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The Bruiser and the Superfly

(left) Bruiser Brody - murdered in a wrestling lockerroom
n Juan, Puerto Rico 16 July, 1988

Tom Zek with 'The Terminator' Marc Laurinitas
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Q - In Japan, you wrestled Baba, Stan Hansen and many of the other big men of Japan wrestling - but did you ever come up against the legendary Bruiser Brody and Jimmy Snuka......?

Z -Yes I did  ..... Brody and Snuka were partners for the 1987 AJPW Real World's Strongest Tag Team  League (11/21 - 12/11/87) when I was partnering The Terminator (Marc Laurinitas, brother of Road Warrior 'Animal' [Joe Laurintas] and Johnny Ace). The match was in Hakodate (Tuesday 11/25/87)  and went 12 minutes. Brody and Snuka had a TV match the next night in Sapporo where I think they were going to wrestle Jumbo Tsruta and Yoshiaki Yatsu for the tag belts. (They laughed in the ring when they saw Jumbo and Yatsu watching our match.) They were really focused on the TV match so they took it easy with us. The next night, they came out with guns blazing and tore the place up. I guess they were well rested.

I knew all the rumors about Brody [Brody was famous for  working stiff and refusing to sell] - but nothing could be farther from the truth (that night). He and Snuka worked lighter and easier than anyone I wrestled on that tour. They were real workers!!

Brody was a real nice guy to me but he always made sure HE got over......not necessarily the match!! In that regard, he came from the same school of thought as Stan Hansen. They liked to make sure that they looked strong and, if not - or if the match stinks - they'd get disqualified.

I remember having a few beers back at the hotel with Terminator and talking about the match. And we were both laughing at how easy the match was, and thinking about them resting up for the next night on TV. How smart was that!! These guys could really work, not stiff, but really work American style in Japan.  I hardly knew they were there by the way they worked.... We'd had a night off in Japan!

I think the finish of our match was Snuka coming off Brody's shoulders (from the corner turnbuckle) with a 'Snuka splash' on Terminator.

The crazy stuff like chairs shots, the whip into the railings, all that was put on hold for our match -  maybe a little barking but that's it ...... we kept the whole match in the ring. I remember thinking.... "what are the Japanese guy's gonna think of this?" was really out of the norm for Brody.  I learned early on that some guys can really work, if they want to ... and if they don't, there's just no point in swimming up stream!

Zenk's gym work results in a bigger body than the mighty 'Superfly' Snuka.
   (Also pictured are Rocky Iaukea and unknown AJPW wrestler).

Stan Hansen is a case in point. Some nights he could work.... Other nights he 'couldn't see' (he wore thick glasses) or that was always his excuse if he potatoed you. I never met a more miserable guy than Stan. We watched movies on the bus, and if Stan didn't like it, or it was too loud, he always got his way (like a big baby)...  All the guy's knew his game but he was 'office' so you had to play ball with him.

My favorite Hansen story is when he got stiff with my ex-partner Danny Kroffat, Stan was clumsy and all the guy's were sick of getting hit stiff all the time ... it makes for a real long tour, and we all had to get along (in the Japanese style). So Danny put him in a shoot hold arm bar and held him down, then added pressure on it. It was glorious to hear that Southwest Texas Redneck scream .- "Damn arm ... it don't bend that way"!   The memory still goes good with a cold beer to this day! No matter how tough you think you are there's always someone a little bit tougher.  Danny was that guy.... he took the edge off Big Stan and Stan seemed to work better for the rest of the tour.

I had lot's of fun times with Kroffat in Japan but for the last couple of tours (1994-5) my heart wasn't into it. The money was bad and since I'd given short notice in 1989, they never really forgot or forgave me.

A key to getting on in Japan was to get the respect of older wrestlers like Baba. People will listen to him and what he has to say,  It's all BS of course,  but the fans seem to go along with it, so it works. 'Respect' seems to have worked for me. You knew that if they asked you back at the end of your tour. I was in the very unusual spot of being an American but cheered like a babyface. [Usually American wrestlers are booked as heels].  The people at TV in 1989 really made a lot of noise for me and I could have had a future in AJPW if I'd manged to find a suitable partner.  I guess I needed a stepping stone like Martel had in me. But nobody was available at the time - [In fact, Zenk had expected to tag with former partner Johnny Ace but was bumped by the much older Dory Funk using his position with the Japan office] -  so I figured I would finish up at WCW... that's why I held out for a two year contract from TBS. But I'd  burned a bridge with Baba when I left with short notice for WCW.

"One picture please!"

Q - Can you tell us a bit about Japanese fans and how they differ from American fans.

Z - Japanese fans like to follow you from when you start in the business. They follow  your career through the magazines and you get pushed in the Japanese magazines with a nice story. I think the fans there read many more mags than their American counterparts. So the magazines are big business and there's a lot of team work between the office and the editors... nothing gets printed unless Baba's wife says so. She was the boss behind the scenes.

In the ring, the fans only clap if you do a real athletic move or something that impresses them,  And they have conditioned responses for signature moves like Giant Baba's CHOP!

I think it's hard to get and to keep a spot on the bus in the Japan Feds. They expect you to look like an athlete and to work hard each night. Japan is very hard on the body. The style is much more aggressive and they want to see your stuff,(unlike WCW where they put you in the DEEP FREEZE and push the wrong people). Winning or losing doesn't matter, but it's important not to take advantage or injure the young boys.  In Japan you learn to work as a team and get along so the business grows and you have a place to come back to.

The office even gives clean finishes .....and the guys ALL do jobs and the business STILL works! They seem to have the right formula!
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For more on 1987 AJPW Real World's Strongest TagTeam  League (11/21 - 12/11/87)

1987 Tournament magazine report

Tom Zenk's Japan tours

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