wrestling / Columns

Ask 411 Wrestling: When Did Lex Luger’s Career Peak?

January 22, 2020 | Posted by Ryan Byers
Lex Luger SummerSlam 1993 Image Credit: WWE

Welcome guys, gals, and gender non-binary pals, to Ask 411 Wrestling. I am your party host, Ryan Byers, and I am here to answer some of your burning inquiries about professional wrestling.

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Tyler from Winnipeg is making his pecs dance:

Is Lex Luger taking the belt on Nitro from Hollywood Hogan the pinnacle of Luger’s career?

I would have to say yes, and I don’t even think it’s really in question. Just so everybody is on the same page, what we’re talking about here is Luger submitting Hogan with the Torture Rack on the August 4, 1997 edition of WCW Monday Nitro to win the WCW World Heavyweight Title.

The only other time that Luger was a world champion came in 1991 when he won the vacant WCW Title after Ric Flair jumped to the WWF. The promotion was in such a shambles at the time that comparing it to the WCW that Luger was in when he beat Hogan is like comparing 2010 TNA to 2010 WWE.

The Total Package was infamously never a world champion in the WWF, though he was in the world title mix for a period of time. Even if you want to consider him being a true main eventer and wrestling in a Wrestlemania X championship match to be a big deal, it’s still nowhere near the big deal that the Nitro title win was. When Luger was the face of the WWF on Monday Night Raw, the show was doing anywhere between a 2.5 and 3.0 rating with no wrestling competition, whereas the Nitro with Luger’s title win on it drew a 4.4 against a Raw episode that did a 2.7.

There were no more eyeballs on Lex as a tippy-top guy than there were on that summer evening in 1997, and that’s why you have to consider it the peak of his career.

Bryan J. is just trying to keep things balanced:

Is there an exact science or art, in a wrestling card to babyface/heel victory ratio? I mean do they actually determine the outcome of a main event match by how many faces or heels have already won? I’ve always felt too many heel wins, makes you sad, but too many face wins, it becomes watered down and loses its charm. What’s your opinion?

I wouldn’t say that there’s an exact science, but, based on stories that I’ve read and shoot interviews that I’ve listened to, the number and positioning of heel wins versus face wins on a show certainly is a consideration when the results are being put together. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard a story about a main event finish being changed because too many heels or too many faces won lower down on the card, but I’ve definitely heard reports from time-to-time that a midcard match may have had its result changed because otherwise the show would have skewed too heavily one way or the other, particularly when the card is heavy on bad guys picking up victories.

Ultimately, the number of each type of win to put on any given card depends on a variety of different factors, including the storylines that are playing out at the time, the type of show that you’re running, and the particular wrestlers who are booked to wrestle on that show.

For house shows (a.k.a. “live events,” a change in nomenclature that never made sense to me), I think that a good rule of thumb is to go heavy on face wins. Granted, there are some circumstances where a bad guy should definitely go over, for example when you’ve got a new monster heel that is getting built up or a heel champion that you don’t want to take a cheap loss. However, for the most part, house shows are self-contained events that you want to lay out so that people have fun first and foremost, and fans tend to have more fun when they get to see their favorite wrestlers win.

Television and pay per views/network specials are a different story, though. Yes, you still do want fans to have fun when they are watching those products, but that has to give way to other considerations more frequently, as you’re presumably telling stories over several weeks and months as opposed to a house show, in which all the stories are confined to one afternoon.

Personally, my philosophy would be that, if you can’t decide whether a face or heel should win a match, you should probably err on the side of giving it to the good guy, because if you’re going to bring your fans down there ought to be some justification for it. However, there are situations in which individual storylines which are being booked separately line up in which a way that you may need to do majority heel victories, in which case it would be helpful to balance things out with two or three faces winning in key positions, perhaps even a title change.

Ultimately, there are so many factors that go into this analysis that you’ve got to take every show as it comes and make individual decisions. It’s difficult to produce rules of thumb, with the exception of the house show rule mentioned above.

Uzoma fell in to a burnin’ Ring of Honor:

Besides the Elite departing to open AEW, was G1 Supercard where things started going downhill for ROH?

