The case of the disappearing tag team

As in any long running television series - wrestlers can expect to experience periods of prominence, periods of mid-carding and moments of near oblivion.  They may be written up, written down, written out  - and written back in again, as storylines develop.    Here's an example  - the case of the disappearing tag team - of Tom Zenk and Johnny Gunn - whose winning streak fell from 66% in 1992 to only 7% in 1993 - all within a matter of months - all suggesting something strange going on somewhere in the corridors of power in WCW. 
The team of Tom Zenk and Johnny Gunn began training together in September, 1992 and made their in-ring debut in November, 1992.

In March 1993 WCW Magazine carried the following report by Craig Peters based on interviews conducted prior to Starcade 1992. The WCW article predicted that "gold belts may not be very far off" for Zenk and Gunn -

Both in the ring and in the hearts of the fans, Z-Man and Gunn are building the type of tag team momentum the mat sport hasn't seen in a long time. They've been competing as a unit since early-November, and have impressed everyone with precision teamwork that includes frequent double-dropkicks and a powerslam/top rope combination that has led to an unbroken string of victories. ..... There is a growing perception in the arenas that as the precision teamwork displayed by Z-Man and Gunn grows more refined, their odds of being in the thick of the Unified World tag team title hunt grow as well. .....For both men, gold belts may not be very far off. 

 "Z-Man and Gunn are two men who are brimming with confidence right now," Peters reported, "and confidence - as opposed to cockiness, which can led to mistakes - is an extremely important factor in this sport. All other skill factors being equal, the team with the greater confidence will win every time. These guys have been winning, their teamwork is improving, and their confidence is increasing. As long as they maintain the momentum they've shown up to this point, they are going to be very, very tough for any team to beat."

Zenk and Gunn's match results for 1992 reflected, not so much "an unbroken string of victories" as Peters claimed, but a healthy winning rate of 66% (that is, 2 out of every 3) of their matches.

By January 1993 - within two months of the team's formation - the WCW Booking Committee had written Gunn and Zenk out of any future contention for gold.

On January 13, 1993 -  at Clash of Champions XXII, Milwaukee, the team was scripted for defeat by the The Wrecking Crew, two mid card wrestlers entirely new to WCW.

That defeat set the future pattern for Zenk and Gunn at WCW -  jobbing to incoming talent, much of it woeful - including the Wrecking Crew, the Colossal Kongs, and Shangai Pierce and Tex Slazenger.

For the remainder of 1993,  Zenk and Gunn were scripted to a winning rate of only 7% (that is 1 win in every 13) of their matches.

Now nobody's performance can go to ground so quickly and so dramatically without assistance.

The article below, which appeared considerably after WCW 's decision to downcard Zenk and Gunn - seeks to "explain" the disasterous series of "losses" which the team had experienced in terms of Zenk's and Gunn's ability - not exactly the issue.  Zenk and Gunn were losing long before they reached the ring - by decisions of the booking committee for reasons we have yet to discover.

The article is reproduced below as an example of how wrestling magazines help bookers prepare fans for changes in storyline -  in this case for the coming break up of the Zenk/Gunn tag team. Or as the magazine concludes based on it's work of the story -

These guys are going to have to split up if they want to save their careers. Take a six months break as a team. That should be long enough. By then, they may want to wrestle as singles, or find new partners.

From the Win, Lose or Draw column

Pro Wrestling Illustrated, June 1993

by Andy Rodriguez


Tex Slazenger had a grin on his face wider than Texas. He had a ferocious-looking headlock clamped on the head of Johnny Gunn, and the look on his eyes suggested he didn't intend on letting go - not for a while, anyway.

In one corner, Shanghai Pierce smiled broadly. In the other, Tom Zenk did not. By the time Slazenger tagged out to Pierce, Gunn was too weak to fight back with any fire. No surprise then, that Pierce and Slazenger went on to win the match.

Zenk and Gunn weren't supposed to lose to Piere and Slazenger. They weren't supposed to lose to the Wrecking Crew.

What happened? 

Zenk and Gunn aren't even sure what happened.

"You tell us," Zenk said with a shrug. "Give us a clue."

Sometimes,performance lives up to promise. Sometimes there is nothing but promise. Tom Zenk and Johnny Gunn are struggling to make their performance worthy of their promise. They are failing.

Turning title dreams into titles is never easy but "Z-Man" Tom Zenk and Johnny Gunn didn't think it would be this hard.

These two great young athletes were convinced from the moment they became a team that the WCW World tag team titles would be theirs. They had every reason to be confident.

Zenk held the now-defunct U.S. tag team title with Brian Pillman. He also had distinguished himself with an excellent pairing with Rick Martel in the WWF. In Gunn, though, this fine tag competitor believed he had found the best partner of them all.

Gunn was equally proud to have Zenk in his corner. Soon after joining WCW, Gunn, who had done quite well on the independent circuit, met Zenk and they almost immediately began talking about teaming up. They finally did, in November 1992.

From the start, they were intelligent enough to know they would not succeed merely on their good looks. They knew they would have to prove themsleves as wrestlers. They did not want to fall into the "pretty boy" trap.

"At first we did well against Pierce and Slazenger, which was no surpirse to us," Gunn offered. "We looked at them as the first hurdle toward bigger and better things."

"We weren't bothered by people who thought we were somehow soft because of our appearance," said Zenk. "Those criticisms are never going to go away. What we had to do was concentrate on getting the kind of matches that would allow us to show our stuff." 

The turning point to the current situation came in Clash of Champions XXII when they faced The Wrecking Crew, who were making their WCW debut. Zenk and Gunn as a team had never faced Rage and Fury.

"They looked mean, but not too threatening," said Gunn. "I felt it would be a tough match, but I wasn't worried. I didn't feel worried at all."

Had they been worried, they might have won.

The loss was a devastating set back, like a sharp pin bursting the team's balloon of confidence. They are scrambling to recover, but it seems the harder they try to get out of their slump, the deeper they slump. The worst part of it is, they don't have an answer.

"I wish I had one," Zenk pondered. "I really wish I had one. Is the answer for us to work harder? We're doing that. Is the answer for us to figure out more strategies? We're doing that, too". 

"Here's a problem," Gunn interjected. "Too often, we're assigned to singles matches. We can't regain any momentum as a team if we're not a team. We need a regular schedule of tag bouts."

Neither man appears to lack self-assurance. The reassessment has not shaken their confidence. They want to remain a team. They even continue to insist a World championship is not an impossible dream.

"There is absolutley no reason to give up now," Zenk said. "Johnny and I feel that this is just a problem and problems get solved."

However, who's going to wait for them? Certainly not the matchmakers, who are sure to increase their singles bouts as their tag losses mount. Not their fans, who are already becoming impatient for them to do something positive.

These guys are going to have to split up if they want to save their careers. Take a six months break as a team. That should be long enough. By then, they may want to wrestle as singles, or find new partners.

The promise is still there.

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