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Re: 20 years Ago: Wrestling Observer
September 11, 1995: Lex Luger jumps back to WCW
Luger (Larry Pfohl, 37), reached an agreement for what is believed to be a guaranteed contract with WCW's Eric Bischoff and attorney Nick Lambrose on 8/31, a deal that was kept so hush-hush that even the wrestlers in both WWF and WCW were shocked when Luger showed up in Minneapolis' Mall of America for the debut show. At press time, complete details of how everything transpired aren't available but whatever scenario is true brings up serious judgmental questions about WWF and Vince McMahon.
Luger had been a focal part of the WWF television tapings on 8/28 in Canton, OH and 8/29 in Erie, PA, including having a television main event match with Mabel that was scheduled for Superstars on the weekend of 9/9 where would have been left laying after a DQ win by Men on a Mission and Davey Boy Smith. Whether this airs and the commentary track (which is usually put together in mid-week) makes references to the beating scaring Luger so bad he left or something of that ilk, or the match is erased and Luger is never referred to again is a decision that will have to be made. Because the interview where Luger issued the challenge for Mabel has already aired, they may air the match although it would air after fans have seen Luger on Nitro, so if I was to bet, I'd say the match doesn't air and they'll replay something from Raw to fill in the holes on both shows and Luger won't be referred to again.
Both Luger and Bischoff were claiming that Luger was working WWF without a contract, thus was free to leave WWF on a moment's notice. Why McMahon would push someone without a contract (a similar situation to Randy Savage) after the Savage situation is questionable enough. It's even more questionable being Luger, who it was well-known that just a few weeks ago was involved in serious negotiations with WCW for basically the same situation and angle that he ended up doing. Indeed, while the first set of negotiations between Luger and Bischoff were going on, word from Titan was that Luger did have a contract which expired in late October. That meant for Luger to have appeared on this show, he would have had to have been released by Titan from his contract. Since the primary reason both groups sign wrestlers to wrestling contracts (as opposed to merchandising contracts) in the first place is to prevent exactly what happened in this case, and McMahon's contracts have been strong enough to prevent several big name wrestlers, Bret Hart and Ted DiBiase among them, from going to WCW in the past for bigger money guaranteed deals, why McMahon in this situation would let Luger go is an even bigger question. Even more because Luger basically thumbed his nose at the WWF in his first interview saying that the WCW belt was the only world title in wrestling and that he was tired of wrestling with kids and wanted to be with the big boys.
The Luger deal had fallen apart a few weeks back over money, WCW was only willing to offer him $1,000 per night with no guarantee of a number of dates per year, but apparently was put back together when the future of Vader in WCW became cloudy after a brawl at Center Stage the day before prior to a television taping with WCW booking committee member Orndorff. Vader's future in WCW was still not determined as of Tuesday morning. WCW had counted on doing an angle at the first Nitro show to set up a "surprise" Hogan vs. Vader WCW title match for 9/11 (there was even some talk about Vader winning the title on that show to be the big jolt to get fans to think Nitro was the show not to miss on Monday's, although you can guess where that idea got vetoed along the way) on the first Nitro vs. Raw head-to-head match-up. In addition, Vader was a key component of the War Games PPV show on 9/17. Before signing Luger, it appeared WCW may have had its hands tied because Vader was such a key part of the PPV and because the company was desperate for a killer world title match to grab ratings points the next week and were almost desperate enough to go to the well for another Hogan vs. Flair match. If Vader was to be let go for disciplinary reasons and it would hold up legally to the point they wouldn't have to pay Vader off, it would open up an estimated $625,000 to $750,000 in annual salary. At the time of the negotiations with Luger, that appeared to be the thought process within WCW. Opening up of this much money allowed them to put a guaranteed deal on the table for Luger, which is what he had been looking for all along. If the decision is made to get rid of Vader, which from most accounts depends more on lawyers' interpretations of what would hold up in court as far as just cause for dismissal, Luger would almost certainly take his place on the face side of the War Games. It has also been discussed putting Luger into a new Four Horseman group with Ric Flair, Arn Anderson and Brian Pillman (previously either Orndorff or Chris Benoit had been talked about to be the final member of that group).
