Proves To Be Pro-Wrestling's
HIGH PLAINS DRIFTER
by Ray Whebbe Jr (from Pro Wrestling Torch, 1988)
"Tom Zenk may very well be the most misundestood athlete I've ever met. Some say a dope head. Others call him a wimp. Yet others say he had no talent.
On the positive side he's a former Mr Minnesota, has a marketing background, will bounce in a pinch and refuses to "sell-out."
As for the negative rumors, he finds them humorous. As for talent, those who scoff at him are sour grapes. As for being wimpy, that's a joke! Tom Zenk has been in the ring with hundreds of so-called monsters, including Kamala, King Tonga, The Road Warrios, Steve Di Salvo, Mr. Saito and the top All -Japan grapplers. A fearful man he is not.
Tom Zenk left the WWF his way. Many would kill for the chance to be there. Others wish they had the guts to leave. On a recent "Saturday Night Ringside" television interview with Mick Karch, he stated publicly that he left the WWF for the same reason that many top athletes leave any pro team - over a contract dispute. He denied that he was a quitter, as billed by Rick Martel and the WWF.
As a wrestler Zenk has paid his dues. In his four years of grappling he's developed into one of the top babyfaces in the world. Image-wise he has it all - a good rap, looks and a body. Most women find him sexy, yet most men find him the kind of guy they'd like to have a beer with.
In this Torch interview, you'll get a look at one of our favorite wrestlers, and one of our favoirite men. Those who are fortunate enough to know Tom know him to be a great family man, a hard worker, straight shooter, a good friend and one helluva' guy. He's a real 80's man in spite of the fact that he does eat quiche. In this special Torch interview we're sure you'll begin to understand why Zenk really is"the High Plains Drifter" of pro-wrestling.
'I think I'd make a good heel'
Whebbe - In all my years of sports writing, I've never met a more misunderstood talent.
Zenk - In many ways, Ray, I guess you could call me misunderstood.
Whebbe - I've heard some people say they were upset with your image as a fan favorite. Others say you've made it on looks.
Zenk - I like the fans support and all, but let's face the facts. I wrestle for the money. If the fans like me, great. If not, its okay too. In fact, I think I'd make a good heel. As for my looks, c'mon. I've first got to thank my parents for that. But I work hard at the gym and work hard to show that I have more heart and character that your average pretty face. Don't get me wrong. I respect a guy who works hard to have a great body, but if he can't stand up for himself or his friends and family, he's nothing.
Whebbe - In all fairness to you Tom, you've gone on the road, wrestled all kinds of foes, and won titles almost everywhere you've gone. So you must have more than average talent.
Zenk - I appreciate the compliment, Ray. The "kayfabe" sheets and magazines have always been fair to me. My willingness to go on the road and work for smaller groups has helped as well.
Whebbe - Howe did you like working for the AWA?
Zenk - In the beginning it was fun. There were guys like Abdullah, Brody, The Warriors, Martel, and Bockwinkel all there. How couldn't it be great. The crowds were up and payoffs were fine.
Whebbe - And then you moved to the Pacific Northwest. There you made a big hit and were the only man to hold both their singles and tag team belts at once.
Zenk - I loved working for the Owens. The payoffs weren't always great but I usually made it back with selling my pictures. When I left it was just time to move on.
Whebbe - But when you returned this year, things were far from perfect.
Zenk - Things just didn't work out. I wrestle for one reason now and that's money. If we can't come to an agreement on a guarantee, I can't stick around. No hard feelings. It's just business.
'I'm big on principles'
Whebbe- I know you try to be a fair man. If a promoter is struggling you won't kill him with exorbitant demands.
Zenk - Sure I try to be fair. But when dealing with promoters who want my body to be abused for their pockets, I want a fair share.
Whebbe - And you weren't treated fairly in the WWF?
Zenk - I'd rather not talk about it because if things could be worked out, I'd return. But it wasn't always great there. Martel was paid more that I was and I was never allowed to deal with Vince face to face. Rather than be a crybaby or troublemaker, I just left.
Whebbe - Amazing. You left a six figure job per year and will still wrestle on one hundred dollar cards.
Zenk - I'm big on principles. If there's a $1500 house and I make a hundred or two, that's very fair. Fifty dollars for a major TV event does not seem fair.
Whebbe - So what are your plans for the rest of 1988?
Zenk- Wow. I have a lot going on. I have a great job with my ex tag partner Scott Doring. We're bodyguards and security guards. That's been fun. I also have some health club endorsement offers, a movie offer and I enjoy working on independent cards. I'm also heading for Japan in August.
'very sad to see a man like Brody go down'
Whebbe - With the tragic loss of Bruiser Brody, the independents will be hurt.
Zenk - Not just the independents, but the world. Frank was a real man.... a man's man and there aren't many left in wrestling, Ray. It's very sad to see a man like Frank [Goodish - Bruiser Brody] go down. But it goes to show you things in wrestling aren't all that good. Adonis gets killed driving around Podunk, Canada and Brody in Puerto Rico. And they were trying to earn money to put food on their families' tables.
Whebbe - You often pop up on PWA cards [Eddie Sharkey's Pro Wrestling America]. They seem to be fun. Are they?
Zenk - Yeah. I just wrestled Larry "The Butcher" Cameron and it was a great mach. The fans are always fun and the group always gives a good account of themsleves. It's just too bad they got messed up with the IWA. With the money those guys blew, more should have been accomplished.
'not a great career, but a hell of a hobby'
Whebbe - Did you enjoy your recent tour of Europe?
Zenk - It was an experience to say the least. The bus rides were horrendous and the fans didn't know what to expect. I could fill a page on the negatives, but why? It was fun wrestling Afa the Samoan, and teaming with Derrick Dukes was always a thrill. Dukes has everything it takes to be a star talent, fine size and flying abilities. I hope the promoters don't keep him down because he's black. If somewhere down the line we could team in AWA or Japan I'd love it.
Whebbe - So returning to the AWA is not totally out of the question?
Zenk - No way. I'd love to be wrestling around Minnesota. But I also want to be used right. Not for my ego but for my paycheck. The higher up on the card I am, the more I get paid. Being in a feud with Curt Hennig would be great for me. Hopefully we can talk about this one day.
Whebbe - Do you have any advice to budding wrestlers or fans?
Zenk - Be true to yourself. Set goals and go after them. Wrestling may not be a great career. It's a good hobby and sideline but don't take it seriously. Whatever your dreams are though, go get them*** "
Part 2 - Wrestling in Japan - "The Brody Memorial Card was great and eerie at the same time...with an arena paying homage to a wrestler's casket...Brody was a true hero and the Japanese loved him. Its a shame all the American promoters would say is he was trouble. Yeah, trouble because he wanted to get paid!"
Ray Whebbe Jr. and Kristian Pope are the authors of the recent August 2001) “Encyclopedia of Professional Wrestling: 100 Years of the Good, the Bad, and the Unforgettable” featuring photos from each era of the sport dating back to the early 1900s.