In Defense Of… 10.12.05: Lex Luger (Part 2 Of 2)
In Defense of…
By JP Prag
Lex Luger (Part 2 of 2)
Happy Erev Yom Kippur, and welcome back to In Defense Of…! If it’s after sunset, you should be fasting. That is, unless you are part of the rest of the 98% of the world that isn’t Jewish, in which case you should just read this article and vote. Last week we began the case of the IWC vs. Lex Luger. To say it’s an uphill battle with some people would be an understatement! I cannot tell you how many readers e-mailed me that they would vote guilty no matter what I said about this guy. Well, this is my last shot to change your mind.
Speaking of changing people’s minds, have you read Hidden Highlights yet? JT and I bring you a great positive article (when we get it in on time) that is all about changing the way we watch and enjoy wrestling. Watch for all the subtle bits that make wrestling great, and check it out each and every Sunday morning.
But enough plugging myself, now it’s time for In Defense Of…! But maybe you are an oddball and thought coming in in Part 2 would be a good idea? Well, for those new to the concept, this article has a pretty simple premise:
Certain people, events, organizations, and storylines in wrestling history have gotten a bum wrap. Certain writers have presented overtly critical comments and outright lies as fact, and others have followed suit. Well no more! “In Defense of…” has one reason: to bring the truth to the wrestling fan!
And that’s what I intend to do.
Me? I’m the One and Only JP, and I WILL be celebrating Yom Kippur while your votes come in. Luckily for me I’ll already have gone through the day of repentance in case Lex Luger is found guilty.
Per usual, I turn to our resident stenographer, Stenographer, to catch you up to speed:
Thanks JP. Like you said, last week we began the case for Lex Luger, who was ranked PWI Rookie of Year in 1986; Comeback of Year and Most Popular Wrestler of Year in 1993; and Wrestler of Year in 1997. Despite all these accolades, revisionist history has taught us that Luger was just some lumbering oaf who happened into the sport of professional wrestling and was subsequently pushed down our throats. People forgot that Luger began his wrestling days in 1985 in the Florida Territory, comparable to a top notch independent organization like ROH today. He trained under Florida legend Bob Roop; trainer of Hulk Hogan and Paul Orndorff Hiro Matsuda; and the master of southern psychology Kevin Sullivan. He would win titles, yes, but they were not the top. Even when recruited into the Horsemen by Ric Flair in 1987 he would have to fight for four more years before winning the big one, and that was only because Ric Flair left NWA/WCW.
Still, Luger pressed on, showing his strength as a credible champion. His physique was impressive, no doubt, but he had skills to match it. He went 60 minutes with Ric Flair. He won PWI Match of Year in 1991, as well as was nominated in 1987 and a second match in 1991. Luger could go when needed, but like many big men did not have to. His job was to entertain and hit the power moves, and that is exactly what he did. He had all the training and ability to do more, but that was not his place. Villano IV y V could warm up the crowd with the acrobatics while he went on to win the World Heavyweight Championship for the second time against Hollywood Hogan (one of one three men to take the title from Hogan during the nWo’s reign) in the following match.
Luger was pivotal in the war against the nWo, and was constantly at the front lines while Sting was in the rafters. This is equally amazing because Eric Bischoff has gone on record on how much he did not like Luger, yet Luger was able to overcome the prejudice of his boss, win the fans over, bring home the bacon, and prove he belonged on the top. The fight against the nWo was not the only memorable thing he had done, as he had feuded with Ric Flair, Barry Windham, Ron Simmons, and of course Sting. More so, he was the man who landed via helicopter onboard the USS Intrepid and slammed Yokozuna when all else failed. He was part of the controversial “both their feet hit at the same time” Royal Rumble with Bret Hart, and ending that has been repeated ad nauseam since, but never as successfully. Bigger then all of that was his shocking appearance at the first Nitro (considering he wrestled for the WWF the night beforehand), and gave Nitro that “anything can happen” feeling that made it so successful for so long.
And all of these successful angles and matches led to PPV buyrates and TV ratings galore. The man was on every piece of merchandise under the sun, and yet people today still question how over he was.
Yes, it is amazing that they question how big Lex Luger was for wrestling. And when he started to fall, people were right there ready to piss on his legacy as if it never happened.
Damn that boy is jacked!
First, though, we really need to look at what got Lex Luger to the game. Stenographer, can you read back the testimony of the Big Show from last week?
I remember when Lex Luger debuted. We were watching Georgia Championship Wrestling, and Ric Flair was talking about “The Phenom”, and Lex came out, and I remember my dad and I were like, “Holy smoke! Look at that guy!” I had never seen anybody on TV with muscles like that at the time. At the time, he was so shredded. There are 30 guys in our locker room right now that look better, but back then it was unbelievable.
