the WWF as "The Narcissist," a character who was so self absorbed and in love with his own appearance that he would have women carry full length mirrors to the ring so he could watch himself pose before his matches. As I said earlier, he was pushed hard right from the beginning. His first feud was with Mr Perfect, whom Bobby Heenan (who had introduced Luger) had a bone to pick with going back to Perfect leaving Ric Flair's side months earlier. Luger defeated Perfect at Wrestlemania 9 and began a feud with Bret Hart that same weekend, with the story being that Luger had blindsided Bret at a press conference earlier in the weekend just to make a name for himself at Bret's expense.

In fact, a lot of the early controversy surrounding Luger centered on his uncanny ability to knock all his opponents out with forearm strikes. After weeks of increasingly suspicious knockouts, the WWF ordered an investigation into how Luger was able to score all these knockouts, with the result being the discovery that Luger had a steel plate implanted in his forearm, and was using it to knock people out and get easy wins. The truth is that Luger really did have a steel plate implanted in his forearm from an injury suffered in a motorcycle accident a year earlier, but for the purposes of the storyline, it was there to be used as a weapon.

The knockouts continued piling up and, though he would never have a televised match with Bret Hart at this time, he did appear in the inaugural King Of The Ring tournament, with Luger being eliminated after going to a time limit draw with Tatanka in the first round. Bret would go on to win the King Of The Ring tournament, and Luger would have a legitimate gripe if he were to continue his feud, as he was never beaten in the tournament, but fate took Luger in a different direction. On the same KOTR PPV where Luger faced Tatanka, Yokozuna defeated Hulk Hogan to win the WWF World Title and send Hogan packing from the WWF for nearly a decade. With Hogan gone and Bret Hart (whom Yokozuna had first defeated for the title at Wrestlemania 9) feuding with Jerry Lawler over the title of King, Yokozuna would need a new challenger, and I'll give you one guess who that would be.

Part II: Made In The USA

Yokozuna considered his win over Hulk Hogan to not just be a victory for the WWF Title, but a victory over all of America, and to celebrate this win, he would challenge any American athlete to try and bodyslam him on America's birthday, July 4th, on board the USS Intrepid in New York Harbor. Among Yokozuna's challengers were Randy Savage, Tatanka, the Steiner Brothers, and Crush (who had been teased as the eventual winner by bodyslamming several of the WWF's heaviest wrestlers), but not just wrestlers participated, as football players and even a horse jockey all tried their hand, but all failed. Just as it seemed that Yokozuna would once again leave victorious, a helicopter landed on the deck of the Intrepid, from which emerged...you guessed it, Lex Luger. He stormed the ring and told Yokozuna that he wouldn't let him desecrate America's name on this most patriotic of days, and challenged Yokozuna to face one more challenger. Yokozuna tried to sneak attack him, but Luger nailed him with the loaded forearm and slammed him. Our new American hero was born.

In spite of what happened on the Intrepid, Yokozuna's camp refused to grant Luger a title shot, so what did Luger do? Beat top ranked wrestlers and work his way up the ladder? Seek an audience with WWF President Jack Tunney and plead his case? No, what Luger did was even smarter than that: he got himself a big red, white & blue tour bus, called it the Lex Express, and went on a nationwide tour to gain the support of all the American wrestling fans, which would then convince Yokozuna and WWF management that he deserved a title shot. Hey, can't argue with that logic. Somehow or another, Luger did end up getting a contract for a title match against Yokozuna at Summerslam, but after signing it, he was informed that he should have read it a little more carefully first. Yokozuna's handler, Jim Cornette, had included a couple of clauses in the contract that Luger failed to notice: first, Luger would have to wear a protective pad on his arm so he couldn't use the loaded forearm to knock Yokozuna out, and secondly, this would be Luger's one and only title shot, and if he failed to beat Yokozuna, he would never get another title shot as long as Yokozuna was the champion.

