Watching the Legends of Wrestling: Achievers episode on WWE Network got me to thinking about Lex Luger's WWE run. The thrust of the episode was that host Gene Okerlund, Sgt. Slaughter, Jim Ross, JJ Dillon and Ted Dibiase discussed who in the business had been overachievers and underachievers. Lex was listed in the underachievers column due in large part to his WWE run in the 90's. Specifically the big push he got during his Lex Express run.
Now I'm not going to argue that the Lex Express wasn't a huge push. I'm not going to argue that "Made in America" Lex Luger set the world on fire either. My issue with this episode is mainly with where the blame was placed. By mid-1993 it seems to me that pushing Luger in that role was misguided. I don't believe people had simply gotten tired of Hulk Hogan, although I'm sure that was part of, but also that type of over-the-top patriot just wasn't going to work like it had during Reagan's 80's. To me, Vince and WWE Creative deserves a ton of blame for the failure of "The All-American." It was a tone deaf gimmick for that era.
Now if you want to say that a greater talent may have gotten it over in spite of the corniness, I'll buy that. I simply can't label Lex Luger an underachiever because the Lex Express run tanked. Yes, it was a massive push, but it was the wrong kind of push especially for a guy like Lex Luger.
I've heard it said repeatedly that fans of the NWA/JCP in the late-80's looked at Luger as their "cooler version of Hogan." I absolutely buy that comparison. Now Lex probably did ultimately underachieve to some degree, but I believe still had enough success that I can't really peg him as an underachiever. To me, he's one of the underrated talents of the Monday Night War especially on the WCW side of the equation. People reacted to Lex Luger. The crowds dug him. The reaction he got when he defeated Hogan just before Road Wild was insane. Credit goes in large part to Hogan and the nWo for that, but I don't think you can take all the credit away from Lex there.
Ultimately, I believe that had WWE given him something better to work with than Hogan Patriot 2.0 that Lex's run would've come off a lot better. Would Lex ever truly be able to reach his potential? I don't know. I know there were huge expectations for him when he came into the business. It honestly may have been impossible for anyone to meet those unless they were Hogan, Austin or Rock caliber. What I do know or believe at least is that WWE did him absolutely no favor saddling him with that red, white and blue gimmick when they did. That ship had sailed.