G1 Supercard was certainly not ROH’s finest hour. Though running a show in Madison Square Garden and managing to sell out the venue (even though many tickets were initially bought by scalpers) was a huge feather in the cap of the promotion, the actual execution of the event was a bit of a failure. The show was co-promoted by Ring of Honor and New Japan Pro Wrestling, but the two companies largely kept their talent separate as opposed to booking interpromotional matches, with the notable exception of a four-way tag team bout.

The problem with that style of booking is that, at least with the matches presented, the NJPW product presented was vastly superior to the ROH product on just about every level, and it made Ring of Honor seem second rate, even though they had some really talented performers on their roster at the time.

Though the promotion had already lost the Elite – save for Marty Scurll – the Supercard helped to highlight just how much that faction had made the ROH product into something worth watching. It was a shell of its former self without them, and things have never really been the same since then.

Now, in a somewhat odd twist, the last remaining member of the elite in ROH has been elevated to the role of the promotion’s head booker, and hopefully he can help them turn a few things around.

Speaking of the Elite, here’s a related question from Ben:

In your opinion, apart from any and all special signings and cameoing that can happen in wrestling, what one consistent thing must AEW do to even be considered formidable?

This is probably going to be considered a boring answer, but I think that the main thing AEW needs to do in order to be successful is to remember that building their company is a marathon and not a sprint. In his question, Ben references cameos and “special signings,” and that’s exactly the sort of thing that they should be avoiding. They need to select a core group of talent who will be part of the promotion for the long haul and focus primarily on them so that hopefully, with consistent booking and the sort of exposure that TNT can provide, they will grow an audience slowly and organically over the time. If they over-utilize special appearances and gimmicks, they’re likely to burn themselves out, as there are only going to be so many of those tricks that you can pull out of your sleeve before you condition your audience to believe that your product is not worth watching without them.

So far, I think that the company has done an admirable job of keeping this in mind. With a lot of oxygen in the wrestling media being sucked up by discussion of the Wednesday Night War, it’s hard to remember that, when AEW Dynamite was first announced as going to TNT, there was NOT going to be any direct competition from WWE. The addition of NXT to the USA Network only came weeks later as a retaliatory shot by the E. Though I don’t definitely know that this is the case, from following the AEW product it feels as though they are largely going forward with the plans for the company that they would have had even if they did not have head-to-head professional wrestling competition. That’s a wise strategy from where I sit.

Ryan M. gives us an opportunity to reflect on a prior topic of discussion:

The recent quotes (and mainly reaction by the IWC to the quotes) from Tommaso Ciampa regarding rather retiring than being on Raw or SD got me thinking, who has been “promoted” to the main roster and been genuinely wasted?

And it’s not just as easy as saying X should be pushed better or Y should have been a champion because that needs qualified by saying pushed instead of who? Or given a strap over who?

Also surely a minimum time period on the roster has to be set, for me it’s too early to judge whether, for example, Ricochet has been a success or not, surely when you get to the main roster the first thing they want to know before giving someone a big push is can they handle the stresses and strains and schedule I.e. they don’t want retiring/vacating champions any more, also I think fans are far too quick to forget how long Shawn, Bret and even HHH and Austin bummed around the prelims before being “over.”

I answered a similar question to this back in May 2018, when a reader asked me to evaluate the success of NXT based on whether their graduates had lived up to their potential on the main roster.

In order to give that answer, I went to Pro Wrestling Wiki‘s list of NXT alumni and put them in to one of our categories: success, neutral, failure, or never made the main roster.

To recap, as of May 2018, my classifications of those who made it on to the main roster were:

Success – Alexa Bliss, Big E Langston, Braun Strowman, Charlotte Flair, Lana, Nia Jax, Roman Reigns, Rusev, Sasha Banks, and Elias.

Neutral – Aiden English, Big Cass, Dana Brooke, Buddy Murphy, Jason Jordan, Mandy Rose, Ruby Riott, Samir Singh, Sunil Singh, Sarah Logan, Scott Dawson, Dash Wilder, Erick Rowan, Carmella, Chad Gable, Liv Morgan, No Way Jose, Rezar, Akam, Ember Moon, Alexander Wolfe, Killian Dane, Andrade Almas, and Zelina Vega

Failure – Adam Rose, Baron Corbin, Bo Dallas, Konnor, Viktor, Mojo Rawley, Simon Gotch, Summer Rae, Tyler Breeze, Enzo Amore, and Eva Marie

Really, I don’t think that I would change that list too much all these months later. Most likely, I would upgrade Baron Corbin from the “failure” to “neutral” category, and Big Cass and Killian Dane should drop down from the “neutral” to the “failure” category. There’s an argument for moving Andrade Almas up to the “success” category, but I’m going to keep him where he’s at for the time being as we wait to see where his current United States Championship reign takes him. (As of the time of this writing, he’s only had the belt for a couple of weeks.)