So Luger already looked like an idiot for getting backed into this corner, and it got worse because while he spent the summer riding around on a bus and kissing babies, Yokozuna was earning dominant victories over all of the top WWF stars, destroying guys like Randy Savage, Mr Perfect, Bret Hart, and Crush, and he not only defeated Crush, but injured him so badly with repeated Banzai Drops that Crush was forced out of action for several months. But we all knew Luger was getting the title at Summerslam, so it really didn't matter, right? Summerslam finally arrives, and after spending the better part of 15 minutes getting stomped by Yokozuna, Luger rallied to victory: he knocked out Mr Fuji, he knocked out Jim Cornette, he bodyslammed Yokozuna again and then, in a completely illegal move according to the contract, pulled off the protective pad and used the forearm to knock the seemingly invincible champion out. Only problem was, he nailed Yokozuna with such force that he was driven out of the ring and into a heap on the floor. Not that it would have made any difference with a nearly 600 pound man, but Luger made no effort whatsoever to even try and get Yokozuna back in the ring, standing there like an idiot while the referee counted him out. The bell rang and Luger was awarded the victory by countout, and immediately began celebrating like he won the lottery. Savage, Tatanka, and the Steiners came out to celebrate, lifting Luger up on their shoulders as balloons and confetti fell from the ceiling. The whole scene came off as incredibly stupid since YOU CAN'T WIN A TITLE ON A COUNTOUT, a fact that was only mentioned in passing by the announcers, and Luger looked like the biggest moron alive for carrying on like he did after blowing his only shot at the title.

So Luger was screwed: he had gotten one shot at Yokozuna for the title and had blown it, so what does he do next? Well, he could wait for someone else to beat Yokozuna and then challenge them, but that would mean passing up more chances to look like a choker who fails to win titles even after enjoying clear favoritism by WWF management. But we'll get back to that in a minute, because before he could think about making another run at the WWF Title, Luger would first have to contend with Ludvig Borga, the Evil Finnish Environmentalist. I know, that sounds like a joke, but it really was his gimmick: he spent weeks doing vignettes about how dirty and polluted the United States was and how beautiful his home country of Finland was by comparison. For as dumb as it sounds, Borga was actually built up as a big deal very quickly, even being booked to hand Tatanka his first defeat and being made part of the main event of Survivor Series. Borga was given a strong push in that match as well, pinning Rick Steiner early in the match and making it to the end of the match as it came down to Luger and himself, but then Luger overcame the odds to beat the then-undefeated Borga and win the match for his team.

With that little distraction behind him, it was now time to focus on getting another shot at the WWF Title. Yokozuna was still the WWF Champion, so Luger was contractually unable to earn another title shot. At least, not directly. There was one way around that little obstacle: if Lex Luger could win the Royal Rumble, he would be given a mandatory title match at Wrestlemania 10 regardless of what the Summerslam contract said. Yokozuna's management fought this, but in the end backed down and allowed Luger in the Royal Rumble, but only if Mr Fuji could handpick two of his own mercenaries to enter the match. WWF management agreed, and Fuji chose Genichiro Tenryu and the Great Kabuki as his designated hitmen whose job was not to win the Royal Rumble, but to prevent Luger from winning. Neither succeeded, but Luger was faced with yet another unexpected roadblock when the match came down to he and Bret Hart. After a brief struggle, both men went over the top rope and appeared to hit the floor at the same time. The officials watched multiple replays and in the end declared the evidence inconclusive, and so declared Luger and Hart co-winners of the Royal Rumble. The problem there was that everyone who watched the five or so replays saw that Luger clearly hit first no matter what angle you looked at it from, so it came off like they were intentionally ignoring Luger blowing yet another opportunity.

Fortunately, WWF officials came to the rescue yet again and determined that both Luger and Hart would challenge for the WWF Title at Wrestlemania 10 in separate matches, and a coin flip would determine who would get the first shot. Luger won the coin toss and, as part of the deal, there would be a special referee assigned to the match that Luger and Yokozuna would both agree on. That referee turned out to be none other than Luger's old rival Mr Perfect, and though that seemed like it would be an obvious problem for Luger, with whom Perfect had never settled matters, Perfect did call it down the middle for most of the match. However, at the end of the match, Luger pulled both Mr Fuji and Jim Cornette into the ring and knocked them out, then used the forearm to knock Yokozuna out once again, only this time Yokozuna collapsed inside the ring and would not be saved by a countout loss. Luger covered Yokozuna and victory seemed to be at hand, but instead of making the count, Perfect checked on Fuji and Cornette and tried to get them out of the ring. In his frustration, Luger got up and pulled Perfect to the middle of the ring, gave him a little shove on the shoulder, and covered Yokozuna again. Perfect stared at Luger in stunned silence for a moment, then motioned for the timekeeper to ring the bell. His ruling: Luger had put his hands on a sanctioned official, and was therefore disqualified. Looks like Perfect did still hold a grudge after all, and later revealed that he had actually been counting the days since Wrestlemania 9 when Luger beat him until he could get a chance for revenge.

None of that mattered, because at the end of the day, Lex Luger had once again failed to win the WWF Title. Rumors began swirling that Luger had actually been scheduled to win the title in that match, but made the mistake of spilling the results of the match to a newspaper reporter the night before and was punished by having him instead lose the match. Whether that was true or not, Luger came off like a loser again, and salt was just rubbed in the wound when Bret Hart went on to defeat Yokozuna for the title later that evening.

Part III: Sellout?

Following his latest failure, Luger floated around somewhat aimlessly for the next several months. Perfect was gone from the WWF again almost as suddenly as he had returned, and Luger wound up in a half-hearted feud with Crush that never really went anywhere. It wasn't until that summer that his life started getting interesting again when Ted Dibiase, the Million Dollar Man, returned to the WWF as a manager and announced that after throwing a ton of money at him, Lex Luger had agreed to take Dibiase on as his manager. Luger vigorously denied the claims, but various circumstantial evidence such as Dibiase helping Luger win matches and Dibiase going into Luger's locker room with bags full of money continued to suggest that Dibiase really was telling the truth. It certainly seemed to convince Luger's friend Tatanka, who continually accused Luger of selling out. No matter what Luger said or did, he couldn't seem to convince Tatanka that he was telling the truth and hadn't taken Dibiase's money.

As if Ray Charles couldn't see where this was going from a mile away, let's just cut to the chase: Luger and Tatanka signed to wrestle one another at Summerslam, with Tatanka swearing that he would beat the truth out of Luger. Dibiase came to ringside and got on the apron to cheer Luger on, but ended up distracting him and allowing Tatanka to roll Luger up from behind and pin him, Luger's first televised pinfall loss in the WWF. Luger was irate with Dibiase after the match, kicking a bag of money out of his hands and yelling in his face, and then wouldn't you know it, but Tatanka attacked Luger from behind, destroying him with chops and two of his signature fallaway slams, leaving Luger in a heap as he and Dibiase celebrated in the ring. That's right, it turns out that it was Tatanka all along who had taken the money, and he was now revealed as the newest member of the Million Dollar Corporation.

Now Luger had a problem, because while Yokozuna was huge and seemingly indestructible, at least he was just one man. If Luger was going to have it out with Tatanka, he would have to fight the entire Million Dollar Corporation. Luckily, Survivor Series was coming up and was a PPV specifically designed for big, multi-man tag matches. Luger got Adam Bomb, Mabel, and the Smoking Gunns to join his side against the Corporation, led by Tatanka. The match came down to Luger in a 3-on-1 situation against Tatanka, Bam Bam Bigelow, and King Kong Bundy, and after taking a beating from all three men for several minutes, Luger finally managed to cradle Tatanka and eliminate him, but then Bundy came right in and hit a splash on Luger and pinned him to win the match for the Corporation.

The feud would continue for several more months and finally came to a head in a cage match on an episode of Raw in early 1995. Luger defeated Tatanka to win the feud, but overall the feud undoubtedly did more to damage Luger than it did to help him. Luger was a main eventer and a top challenger for the WWF Title when 1994 began, but by the end of the year was doing jobs for a midcard wrestler whom nobody had ever taken seriously as a main event threat. By suffering pinfall losses to Tatanka and also King Kong Bundy, who was WELL past his prime as a major player, Luger's heat was at an all time low.

Part IV: Allied Power

With all that in mind, the WWF tried to go in yet another direction with Luger, teaming him with Davey Boy Smith and naming them the Allied Powers. Since he had already crashed and burned as a single, the logic was that maybe they could at least get something out of Luger by putting him in a team with a guy who had a proven track record as a tag wrestler. Their first PPV match as a team came at Wrestlemania 11, and never was Luger's fall more evident, as he had gone from working a heavily hyped main event at Wrestlemania 10 to jerking the curtain just a year later. They did pick up a win over Jacob & Eli Blu, and soon moved into contention for the WWF Tag Team Title, which had been won on the same show by Owen Hart & Luger's old nemesis, Yokozuna.

Things didn't go any better for Luger in this go-round with Yokozuna than they did the last time. Yokozuna defeated Luger (by countout) to qualify for the King Of The Ring tournament and then, when the Allied Powers finally got a title shot a month later at the July 1995 In Your House PPV, Yokozuna pinned Luger cleanly to retain the title. The Allied Powers would continue to challenge Owen & Yokozuna on the house show circuit throughout the summer, but the writing was on the wall: Luger was not only a failure in his own right, but his name now meant death for anyone unlucky enough to even be associated with him. Towards the end of the summer, Davey Boy smartened up and went into business for himself, turning heel and attacking WWF Champion Diesel right before Summerslam 95. Luger was not at Raw that night, and the big question mark became where Luger's loyalties lay. That question was answered at Summerslam when Luger ran off an interfering Sir Mo, allowing Diesel to defeat King Mabel and retain the WWF Title.

The Allied Powers were now done as a team, and with Davey Boy now obviously positioned as a future challenger for Diesel, it seemed that Luger was left with no other tangible direction than spending the next couple of months doing jobs for Davey Boy to help build him into a credible title challenger. After that, who knew?

Conclusion

As we all know, none of that came to pass. Luger, who was working in the WWF without a contract, was snapped up by WCW and made a surprise appearance on the first episode of WCW Monday Nitro just days later. A taped interview with Luger that was scheduled to air on WWF Superstars the following weekend was pulled from the show entirely, and Luger's name has rarely, if ever, been mentioned on WWF/WWE television in the 15 years since. Luger has managed to join Randy Savage and the Ultimate Warrior on the exclusive list of guys you are almost guaranteed to never see on WWE television ever again, and a big part of that obviously has to do with how badly he burned his bridges by leaving the way he did, but to be fair, there's not much the WWF could have expected to get out of him when you actually sit back and take stock of his initial run.

Was he poorly booked? Sure, but there were other factors. The problem was that the WWF was desperate for someone to fill Hogan's shoes as the muscled up, all-American hero to the point of being indistinguishible from Hogan himself. Luger didn't have the charisma, ability to connect with a crowd, or (perhaps most depressingly) the wrestling talent that Hogan had. He would never be able to follow Hogan, and the WWF also had to face up to the fact that the era of the cartoonish 80s babyface superhero was over, and the day of smaller, more capable wrestlers like Bret Hart (who was far more popular with the fans than Luger, by the way) had dawned. The 90s youth was vastly different than the 80s in that they had a much darker view of life and had turned on the bright and shiny, flag-waving image of life that had been shoved down their throats as children, and were ready for a more realistic portrayal of their wrestling characters. Unfortunately, it would take the WWF a couple more years to come to grips with this after spending years trying to get behind monsters like Luger and Diesel as "the new Hogan" and it had a very negative effect on their business as a result.

But even if you take the failed main event run out of the equation, he had subsequently been buried so badly with the Tatanka and Allied Powers stuff that he had become scorched earth by the time he left the WWF in 1995. Yes, WCW managed to do a much better job of booking Luger in 1997 when he led WCW against the NWO, but he never meant anything after that one run, and by the time WCW closed in 2001, Luger's ego and negative level of professionalism had deteriorated to such a point that the WWF, left with a huge crop of now-unemployed WCW and ECW talent to choose from, made the predictable decision not to bring Luger back, effectively ending his career.

Oh well, Vince tried.

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