On this, the 237th birthday of the good ol' U S of A, we turn our attention to Mount Rushmore, not so much in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical sense. These days, the term "Mount Rushmore" isn't used so much to refer to the actual South Dakota monument celebrating Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Roosevelt, as it is to provide a cute way to name the top four things or people that epitomize some category of pop culture.
To that end, on our nation's birthday, we blow out the candles and celebrate the Mount Rushmore of protectors of our borders from enemies foreign and, in at least one case, hefty:
Washington, Patton, Schwarzkopf, Luger.
Yes, Luger. Lex Luger.
WWE fans will remember this, but allow me to take you back to July 4, 1993. Twenty years ago today.
The WWF (as it was called back then) was going through a bit of an odd time, an identity crisis of sorts, brought on by the then recent departure of Hulk Hogan, who had just lost the WWF Heavyweight Title to the 500-pound sumo master Yokozuna (managed by the devious Mr. Fuji) at the King of the Ring a few weeks earlier (June 13, 1993, to be exact) in one of the stranger, lamer endings to a title win:
Of course, this ending wasn't half as lame as the way in which Hogan won the title to begin with at Wrestlemania IX:
But I digress.
So, preying on the most xenophobic, warped corners of the WWF universe, onward trudged the company with a Samoan disguised as a Japanese sumo wrestler ready to spend the summer of 1993 tearing the ass out of a mediocre, at best, babyface roster. With Hogan gone, the top babyface in the company on the morning of July 4 was probably Bret Hart, and then the drop-off was fairly precipitous to the likes of Mr. Perfect, Crush and Hacksaw Jim Duggan.
So the chance to embarrass the WWF "good guys" was ripe, but Fuji and Yoko didn't want to stop there. Oh, no, my friends. They saw the babyface roster in the WWF as a mere microcosm of the weakness of America as a whole, and they decided to partner up with the rotund Yokozuna's greatest ally, gravity, and make the following very public challenge:
On our nation's birthday, July 4, 1993, Yokozuna challenged any and every American athlete to attempt to bodyslam him. And not just anywhere, but right there in New York City on the deck of the USS Intrepid...
And so it was; the Stars and Stripes Challenge was upon us. We were a nation under siege!
So we rewind to July 4, 1993, on a balmy Sunday afternoon, and here's what took place:
Time for some very patriotic Zapruder analysis...
0:02 -- Not sure who that is singing the national anthem, but if it's a professional, they were a little off that day, as they were screaming out the Star Spangled Banner the same way a drunk karaoke singer belts out Don't Stop Believin' at 1:30 in the morning. As we pan the crowd, lots of mullets, cotton Zubaz, and (presumably) Spin Doctors t-shirts. 1993!
0:10 -- Hey, that's Jim Ross on commentary! At that point, good ol' JR was about two months into his WWE career, having come over from WCW and joining the company on the day of Wrestlemania IX, which would be like coming over to ESPN from Fox Sports and having the Super Bowl as your first assignment.
0:46 -- The prize for the
unfortunate lucky person who buries his hands deepest into Yokozuna's sweaty taint for the scoop picks up Yokozuna and slams him to the mat? A red, white and blue Chevy truck...which the winner would have to pay taxes on and, I would assume, get a paint job for so the thing doesn't look part of a pest control fleet or something. So basically, the winner gets a truck and an invoice for about ten grand.
1:05 -- First up to attempt the slam, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Peter Taglianetti, which is like going to a U2 concert and having the first song be anything from Zooropa. Seriously, in Taglianetti's Wikipedia bio, this event is the only thing listed. And he failed miserably!
1:15 -- Next up, Charlotte Hornets forward and nearby Hamden, CT native Scott Burrell who assesses Yokozuna and decides "Fuck this, I don't even want to try." AMERICA!!
1:20 -- Next up, an actual WWF wrestler, Rick Steiner! The dog faced gremlin! Steiner must have misread the memo, as he apparently thought the winner was the first one to administer a belly to belly suplex on Yokozuna, not a bodyslam . He also took advantage of the little known loophole that if you're a fellow WWF wrestler, you're allowed to punch Yokozuna in the face a couple times before you go in for the slam. Still, no dice.
1:30 -- Keith Sims of the Miami Dolphins goes in and barely moves Yokozuna. (By the way, if this was the best we had to offer as a country athletically in 1993, I'm fairly certain LeBron James could have taken over the nation like General Zod in Superman 2.)
1:38 -- Something called a "Gary Balldinger" of the Buffalo Bills goes in with an odd, frenetic energy and gets into and out of his attempt so quickly that I'm fairly certain the only reason he showed up was to touch Yokozuna's nut sack and get the hell out of there. Next...
1:44 -- Crush (in full on creamsicle garb) comes the closest thus far, actually getting Yoko off of his feet, but shredding his own back in the process. (This injury would actually evolve into an angle over the next few months where Crush wound up on the shelf before coming back in September and heel turning on Randy Savage who had "encouraged him to enter the Stars and Stripes Challenge"! The nerve of the Macho Man!!!)
1:49 -- NFL offensive lineman Bill Fralic (incorrectly spelled "Frallic" by a graphics engineer who was probably fired before Fralic even touched Yoko's scrotum), making his second WWF appearance (Wrestlemania 2 battle royal, y'all!) and dressed in an outfit that, if there were a 90's Ken doll, would be its workout ensemble (pastel windbreaker and Zubaz!), at least got one Yoko leg off the ground, the best performance of a non-WWF participant.
