wrestling / Columns

Wrestling With Kayfabe: 1996 WWF vs. WCW Debate, Lex Luger Jumps Ship, More

October 10, 2021 | Posted by Blake Lovell
WCW Nitro

As a kid, there was nothing better than going to the local Walmart or gas station and perusing the newest wrestling magazines.

Those were the days.

Pro Wrestling Illustrated was considered the gold standard, but I wasn’t picky. From The Wrestler, to Inside Wrestling, to WWF Magazine, to RAW Magazine, to WOW Magazine, to any of the others that popped up throughout the years, I loved them all.

There was something about turning each page, wondering if there was an incredible secret or treasure to be discovered on the next one.

Sure, I eventually realized the kayfabe magazines weren’t real. But wrestling was wrestling, and real or fake, I couldn’t get enough wrestling.

The beauty of the internet is there’s no shortage of information on the history of professional wrestling. However, there are many forgotten (and wildly entertaining) treasures from the Apter mags and beyond waiting to be rediscovered.

And thus, a new column, Wrestling With Kayfabe, is born.

My love for imagination and creativity is why I started watching in the first place – cool characters, interesting stories, etc. Inside those magazines was plenty of imagination and creativity, in addition to an entertaining cast of characters and stories. While all of those magazines from my childhood didn’t survive various moves and life changes, many did. Luckily, I’ve been able to find many others that were lost in translation.

Inside those pages upon pages of kayfabe is where our journey begins. A journey deep into the minds of wrestling talent, fans, and both real and fake writers to gauge the wrestling climate throughout various points in history.

For each edition of Wrestling With Kayfabe, we’ll pick a random classic wrestling magazine and dissect it cover to cover to find lost gems and fun-filled nostalgia.

We begin with the January 1996 edition of Pro Wrestling Illustrated (available here), which focused on the fallout of WCW choosing to go head to head with the WWF.

PWI January 1996

From the Fans

In the Between Falls section (fan mail), Donald makes a bold prediction after watching the debut episode of WCW Monday Nitro: “If Nitro can sustain the level of excitement it displayed with its initial broadcast, I can say with certainty that WCW will deliver the fatal blow to the WWF.” At least he said if!

Meanwhile, Jesse took aim at Lex Luger for leaving the WWF for WCW: “Lex said on Nitro he was tired of playing with kids. Well, Mr. Luger, the last time I checked, those kids were kicking your butt.”

As for Harry? He thinks Joey Styles is “the Gordon Solie of the 90s” while boasting his skills over the likes of Jim Ross, Vince McMahon, and others. Harry also notes his love of watching ECW videotapes.

Videotapes. Classic.

10 Years Ago In PWI

Hulk Hogan was on the cover of the January 1986 issue, with the featured attraction being the “Story of a Lifetime, From The Cradle To The Throne” story on Hogan’s journey from embryo to WWF Champion. We’ve all been an embryo, but not all of us have been WWF Champion.

Hacksaw Jim Duggan was the centerfold for that edition. It wasn’t the type of centerfold I was most interested in, but maybe I just had bad taste.

Also in the issue was Gary Hart knocking Bruiser Brody’s salary that was being paid by the Von Erichs, and Magnum T.A.’s quest to defeat Ric Flair for the NWA World title.

Who Drove Lex Luger Out of the WWF?

In an EXCLUSIVE interview with Bill Apter, we find out that according to Jim Cornette, it was……Jim Cornette!

“I saw how frustrated the British Bulldog was when he was teaming with Lex Loser (!). He called me one night and begged me, ‘Mr. Cornette,’ he said, ‘I want to be with a winning team, not a part of a failure.’ We met the next day and discussed how Lex Loser did zero thinking and zero wrestling for The Allied Powers. I saw that Bulldog needed someone – a genius like me – to guide his career properly, so I signed him up. Luger kept calling begging me to sign him as well, but James E. Cornette only deals with winners, not preliminary bums. You should have heard it. Cried like a baby whose bottle was taken away. Next thing I know, Lex Loser is gone…..to lose elsewhere!”

That right there was worth the $2.95 alone, if you ask me.

This Just In: DDP Can Wrestle!

Andy Rodriguez got EXCLUSIVE access to Diamond Dallas Page for his Win, Lose, or Draw column. When asked about his recent dominance in the ring (which, by the way, was during a lunch at the Omni Hotel in Atlanta), Page was trying to find the scoop.

