On this day in Pro Wrestling history, Lex Luger shocked the world by defeating “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan to become WCW World Heavyweight Champion on the August 4th, 1997 edition of WCW Monday Nitro. This was the first time that Hogan lost the title belt since winning the WCW Title at WCW’s Hog Wild 1996 Pay Per View and as a member of the New World Order (NWO). 26 years ago, the biggest moment of Lex Luger’s career happened…
But it almost didn’t happen.
Before rejoining WCW during 1995, things weren’t going so well in Luger’s career. Lots of pushes to the top, but then letdowns whenever the World Title was talked about. Thanks to Luger’s physique, he was always pushed towards World Titles but political issues or creative changes happened.
– During 1988, Dusty Rhodes was pushing for Luger to become WCW World Champion, but Ric Flair had other ideas. Luger was very green back then and Flair felt that he was carrying most of the matches. Flair had his eyes on Sting as being the next biggest superstar instead, which he put over during 1990.
– During 1991, same issue from 1988 happened, but this time, Jim Herd was pushing hard to get the title off of Ric Flair and put the title onto Luger. Ric Flair refused, knowing that it would be the end of his main event push and WCW career. Ultimately, Ric Flair was fired.
– During 1993, Lex Luger was turned babyface and into the “All American” gimmick after bodyslamming Yokozuna. He was supposed to go over Yoko at SummerSlam, but the title was kept on Yokozuna via the most celebrated count-out finish ever.
– During 1994, the reason that Luger didn’t win at SummerSlam 93 was to properly go over Yokozuna at Wrestlemania 10. However, WWE didn’t like the reactions they were seeing with Luger and went with Bret Hart instead.
After Wrestlemania 10, Luger was not out of the WWE Title scene and eventually began wrestling in the Tag Team division. He knew that was over and by 1995, his contract was set to expire.
BUT, Eric Bischoff, who was about to launch WCW Nitro, was reluctant on signing Luger. Bischoff, who was an announcer during Luger’s last years with WCW, wasn’t impressed by his talents then or how he exited WCW. Luger somehow had fixed number of dates on his contract, per year, and caused friction during late 1991 when he wasn’t working beyond those dates. Furthermore, during 1992, he negotiated an exit out of his WCW contract and joined the WWE by signing a contract with the World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) as a workaround of breaching his negotiated WCW exit. This left a sour taste in Bischoff’s mouth during 1995 when Luger’s WWE deal was up.
Sting, who is one of Luger’s best friends in the business, was pushing for Luger to be signed. Bischoff, who remembered Luger’s previous WCW tenure, only agreed to Sting’s insistence by offering Luger a lowball financial contract to join WCW. To Eric Bischoff’s SHOCK, Luger took the low deal to join WCW. Then, Eric Bischoff was about to maximize the value on this incredibly low deal by the way he presented Lex Luger on the very first edition of WCW Nitro on September 4th, 1995.
During 1993, Eric Bischoff assumed managerial duties of World Championship Wrestling (WCW) and by 1995, he began to turn a profit. WCW was always losing money for Ted Turner, so Bischoff made bold choices like cutting back on houseshows, savings costs on taping locations, and taping months of television on one night. Though the quality dipped a bit on WCW shows, it fixed WCW’s finances to “set the table” for 1995-1998’s booming of growth. Furthermore, it freed up cash to sign free agents such as Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, and of course, Lex Luger. Well, at least not the first contract, but the next contract for Luger reportedly during 1997 was quite lucrative (may have included a WCW Title promise, reportedly). Through the Summer of 1995, Ted Turner saw Bischoff being successful and inquired about creating a new prime time show. WCW Nitro was born and it would be placed on Monday Nights to compete with WWE RAW.
Back in August 1995, many laughed at WCW for even trying to be on Monday Nights. Yet, what many didn’t know was how much WWE was declining to be a close equal to WCW. Having a roster with Hogan, Ric Flair, Savage, and Sting was quite impressive and adding Lex Luger would bolster it more. Plus, WCW had this young kid named Paul Wight who went by “The Giant” and also Diamond Dallas Page beginning to hit his peak as a performer. Bischoff was quietly raiding the independents, ECW, and other countries’ promotions to seriously STACK his midcard. All Eric needed was a big break to focus his many efforts to revitalize WCW for the world to see. WCW Monday Nitro was big from the start and Lex Luger was the cherry on top.