1:53 -- Now, it was Macho Man Randy Savage's turn, and after taking a shove in the chest and selling it like a sniper hit him in the sternum with a hollow point bullet, he popped up and went in for the scoop, to no avail. Far be it from me to tell Savage how to do his job, but if I were trying to lift a 500 pound, stationary man, I would have gone with an outfit slightly looser than a latex jacket with tassels and fringe and leather pants. He needed something that breathed a little easier than that material.
2:10 -- Well, that's it, says WWE honk Todd Pettengill (in jorts that would now make the trashiest of white trash at a Mississippi cock fight blush). Time to congratulate Yokozuna for being so fat that he was able to withstand a gauntlet of no name hockey players, washed up football players, the shittier of the two Steiner brothers, Crush, and Randy Savage wearing a body condom all trying to body slam him. I guess this means that Japan is better than the United Sta.....wait....wait....it's a....it's a....HELICOPTER!
3:10 -- ....and who's in there? It's LEX LUGER! (This is clearly before Jim Ross really got into his zone in the WWF because we didn't get his signature "GOOD GOD ALMIGHTY!!")
3:14 -- Now, what you have to know is that just three weeks before this angle, Luger was wrestling on that same King of the Ring pay per view as a heel under the "Narcissist" moniker, wresting to a draw against Tatanka in the quarterfinal round of the tournament portion of the card. So suspending belief for one second, Luger's arrival in a helicopter means that he woke up that morning, had an epiphany that it was time to be a hero to the people, stop being the "Narcissist," and he decided at the last minute, "You know what? I know my family wants to barbecue today, but first I need to fly over to the USS Intrepid and save the nation from surefire doom by picking up an obese sumo wrestler and slamming him to the mat." Ok, back to belief....
3:28 -- Lex is all things 90's. Mullet strong, rugby shirt strong, tucked into baggy jeans strong...
3:30 -- In a nice piece of storyline continuity, Luger shoves perennial heel manager Bobby "The Brain" Heenan aside on his way to the ring. Luger Babyface Turn nearly complete.
4:09 -- Luger and Pettengill look like they just stepped off the cover of a catalog for really awkward family photos where everyone is wearing the same shirt.
4:20 -- Luger goes into a screaming diatribe about how he's had a rash under his skin ever since the King of the Ring, which sounds incredibly irritating. Oh wait, the rash is Yokozuna and Mr. Fuji....ah, got it. He goes on to say "There's nothing wrong with this country" before then telling us what's wrong with the country. Luger promos are the best...
4:49 -- Fuji hocks a loogey on Luger (say that ten times fast), which was probably not the wisest move, and certainly not your stereotypical move for a sinister Asian manager. Fuji must have left his bucket of salt at home that day.
5:10 -- For reasons that to this day are still unexplained, in a physical challenge where Luger could only be aided by Yokozuna being anything but stationary, Yokozuna chose to take a completely telegraphed bull rush at Lex Luger. Luger moved out of the way, Yoko went face first into the turnbuckle (The turnbuckles in WWE, by the way, are made of a special magnet that attracts human foreheads with tractor beam force.), Luger hit him on the rebound with his elbow (which had a storyline metal plate installed in it), and a stunned Yokozuna was promptly scooped up
about a foot off the ground tops and gently placed and slammed to the canvas!
5:30 -- JR: "Lex Luger has restored America's pride on her 217th birthday!!!"
Indeed!!! AMERICA!!! U-S-A!! U-S-A!!! JAPAN....HACK PHEW!!! (Iron Sheik style spit right there...)
5:44 -- Lex Luger gets the hero's carry around the ring on the shoulders of the Steiner brothers, which is a slightly hilarious visual if you know what a live wire psychopath Scott Steiner became about five or six years after this. Steiner in 1999 would have just as soon dropped Luger on his neck than carry him around the ring.
And so began the monster push of Lex Luger during the summer of 1993. The body slam heard 'round the world would lead to a grass roots campaign, from town to town, called the Lex Express, where Luger literally rode a bus around the country and signed autographs, kissed babies, and posed for pictures in dozens of towns across the map. In a Hogan-less WWF, Luger would be the new white knight.
That was the plan, at least.
But somewhere along the way, the WWF and Vince McMahon clearly got cold feet on Luger's ability to sell tickets and carry the company. He would go on to Summerslam later that summer and beat Yokozuna but since it was via disqualification, the title remained with the sumo nemesis. And since this was contractually deemed the only shot Luger would get at the title (apparently, Luger's contracts were all negotiated by Master P), he was then stuck in a midcard feud with Ludvig Borga for the balance of 1993.
Truth be told, Luger's WWF career hit its high water mark on that early July day, on the deck of the USS Intrepid. He was never more noteworthy nor more popular than on July 4, 1993.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
As underwhelming as the rest of the Lex Luger experience was in the WWF until his 1995 departure, we will always have July 4, 1993.
The day Lex Luger saved America from gravity!
Happy 4th of July everybody!
Listen to Sean Pendergast on 1560 Yahoo! Sports Radio from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and nationally on the Yahoo! Sports Radio network Saturdays from 10 a.m. to noon CST. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanCablinasian.