Too often, autobiographies are self-serving, revisionist histories where the author expects the reader’s sympathy or wants to put themselves over for all of the good they have done in their lives. There is rarely every that delicate, human balance. As for professional wrestlers, these people have been told for most of their careers by writers what to do and say, and have been taught how to make themselves look good so the fans like them, so an autobiography by one of them always needs to be taken with a huge grain of salt. Thankfully that’s not the case with Lex Luger (real name Larry Pfohl) and his new book Wrestling With The Devil (co-written by John D. Hollis).
You don’t have to be a wrestling fan to care about Lex’s story. He doesn’t talk over the readers’ head with wrestling jargon or overload the book with “road stories” featuring people a non-wrestling fan wouldn’t know. It’s an open and honest journey where he doesn’t hold back about the mistakes he’s made throughout his life. But for the wrestling fan, Lex gives insight on becoming the man he was in the business, his time with the nWo and The Four Horsemen, and about life on the road. As a key player in WCW and WWF throughout the 1990s, Lex had an incredible run and made a great living for himself and his family doing it. But choices in his personal life took their toll, and demons like drugs and alcohol became part of his daily routine. So much so that he’s been on the news and in tabloids…but not for winning world titles. Despite all of that, Lex keeps it personal and positive throughout.
At 223 pages, Wrestling With the Devil isn’t a long read, but it’s enough for the reader to learn about this man’s rise to the top of his profession, his terrible downfall, and his redemption in finding Christ and making his life mean something. The book’s forward is written by Sting, another respected man in the wrestling industry (and born again Christian) who tells us that Lex has really turned his life around and how proud he is of him for it. Thanks to Wrestling With The Devil, Lex Luger is the first professional wrestler I have actually looked at as a human being and not a character.
Den of Geek: While trying to become a professional football player you played for about half a dozen teams. Did you ever get discouraged in your journey and start to think you should just give up the dream?
Lex Luger: Oh no, I love football. I was always trying to find the right place, the right team…kinda “the grass is always greener in another pasture.” I never had real confidence wavering about “football is the way to go”. When I saw that Wrestlemania had broken an indoor attendance record, I just walked into a Wrestling office, Championship Wrestling in Florida, during the offseason, and they introduced me to Hiro Matsuda, who became my mentor…and the rest is history!
DoG: You were trained by the legendary Hiro Matsuda, who you mention in your book purposely hurt his trainees who he didn’t think were taking the training seriously. Were you ever worried you were going to be one of those victims?
LL: Oh yeah! He broke Hulk Hogan’s leg. I tell ya, I heard it was usually for “lack of effort” or “lack of selling.” He just loved the sport so much! With Hogan, he had done something to his leg, and he asked him “Are you just gonna be like, oh well? Here, let me show you what happens when someone really does that to your leg!” And he broke his leg! So Hogan was screaming, and Hiro said, “You see? That’s how you sell!” (laughter) I was just thinking “oh my god!”
But fortunately, he was done doing that by the time he trained me. He took me to the Dungeon and had me doing squats and push-ups. He took me on long runs and he’d work you out for hours with no air-conditioning on to see if you’d drop. But he did everything with you! You wanna see if you really wanna do it…he actually went to the ring with me as my manager for a couple of months. I was so nervous that I was gonna mess up! But he was a father figure and a mentor, he’s a wonderful man. And he never asked for anything in return. Just for the enjoyment of seeing a guy succeed in a sport that he loved. Very special guy. I wouldn’t have gotten into wrestling if it wasn’t for him.
DoG: You tell a story in your book about in the first year of wrestling you had a match with Ric Flair where he asked you to Sunset Flip him, but you didn’t know what that was.
LL: I ended up trying and Sunset Flipped the air! He couldn’t believe it.
DoG: But you say that he carried you in the rest of the match.
LL: A whole hour!
DoG: Were you ever intimidated as a rookie in matches against guys who were more technically proficient in the ring?
LL: Oh yeah, I was very nervous. Ric was such a ring general; a tactician, technician…I had hundreds of matches with him, and it was like a night off. He was so incredible in the ring. He was a great star maker. I owe a lot to him early in my career, too. Without him, I don’t think I ever would have gotten there.
DoG: By the time you joined The Four Horsemen, they were already a large force in the business, and Ric Flair was already a big supporter of yours. Was it hard to convince J.J., Arn, and Tully to let you into the group?
LL: They welcomed me with open arms. They were wonderful. Ric paved the whole way on that. I had no idea what a big opportunity it was. I had heard of the Four Horsemen, but I had never seen Tully or Arn or J.J. I didn’t even know what they looked like! You could have shown me a lineup of guys, and I couldn’t have picked them out. So I worked with them, and I was one of them, but I didn’t know who they were! Isn’t that crazy? Everybody else was so excited, that I knew it was a big deal. I didn’t know how big, but I knew it was a big deal.
DoG: In your book you talk about a meeting at the Sportatorium with Blackjack Mulligan, Wahoo McDaniel, Hiro, and some others where Matsuda suggested you be a heel, but you didn’t know what a “heel” was. How long was it before you were “smartened” up to the business?
LL: At that first meeting, it was like a foreign language. I didn’t know what they were talking about. It was all wrestler talk. Hiro had taught me in the ring, but he never taught me about any of the slang. I was like, “What are these words they’re using?”
DoG: At a TV taping that was going to air after Wrestlemania X, you came out as the WWF World Champ. But then at Wrestlemania X, they didn’t put the belt on you with you with Yokozuna. Were you upset over it?