Go watch the WCW Nitro debut from September 4th, 1995… It’s hilarious, because it looks like the “same old WCW” by resembling the older wrestling style by continually trying a new gimmick, such as being hosted in the Mall of America in Minnesota. However, the show was LIVE and Eric Bischoff was killing it at the announcer’s table with a ton of energy. Then, the ending happened and Lex Luger just suddenly appears during the main event.
Why was Luger’s appearance so impressive? Because he was still appearing on television and at houseshows through early September of 1995. In fact, if you were at the September 3rd houseshow, you would have witnessed Luger wrestling on a Saturday in a tag match with Shawn Michaels against Owen Hart/Yokozuna. Just 2 days later, he appeared on WCW Nitro! Reportedly, Luger gave no notice to Vince McMahon of his exit. Luger’s contract had expired during August 1995 and they were working on a handshake agreement for nightly appearances, possibly as an extension may (or may not) have been worked on. Instead of continuing his midcard work with WWE, Luger made the big leap. Hence why during March 2001, Vince McMahon is ripping Luger to shreds during the night where WWE bought WCW and why Luger NEVER appeared as a wrestler again for WWE.
What made Luger’s WCW appearance GREAT on 9/4/1995 was Eric Bischoff’s hype of “what in the hell is he doing here???”, as if it was totally unplanned. Luger was dressed in nice clothing, which was a major contrast to his goofy “All American” look in WWE. Luger would further add to this changed look by consistently wearing black tights and white boots, which in my opinion, was a great decision. Later, Luger would confront Hulk Hogan for a potential WCW Title shot. HOLY COW, we have NEVER seen that match-up before! Right after Hogan left WWE during 1993, that’s when his clone, All American Lex Luger, tried to pick up the ball after him. It was perfectly done and it made you immediately wanting a BIG match-up between Luger and Hogan.
Luger’s career was revitalized thanks to the debut on WCW Nitro… Furthermore, I liked his new character. He could act as a babyface when tagging up with Sting, but Luger had a heel side, too, when associating himself with the Dungeon of Doom. Tweeners weren’t really a thing during 1995 and early 1996, but Luger pulled it of when needed. Furthermore, the tweak to his wrestling ability was nice, as WWE was always trying to use the “loaded” forearm as his finisher but the Human Torture Rack was what many WCW fans loved instead. He’d used the forearm to set up the rack in WCW, often throwing up the signals and poses that the Rack was coming. He was cutting good promos in WCW, too, which showed major growth and experience. His in-ring wrestling ability, though it was never awful, was tighter and easy for his opponents to use. Luger had matured through 1995 as a performer and was actually ready for his peak years.
Then, the NWO arrived and Luger was on the Bash at the Beach 1996 team that lost to Scott Hall and Kevin Nash. Many thought Luger could be the 3rd man, after he was injured during the match, but that wasn’t the case… While Luger wasn’t as present during the rest of 1996 to combat the NWO, but when The Giant was kicked out of the NWO, Luger befriended him and this friendship made for a solid babyface duo to challenge the NWO. In fact, at Superbrawl 1997 (WCW’s February PPV), Luger and the Giant defeated Scott Hall & Kevin Nash to win the WCW Tag Titles! This Giant/Luger friendship worked and became a great anti-NWO babyface sensation… Then, WCW began to think about really pushing Lex Luger as a singles wrestler against Hulk Hogan.
With Sting in the rafters, Diamond Dallas Page in the middle of a battle with Macho Man Randy Savage, there was a real need for a top babyface star to stand up for WCW. Luger, thanks to rehabbing the Giant back into the WCW fold, fit the mold perfectly. Luger became the #1 contender for Hogan’s WCW Title and then teamed up with the Giant to take on Dennis Rodman and Hulk Hogan at Bash at the Beach 1997. That’s 2 BatB events in a row that Luger headlined and he was on Team WCW both times. That match ended with Luger making Hogan tap out to the Human Torture Rack.
Through August 4th, 1996, WCW Nitro expanded to 3 hours (major mistake that would burn out their fans later, especially as WCW Thunder arrived during early 1998) and to celebrate that, the show was headlined by Lex Luger vs. “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan in front of a RED HOT crowd that was 100% behind Lex Luger. The 2 year build up from the first WCW Nitro during September 1995 was about to pay off. The match was great, too, as it featured the strengths between both wrestlers and it was a very clear GOOD vs. EVIL match-up. Then, as the match wound down, the NWO members tried to interfere but each (Savage, Nash, Hall) failed to land any hits on Luger. He cleared all 3 from the ring and that led Hulk Hogan completely vulnerable to receive the Human Torture Rack. Luger signaled it, the crowd went bonkers, and Hogan then submitted. New WCW Champion and Luger celebrated the win as if it was the biggest thing in his professional career (which it was).
