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Lex Luger won't go down in wrestling history as a big missed opportunity, a very good body but with little else to write home about, Luger will likely feel as a guy who was always pushed more than he ever got over. But in 1993-94 it was less about why, and more about how Luger failed to become a WWF Champion.
Luger had an unremarkable run in the WWF in 1993 as a heel, the “Narcissist” character failing to really get anywhere with a focus on the metal plate in Luger's forearm and him being pre-occupied with himself looking in a full length mirror before his matches.
But Hulk Hogan's departure from the company after King of the Ring 1993 opened a door for a new babyface a top the WWF tree. Luger made an abrupt babyface turn as “The All American” - made in the USA. He was less the heir to Hulk Hogan and more the second coming - the medium length blonde hair and chiseled physique more than just a coincidence. In WWF's defence, as we discussed on the inagural edition of the podcast, Luger's case against the likes of Bret Hart and The Undertaker wasn't all bad. Hart too Canadian, Undertaker too much of a character.
The big debut of the babyface came on the USS Intreprid on July 4th 1993, as huge WWF Champion Yokozuna was inviting people to attempt to bodyslam him. Challengers included Crush and the Macho Man Randy Savage as well as a host of American sports stars, but the giant sumo wrestler couldn't be moved. Luger would arrive by helicopter, decked out in red, white and blue, and with the help of the metal plate in his forearm he would complete the challenge.
The bus was on the move by this point, literally, as Luger was shorn of most WWF TV commitments to complete a “call to action” bus tour across the country – hugging mothers and children and all in between. Luger's run into Summerslam to face the Champion was completed about as well as it possibly could have been... but then he lost.
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Well, actually, he didn't. Luger won the match – but by count out. The forearm would knock out the giant Yokozuna, but he would fall out of the ring. Luger would continue as a feature performer for the WWF right through until Wrestlemania X, main eventing Survivor Series in victory against the “foreign menaces”, then 'tying' for the Royal Rumble victory with Bret Hart. Luger's hat-trick of so near yet so far would be completed at Wrestlemania, where he would be disqualified by special guest referee Mr Perfect in the first of two WWF title matches on that show. While Luger was seemingly being moved into a program with Hennig, the title found its way into the hands of Bret Hart. Luger's great run of luck continued as Perfect would leave the company not long after – he would transition into a mid card feud with Tatanka. Luger's time at the top of the WWF, if he ever got the chance, was over.
What went wrong? Reaction's to Luger at Summerslam weren't exactly ground-breaking (Undertaker and Bret Hart were more popular with the live crowd). But finding an explanation for Luger not winning the title at Summerslam is extremely difficult. There's no metric you can point to between July 4th and the PPV a month later that seemed to indicate Luger wasn't being well received – Luger's bus tour limited him to one appearance on Raw before the show. It's said that Vince McMahon decided to wait, believing the wait for the triumph at Wrestlemania would be worth it. Luger was even taped walking out with the title belt on Raw a month before the pay per view.
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Luger's push after Summerslam continued in earnest, he would be a focal point at Survivor Series and right through until Wrestlemania. The common opinion seems to be Luger didn't win the championship because he wasn't over, but there's an equal argument to be made that Luger didn't get over because he didn't win the title. Luger seemed to fit the Vince McMahon mould – his body and look was arguably stronger than Hogan's, even if Luger had about 5% of the charisma of Hogan.
Luger not becoming a superstar in the WWF was likely a formality anyway. His in ring work was too rigid, his promos were above average for the time in the company, but certainly nothing Luger will be remembered for. But in an era where Yokozuna and Diesel would become champion, Luger not at least being given a run with the title is perplexing even to this day. Would much have changed had Luger won the title in 1993? Probably not, he likely loses the title to Bret Hart at Wrestlemania anyway, but explaining how Luger never wore the gold is one that I, and Luger himself, will perhaps never truly fathom.