LL: We never taped anything with the belt…those pictures might have been forged. I’m not saying I didn’t. A lot of my past can be fuzzy sometimes (laughs). It was never promised. It was talked about, it was dangled, but it was never promised. He (Vince McMahon) was always very honest with me. “We might put it on you, we might not, we’ll see how things go.” He and I had a great relationship that way. He never promised me the belt and then didn’t do it. That never happened.
They said I was messed up in a bar the night before on my Wikipedia. That’s why Vince changed his mind and I gave the finish away that I was the new champion….I was in Connecticut. My wife came to her first match ever with my children, I wasn’t anywhere near the hotel that night! That’s the internet for you! I did enough crazy stuff, that’s one thing I didn’t do! (laughter)
DoG: Your appearance on the inaugural episode of Monday Nitro was pretty much the first shot fired in the Monday Night Wars Did you realize what a big deal that was at the time?
LL: I had no idea. I knew it was big, but I had never met Hogan in person before.
DoG: I like the story in your book how you smiled during commercial break and he got mad.
LL: For real. I did not make a good first impression on him.
DoG: In the 1990s, wrestling started to get a lot more raunchy and sexual. Now that you’ve been born again, do you look back and regret anything Lex Luger might have done in the ring?
LL: No. God’s forgiven me and I’ve forgiven myself. I have to move forward. There are things I regret in my personal life, but professionally, there are things I wouldn’t do now that I did then. I can’t dwell on that kind of thing.
DoG: Even though you won the title before in 1991, you beat Hogan on an episode of Nitro. Your reign only lasted 6 days, but how did that feel to beat Hulk Hogan for it?
LL: They didn’t tell me or the referee until right before we went to the ring. It was a real honor. Hogan had creative control. He was on top of the world. So that was a shock to me and the crowd! They rang the bell and they were like, “did he really win?” They’d been laying this out for, like, a year straight. They went nuts. It was great!
DoG: You were in two of the biggest stables in wrestling history: The Horsemen and the nWo. Are you more proud of being in one over the other?
LL: I think the Horsemen were very special since that was the very beginning and helped lay the foundation for my career. The WolfPack, though, I’ve gotta say, reaction wise, even the tough, rowdy crowds…I’ve never seen a reaction like that. Some of the biggest pops I’ve ever heard. When that WolfPack music hit and you walked out, man…it was electric. The crowd would really shake the rafters. It was incredible.
DoG: Two part question: First…What did you enjoy being more: face or heel?
LL: I’d say, overall, it’s more fun being the heel. You can be a little more outlandish. It’s easier to get people to dislike you than it is to like you. So I guess it’s kind of easier and a little more fun.
DoG: Do you think the character of Lex Luger was better as: face or heel?
LL: They said one of my underrated values was that I was a confident babyface, which people liked. But I can walk the edge between confident babyface and arrogant heel. That’s why you saw me switch so often. If somebody got injured or hurt, I was like a utility all-star as a heel or babyface, because they could make the switch. If you take somebody else and switch them that many times it’s hard to stay a top guy…there’s just something about my personality that could go between confident and arrogant which people told me was an asset to the company.
DoG: I don’t want to spoil anything from your book about the pitfalls you’ve endured since it’s incredible how you seem to get hit with one difficulty after another. What amazed me is that most of them occur before you were paralyzed. You had found Christ by then, but how hard was it to stay positive at that time and just not give up on everything?
LL: It was difficult but I had so many great people around me. Family, friends, mentors, and, most of all, The Lord. I couldn’t have gotten through it prior to finding The Lord. God is much more interested in our long-term character than our short-term comfort. It was definitely an uncomfortable moment. My whole persona is about working out and fitness and still is, and to find out I was going to be paralyzed from the neck down for the rest of my life…I was like, “What kind of warrior for God am I gonna be now?”
It was a big adjustment, but God gave me the blessing of more empathy for others. While I’m not 100%, my healing, what I can do has been supernatural. I can walk most of the time, and drive, and live on my own. I was supposed to need 24 hour care. So I’m thankful. It’s been an incredible experience. It’s opened up doors and things to me that things have to come from the inside out not the outside in. It’s more important to worry about what’s on the inside. It’s turned out to be a blessing, not a tragedy.
DoG: In your book you talk a lot about your steroid use and how fixated you were with having a great looking body. Wrestling has shown us over the years that large guys with incredible physiques get pushed faster than smaller guys even if they are better technical workers. Now that you’ve been born again, what would you say to a young talent trying who wanted to use steroids to build his body up to get recognized by a big wrestling company?
LL: I’d tell them it’s wrong. It’s against the rules, so that’s one good reason. If you get caught now, it can be very punitive. The other thing is that nutrition and science have advanced so much they can get incredible results, drug-free. If they train hard and eat the right things, they can get great results without resorting to drugs. It’s not the easy way, but it can be done!
DoG: I want you to book your dream match: Lex Luger at the height of his career vs. any wrestler in history, for what title, where and when, and how does the match end?
LL: Wow…I always dreamed of doing a tag match with Sting…in WWE. Maybe against Shawn Michaels and HHH. At Wrestlemania! I’d love to see Sting and The Undertaker. And then have him retire and go to the Hall of Fame the following year.
I’d personally like to thank Lex for his time, for the interview, and for sharing such great stories that made me pop right in front of him; to Maggie at Tyndale Publishing for the help and her kindness (and Todd at Tyndale for helping set this up!) and Bookends in Ridgewood, NJ for the accommodations.
Wrestling With The Devil is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and most retail and online book stores.