You see, there it is again; there may have been a thousand guys with physiques as good (if not better) since Lex Luger, but Luger was the first. For his time he was unique, and don’t forget it.
Of course, you are going to ask, “But JP, how did Luger get so jacked? Didn’t he take supplements?”
And I’m going to tell you yes, yes he did.
Ok, let’s take a trip way back in time. Do you know why marijuana is an illegal substance in the United States?
Is it because it is an intoxicating substance? Is it because it is dangerous to the health and well being of the people who use it? Is it because of its debilitating long-term effects on regular users?
Absolutely not—it’s because of outside interests.
Prior to 1937, marijuana was mostly legal across all of America. In the 19th century and early 20th century, marijuana could be purchased at shops or (according to wikipedia.com) “it could be openly purchased in bulk from grocers or in cigarette form at newsstands”. Then in 1937, a law was passed (against the advise of American Medical Association) to make it illegal to transport or possess cannabis. Now what would suddenly cause this change in attitude?
(1) Black culture – during the 1920’s and 1930’s, the Jazz scene exploded into the American underground and semi-mainstream society. The conservatives of this country feared the growth of Jazz and black culture in America, and labeled it as the complete moral decay of society (hmmm… that story sounds familiar). Many jazz musicians were well known proponents and users of marijuana, especially the legendary Louis Armstrong. So, as an attempt to hold back black culture, white conservatives sought to make marijuana illegal.
(2) But they really wanted it illegal because these people were the same ones who got prohibition passed. You see, on January 16, 1920 the eighteenth amendment went into effect, thus making the transportation and possession of alcohol illegal in the United States. This, of course, paved the way for organized crime, importation from Canada, the growth of underground jazz bars, and the use of marijuana, but that is beside the point. The eighteenth amendment was repealed by the twenty-first amendment on February 17, 1933. So the Temperance movement needed to set their sights on a substance that they knew they could make illegal without an amendment, and one that most people would not miss. So they set their sights on marijuana and scared white America into buying the idea by saying blacks would be impregnating their daughters if they continued to let marijuana spread. Their plan worked.
(3) Still, there was one man who was most responsible for getting marijuana on the bad-guys book, and that was William Hearst, chief stock holder of DuPont. DuPont, as a chemical and materials processing company, had heavy interest in a fabric called nylon. By eliminating hemp from the equation, nylon, cotton, wool, and linen sales went up, as did DuPont’s profits. You see, it was Mr. Hearst’s testimony to congress that put the final nail in the head of marijuana in the United States, at least for a few decades.
In 1969, the Supreme Court overturned the laws against marijuana due to a loophole in it that violated the fifth amendment. So in 1970, Congress passed the Controlled Substance Act, and quickly added marijuana to the list of controlled substances. And that is where it has remained since, although some controls have been loosened for medical purposes in some states.
Now what the heck does this have to do with Lex Luger?
Well, those “supplements” that he was taking in the 1980’s, they were just like marijuana. At the time, they were not illegal, they were just supplements! Weight trainers and other athletes are constantly taking supplements. The drug of choice today is guarana, which is really just a water retainer. It makes you look bulkier without adding real mass and also provides energy. But a few years ago ephedra was the drug of choice as a weight controller until it was banned by the food and drug administration on December 30, 2003. How long until guarana or taurine meets a similar fate?
So Luger took those supplements for years. But wait, it was not until 1991 that anabolic steroids joined the list of drugs on the Controlled Substance Act, the same act that was created to control marijuana!
And why were anabolic steroids and other substances added to the list? Was it because of health concerns? Was it because of a fear for of long term effects on the people using them and their families?
No! It was all about sports, a many-many-many billion dollar business country and world wide. Sports realized they had problem with their athletes using the substances to get better at their game while others chose not to. They then changed the public’s perception AGAINST these supplements, saying they were illegal performance enhancing substances (long before they were illegal). Why do you think the US Congress was involved with the baseball steroids scandal? Was it because it was an important issue? No, it was because it would get them a lot of attention and they could talk about it with voters. So Congress became involved in 1991 with sports so that their constituents would re-elect them after the sports industry turned against the athletes.
But by then, it was way too late for many workers. Luger was one of those men. He had been taking supplements for a decade and, at least in his own head, had seen no detrimental side effects. We know this is not true, but from his perspective he was fine. In reality, Luger was hooked. He continued to use substances as time went on, not aware of the effect on his body and mind.
Listen, up until the 1950’s, doctors in China used to prescribe cigarettes for people who had bad coughs. How were they supposed to know it would make them worse over time? They didn’t have the training or knowledge, no one around them did! The same with Luger—how was he supposed to know the long term dangers of the supplements he took in the 1980s? Did you know the dangers of ephedra before it was made illegal?
A couple of more crimes
Still, it is obvious that either the long-term effects of drugs, two decades on the road, a career being started and halted a number of times, or a combination of all of that and more had a detrimental effect on Luger. He began to make life decisions that were not for the best. None of us can judge him because we do not know all the facts. But here is what we do know:
Ms. Elizabeth died in his house. From the Smokinggun.com:
AUGUST 5–The wrestling personality known as Miss Elizabeth died from a lethal combination of booze and prescription drugs, according to this autopsy report from the Cobb County Medical Examiner. The coroner determined that the May 1 death of Elizabeth Hulette, 42, was an accident resulting from “acute toxicity-multiple drugs.” Hulette was stricken at the Georgia home she shared with live-in boyfriend Lawrence Pfohl, who wrestles professionally as Lex Luger. She was later pronounced dead at a local hospital, where a police detective told the ME’s investigator that Hulette “had been observed drinking Vodka and taking Soma and Loritabs several hours” prior to her demise. A toxicology screen found evidence of anxiety, muscle relaxation, nausea, and pain drugs in Hulette’s system. Her blood alcohol level was measured at a whopping .299. As a result of the police investigation of Hulette’s death, cops arrested Pfohl after discovering illegal bodybuilding drugs in his home.
Now, maybe Luger had the supply of those drugs on hand. And as we previously discussed, that is because of his earlier conditioning, not because he was a degenerate abuser. The man needed help, and obviously was not getting it. His addiction was a dieses, but that does not mean he is responsible for spreading the infection. Elizabeth had problems of her own, problems that far outweighed physical pain. Why in the world would anyone even have a blood-alcohol level of .299 to begin with? And then mix that with drugs? Something deeper was going on. From the LAW via the the newsboard:
When asked about the last few years including the death of Elizabeth Huelette, [Luger] says is a very private person as was Elizabeth and that it’s been very mentally tough. He says the real story has never been told and he wants to be private about that issue out of respect to Elizabeth’s family. He says if he could change places with her he would have and misses her.
Read between the lines. Luger was trying to protect Elizabeth. He may have been the one trying to wean her off of drugs for all we know. But we don’t. Sting further alludes to Elizabeth’s problems:
You know, it’s all over out there. It’s just … there. You know actors and actresses in Hollywood and movies, sports, baseball, football, basketball it’s everywhere, it’s not just wrestling. Wrestling is set apart though because it’s not seasonal. We don’t go for 6 to 8 months to film a big blockbuster movie and go home. We don’t play baseball for 6 to 8 months out of the year and come home. You know we’re gone, traveling, and turning the light switch on every day of our lives. Every day. Actually, you’re this super ball and bounce around and play and get trounced on and try to stay in shape and deal with the press and deal with the stress of traveling, and you know, it takes it’s toll. It takes it’s toll.
Sting will not talk about it, but he put the idea out there. Luger will not talk about it either, and he will protect Elizabeth for the rest of his years. Say what you want to about Luger, but he cared for Elizabeth. And under no circumstances did he kill her.
In the months that followed, Luger’s grief was strong and got him arrested again. On February 1, 2005, Luger was arrested for DUI. The problem was, he was not driving the car. He had passed out in the car drunk, and when the cops woke him up he tried to start the engine, so they booked him. He had expired tags and other illegal documents.
Almost two months later he was arrested again for failure to pay child support. Things were looking bleak.
But do you know what I say:
GIVE THE MAN A BREAK!
His live-in girlfriend DIED in his house! Stop all the jokes, that is seriously painful. Are you telling me that you would not be completely messed up if the person you loved, who you lived with, who was having problems, suddenly and violently died in front of you? How long would need before you could even BEGIN to function semi-normally again?
Luger obviously needed time. He was not in a good place, and with reason. Was being drunk behind the wheel right? No. Is not paying your child support legal? Absolutely not. But can we understand where Luger was coming from? Sure, he was in a hard place and needed time to recover. He needed to prove he was worth another shot.
Giving the boy a shot
Just six months after the death of Ms. Elizabeth, TNA’s Dixie Carter had this to say:
It is rare that TNA ever responds to media, no matter how off it may be from fact. But we strongly believe it is appropriate at this time to address what is being said about Lex Luger appearing on our November 12th pay-per-view telecast.
TNA is about opportunity — for wrestlers new and established. For the fans, TNA provides a weekly program that showcases today’s hottest talent, introduces the stars of tomorrow, and provides the opportunity to re-experience wrestling icons. Since its inception, TNA has paid homage to NWA legends who have laid the foundation for our company.
As far as TNA talent is considered, we could not be more proud of our entire roster who give their heart and soul week after week to build this special group. We believe in being compassionate and giving guys a chance. From new, incredibly talented young men to veterans who may need lifting up when trying to change their lives. Surrounding a man with the kind of environment we enjoy backstage at TNA can only be considered a very good thing. We are about accentuating the positive, not the negative.
When our talent approaches management and recommends giving someone an opportunity, we listen, and that is the case with Lex Luger, as well as others. The success of bringing Lex to TNA won’t be measured with pay-per-view buys. It will be measured by what a man does with an opportunity given.
You see, despite everything, wrestling companies still see a reason to talk to and book Luger. He was on the WWA world tours. He has had informal talks with the WWE. His legacy in wrestling is not forgotten. And Lex has learned a lot, too. From the LAW again:
He says he blames no one but himself and wants to talk to youngsters about how he did things wrong.
Luger has come to a point of understanding with his personal life. He is not all the way there yet, but he is getting there. But despite all of his personal problems, should we judge his final legacy on the mistakes of a few years that have nothing to with the ring?
Listen to the fans
If the e-mails I have already received are any indication, the answer is no. Charlie S. shares some memories:
I started watching WWF in 1991 and wasn’t familiar with the man who said, “I’m the total package.” I just wanted to say that to stress that I didn’t know Lex Luger when he was arguably at his peak. Instead, I knew Luger as the guy who beat up Mr. Perfect a few times then “saw the light” and became the All-American. For those that don’t remember, Yokozuna was astonishing when he started. He tore through the WWF. He put several people in the hospital(Jim Duggan for one), he dominated the Rumble, he beat Bret Hart, lost to Hogan(but who didn’t), and then he KILLED Hulkamania(WWF Magazine, probably June or so 93). Alright, he’s a HUGE heal, we get it. Then Lex comes around and slams him on a military ship after flying down in a helicopter, now that is excellent booking. Then he starts Lex Express. He burns across America building HUGE momentum going into SummerSlam. He battles the unbeatable Yokozuna, knocks him out, and wins…by countout? No worries, he’ll get another chance right? He battles through the Rumble, wins it(with Bret)! They both go to Mania for a showdown with the monster(who by the way, just beat Undertaker in a casket match with 11 guys, but still impressive to win a a casket match against Taker). Now, if I remember correctly, Luger gets screwed over at Mania, Bret wins the title back, blah, blah. Luger’s not done yet right? I mean he’s still at the top with Bret and Yoko. Wait, who’s this Diesel guy? Bob Backlund (well that chickenwing crossface is a cool move, I guess)? How can Shawn wrestle for a belt, he’s too small? At WM 11, Luger will be back at the main event. He deserves it. What, he’s teaming with British Bulldog as the “Allied Powers”. He goes back to WCW and does a great job, winning the title in the fued with Hogan. Always a contender and a guy that kind of got left behind by Sting. You mentioned that he beat Hogan, but you need to point out that after Macho turned, it was basically Luger + WCW wrestler v. NWO. Luger was good, he knew how to work a crowd and he was not as shitty as people complain about in the ring. Vince McMahon and booking alone cannot sentence a man to death.
TTC also shares a more non-kayfabe look at Luger:
I’ve met a handful of wrestlers in my day (at official signings), most just seemed forcibly polite (Kevin Nash and HHH for example), some were downright rude (Ric Flair), but one stood out… Lex Luger took time to have a short conversation with each of the fans in the long, long line. He was friendly and complementive and overall a really nice guy.
John Waraksa shares an interesting observation:
He was a very legitimate draw. EVERY female wrestling fan I ever met in the around 86 or so until about 94 liked him, and I know if they went to a show they were gonna get a t-shirt (and probably had their boyfriends buy it).
And finally Ron M. sent in something that would have been the Hidden Highlights Reader Write-in of the week, if JT and I were writing wrestling articles 8 years ago:
I saw Luger at a house show during the time he was doing the Total Package gimmick with the lights and all (like Masters now). It was at the Bryce Jordan Center in State College and he was complaining about not having the proper lighting. He went on to cut one of the most impressive heel promos I had heard that year. When let loose and comfortable, he is amongst the best. A funny part came when we all started chanting the “We are…Penn State”deal, alluding to his past which you mentioned. He just looked all around, paused for a long time and said “You know, you people are pathetic”. Everybody loved it and laughed. Great stuff.