Luger worked WWF dates in Canada over the weekend before arriving in Minneapolis. He showed his face during the opening moments of the Flair vs. Sting match, walking down the aisle and smirking. Later in the show, after Hogan had beaten Big Bubba Rogers in a WWF title match, Hogan was attacked by the Dungeon of Doom. Luger did a run-in saving Hogan and the two cleared the ring, then bumped into each other and started yelling at each other. After a commercial break, during an interview Luger, who didn't indicate going either face or heel, issued the challenge for a title match with several not so subtle remarks about both the WWF and its title, which was agreed upon with a handshake between the two, for the 9/11 Nitro. Ironically, that was originally to be the main event on the 9/11 Nitro in an angle that first was supposed to be set up at the WCW press conference in New York, but fell apart because the money deal wasn't put together. Hogan and Luger have never wrestled one another previously and the original deal a few weeks ago was Luger was simply to be brought in for the rating and to add a notch in Hogan's belt buckle but that may have changed if the investment in Luger is more sizeable. It also continues Luger's amazing streak of earning more money in pro wrestling while accomplishing less than any wrestler in history. Luger's string of earning big money either from guaranteed contracts or incredible main event pushes based more on perceived potential than any track record appeared to have run out when he and Davey Boy Smith were made into a tag team in WWF, originally groomed to capture the WWF tag title, but since the team failed to get over in the slightest, plans again were changed and Smith didn't even do his major turn on Luger for fear it would hold Smith back as a potential top heel to turn on someone that the fans didn't care about. While Luger was going to get a high mid-card position as a singles face in WWF, the money that position garners is far less than the $350,000 to $500,000 contracts he's had in wrestling going back to his first incredible deal with Jim Crockett in 1987 when Crockett was convinced largely from Apter magazine press that Luger was going to be bigger than Hulk Hogan. He was also the only wrestler ever to receive a guaranteed money deal from Titan, in the guise of a bodybuilding contract as opposed to a wrestling contract which lured him from WCW at the time he was its world champion. While the WWF deal, reportedly a two-year $350,000 deal, cut his salary from what his WCW contract was at the time (believed to be $500,000), but was a cushier deal because he didn't have to take bumps for a year and had minimal travelling (and travel expenses) in comparison to the lifestyle of a pro wrestler. The contract carried over into pro wrestling when the WBF folded, where Luger first failed to get over as the heel The Narcissist, then after a face turn and one of the biggest pushes in the history of the business, failed to get over as a face and the plans of building the company's future around him were abandoned.
With the exception of a brief period in 1988 when he turned face for the first time and worked with Flair and Anderson at house shows, Luger has never in his career shown any real drawing power either as a face or as a heel despite an almost incredible number of chances. In fact, going back to the late 1991/early 1992 period when he was a heel world champion in WCW, WCW gates actually markedly increased on shows that Luger, the group's world champion, didn't appear in comparison to shows that he did because when he didn't appear, it pushed the then far more effective Rick Rude to the focal point of the house shows.
Nevertheless, WCW couldn't have done a better job for building a rating for its 9/11 show. Whether it will be enough to make a dent in the traditionally strong Raw rating is a question that will be answered next week, but there was no possible scenario WCW could have pulled off that would have been any more effective at a one show rating. When a wrestler jumps promotion, they become a fresh character at the beginning. The problem is, three months from now, when that freshness wears off, WCW will have the same Lex Luger with a big guaranteed contract. But Luger deserves all the credit in the world because making more money than anyone in history with only a minimal track record of effectiveness on top is not a statement to be associated with a dummy.