Unless I’m missing someone, there are only five names to add to this list since I originally produced it in 2018, and those names are: Angelo Dawkins, Montez Ford, Lars Sullivan, Otis Dozovic, and Tucker Knight. I would place the two tag teams – the Street Prophets and Heavy Machinery – into the neutral category, and I don’t know how you can call Lars Sullivan anything other than a failure at this point.

However, even among those failures, I don’t know that you can truly claim that any of them are being “wasted.” None of them, to me, appeared to be guys who could or should have gotten much beyond the point of the card that they did. You could maybe make an argument that Tyler Breeze could have progressed into a midcard slot a la Dolph Ziggler as opposed to just being an opening match comedy guy, but even that doesn’t seem like a huge travesty.

Thus, I would have to say that the notion that NXT wrestlers are being “wasted” left and right on the main roster is overblown a fair amount.

Richard U. is rich and young:

Did babyface Tommy Rich really attack a referee during a match and legitimately end his career?

Kinda. Saying that Rich “attacked” the referee is an exaggeration, but there was a botched spot during a Tommy Rich match that legitimately (more or less) ended the career of a referee.

It wasn’t just any referee, though. It was Tommy Young, who was widely considered the best referee in the history of professional wrestling up to that point in time and was the personal favorite ref of Ric Flair, which is why you see Young in the ring during all three of the bouts comprising the legendary Flair/Steamboat trilogy.

The match that brought Young’s career screeching to a halt occurred at a WCW television taping on November 28, 1989, with Rich wrestling Captain Mike Rotunda. You can actually watch the entire match right here:

What should have been a pretty routine encounter between two experienced grapplers pretty quickly turned into a debacle, as the main lights in the arena unexpectedly went out. The crew in the ring continued the match undeterred, and they progressed to a spot where Rich was attacking Rotunda with illegal closed fists. (This starts at about 2:15 in the YouTube video above.) Rich, the babyface in the match, goes to shove Young away so that he can continue the assault on Rotunda, but what should have been a basic spot goes awry in one of the worst ways imaginable.

As you can see in the video, as Young gets shoved away, he trips over one of Rich’s feet. What happened to Young next was not caught on camera, but, according to Young himself in an interview with the website Mid-Atlantic Gateway, he tried to catch himself on the ring ropes but missed, ultimately landing face-first on the middle rope . . . and keep in mind that WCW’s “ropes” were actually steel cables. His neck was broken on impact, and Rich and Rotunda continued awkwardly wrestling around him for another two minutes before everyone realized something was terribly wrong and a finish was improvised.

Though this is a grisly scene, it could have been significantly worse, as the way Rich fell and landed had some similarities to the botched spot that killed El Hijo del Perro Aguayo in a 2015 match with TJ Perkins, Rey Misterio, Jr., and Extreme Tiger.

Young alleges that Rich was inebriated when the botched spot occurred, and he did sue both Rich and the Center Stage Arena where the taping occurred, alleging that a combination of Rich’s actions and the lack of proper lighting in the facility caused his injuries. The suit was ultimately dismissed without Rich receiving a recovery.

Though he appeared as a ref very occasionally after this, Tommy Young never returned to the ring on what I would call a full-time basis. He continued to work in wrestling in a variety of backstage roles and was (and still is) a fixture at wrestling conventions and legends’ reunions, including showing up at the 1994 Slamboree pay per view, so apparently there wasn’t long-lasting bad blood between him and WCW. Probably his most high-profile stint with a wrestling company after breaking his neck was appearing as an NWA referee during that company’s “invasion” of the WWF in 1998.

That will do it for this week’s installment of the column. We’ll return in seven-ish days, and, as always, you can contribute your questions by emailing [email protected].