When I first started watching pro wrestling, I saw Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, The Ultimate Warrior and Andre The Giant. I was hooked, but my fandom did not truly kick in until I saw “The Total Package” Lex Luger. On The Fight Game Podcast, you have heard me talk a lot about when I was a kid and how I used to give blank VHS tapes to my best friend Chad Eng to tape the shows. I would lock up the Eng family TV for three hours and his dad Ron wasn’t all too happy about it. But, he loved me like a son since I was over there more than at my house, so he would grumble under his breath for those three hours of wrestling. Chad introduced me to an alternative to the World Wrestling Federation, the National Wrestling Alliance. I couldn’t believe that there was more pro wrestling out there. I will never forget how Chad sold the NWA to me as he said, “It is like the WWF, but more real.” I had to see for myself.
The NWA pay-per-view was watched was “Chi-Town Rumble” in February of 1989. I loved the NWA style of pro wrestling but I wasn’t hooked until “The Total Package” Lex Luger made his way to the ring to challenge Barry Windham for the NWA United States Championship. Unlike Hulk Hogan or The Ultimate Warrior, to me, Lex Luger looked real, but still looked like a superhero. Luger was shredded with muscle compared to Hulk Hogan and didn’t look like an over the top cartoon character like the Ultimate Warrior. When I saw Lex Luger easily pick up the 6’6″ Texan from Sweetwater with ease and slam him down, I became a Lex Luger fan for life and was now hooked on pro wrestling. I’d never seen Hogan press slam anyone like that and the Warrior only did that to “preliminary” wrestlers on TV. Luger press-slamming Windham made me believe he had super human strength.
A few months later, Luger would turn heel on Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat, but unlike many who would stop liking Lex Luger, I stuck by him. I’m always loyal to my sports teams and damn it, I was sticking by Lex Luger. Each week that followed, my fandom for Lex Luger grew stronger. Maybe because Lex Luger cemented my pro wrestling fandom in 1989, I always look upon Lex Luger’s heel run from June of 1989 to February of 1990 as the best work of his career. There are a lot of Lex Luger doubters out there and some of their critiques are justified, but I always tell those doubters to check out Luger’s work during this run. Lex was hungry to be the top guy, he worked hard inside the ring, cut really good promos and took what he learned from The Four Horsemen, when was he was member in 1987, to be a really good heel during this run.
In February of 1990, Sting, who was being groomed as the top babyface and scheduled to defeat Ric Flair for the NWA World Title at WrestleWar 90 was injured. Lex Luger was quickly switched to babyface to take Sting’s bookings versus Flair. Funny thing is that I did’t realize Lex Luger was turning babyface. Sure, I heard the fans cheer loudly as he beat up Flair, Ole and Arn Anderson when he declined to pull out of the WrestleWar 90 main event match with Flair, but I just thought Luger was finally getting his opportunity to get a World title shot after over a year since his last one.
On the day of the WrestleWar 90 pay-per-view, I invited another childhood friend, Joel Becks to watch the show. Chad was already done with pro wrestling, so I didn’t invite him. Joel wasn’t that big of a wrestling fan, but still came over to watch. I will never forget this and it is a bit embarrassing to admit, but my anticipation of the Lex Luger versus Ric Flair match overwhelmed me. Butterflies in my gut started to build up and I just wanted nothing more than for Lex Luger to win the World Title. As the match started to build and Luger was taking the heat from Ric Flair, I started to pace my living room. I am sure Joel was wondering why I was so into this “fake” wrestling and my dad had to tell me to sit down and settle down. I probably embarrassed him with my nervousness as to him, pro wrestling was just nonsense.
As the dirtiest player in the game Ric Flair was punishing Lex, Sting came out from the locker room on crutches. I knew from Pro Wrestling Illustrated magazine that Sting and Luger were former friends. Sting gave Luger a motivational speech and told him to go and “kick him in the you know what” and Luger responded. He fired up, was fighting through the pain and then didn’t feel the pain. I was on my feet like I was in attendance at the Greensboro Coliseum in Greensboro, North Carolina. Every time Luger would go for the cover on Flair, I would be on my hands and knees counting along with referee of the match, Tommy Young. Each and every near fall, I was up and down and going crazy. If my Dad was embarrassed or if Joel thought I was a dork now, I didn’t care, Lex Luger was about to become the World Heavyweight Champion.
Then, those damn Andersons, Ole and Arn came to ringside to help their Four Horsemen leader, Ric Flair. Just as Lex Luger had Ric Flair in his “Torture Rack” submission hold, the Anderson’s attacked a crippled Sting at ringside. Like a true hero, Lex Luger dropped Ric Flair to save Sting from further injury, but was counted out for his heroic deed. I was bummed that Lex didn’t win the World title, but I was happy that Lex saved Sting and they looked to now be friends again. For those who question the booking of that WrestleWar 90 main event, well I can tell you what they had planned worked on me.
My fandom for pro wrestling was in full swing and I was in full support of Lex Luger. To this day, I will defend Lex Luger to anyone. I’ve seen all his ups and downs and always stood by him cheering him on. When Lex was on a self destructive path, I was worried and prayed for him. When he suffered his spinal stroke, I prayed for him. Lex is now in a wheel chair from his spinal stroke. But, he’s found God and even with his limitations from injuries, he is happy. I am happy that he found God and found peace.