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WRESTLER OF THE DAY: LEX LUGER

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So today is the 20th anniversary of the first Nitro. There were only three matches that night and funnily enough I have already picked 4 of the 6 guys who worked that night.

 

However - it does allow me to finally burn Lex Luger as a pick since he was the person part of the most "shocking" moment.

 

 

God Luger has shown up in a bunch of our threads already

 

 

 

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Luger's had good days

and bad days

and more good days

and more bad days (skip to 7:00)

to the point where I'm not certain if he was ever sure if any particular day was good OR bad:

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Most underrated wrestler of all time?

 

Could be.

 

I actually really quite like the GAB match as it was an impossible match and its flaws have nothing to do with Lex as a performer. I've written about it before.

 

The first match on the docket is Lex Luger vs Barry Windham, in a cage, for the vacant WCW World Heavyweight Championship. It’s a fascinating match, especially for the sake of this exploration, because in so many ways, it was an extraordinary match for all the wrong reasons. What Lex and Barry, two talented wrestlers with a definite connection to the crowd, were asked to do was contradictory at best and impossible at worst, and it leaned far closer to worst than best.
 
Everyone knows the context. Ric Flair refused contract negotiations. Ric Flair refused to drop the title to Luger. Ric Flair offered to drop it to Windham but Herd balked on the entire situation. Ric Flair left for Titan and they ended up here, with a build towards Luger finally winning the title but with no champion for him to vanquish, with Barry pulled from the mixed tag as the only viable opponent for Lex, and with a crowd who was openly hostile to the company and it’s main event, which wasn’t even a main event since it was the second to last match on the card.
 
What they were trying to accomplish was a mishmash of epic proportions. Lex Luger had to be established as a champion. More than that, though, he had to leave the match looking strong as a potential heel champion. There needed to be some slight question about how he won. He couldn’t wrestle the match as a heel, though. One of the few things WCW had going for them here was that a large portion of the crowd had followed him for years and wanted him to win the title. They couldn’t take that moment away from him. He couldn’t appear to look weak throughout the match, as well. Of secondary importance, Barry couldn’t look too fiendish. He was going to be one of the company’s top babyfaces in the fall. Finally, they needed to wrestle a match that at least partially would make the crowd forget about the specter of Ric Flair that was hanging over the entire event. They had to combat the “We Want Flair” chants, and as part of a live PPV, even in the best circumstances, production alone couldn’t be counted upon to manage that. It wasn’t the best circumstances, anyway, it was WCW, where they spent fifteen seconds panning over excited front row fans, or at least fans that were excited to chant “We Want Flair!” The wrestlers were very much on their own.
 
Let’s look at this again, because a lot of this deserves reiteration. They had to wrestle a main event caliber match, in a cage, without having any real, recent reason to be feuding, for a vacant title, in front of a hostile crowd. They couldn’t use a lot of the usual tools at their disposal. There was no real impetus for blood or hate-filled brawling. Windham couldn’t work a long heat segment on Luger, because the end goal of the match wasn’t about Luger garnering sympathy or overcoming adversity. In the end, he had to win because Harley Race and Mr. Hughes came out to refocus him/distract his opponent. At the same time, they couldn’t do a heavy double-turn within the match because there was no context for it and, more importantly, because they needed the crowd to be able to revel in the finish, even if they were, perhaps, a bit bewildered in it. WCW needed to give them this moment or else they’d turn on the night even more. Really, though, the wrestlers couldn’t even work a spotfest, which might have drawn in the crowd given the setting, because it had to feel like a legitimate NWA/WCW World Heavyweight Championship match to reestablish the title and lineage considering how Flair left with it. It had to feel legitimate in pacing and scope, but without many of the tools that previous such matches could utilize.
 
Ultimately and unsurprisingly, the match failed when it came to keeping the crowd and having them forget Flair. It did have some things going for it and may have succeeded in other ways. I think the fans were ready for Luger to win and they did seem to pop for it. It was his time, or at least it would have been had things gone differently. It’s impossible to know how a babyface Luger victory, with Flair still in the picture, would have gone. The announcers did a very good job protecting an artificial feel of importance to the pre-match (though the live crowd wouldn’t get to see that), bringing up the wrestlers’ respective past as teammates and rivals. At least the people at home could pretend. Barry used the cage in interesting ways, mainly as a way to steady himself for top rope moves (a flying clothesline and later a flying kick that led towards the finish) and most interestingly, as a counter to torture rack, where he used his height to push off the cage and flip out of it. They obviously had the intrigue of Race and Hughes coming down, a surprise which took the fans’ mind off of Flair, at least temporarily. Windham exited the match fairly well protected and probably a little elevated from when he came in. Luger had gained a layer of doubt (could he have won without Race coming down?) but also had a new management team, a new attitude, and a new, immediately over finisher. The fans could refocus some of their resentment in Flair being forced out (or the illusion of such) to Luger robbing them of their moment of celebration by using a shortcut and going heel.
 
While it may have accomplished some of WCW’s longer-term goals, at least in a watered-down manner, it was still a bit of an albatross in the moment. They worked a more measured title match style, each wrestler being careful not to make a mistake, but without a strong face/heel dynamic, the fans were restless. With every break in the action, they chants began anew. Alternatively, anytime they started to pick up the pace, they seemed to fade, but the match didn’t call for much of that faster pace. Windham tried, and the big spots were fun, but it made for an almost experimental feel. The cage ended up feeling like a goofy prop and in fact, I can’t think of another cage match where the cage had less meaning either as an imposing structure to create mood or as a tool to be used in the narrative, even in the era of WWE PG. Having Race and Hughes come down was very smart, but there was no reason they couldn’t have added drama by arriving earlier in the match. This crowd needed every distraction it could get. Frankly, there was no fooling this crowd into thinking they were witnessing history, so they should have gone all out in order to keep them engaged and entertained.
 
