Home ARTICLES The Gridiron to the Squared Circle: Successful CFL-to-WWE Transitions

The Gridiron to the Squared Circle: Successful CFL-to-WWE Transitions

by Spencer Love
Lex Luger | Montreal Alouettes

Larry Pfohl’s CFL journey wasn’t exactly the most accolade-filled stint in the league, but as Lex Luger, he more than made up for his lack of football trophies. Despite never winning a WWE Heavyweight Championship, Luger’s chiseled physique and rugged good looks vaulted him to the top of the pro wrestling mountain from the mid-’80s to the late ’90s.

Pfohl attended and played high school football in Orchard Park, New York. He then got a football scholarship to Penn State University, though he would eventually transfer to the University of Miami after Penn State coaches thought he should change positions to defensive end or linebacker. In 1979, Luger played for the Miami Hurricanes with NFL Hall of Famer QB Jim Kelly. Unfortunately, Pfohl was kicked off the team for “off-field incidents”, specifically on the team’s road trip to Georgia Tech. Pfohl, who was suffering from cabin fever at the time, was upset over not being named a starter by coach Howard Schnellenberger by the 5th game of the season. Subsequently, Pfohl blew up and destroyed his hotel room.

He would leave Miami and find his home with the Montreal Alouettes of the CFL where he played in the 67th Grey Cup. After the Grey Cup, he would sign with the Green Bay Packers of the NFL; however, he would never play a game for them. Luger was the last player to wear #66 for the Packers before it was retired for Ray Nitschke. In 1984, Luger would finish his football career with a slew of teams in the United States Football League before retiring.

After retiring from football in 1984, Pfohl made the transition to professional wrestling. The move happened following a chance meeting with former wrestler Bob Roop at a charity golfing event. Trained under the same trainer as Hulk Hogan and Mr Wonderful Paul Orndorff, Luger made his in-ring debut in September of 1985. By the end of October, Luger had already captured his first championship gold, the Southern Heavyweight Championship. In 1987, Luger joined the legendary Four Horseman stable; shortly after, he won his first of five United States Championships. 1991, Luger reached the apex of WCW, winning his first Heavyweight Championship with the promotion after defeating long-time rival Barry Windham.

In 1993, Luger made the jump to the WWE after a short stint in bodybuilding. It was clear from the onset that WWE had big plans for the former WCW star. After a run as the Narcissist that resulted in a win over Mr Perfect at WrestleMania. On July 4th, Luger famously arrived on the deck of the USS Intrepid, where he bodyslammed the 600-pound colossus and then-WWE Champion Yokozuna in a move that made it clear that Luger was the heir apparent to Hulk Hogan’s throne at the top of the promotion.

Following the famous slam, he began his legendary “Lex Express” tour, where he travelled the country in a star-spangled bus, meeting fans in preparation for his impending WWE Championship opportunity at that year’s Summerslam. In 1994, Luger – along with Bret “the Hitman” Hart – became the co-winner of the Royal Rumble, earning another chance at Yokozuna’s title. The next year Luger returned to WCW and became a key cog in the promotion’s industry-changing storyline with the nWo. After a brief stint in TNA, Luger retired from in-ring action in 2006.

Brian Pillman | Calgary Stampeders

Wrestling legend Brian Pillman graduated from Norwood High School in Norwood, Ohio. He attended Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. He played for the Miami University Redskins (now RedHawks) as a defensive tackle where he set a record for “tackles for loss”. However, even though he struggled academically, he did graduate and eventually find himself on the hometown Cincinnati Bengals as an undrafted free agent in 1984. His NFL career didn’t last long, unfortunately, but he almost made it. In fact, his attempts to make the Bengals roster were covered in a series of articles in The Cincinnati Enquirer. Pillman was teammates and roommates with the current head coach of the Baltimore Ravens, John Harbaugh. He was the last cut of the roster for the Buffalo Bills in 1985. He would eventually find himself on the roster of the CFL’s Calgary Stampeders in 1986.

At the conclusion of his football career, Pillman made the decision to remain in Calgary to train with the legendary Stu Hart. Making his debut for Stampede Wrestling in 1968, Pillman quickly earned a reputation as one of the premier high-flyers of the era. Known as “Flyin'” Brian Pillman, his aerial acrobatics and seemingly boundless energy soon endeared him to the Stampede faithful. Soon after joining the promotion, Pillman formed a tag team with Bruce Hart known as Bad Company, who shortly after would win the Stampede Wrestling International Tag Team Championships.

However, it was after moving to WCW in 1989 that Pillman truly began to shine. While never truly pushed as he deserved in his time there, Pillman earned a reputation as one of the top workers in WCW. In his formative years, Pillman became the inaugural WCW Light Heavyweight Champion – a precursor to the wildly successful Cruiserweight Division of future years – as well as a Tag Team Champion with both Tom Zenk and “Stunning” Steve Austin.

However, it was in 1995 that Pillman truly began to ink his name in wrestling’s history books. A shift in his character saw a more erratic Pillman emerge, with both his matches and his behaviour sending shockwaves throughout the pro wrestling scene. Crazed stunts and shocking public revelations to the inner workings of the industry were truly ahead of their time, and Pillman’s moniker of “the Loose Cannon” was only half-gimmick. He parlayed his success into the first guaranteed contract in WWE history; however, while his years in the WWE were successful, they were hampered by an ankle injury sustained shortly after Pillman’s deal had been signed.

Tragically, Pillman passed away in 1997 due to a heart attack.

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