While the Fourth of July marks the birth of America, it’s also the day when a new age was supposed to dawn in WWE. But what came bursting forth like fireworks on Independence Day in 1993 fizzled out just as quickly.
Thirty years ago, Vince McMahon began building Lex Luger to be the new face of his company as longtime attraction Hulk Hogan was on his way out. To get him there, McMahon staged an event on the deck of the USS Intrepid where Luger body slammed World Champion and foreign menace Yokozuna, a 500-pound sumo-style heel who, with his manager Mr. Fuji, had been on a crusade to destroy America.
Over the next few weeks, Luger began traveling the country in a red, white, and blue tour bus dubbed the Lex Express, drumming up support for his campaign to win the WWE title. Each stop saw him meet blue-collar folks, sign autographs, and pose for pictures as WWE filmed it all and set it to a cheesy yet classic montage worthy of being in a Rocky film.
But despite the appearances of stars and stripes, not all was sunshine and rainbows, according to longtime WWE employee Bruce Prichard on his Something to Wrestle podcast, who said Luger hated everything about the campaign.
“Our talent [Luger] didn’t want to be on the bus. He wanted to stay at the Marriott. He wanted to take a plane to the next stop and meet the bus in the next town, which kind of kills the idea of hitting all these small towns doing a grassroots promotion, and going out and touching all the people.
“And Lex wasn’t the most amiable guy in the world, especially at the time. He didn’t really enjoy his fans. As a matter of fact, the more that they gathered around, the more standoffish he was. He didn’t want to be on the bus. He didn’t want to go out and shake hands and kiss babies, which is what we wanted him to do.”
Still, all signs pointed to Luger winning the gold, as WWE shot footage of him wearing the title weeks before his showdown with Yokozuna.
At SummerSlam, Luger was victorious, and the party was on. Confetti rained down from the rafters of The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan as a host of friends and superstars hoisted Luger on their shoulders as he waved the American flag around with the world’s biggest grin.
There was only one problem. Yokozuna was still the champion.
Luger had won the match by count out, but the title could only change hands by pin or submission. Apparently, McMahon got cold feet after reports of Luger’s bad attitude got back to him. So, McMahon decided to delay the coronation until WrestleMania the following spring.
As planned, Luger challenged Yokozuna for the WWE title. And that night, a new world champion was crowned. And his name was Bret Hart.
In January of 1994, Hart and Luger were declared co-winners of the Royal Rumble, which gave each man a title shot at the Showcase of the Immortals.
At ‘Mania, Luger’s match with Yoko came first. Following a dispute with special referee Mr. Perfect, Luger was disqualified. Meanwhile, Yoko moved on to defend his crown later that night, which he lost to Hart.
According to Prichard, the decision to move on from Luger came after the Rumble match.
“You look at the whole Lex thing, it’s the verdict was still out, or the jury was still out on Lex. And after January, Vince pretty much knew what he wanted to do, but we kept it close to the vest. And yeah, no, it wasn’t going to be Lex pretty much from January on.”
A little over a year later, Luger left WWE, with his place in company history still seen as the biggest wet-fart finish in wrestling history.