Then, the segments AFTER the Hogan vs. Luger match really iced the importance of this match. The babyfaces cleared the locker room and entered the ring to celebrate the win. It was great, too, as many of them had their own issues with the NWO and this was a breakthrough relief for the WCW brand. Then, backstage, they celebrated like sports stars by spraying Champaign everywhere while the Giant was trying to remove the “NWO” spray-paint with paint thinner. It was quite a moment that we rarely see in wrestling, actually, and clearly defined Team WCW versus Team NWO. Meanwhile, Hogan was backstage screaming at his own NWO members and throwing furniture. Things were heated, as if the NWO was going to actually fall apart after this loss.
Well, it didn’t… 6 days later at WCW Road Wild 1997, Hogan regained the WCW Title…
In many ways, Luger’s GREAT victory on this day in pro wrestling history, 26 years later, was what WCW should have done with Sting just 4 months later. Luger beat Hulk Hogan 100% cleanly, without any doubt compared to the controversial ending at Starrcade 1997 between Sting and Hogan. That finish tainted Sting’s victory over Hogan and made his big win look WEAK in comparison to what Lex Luger did just 4 months earlier. Furthermore, Sting’s character had no connection to the babyface wrestlers like Luger did. Luger inspired The Giant to become a functionable part of Team WCW again and grew to be a leader that everyone respected during 1997. Also, by cleanly defeating Hulk Hogan and then seeing a frustrated Hogan afterward, the NWO dynasty was finally showing cracks. After Sting vs. Hogan, that feeling that the NWO was in trouble just wasn’t there because of the controversial finish.
Luger could have become an even bigger star, but Road Wild 1997 happened and Luger dropped the title back to the Hulkster.
And sadly, from there, Lex Luger would never see his career go to that kind of heights. His interactions with the NWO was reduced and by 1998, he joined the NWO Wolfpack. By early 1999, he was part of the merged NWO group that nobody cared about. He’d take some time off for injury and then return as the “Total Package” with Miss Elizabeth as his manager. Then, the WWE acquisition of WCW happened and Vince McMahon was not about to buy his expensive Time Warner contract. Worse yet, Vince mocked him hard on the final WCW Nitro.
Then, personal issues happened to Luger… Miss Elizabeth, whom Luger had been dating, passed away from mixing pills and alcohol. Luger was then arrested following her death after investigators searched their home and found performance enhancing substances tied to Luger. A few years later, Luger’s health began to fail through his spinal cord and to this day, he has difficulty walking and is seen using a wheelchair for assistance. He’s also not the jacked up guy that most people remember, as he’s much thinner today.
Stuff tragically happens to people worldwide, and bad injuries, substance abuse, and even death are more rampant among the wrestling profession. There’s a demand on wrestlers to stay perfectly fit, work 300+ dates per year, and to live out of a suitcase. That kind of lifestyle would drive most people insane for just 1 year, but Luger did it for around 15 years at major promotions. Furthermore, the wrestling business lacked any safeguards on substance abuse, concussions, and workload that it does now. Late 1990s wrestling pushed everything to its limits and everybody took what they could to get by.
Luger has since become more into religion, while also being seen at his kids’ sporting events attempting to make up for lost time. He also appears throughout the country at wrestling conventions and events to say hi to his fans and sign whatever autograph they need. Ironic, as many of Luger’s critics during his early days suggested that he wasn’t as attached to pro wrestling as other talent were. Yet through today, he recognizes the great connections that he made with many wrestling fans and has tried to give back to the profession that made him a household name.
Nobody can deny that his August 4th, 1997 victory over Hulk Hogan was one of the greatest moments in pro wrestling history. It was tremendous watching it live and such a shame that Luger dropped the title so quickly back to Hogan, especially in hindsight with Sting not receiving the best finish with Hogan just 4 months later.
26 years ago in Pro Wrestling history, Lex Luger shocked the world by defeating Hulk Hogan cleanly for the WCW Title. What a great moment in history!