The July 23, 1994 issue of The Wrestling Tribune Newsletter (WTN), carried a report on the trial of Dr. George Zahorian. Zahorian was a WWF physician, who had previously been convicted of distributing steroids and who the government, in 1994, was attempting to show, had acted in conspiracy with Vince McMahon to defraud the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's efforts to regulate anabolic steroids.
Zenk was asked to give evidence to the trial relating to his contract period with WWF.
During the course of his testimony, according to the WTN report, " Zenk said he left the WWF due to "problems" with bookers Terry Garvin and Pat Patterson. Since Patterson and Garvin were both dismissed in 1992 for allegedly asking wrestlers for sexual favors (Patterson has since returned), Zenk's implication seemed clear. "
As one wrestling insider explained "Getting on in the wrestling business is all about getting on with the bookers" .
The wrestler's dilemma - in the event of being sexually harassed by a booker - is that any success he subsequently enjoys will be attributed to inside favors rather than wrestling ability. On the other hand if the wrestler who stands up to harassment, may be denied critical career opportunities and eventually have his contract terminated.
According to Steve Keirn there was only one choice - "Zenk wanted to be seen as a serious wrestler and these rumors would make him lose his reputation in the sport. Tom stood up for what he believed in. He walked out on money for integrity".
The financial cost to Zenk was considerable. Not only did he lose a lucrative salary but WWF attempted to put a levy on his subsequent earnings from the sport. As WTN (07/32/1994) reported - "When Zenk began working for All Japan Pro Wrestling in 1987, he said McMahon called him and said because he was still under a WWF contract in North America, he should give a percentage of his All Japan income to the WWF."
A continuing cost has been the ongoing rumors and stories in which Zenk is accorded full blame for the Can-Am break up.
The following is an extract from an interview conducted between "Slam Wrestling" and Rick Martel, April 2, 1998, in which Martel continues this process.
Despite the passage of 11 years - Martel remains surprisingly bitter - repeating, in some cases word for word, the explanation for Zenk's defection, first kfabed by Heenan and WWF executives in 1987.
Martel's account makes no reference to issues of sexual harassment. It does, however, contain a number of interesting contradictions which are discussed, in greater detail, below. These inconsistencies give some credence to the view, expressed by a friend of Martel's, that his anger at Zenk was less at supposed "betrayal." Rather - "Rick saw Tom as his key to the money jar. And I also know that Rick's earning potential never again met what it would have, had Tom stayed".
The interviewer is Greg Oliver from Canada's Slam Wrestling -
Q: When you came back to the WWF, it was with Tom Zenk as the Can-Am Connection.
Q: What was your relationship like with him inside and outside the ring?
A: When I saw Tom wrestle when I was with the AWA, I saw a lot of similarities with me. My style, my looks. Of course before I saw him, I remember Nick Bockwinkel was the first to tell me, 'Hey Rick, we just seen a guy who reminds me of a young Rick Martel.' I said, 'who's that.' 'Tom Zenk' 'I heard about him.' Then when I when I saw him in the ring, I said wow, because it's so strange. He really was so similar to me. His style. And later on I found out that Tom had been watching me a lot and kind of copied my style and did a lot of the moves that I was doing. Plus with his looks being the same as me, a lot of people kept comparing us. Then what I did with Tom was like what Mark Lewin and a lot people did for me. My brother and all that. I helped from day one. I helped him get booked, get tours done. ... I helped him a lot in the beginning of his career. Then when I decided to the WWF, I could see that him and I had big potential as a tag team. So I asked McMahon, and of course McMahon had never heard of Tom Zenk. So he had to go on my word. I said, 'look, I guarantee this is going to make a big impact as a tag team here. Major impact. I know it, I can feel it.' And sure enough when we joined WWF, to this day, Tom and I, had we stayed together, we would have been one of the biggest tag teams of all time. I can say that still.
Q: I can remember the impact you guys had when you arrived. But why didn't it last?