That is great stuff. The point of all this is that Luger has entertained the fans both in and out the ring for years, and that deserves to be his legacy.
The narcissistic final comment
Lex Luger is a man plagued by personal problems and an ambivalent internet crowd. But his true story is a man who worked his way up through the Florida system and was trained by the legends. He fought amazing contests with the likes of Ric Flair, Sting, Ron Simmons, and Barry Windham. He was involved in exciting stories and angles from the Four Horsemen to the Lex Express to the premier of Nitro to being the standard barer for WCW against the nWo to being in both versions of the Wolfpac and countless other angles in between. He sold PPVs, he sold house shows, he sold merchandise. This is the man who Lex Luger truly is and was. A few mistakes should not define an entire career. A career should define a career. And more importantly: a legacy.
The defense rests.
Well everyone, that wraps up our eleventh case. So what do you think?
And please take into consideration the rules (well, they’re more what you might call guidelines than rules) of a fair court system:
(1) All parties, events, circumstances, etc… are innocent until proven guilty. In this court, the defendants have already been found guilty without trial, and so therefore this is an appeals court. Finding a defendant guilty means you disagree with the evidence presented.
(2) The jury must find the defendant guilty beyond reasonable doubt. That means that if there is doubt in your mind that the defendant is guilty, then you cannot find the appellant guilty. Reasonable doubt means that the average person, looking at the facts presented, could not find the defendant guilty on all counts despite personal feelings.
(3) This is a court of fact, not fiction. Fantasies of what could have been or should have been do not fly here; especially fantasies of the impossible (such as a wrestler not getting injured at an untimely moment). All we have is what did actually occur and the intentions of those being accused.
(4) A defendant cannot be judged by events outside the case at hand. For example, if we were trying a particular contract signing by a wrestling promoter, you cannot use that ten years later that wrestler died from a heart attack relating to the drug use that the wrestler started when he signed with the promoter. One has nothing to do with the other in terms of the case at hand.
(5) You do not have to like the accused before or after the case at hand, and a vote of not guilty does not change your personal preferences. You can make it clear that you feel the accused is the worst thing you have ever seen, but if the facts compel you to see that the accused cannot be found guilty beyond reasonable doubt, then voting guilty would be unconscionable.
Keeping the rules of this court in mind…
IN THE CASE OF THE IWC VERSUS LEX LUGER, LEX LUGER HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BEING A TERRIBLE WRESTLER WHO NO FAN WANTED AT THE TOP BUT WAS PUSHED DOWN OUR THROATS ANYWAY. FURTHERMORE, HIS DESCENT FROM THE TOP WAS DESERVED, AND HIS PERSONAL PROBLEMS ARE JUST A MANIFESTATION OF EVERYTHING HE SHOULD GET FOR YEARS OF HORRIBLE WRESTLING ENTERTAINMENT.
Wow, that was a tough case. Originally it was going to be a three-part story, but when Goldberg went long, something had to get cut short. But I’m glad it did because this case worked much better in two parts. And, more importantly, because next issue I bring you something special!
Next week is the 25th Issue Spectacular! But I’m not one for retro-content and self appreciation (I’ll save that for the one-year issue), so I’ve got something new for you. It’s not like the traditional cases we have been doing here, but something far more forward. So tune in next time for In Defense of… SPECIAL: The Sport of Professional Wrestling!! And in two weeks we’ll return with a traditional case, but you’ll have to read next week’s article to find out what it is.
In the meantime, be sure to check out Hidden Hightlights! Don’t forget to send JT and I your Hidden Highlights for RAW, SmackDown!, Heat, Velocity, Impact, or any other show you saw this week (that includes house shows and indy events, you know)!
Also, before we get to Hidden Highlights on Sunday, you have a homework assignment. You need to read The Paradox of Excellence beforehand. I went to see Michael Weissman (a fellow alumni of my alma mata, no less) speak last night out in King of Prussia. Of all that he spoke about, his concept of controlling expectations really hit home with me on many levels, and also inspired me to write a little case of my own. So tune in on Sunday in the Last Word of Hidden Highlights for In Defense Of… Mini-case: WWE banning dangerous neck moves.
Until then, the next time you read some throwaway line presented as fact, challenge it. The truth matters, and you have a right to know.
Know a particular person, event, organization, storyline, etc… in wrestling history that needs a defense? E-mail the One and Only JP at firstname.lastname@example.org, and I’ll be glad to hear your case.