Exclusive Interview with Buffalo’s Own Lex Luger

Born in 1958, Larry Pfohl grew up running up and down the streets of Buffalo. By the mid-1980′s, Larry took on a new persona, Lex Luger, and a star was born in the wrestling business. In Wrestling with the Devil, Lex Luger takes readers on a journey from his childhood in Buffalo to his unbelievable wrestling career.

Many feel that Lex’s toughest battles took place against the likes of Ric Flair, Sting, Yokozuna and Hulk Hogan, but these legendary battles were nothing compared to the personal battles Luger was living with on a daily basis. Pills, alcohol and adultery were just a few personal battles that “The Total Package,” Lex’s wrestling nickname, dealt with on a daily basis. In Wrestling with the Devil, Luger is brutally honest about his past and how it eventually landed him in prison. Luckily, Luger’s story does not end there. Readers get to experience Luger’s redemption, finding faith and hear about his miraculous recovery from a serious injury. 

Recently, Luger took the time to sit down and conduct an interview with Queen City Sports about growing up in Buffalo, Jim Kelly, his wrestling career, and how his faith helped him overcome a paralyzing spinal cord injury.

On growing up in Buffalo:

I describe it with warmth and fond memories in the book. I had a great mom and dad in the piano, organ, clock business [Roger's Piano Organs & Clocks]. They’re still in business today, 58 years later in Willamsville! They still open the business every day.
Not only do Lex’s parents still live in Buffalo, his brother is still in the area as well. Lex visits Buffalo often to see his family and speaks highly of the area.
I love Buffalo. I’ll go to Ted’s and get a hot dog. Get some beef on weck and some original wings, and man I’m in heaven. Buffalonians know how to eat!
Before becoming famous as a professional wrestler, Luger had the makings of a football superstar. He enrolled at Penn State after Joe Paterno came to his house on a personal recruiting visit, but eventually left for the University of Miami. There, he played on a team along with a future Buffalo legend, Jim Kelly. When asked if he had any sort of relationship with Kelly, Luger said the following:
We did. We’ve stayed in touch over the years. He used to come to the matches with his crazy brothers!
Luger then talked about how happy he is to see Kelly in such a great place physically and spiritually.
I’m so happy for him. He’s been through some of the struggles that I have and he’s come out very well. He’s had some health issues like I have, and he’s staying strong!
Luger didn’t play with Kelly long at Miami as he was kicked off the team by Coach Lou Saban, after a few incidents where he trashed his apartment with teammates and later a hotel room in Atlanta as the team prepared to play Georgia Tech. Luger went on to the Canadian Football league where he played with the Montreal Alouettes. Once Luger was eligible to play in the NFL, he was signed by the Green Bay Packers. After an injury ended his NFL career, Luger made a stop in the USFL with the Memphis Showboats and later the Tampa Bay Bandits. Luger eventually realized that he may need to find a new career and professional wrestling was his choice.
Luger trained with Hiro Matsuda, a former wrestler and the man who also trained Hulk Hogan. Luger survived Matsuda’s training and was ready to wrestle his first match.  Matsuda and wrestling legends Wahoo McDaniel and Blackjack Mulligan asked Luger where he was from. Luger said Buffalo, but the three men quickly rejected the idea as it was “too small of a market.” The three eventually decided on Chicago. The people of Buffalo really let him have it during his career. When asked if he was booed during his first appearance in Buffalo he said:
Absolutely, do you blame them? My first appearance was at the War Memorial Aud, before you guys knocked it down! I used to go out to all my Buffalo Braves basketball games and hockey games and y’all knocked it down! My brother and I used to go there all the time when I was a kid. I loved it. Actually, my first appearance in the area may have been at the Niagara Falls Convention Center.
Luger explained he had no say in his hometown selection:
I got overruled as I had no seniority whatsoever as it was the first time I was to go out to the ring. They named me from Chicago and it stuck so they had to keep it that way. I think all my fellow Buffalonians, other than my personal family, thought I had copped out and deserted them. Whether I was a bad guy or a good guy they still booed me out of the building. It was funny. I was like a wrestling traitor. It was always a little thorn in the flesh of Buffalonians.
It didn’t take long for Luger to get noticed by Ric Flair and Jim Crockett who was based out of Atlanta, Georgia. Luger was brought in to join the legendary Four Horsemen. As a member of the Four Horsemen, Luger was approached by Jim Crockett to sign an exclusive contract. The contract had no financial terms disclosed and Lex spoke up. At the time, he didn’t realize that he was playing a part in changing wrestling contracts forever.
Kind of unbeknownst to me, I did and I just didn’t know any better at the time. My lawyer said, “Lex, that’s a unilateral contract.” So I just went in there and threw a number out there and they said yes. Until then wrestling didn’t really have any guarantees.  I just didn’t know any better coming from football. It did help in a lot of ways pave the way which I think is great. I took advantage of an opportunity where they thought I was going to go to the WWF and I guess that gave me a little bit of leverage.
In Las Vegas, Luger found a gym to work out in. Vince McMahon, the owner of the WWF (now WWE) just happened to be in the gym at the same time. The two exchanged pleasantries but did not once talk about wrestling. However, the two were seen together and a rumor spread that Luger was going to leave World Championship Wrestling (WCW).
Crazy how those rumors spread in wrestling.
That crazy rumor helped Lex make $350,000 annually for three years in the WCW, as well as get first-class airfare for himself, Tully Blanchard, Arn Anderson and J.J. Dillon.
By 1991, Luger was portraying a babyface (good guy) and was expected to have a main event steel cage match with Ric Flair at the WCW pay per view, The Great American Bash. The match never took place as Flair, the champion at the time, was in a contract dispute and was fired by the company. Flair was not given his $25,000 deposit back for the WCW World Title, so he took it with him to the WWF. A quick plan was set in motion for Luger to fight Barry Windham that night, the number two contender for the belt. Luger won the title after turning heel (into a “bad guy”) piledriving Windham onto a steel chair given to him by Harley Race. Luger was now the champion, but the WCW didn’t have the World Title to give him that evening.
It was [a makeshift belt]. They were still hoping Ric was going to show up to the building with the real belt. So they had a makeshift one ready to hand me, but they didn’t want me to hold it up since there was nothing on it. It takes a few days to have one of those made and they still thought Ric was going to be there. At the last second when they thought, ‘He’s really not going to be here,’ they handed me a belt with a false plate on the front of it. It wasn’t a real belt. They said, ‘Don’t hold it up for photographers because it won’t look right.’
Luger was now WCW World Champion, but he too was trying to leave the company. With one year left on his contract, Luger approached Vince McMahon about signing him to a one-year World Bodybuilding Federation (WBF) until he could get out of his WCW contract. McMahon liked the idea, so Luger just had to get WCW’s permission. Luger approached his higher-ups saying he was burnt out and needed a year off. The WCW agreed to let him leave as long as they didn’t have to pay him. Luger could not sign with any wrestling company for that year, but the WBF was a loophole that would ultimately lead him to debuting in the WWF. Luger dropped the WCW World Title over to his best friend Sting and started to prepare for the WBF where he would appear as a guest poser. Unfortunately for Luger, he was involved in a serious motorcycle accident before the appearance took place. Luger, lucky to be alive, remembered how Vince McMahon reacted to his accident:
He wasn’t very happy. The first thing he said was, ‘Well will you still be able to guest pose?’ I go “I’ve got bones sticking out of my arm and my flesh is ripped all off of my body. I don’t think so.”  He didn’t sound very excited that I had a motorcycle wreck. It was a good idea. It’d get me in tip top shape for my WWF debut so it really made sense to me, to do the bodybuilding thing. It was actually in theory a really good idea. A good segway.
Bobby Heenan introducing Lex Luger to the WWF.