A: I guess Tom was overwhelmed by it all. I think Tom, when it comes right down to it, is not very physical. Wrestling is very hard on your body. Hard on you also mentally. It's hard physically. Tom wasn't mentally or physically hard as I thought he would be. I think that when he realized, when we got to the top, we went up a notch, turned up the volume and went into that category where you really got to put out, day in and day out. Everyday go to that gym. Everyday, even if you're injured, you've got to keep going. I think that was too much for him. And also the pressure of wrestling in front of big crowds and always performing to your top level. He couldn't take that. I remember in the last few weeks, I remember I was the one that was kind of giving the pep talks. I would be excited. 'Oh man, This is great. Look what's going on.' And I always had to kind of push him. I thought it was going to be the other way around, where it was him that was going to be pushing me, saying, 'Oh Rick, this is great. This is fantastic, what's going on.' But I would be the guy that had to push him. I could feel that something was wrong here. So sure enough one day in Boston I got up one morning and I went to the front desk and they said there's a message for you. There was a note from Tom saying 'Rick, thanks for the opportunity but that's it for me.' And that was it. He just quit right on the spot. I was shocked. I couldn't believe it. He left right in the middle of the night, like a thief in the middle of the night.
Q: Have you talked to him since?
A: Yeah, in fact McMahon was shocked also. We couldn't believe it because things were going great. The fans were taken by it and everybody was excited about the whole thing. It had really taken off. And everybody could tell we'd be really doing well. So I asked McMahon, I said 'Look, why don't we give him three days. Maybe something went wrong. So let's give him three days to rest and stuff and then I'll go talk to him.' So they flew me to Minneapolis and I went to meet him at his house. I said 'Look Tom, what went wrong?' He said 'Look, I can't this and that.' And he was really .. I could tell that he had cracked. He just couldn't take it anymore. That was the end of it.
Q: Do you still keep in touch with him?
A: No, in fact that was the last day that I talked to him. Because I remember telling him, saying 'Look Tom, I don't disagree with what you're doing. I just disagree with the way you're doing it.' I said we have commitments here. Because we had some matches that were already booked. And I'm old fashioned in that way. When I give my word I'm going to be somewhere, if I'm not injured I'm there. I said 'Look Tom, let's at least finish.' Because the WWF had given us the opportunity to show that we were good. Let's not penalize them. Let's finish what you've started like a couple of months. Because he wasn't injured. So I said 'Let's come back and finish the days.' And also I gave my word on his behalf. The least he could do is finish it right for me. Because I had spoke for him. So I says come back Tom and let's finish those days. If you want to go on with your life, that's fine. He didn't want to do that. I said 'that's not right. At least have the guts, the responsibility to come back and finish your days and then go on.' He said 'no, no' and just kept knocking everything. For him, that day wrestling was finished. He was going to go on to other things, better things. And then he tried after, but he didn't succeed.
Q: He never really made it again.
A: No, he never really made it. He had the potential. But then again, he didn't have the potential, because he didn't have what it takes, with what I said earlier, he wasn't mentally or physically, he was not up to par.
Reading between the lines , the most significant inconsistency in Martel's account is between his poor estimation of Zenk's abilities ("mentally or physically, he was not up to par") and his assertion that "had we stayed together, we would have been one of the biggest tag teams of all time. I can say that still".
This leads him inevitably to under-rate Zenk's performance prior to and following their teaming together in the Can-Am Connection (1987).
For example, Martel claims that, prior to Can-Am, "I helped from day one. I helped [Zenk] get booked, get tours done. ... I helped him a lot in the beginning of his career". This overlooks Tom Zenk's 3-year apprenticeship in the AWA and in the Pacific North West where, from 1985 - 86, he simultaneously held the North West Heavyweight and Tag Team Championship belts (with Scott Doring).
Again Martel claims that, following the Can-Am split, Zenk- "never really made it [again]". Yet, while Martel was struggling to maintain his spot within WWF, Zenk was making a considerable name for himself in WCW, winning and defending the US Tag Team Championships (1990, with Brian Pillman) and the NWA TV Championship (1990 - 1991). By all accounts 1990 - not 1987 - was Tom Zenk's year - considerably after his break with Martel.
But perhaps the most extraordinary aspect of Rick Martel's interview is the intensity of feeling displayed towards what was essentially a business relationship that dissolved more than 11 years before. Is this evidence of an extraordinary ego or genuine disappointment at a broken friendship