“So where’s the news there, Mr. Reporter? What’s the big story?”

Page then took aim at Alex Wright: “I showed that pretty boy there’s more to the sport than running around trying to impress people with all that aerial crap!”

Page even went as far as to say he’d retire if he didn’t beat The Renegade at WCW Fall Brawl 1995. He did, so crisis averted.

Not Everyone Loved the WCW Nitro Debut

The Steel Cage by Chris Bernucca presents a different look at the WCW Nitro debut, one marred by Hulk Hogan’s ego and Lex Luger’s return:

“Of course, Hogan took Luger’s rare act of course to be an effort at stealing his thunder – pun totally intended – and a staredown quickly became a title match on next week’s card. Given the poor track record both Hogan and Luger have of defending the belt, will this be the final World title match in WCW history?”

Not gonna lie, I laughed.

Are The Ultimate Warrior and Sting Brothers?

Without question, one of my favorite PWI sections was Off the Top Rope with Eddie Ellner. He answered fan questions in the most hilarious (and heel) way possible, such as this one from Shabaka, who wants to know if The Ultimate Warrior and Sting are brothers:

“Sting and The Ultimate Warrior both shop at MAC, the trendy cosmetic store catering to celebrities. Sting favors the papaya and apricot rouge, while Warrior is devoted to the oatmeal face scrub. Beyond that, they are, as far as I know, unrelated.”

Joy wants to know if Eddie can give her Bret Hart’s address. Eddie wisely declines to provide such information. Google it, Joy. FFS!

Perhaps the best gem in this edition of PWI is 19-year-old Alfonso’s question on becoming a wrestler, to which Eddie tells him to take a job in a gas station, go to cooking school, get a Ph.D. in romance literature, or REPRODUCE before pursuing a wrestling career.

Eddie then advised him to bang his head against the wall for 45 minutes after that.

Luger Speaks!

Apter is at it again, securing an EXCLUSIVE press conference with WCW’s newest star.

The opening question is absolutely brilliant, with Apter saying, ‘So, Lex, you got your shot against Hulk Hogan, but I don’t see the World title belt around your waist.’ The mocking tone is fantastic.

Luger goes on to discuss being caught off guard by Hogan’s technical holds (!) in their match, rather than a power attack.

Perhaps the best quote from this press conference: “I don’t really care how anyone in WCW perceives me. I’m not here to make friends. I am here in WCW to win titles and make money. That’s the bottom line!”

Because Stone Cold Lex Luger said so!

WWF vs. WCW: The Great Debate

This was the cover story for this PWI, and it was a big one: WWF or WCW? Which promotion is better entering 1996?

Here were the results from various categories:

Singles Champions: WWF wins, with Diesel and Shawn Michaels getting the nod over Hulk Hogan and Sting.

Top 10 Contenders: WWF wins, though I’m a little curious about that choice with Sting, Lex Luger, Ric Flair, and Randy Savage all on the WCW list.

Tag Teams: WCW wins, as a Harlem Heat-led tag division beats the one led by Owen Hart and Yokozuna.

Supercards: WWF wins, which makes sense given PPVs such as WrestleMania, the Royal Rumble, SummerSlam, and Survivor Series.

Roster Depth: WCW wins, and I’m not sure I’d disagree given the variety of talent on WCW’s roster in January of 1996.

TV Production: WCW wins, with the big deciding factor being WCW going live weekly while WWF was taped.

Outlook for the Future: WCW wins, and well, I don’t know that this will hold up very well! Of course, in the short term though, this was right on the money.

The Verdict: WCW wins 4-3. Agree or disagree?

Close-Up: Arn Anderson

Pulling glocks on his opponents since ’82!

PWI 1996 Arn

The 1995 Wrestling Awards

PWI wants your picks for its 1995 Wrestling Awards. Since I’m pretty sure I have the full 1996 set, we’ll get to those eventually.

For those who want to submit their ballots 25 years after the fact, here were the categories:

Rookie of the Year
Most Improved Wrestler of the Year
Inspirational Wrestler of the Year
Comeback of the Year
Most Popular Wrestler of the Year
Most Hated Wrestler of the Year
Manager of the Year
Feud of the Year
Match of the Year
Tag Team of the Year
Wrestler of the Year
Your “Unofficial Official” Award

Solo Sunny

Jim from Boston loved the Sunny and Skip centerfold in a recent PWI issue, but he asks the age-old question: Will he ever get to see Sunny by herself?