Bobby Heenan introducing Lex Luger to the WWF.

Luger never guest posed, but famous doctor James Andrews helped him salvage his right arm which was dangling after the accident. The doctor inserted a titanium plate into his right forearm and Luger healed in time to make his debut with the WWF in 1993. Luger was first known as “The Narcissist” in the WWF and was managed by Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. Luger mentioned what it was like working with Heenan.

Fabulous. I love Bobby. You go to these autograph signings and there will be all these big stars and current stars there and Bobby will get the biggest line. The fans love Bobby Heenan. He had a great career. What an off-the-cuff and witty, funny guy. A great guy to be around. He was a great way to get me established when I first came into the WWF from the WCW. Just a wonderful guy. He was what you saw on TV in real life. Really funny guy.
Luger eventually left Heenan to become a face (good guy) and feud with WWF Champion Yokozuna. Luger showed up on the U.S.S. Intrepid on July 4, 1993 and took part in a Bodyslam Challenge. Many wrestlers, football players and basketball players had attempted to lift and slam Yokozuna, who was billed at 589 pounds. Luger showed up last on a helicopter while donning an American flag shirt. He successfully bodyslammed Yokozuna and his career as a face took off. He defeated Yokozuna by count-out at Summerslam that year and eventually co-won the Royal Rumble in early 1994. Unfortunately, the company never put the world title on Luger. Eventually, Luger’s contract ran out with the WWF, but he and McMahon were working on a handshake deal. Luger felt McMahon had longterm plans for him.
Oh I think definitely, genuinely Vince wanted me. I was going through a little cool-off period but Vince is the best at warming you back up. He’s the master marketing genius. I thought I would end my career there. I didn’t have any intention on going back to WCW. I wanted to stay there and make it in the WWF. I already had some good years there. I really wanted to stay there. It was like a family.
A chance conversation with his best friend, Sting changed everything. Sting couldn’t believe Luger was working without a contract and asked Lex if he could share this information with Eric Bischoff who was running WCW. Bischoff was interested and Lex decided to leave the WWF.
A happenstance conversation with Sting is how I ended up on Nitro. If I didn’t have that conversation I’m sure I would have just ending up re-signing with the WWF and probably finished my career there. It’s almost like someone is orchestrating it all.
Luger shocked the wrestling world by appearing on the first episode of WCW Monday Nitro.

Luger appearing on the first episode of WCW Monday Nitro.

 

Luger showed up on the first episode of WCW’s Monday Nitro which was competing head-to-head with the WWF’s Monday Night Raw in 1995. Luger would have a few turns in his character but by 1997, Luger was a good guy in the midst of a battle with the New World Order (NWO). The head of the NWO was “Hollywood” Hulk Hogan who carried the WCW World Title. In an impromptu match on Nitro, Luger was chosen to defeat Hogan for the belt. This was a huge event for WCW/WWF Monday Night Wars and extremely rare since Hogan never lost on television.

Yeah, there was a reason for that. He had creative control. He was the only guy ever in the sport of wrestling in his contract to say yes or no, I win or I lose. He never lost. That was a huge honor. He chose me to win the belt over him on national TV so that was a huge honor. Out of all the guys he could have chosen. Definitely one of the high points in my wrestling career.

Luger’s career with the WCW ran all the way until 2001. When asked if there ever an angle that he didn’t enjoy, Luger replied with the New Blood versus the Millionaires Club angle:

I’d say the end of my wrestling career when they brought in all the young guys. It was like an invasion. They took Hulk Hogan and all these great stars and were beating them all. I think a part of wrestling is that the fans love the longtime, established stars. If the Ric Flair’s of the world hadn’t allowed me to beat him and establish my credibility, you can’t make new stars. That being said, they came in all at once and started trashing us and showing us no respect. Yeah, it’s scripted but I felt like the fans weren’t really buying into it because of the lack of respect shown to the long established stars. Fans are very loyal. I know they had the right idea. They said ‘Well if we do that, the fans will get really mad because it’s you guys,’ and we’re going to create kind of like a nWo invasion but it’ll be a young generation invasion. All the guys in the locker room kinda felt like it wasn’t really clicking. The fans really do decide wrestling. If they don’t get with it, they need to change course and re-script it.
I brought up the believability factor, in that many of the New Blood characters were so much smaller than the legends they fought, such as Billy Kidman feuding with Hulk Hogan and Vampiro fighting Sting.
Right. Sometimes that needs to be taken into account, and fans bottom line are very loyal. You can’t figure on bringing in a Vampiro and saying he’s going to be beating up and beating Sting now. So that was one of those things that wasn’t the most fun but of course I do what I was told to do and we were all hopeful that it would work. You could tell it wasn’t really clicking with fans.
Overall, Lex looks back on his wrestling career fondly.
All the bad stuff was from my own making and choosing, and over time we reap what we sow, the universal principle, happened outside of wrestling. Wrestling was fantastic. I was in the main event. I worked with all the top guys in my era. I still to this day feel wonderful about my actual wrestling career. It was a blast. It was my stupidity outside of the ring that caused so many problems for me.
Those problems involved mixing pills and alcohol to get a buzz multiple times a day, adultery, and reckless driving among other things. Luger was booked on drug charges for having steroids in his house the night Elizabeth Hulette, known as Miss Elizabeth to wrestling fans, died of an accidental overdose in his town house. These events played a large part in his almost 24-year marriage ending in divorce. Luger eventually received probation for the drug charge but then had an active warrant for his arrest in Gwinnett County, Georgia for alimony and child support. Luger was back in jail for another two months. Luger once again returned to pills and alcohol and was living in a hotel. At one point, Luger passed out and had a vivid dream where he was in a casket at his own funeral. By the end of the dream there was a bright light that helped him fight against the urge of just letting go. Luger gave up pills and alcohol and trained for his return to wrestling. Luger booked an appearance in Canada but did not check in with his probation officer. Once again Luger had a warrant for his arrest. Luger returned to jail one last time. There, the jail chaplain Steve Baskin formed a friendship with Lex that is strong to this day.
We talk all the time. He texted me this morning. He’s a wonderful, dear friend. I’m so thankful for him. He developed a relationship with me and never brought up religion until I brought it up.
Luger cleaned up his act and found religion. He took part in an Athletes in Action conference with Sting and was feeling well, except for his hips. Lex scheduled a bilateral hip surgery but had one last autograph signing to attend in San Francisco. Luger pushed himself with a heavy workout and noticed he felt pain between his shoulder blades.  He boarded the plane to San Francisco and after landing early in the morning, he rested in his hotel room. Luger woke up with a jolting pain between his shoulder blades and realized he couldn’t feel anything below his shoulders. Eventually Luger was able to scream out for help. He was transported to Stanford Hospital where he was given the news that his spinal cord was swollen and that he now was paralyzed. Eventually, Luger had to be transported to a place with a top neurology team. One of the choices was The Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia where Lex resided. He was placed on a waiting list, but the next day a room opened for Lex, Room 316.
Room 316, can you believe it? You gotta be kidding me.
Luger mentions that the room number wasn’t the only supernatural sign that he received. The woman who picked up Lex from the airport to transport him to the Shepherd Center was named Faith. His nurses? Grace and Comfort. He was told he was a C5-C6 quadriplegic and that there was little chance of him regaining significant movement from the neck down. Luger was also told that he’d need round-the-clock care for the rest of his life. Luger however was calm and felt that everything was going to be okay.
Slowly he was able to move his a toe, then a finger and eventually his leg. After three months, Luger was released from the Shepherd Center and at that point he could stand with the use of a walker. At that point, Luger underwent the bilateral hip replacement surgery that had been scheduled before his paralysis. Eventually the walker was replaced with walking sticks that were cuffed around his arms. Those were soon replaced with a cane. Eventually Luger could walk short distances unassisted.
It was supernatural.
When asked about his physical well-being today, Lex said:
Great. I’m able to walk and drive and live on my own. I don’t have 100% recovery yet, you never know, but I’m extremely healthy. My blood pressure, my heart everything has been tip top A plus, I’m just so thankful.
Luger at a speaking engagement in 2012.