Still, Luger turned and while business was down into the fall of 1991, the heel machine this match christened in him looked pretty good on paper, at least. Barry’s babyface turn, drawn out for a few more weeks on the weekend shows, was a bit more successful, and he helped give a rub to first Ron Simmons and then Dustin Rhodes along the way. I don’t think the title would feel truly significant again until Vader took it the following year, but then there was almost no way this match could have accomplished that, even if they went sixty minutes and bled buckets and started a riot (for good reasons, not bad). This was a case of a two wrestlers put in an impossible situation, drawn into the middle of a forced storyline reset not of their making, and basically sent out there to die in front of a crowd who wanted very little to do with what they were seeing. In the face of that, they did a competent, and in Barry’s case, slightly inspired, job but one that was ultimately forgettable. The next day all anyone would remember would be Harley Race and Ric Flair; not an auspicious start to yet another new WCW era.

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I should also point out that I am not a huge fan of Luger/Flair matches - but that is a personal bias

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I seem to remember the Clash match being better - but I can't find it online at the moment

 

Granted I haven't looked that hard

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Here's a rarity, Luger winning the U.S. title back from Michael Hayes in a high school gym in Bluefield, West Virginia.

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I saw Luger a thousand times at the Richmond Coliseum, most of the time against Flair.  The best I ever saw was Luger versus Stan Hansen.  That was fucking stiff.

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Most underrated wrestler of all time?

 

Could be.

 

I actually really quite like the GAB match as it was an impossible match and its flaws have nothing to do with Lex as a performer. I've written about it before.

 

 

 

It always seems like Luger's less "underrated" and more the fact that Luger's one of the most either-or wrestlers of all time: Either you love Luger or you hate him, with almost no in-between.  Even other either-or guys like, say, a Randy Orton don't get as polarizing as Luger...to the point where only woman wrestlers manage to get to the same point of "if you love them, you're in love with them, if you hate them, you want them to get out of the business" as Lex Luger could get.

 

...come to think of it- questionable mic skills, either a really arrogant heel or a pandering, second-rate babyface, love it or hate it quality as a performer...Lex Luger is the first male Diva!

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Part of that, is that when Luger was on, he was ON, and not, he was shit.(Simplification, I know).  I have soft spot for Luger, because I rented the shit of the late 80's-early 90's wcw videos back in the day.Would have liked to see what Bret could have done with him in 1994, though the motorcycle accident took something out of him. . . .

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The Narcissist was one of the better short-lived gimmicks of that era.  Luger just fit the part so naturally and having Henan as a mouthpiece only made it better.

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Going through all of the 96 Nitros, and I think he's clearly the MVP of that show for the first year of it's existence.  It's like, the older I get, the more I love watching 88-97 Luger.  I loved his goofy jock heel stuff with Jimmy Hart, and he became a great babyface in the first year of the NWO.  I dare ANYONE in today's climate not named Daniel Bryan to get the kind of reactions he got at the end of the World War III battle royal, or at Uncensored 97.

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I think 88-pre WWF Luger is what makes the rest of Luger's stuff so frustrating.  He could have been really great if things went a little differently.

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i will go against the grain here. It seems the consensus is that he is a "love him or hate him" kinda guy. i disagree. i've always been pretty indifferent towards him.

 

in fact, this is my favorite thing Lex Luger has ever done in pro wrestling:

 

and i don't mean that as an insult. this is easily one of my top 5 interviews/promos of all time.

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I feel very middle-of-the-road about Luger, too. Growing up, I hated him. Bulky, dull, kinda slow, couldn't cut a promo to save his life, and am I wrong in thinking that his offense has never been anything special?

 

BUT 96-97 WCW face Luger is fun. The torture rack is great. I love that Sting/Luger - Steiners match, and any storyline involving him where the basic plot is WHOSE SIDE IS HE ON ANYWAY.

 

I think where Lex is underrated is his selling. Unless I am completely misremembering, isn't there a gif of him taking a crazy bump over the top rope? I wanted to post that but couldn't find it.

 

Also deeply undervalued: His mullet.

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I think 88-pre WWF Luger is what makes the rest of Luger's stuff so frustrating.  He could have been really great if things went a little differently.

I'm not sure how much the motorcycle accident had to do with it, and the fact that Flair never did job for him, at least when it counted.(can't remember whether he did in later WCW). . . .

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I feel very middle-of-the-road about Luger, too. Growing up, I hated him. Bulky, dull, kinda slow, couldn't cut a promo to save his life, and am I wrong in thinking that his offense has never been anything special?

 

BUT 96-97 WCW face Luger is fun. The torture rack is great. I love that Sting/Luger - Steiners match, and any storyline involving him where the basic plot is WHOSE SIDE IS HE ON ANYWAY.

 

I think where Lex is underrated is his selling. Unless I am completely misremembering, isn't there a gif of him taking a crazy bump over the top rope? I wanted to post that but couldn't find it.

 

Also deeply undervalued: His mullet.

 

Luger's selling was amazing.  To this day I find myself yelling "DOWF!" for no particular reason.

 

And yes, his mullet was wonderfully luxuriant.

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One of my all time favorites. Love the Luger/Flair series especially GAB 88, love SummerSlam 93 with Yoko and of course the "I'll Be Your Hero" tribute, one I watch often on the Network. One of my favorite pops when he won the title from Hogan in 97. Greatness.

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