The White/Orndorff situation took place Wednesday afternoon, several hours before the television taping at Center Stage. White, who according to one report, had arrived late at the building, was told by Orndorff that they wanted him out for interviews with Gene Okerlund. It should be noted that for whatever reason, there was prior heat between the two of them before this took place. White was taking his time and Orndorff started yelling at him, not in as much a bad way as a way that one would figure a high school football coach yelling at a player. WCW officials were saying that if they didn't hurry up and finish the interviews, they'd have to pay dinner pay for the crew because they were already behind schedule. White growled at Orndorff. At this point according to eye witness reports, White and Orndorff traded words, which turned into a cussing contest and grew more heated for several minutes, at which point Orndorff reportedly called White a fat prima-donna. The two by this point were swearing at each other chest-to-chest when reportedly Orndorff told White to make his move. After more of a chest-to-chest swearing contest, White threw a palm blow to the chest which knocked Orndorff down. Orndorff got up and went to tackle White, and while this was going on, the other wrestlers largely did what was described as a pathetic pull-apart. With everyone around, Orndorff threw a perfect left (which is his weak arm) to White's head and knocked him silly, with White hitting the deck. At this point Orndorff threw kick after kick at the stunned White's face while White tried to cover up in the fetal position on the ground before it was broken up. Orndorff was wearing sandles so it minimized the damage from the kicks as compared to the cowboy boots that most wrestlers wear. White's face was a mess at this point with both eyes puffed up from the kicks and a bloody lip and if Orndorff had been wearing cowboy boots, the potential damage could have been very serious.
White was stunned on the ground for several minutes before he finally got his bearings together. When he finally recovered, he went to the office that Orndorff was in and the two started arguing again and went to blows, this time they traded punches with Orndorff coming out of it was a black eye and bloody lip and White, who went into the room with a messed up face, came out even messier before the two were separated again. At this point White was sent home and was pulled from the taping. Orndorff, with a black eye, worked his scheduled squash match at the taping with Barry Houston. Orndorff became something of a John Wayne type hero in the front office since White outweighed him by around 200 pounds and is seven years younger (39 to 46) and Orndorff, who has had a reputation as being a tough guy going back to the early 80s, came out of the confrontation in far better shape. There used to be a joke in wrestling because Orndorff was an avid hunter, that Orndorff really didn't need a weapon to go hunting.
Recognizing that pro wrestlers are a unique breed and when you get large and powerful men, most of whom are relatively tough, in an environment where they do fake fights and attempt to rile themselves up as much as possible to create heat both in the ring and on interviews for a living, tempers will flare. White himself has a reputation for taking quite a while after a match to "come down" from his overly aggressive and violent Vader persona and has been known to punch out things like walls and lockers "coming down." Nevertheless, WCW does need to set a standard of conduct so that wrestlers and supervisors aren't out there challenging each other to fights. Although White has been cast as the villain since he reportedly threw the first blow, and Orndorff as the big hero since he was half his size and in a sense won the fight, if the situation went as every eye-witness description has it, both were at fault and some reprimands are necessary for each. A supervisor shouldn't be telling a guy to make your move, particularly with other wrestlers watching thus the macho image would be hurt if either backed down. It invited rather than diffused a situation where either or both could have been seriously injured. Of course, it's also easy to play Monday morning quarterback and it's a totally different situation when you've got a 430-pound man in your face.
Orndorff said he would have no problem with White coming back and didn't want to stand in the way of a decision to bring him back. According to WCW sources, White is said to have been apologetic for everything that happened. Still, two signs that White being brought back is far from a certainty are both the appearance of Luger taking Vader's spot on the 9/11 show, and the fact that during the entire Nitro broadcast, Vader's name was never uttered except in a pre-produced War Games commercial. Since White is known for being very smart when it comes to his personal business, losing this deal over something like this would be a huge mistake. According to one source, he's gotten several extensions and raises using various things such as UWFI as leverage, so his guaranteed $625,000 to $750,000 per year deal is valid according to sources through 1998 or 1999. If he were to go to WWF, which would be the almost certain end result if WCW wouldn't take him back, he'd be working four times as much for a lot less money. He'd be far more recognized in airports and would almost surely get a lengthy run as the top heel in the company, but at 39 with a history of back and knee problems, I'm not sure that takes precedence over a guaranteed contract. Not to mention that at his weight and with the bumps he takes and type of matches he works on the big shows, he's been very injury prone and has missed numerous house shows even on the relatively easier WCW road schedule. He does have a great track record when it comes to putting on great matches on the major shows and there has never been anyone his size anywhere close to his level as a worker.