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Lex Luger went into Summerslam 1993 as a man surely on the collision course with the WWF Title. The first PPV since the departure of Hulk Hogan lead the company to anoint Luger as the new top babyface – a turn that saw him become the man of the United States, the man of the people. Luger faced Yokozuna, a highly entertaining (in my eyes) but pretty limited wrestler whose shelf life at the top of the company wasn't likely to be all that long. And Luger won – the ticker tape fell from the sky. But he won by count out. Yokozuna retained.
The story here diverges somewhat. The plan with Luger wasn't a case of cold feet, more of a case that the company felt the chase could end up being more compelling if Luger waited until Wrestlemania X to lift the belt. While the logic made some sense – Luger's push had begun less than two months before Summerslam – it also relied on the company being able to keep Luger hot between the two shows. Eventually the company got cold feet, had Luger as the “co-winner” of the Royal Rumble before he was disqualified in his title match at Wrestlemania. You can read more about where it went wrong for Luger here.
This isn't to say the comparison is necessarily here with Reigns, there are very valid comparisons with Diesel that don't translate where Luger is concerned. But part of the problem with Luger after Summerslam was that he failed at the first attempt. You can do whatever you want, you can build a guy however you want, but you can't get that first time back. Luger was meant to be the next Hulk Hogan → Hulk Hogan didn't win his first WWF Title match by count out. While the company kept Luger on top throughout Survivor Series and into the Rumble – it just never stuck after Summerslam. Fans weren't white hot for him at Summerslam, but they were ready.
Where does Reigns come into all of this? On Sunday he faces Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title. While Lesnar was leaving, or while his contract at least was set to expire, it was a formality that Reigns in one shape or form would win the title. But now Lesnar will be staying there's a chance, there's a very logical reason, as to why Lesnar should retain his WWE Title.
Reigns meanwhile has faced a tumultuous rise to the top of the card. In front of a crowd that wanted Daniel Bryan, in front of a crowd that wanted to “chose” the next guy Reigns showed conclusively that it wasn't “an alternative to Cena” - it was their alternative. Reigns has been caught in the crossfire and whether he remains a babyface in some markets or not, he will surely be booed out of the building in front of a super-babyface Lesnar.
But now WWE are in a quandary. Luger illustrated the mistake you can make if you fall at the first time of asking. You can do what you like after that – it's very difficult to get that momentum back. And make no mistake – the build for Luger's run into Summerslam was near flawless, something that Reigns cannot point to. The WWE have created a situation where if they give Reigns the belt he turns into Diesel, and if they have Reigns lose he turns into Lex Luger. Good luck with that one.