PWI promises he will, and notes that it has “some hot photos” in the files.

Scandalous stuff!

Scouting Report

The featured talents in this edition were Jerry Lawler, Paul Orndorff, Dean Malenko, Savio Vega, and Raven.

Among Lawler’s strengths was his motormouth, while his weaknesses were being hypocritical. He was not seen as a serious WWF title contender entering 1996, with his time spent on “cooking up schemes to humiliate Bret Hart and other WWF fan favorites” seen as a detriment to his improvement in the ring.

As for Orndorff, you had to view his fearlessness and piledriver as strengths, with PWI pondering if he’s be better off in tag team competition in 1996.

Malenko is a man of many mat skills, though he’s seen as “bland.” He has a promising 1996 outlook due to his incredible stamina and athleticism.

Vega has “Tyson-like stature” despite being too streaky, and PWI throws down the gauntlet for him to do some work before joining the WWF’s elite.

Raven is viewed as “surprisingly studious” despite having bad hair (hilarious), and there’s plenty of unpredictability about what he’ll achieve in 1996.

PWI’s Official Ratings For January 1996

Another classic staple of the PWI mags. I would get furious about my favorite wrestlers being ranked too low. Let’s see what we think about this month’s ratings:

Top 10

1. Diesel
2. Hulk Hogan
3. Shawn Michaels
4. Sting
5. Yokozuna
6. Randy Savage
7. Bret Hart
8. Lex Luger
9. Razor Ramon
10. Waylon Mercy

Tag Teams

1. The Smokin’ Gunns
2. Harlem Heat
3. Marcus Bagwell and Scotty Riggs
4. Owen Hart and Yokozuna
5. PG-13
6. Bunkhouse Buck and Dick Slater
7. Eli and Jacob Blu
8. The Heavenly Bodies
9. The Pitbulls
10. Maxx Crimson and Jimmy Deo

Most Popular

1. Shawn Michaels
2. Hulk Hogan
3. Sting
4. Diesel
5. The Undertaker
6. Bret Hart
7. Razor Ramon
8. Lex Luger
9. Alex Wright
10. Barry Horowitz

Most Hated

1. Kevin Sullivan
2. Dean Douglas
3. Ric Flair
4. Davey Boy Smith
5. Jerry Lawler
6. Diamond Dallas Page
7. Jean-Pierre Lafitte
8. Mabel
9. Skip
10. Sid Vicious


Triple Crown Champion: Mitsuharu Misawa
1. Toshiaka Kawada
2. The Great Muta
3. Koji Kanemoto
4. Rey Misterio Jr.
5. Perro Aguayo
6. Antonio Inoki
7. Sabu
8. Hiroshi Hase
9. Stan Hansen
10. Gary Albright

Promotional Consideration Paid for by the Following

Your random assortment of mail-in promotions in this edition of PWI:

PWI 1996 IWA

IWA CHALLENGE – I was always a big fan of Wildfire Johnny Rage, but my guess is Taz loved Bodybag Jones.

RAMPAGE WRESTLING – From Lance Haffner Games, the most realistic strategy/simulation computer games on the market! You could play with over 400 pro wrestlers in singles, tag team, 3-man tag, and rumble matches. 30 men in the ring at once, folks! And who didn’t love complete printouts of match action? Gotta be honest, I don’t remember playing this, but I know a lot of folks did.

WCW FALL BRAWL 1995 VIDEO – For only $49.95 each (plus $5 shipping and handling), you can get three hours of Fall Brawl 1995 on VHS. Having watched that show a few months ago, this VHS may be considered a bad investment at this point, even if it did have Ric Flair vs. Arn Anderson and a stellar 30-minute match between Johnny B. Badd and Brian Pillman. Save your money and watch it on the Peacock.

Your Turn

What are your favorite memories from the wrestling world in January of 1996?

Also, if you’re a fan of this wild trip down memory lane, let me know what other publications or years you’d like to see in future columns!

*For more of my thoughts on pro wrestling, subscribe to the 411 On Wrestling podcast and follow me on Twitter @wrestleblake. Thanks for reading!

article topics :

Lex Luger, WCW, WWE, Blake Lovell