Luger at a speaking engagement in 2012.

Lex is now involved with the World Wrestling Outreach as a way to bring together two of his passions, wrestling and faith.

I stumbled upon it. We go to these secondary markets, under-served I’d say, where the high schools are the only game in town. They pack those places out with a couple thousand people. They come there for the wrestling but then we give them the gospel. I’m really excited about putting together a really first-class, excellent kind of a mini WWE show. We do a good choices assembly at schools on Fridays with the guys, then have an incredible family event on Saturday where we share the gospel, and then go speak to the churches on Sunday mornings. It’s kind of like a weekend revival. We do some fundraising for charity. It’s kind of a win-win-win.
Another passion of Luger’s is fitness and nutrition so he started Total Package Fitness:
I’ve had a lifelong passion for seeing people healthy and happy. So I just work with people. I go to corporations and give wellness encouragement and I’ve been doing that my whole life really with people. Now I really look forward to that part of my life where I work with young guys and help them get big and strong without resorting to PEDs now. There are advancements in nutritional sciences that have improved so much. I just love doing that stuff. Total Package Fitness is all about getting Spiritually, physically, mentally strong.
Luger does Total Package Fitness events with his friend and former wrestler Nikita Koloff:
Nikita and I are doing something with the Duck Dynasty guys soon!
Luger’s days as a wrestler are behind him, but he’s still a fan. When asked about the possibility of his friend Sting ever working in the WWE, he stated:
As a friend I support whatever he does. As a fan I’d love to see him wrestle in the WWE someday. Even if it’s just for one Wrestlemania. Him versus the Undertaker. Retire him and have him go into the Hall of Fame that same weekend. Man I’d love to see him and the Undertaker or somebody like that. I think the fans would love to see that.
Before wrapping up the interview, Lex addressed the rumor on his Wikipedia page that he’d be involved in the Sly Stallone movie, The Expendables 3.
It is not true. I’m not sure where that rumor got started. It’s wild isn’t it? (Laughs) I’m too skinny to be on the big screen now!
We here at Queen City Sports would like to thank Lex for his time. He can be found on Twitter at @GenuineLexLuger.
Ryan Talbot

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17 comments
PatGanczewski
PatGanczewski

@RyanTalbotBills and was going to share it on our facebook page and would like to maybe get him on for an interview on the show

PatGanczewski
PatGanczewski

@RyanTalbotBills Yeah, we have had some interviews with Brutus Beefcake, Tommy Dreamer etc and I did read your interview with Luger

Brandon34
Brandon34

Mr. Talbot do you have any way I could get in touch with lex? For a speaking or autograph signing?

Carl007
Carl007

To Mr Talbot,there are a couple of errors in this report. (1) The Memphis Steamboats should say The Memphis Showboats, and (2) he was not kicked off the team at Miami, he was expelled from College.

RyanTalbotBills
RyanTalbotBills

@PatGanczewski Awesome. There was a wrestling show tonight I guess near my hometown featuring Tatanka. Unfortunately, I didn't make it.

Ryan Talbot
Ryan Talbot

@Brandon34 Brandon, what's your email? I can get the information from you and send it along to Lex's publicist.

Ryan Talbot
Ryan Talbot

@Carl007 Thanks for the response Carl. I apologize for the Showboats error. However, his book explains that he was kicked off the team by Lou Saban and was not expelled from the University of Miami. Luger himself decided to leave the university after Saban kicked him off the team.

Brandon34
Brandon34

@Ryan Talbot My email is bgoldberg34@yahoo.com . Shoot me an email and we can talk through there. Thanks