Despite much fanfare on his arrival and a series of pushes throughout his run with the WWF, Lex Luger failed to reach the heights many including Vince McMahon had hoped for. Here, Craig Wilson looks at the various reasons behind this.
Previously I looked at the importance of Hulk Hogan on the face of wrestling and few can really argue against how he changed wrestling as we know it. Few know that quite as much as Vince McMahon who made Hogan his flagship star and rode on his coattails as Hogan became the biggest name in wrestling and took the then WWF with him.
Since then Vince has tried to recreate the magic a few times, initially with the Ultimate Warrior but it was perhaps with Lex Luger that Vince tried the hardest, yet was Lex Luger really the best choice to do this with? I think not.
Lugar debuted in the WWF in 1992 when Vince tried dabbled in creation a World Bodybuilding Federation. After realising that this wasn’t going to make him the millions he had hoped, Luger was soon on the WWF roster as a competitor.
However, it is worth noting here that Vince put a lot of faith in Luger in this role making him the face of the WBF and having an on-air interview between Luger and Heenan at Wrestlemania 8. Unfortunately, he was soon in a motorcycle accident and by the time he returned the WBF was done and dusted.
His next appearance was as ‘the Narcissist’ where he would pose pre-match in full length mirrors. The WWF also incorprorated his motorcycle crash into this angle with him knocking out superstars with the steel plate in his arm with the powers that be later urging him to cover his arm up.
His second big break came when Hogan left the promotion in the summer of 1993 and he was transformed from a heel into a mega-face as Vince tried to recreate the Hogan ‘all-American’ magic of old and placed him into a feud with the WWF Champion Yokozuna. One memorable part of this was when Lex was the only superstar to slam the near 600 pound superstar on the deck of USS Intrepid.
Following this bodyslam thus began ‘The Lex Express’ tour across America as he campaigned for a title shot that he ultimately got at Summerslam 1993 when he was only able to defeat Yoko via countout and as per the stipulation, this was to be his only attempt at the title.
Soon after he was thrust into a feud with the anti-American Ludvig Borga – although what problem Finland had with America is still unclear – which culminated in the match at the 1993 Survivor Series between the All-Americans (Luger as captain with The Undertaker and the Steiner Brothers) and the Foreign Fanatics (Yokozuna, Crush, Borga and Quebecer Jacques) which Luger’s team won.
At the 1994 Royal Rumble, Luger and Bret Hart were the last two superstars in the rumble with both going over the top rope together and their feet hitting the ground simultaneously. Being “co-winners” meant both would get a shot at Yokozuna at Wrestlemania X.
By this point, you can see that Vince was starting to lose faith with Luger and at Wrestlemania X he was disqualified in his match with Yoko and later on in the evening Bret Hart would defeat the WWF Champion to regain the title.
The ended Luger’s involvement in the title picture and he would soon continue his association with Tatanka that soon saw rumours swirl that he would turn heel and align himself with The Million Dollar Corporation but in the end it was Tatanka that joined the faction.
Luger’s last involvement with the WWF was when he was teamed with the British Bulldog as ‘the Allied Powers’. They made a good enough impact on the tag team division and made their pay-per-view debut as a tag team at WrestleMania XI, defeating the Blu Brothers. After this they earned a shot at the WWF Tag Team Championship against Owen Hart and Yokozuna at In Your House 2: The Lumberjacks but failed to win the titles and after Summerslam 1995 Luger’s contract expired and he left the promotion without informing Vince and showed up on WCW Nitro television.
So where did it go wrong? Well, despite a number of pushes and attempts to get him over with the fans, he just wasn’t able to make that connection. The attempt to make him the new Hulk Hogan failed for a number of reasons. He may have had a similarly impressive physique, but he lacked the name appeal and charisma of the Hulkster and it was clear that the landscape was changing a bit. The fans aligned themselves more with Bret Hart after the 1994 Royal Rumble and it was little surprise that the Hitman ended the night as WWF Champion.
It would be a bit harsh to say that Vince lost interest in Luger afterwards, I think it’s more a case that he realised that Luger was destined to never be the top man in the eyes of the WWF fans no matter how hard he tried.
For me, Luger always came across as wooden and never appeared natural in the position he was put in during his spell in the WWF and upper-midcarder at best but never the main event. The Allied Powers perhaps could have worked out, it certainly strengthened the tag team division, but soon fizzled out. By this point the WWF were clearly done with Luger as demonstrated by the fact they allowed his contract to expire and disappear without much fanfare.
Ultimately, it was his lack of charisma that let down Luger. He was never going to be the new Hulk Hogan but with more charisma then he could have been much more of a success in the WWF than he was. Ultimately, the fans took to Bret Hart in 1994 and not Luger and the rest, as they say, is history.