Mark for War: American Zero
The latter was actually quite genius. The WWE erected a ring on the USS Intrepid in the New York City area and had a bunch of fans pack the ship (probably for free) to see if anyone could slam the anti-American WWE Champ, Yokozuna (who had never been slammed before). A bunch of jobbers, mid-carders, football players, body builders, and dudes in Gold’s Gym tank tops failed miserably.
After Randy Savage, arguably the only over guy in the contest, gave it his shot, a helicopter descended upon the Intrepid, and one final contestant emerged.
Twenty-two years ago, I was at home in front of my TV in suburban Chicago watching this live. Now I’m not going to lie to you: I, and pretty much everyone in the crowd, was certain Hulk Hogan was getting out of that helicopter. I can’t remember if he was on Thunder in Paradise, or full-fledged WCW at this point, but it just made sense for it to be Hogan. He was the hero who was called upon to slay all bad guys in epic fashion, especially the anti-American ones.
No Hogan. A rebranded Lex Luger emerged from the chopper instead.
I have to give WWE props on their original booking of Lex Luger upon his debut in the league a mere six months before this. He was billed as The Narcissist Lex Luger, a total asshole who was completely obsessed with himself and his body. He had a series of awesome vignettes leading up to his debut, and an amazing theme song to boot. It’s actually reminds me a lot of the Goldust theme, which came about four years after this.
In my opinion, The Narcissist gimmick failed because the WWE didn’t have a good face for him to feud with. His best feud, if you want to call it that, was with a baby faced Mr. Perfect. It was a feud fueled by two massive narcissistic egos, one being a fan favorite and one being a heel. Kind of doesn’t make any sense.
That said, the gimmick was dropped and we got a rebranded American Hero Lex Luger poised for a big push. This slam started this push, and kicked off the legendary Lex Express tour in the summer of ’93. A large tour bus containing Luger went from town to town, posted up in parking lots of malls, Dairy Queens and such. Lex would shake hands and kiss babies, much like any politician would do on a campaign. I can’t prove this, but something tells me Luger flew in for each event, signed the autographs, and then flew home, while someone drove the bus from state to state. I pray that I’m wrong.
It worked, I guess? Lex had a busy summer that year, all of which culiminated with a massive clash with Yokozuna at Summerslam. Luger won the match via countout, even though the match had “clean victory title change” written all over it during the build up. I think WWE bookers realized that the crowd wasn’t responding to Luger the way they had anticipated, especially with the entire tour that proceeded this match.
It’s for this reason, believe it or not, that the Lex Luger character actually and appropriately represents independence.
Prior to Luger’s American Hero run, seemingly anyone WWE put money and a push behind, good or bad, became huge. I think the WWE was starting to see that they weren’t full-fledged climate controllers. The fans were the deciders.
In this case, ironically enough, the fans wanted a Canadian hero to fight their battles for them. Bret Hart, unlike Luger, had a grass roots campaign since the early 80s. He opened cards, came up the tag team ranks, won the IC belt, and beat Ric Flair at a house show to win his first WWE championship (which he lost a mere month later). He did a lot more to earn his presence in the Main Event conversation then showing up and slamming a dude while wearing an American flag shirt.
And this all came to pass. Lex Luger slowly faded in to obscurity after the summer of ’93. Bret was crowned undisputed champion at the following Wrestlemania, and the WWE fans had their hero for the next half-decade: a non-body builder, non-cheeseball gimmick workhorse that broke down the doors for how a top guy had to look and act in WWE. I’d argue that if fans weren’t so cheesed out by Luger’s summer of ’93 push, they wouldn’t have been so willing to run away from everything he represented and embrace what ultimately became the building blocks for the groundbreaking Attitude Era of the late 90s.
But this 4th of July, watch the highways and byways of Anytown USA. The Lex Express is still out there. You might catch a glimpse. Who’s driving you ask?
Match of the Week: The Lex Express “Hero” music video
While we’re at it, why don’t we all watch the saddest wrestling montage music video ever?