AWA Battle Royal - the dying days of the AWA
1989 was another important year for Tom Zenk. He returned to the AWA in February 1989, narrowly losing the vacant AWA Heavyweight title to Larry Zbyszko in a Battle Royal in St. Paul, Minnesota, February 7, 1989. Zbyszko's promotion to this title - particularly as a result of a battle royal - was not a popular one at a time when AWA was struggling to attract the fans. Tom pursued the title in a series of matches with Zbyszko - always ending in controversy ("Sometimes it seems the only way to win is to cheat"). In the end, with no sign of the bookers dislodging Gagne's son-in-law (Zbyszko) or son (Greg Gagne), Tom left the AWA in mid 1989 for the NWA ("It's nothing against the AWA, but as long as Zbyszko's champion, nobody's gonna get a fair shot"). The NWA had been acquired by Turner Broadcasting in 1988 and was fast becoming a major national franchise.
Tom Zenk was on the eve of one of the best years to date in his wrestling career.
PWI provided the following Ratings for AWA, June 1989
World Champion - Larry Zbyszko, 248 Pittsburgh, PA
1. Greg Gagne,
220 Robbinsdale, MN
2. Tom Zenk, 237, Minneapolis, MN
3. Manny Fernandez, 245, El Paso, TX
4. Wahoo McDaniel, 280, Midland, TX
5. Sgt. Slaughter, 310, Parris Island, SC
6. Ken Patera, 256, Portland, OR
7. The Iron Sheik, 262, Teheran, Iran
8. Col. DeBeers, 248, Cape Town, South Africa
9. Akio Sato, 234, Tokyo, Japan
10. Mike George. 265, St. Joseph, MO
On February 7, in St. Paul, Minnesota, Tom Zenk narrowly lost to Larry Zbyszko in an 18-man battle royal to determine the new AWA heavyweight title (vacated by Jerry Lawler).
Extracts from a report by Bob Smith, PWI, June 1989
Zbyszko stalls - "In typical Zbyszko fashion, he decided not to get involved in the action at all once the opening bell sounded.... He simply stayed out of everybody's way".
"Hey, with all those feuds going, why get involved?" laughed Zbyszko after the match. "I decided to just step aside and let those other bums rip each other apart. It was a major key in this victory, just like it was in Chicago."
"All of the feuding contenders were eventually eliminated, as well as other stars such as Greg Gagne, Ken Patera, Mike George and Akio Sato. In the end, Zbyszko stared across the ring at Tom Zenk, who was also making a return to the AWA with this bout".
"Zbyszko vs. Zenk: The man who remained standing would be crowned the new AWA champion." "Zenk fought valiantly against Zbyszko, gaining a solid advantage."
"Unfortunately, both men collided with referee Gary DeRusha, who was knocked out for almost an entire minute."
"Zenk had Zbyszko covered for almost 30 seconds, but DeRusha was still shaking off the effects of the crash and couldn't count the pin on Zbyszko in time".
"As DeRusha recovered, Zenk continued to dominate."
"Zenk attempted a flying body press as Zbyszko staggered near the ropes but Zbyszko caught Zenk and catapulted him over the top rope for the surprising victory."
ZENK HEADED TO NWA? by Bob Smith "Wrestling Enquirer" segment dated July, 1989 (from PWI, October, 1989)
MINNEAPOLIS - Tom Zenk is mad, and he's taking action! The former top contender to the AWA World title is upset over his inability to get a clean win over champion Larry Zbyszko and is negotiating a contract with the NWA. "It's nothing against the AWA, but as long as Zbyszko's champion, nobody's gonna get a fair shot" Zenk said. "I came real close to getting rid of him in that battle royal [for the World title], but once that belt got in his hands, he was gonna do everything possible to keep it, and that includes cheating." Zenk is hoping to sign shortly and start in the NWA by August or early September. "It's unfortunate that Tom feels this way, and I was hoping that under my tenure there's be some change in the way Mr. Zbyszko conducted himself" AWA President Joe Blanchard said. "Unfortunately, the rules protect the champions as well as the federation, and Mr. Zbyszko knows how to use the rules."
AUGUST, 1989 The August 1989 issue of Inside Wrestling carried a major profile of Tom Zenk
Tom Zenk is a top contender for the AWA World Title held by Larry Zbyszko ("Every day I wrestle I come closer to that belt") ... The 6'1", 237-pound native of Robbinsdale, Minnesota, has held the Mr. Minnesota, Mr. Twin Cities, and Mr. North Country bodybuilding titles ("A great way to get in shape for the ring") ... Was trained for his wrestling debut by Verne Gagne** ("He has always been my idol") [** Zenk was trained by Eddie Sharkey]... Developed an outstanding drop-kick ("It has always been one of my favorite moves") ... In his 1984 pro debut in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, defeated Jimmy Doo ("Just getting in the ring that first time was a thrill") ... Traveled to the Pacific Northwest, where he and Scott Doring defeated Mike Miller and Moondog Moretti for the PNW Tag Team Title on December 14, 1985 ("That was exciting because it was my first title") ... On January 21, 1986, Zenk doubled his belt collection by winning the PNW singles Title from Bobby Jaggers ("Two titles at once was unbelievable!") ... Two days later, Jaggers got revenge when he and Rip Oliver won the tag belts from Zenk and Doring ("Win some, lose some") ... Dropped the singles title to Jaggers on March 9, 1986 ("He's a dirty wrestler") ... In 1987, Zenk teamed with Rick Martel and they became known as The Can-Am Connection ("I was really excited about our potential") ... Almost immediately, the team was touted as the next WWF World Tag Team Champions ("We were expected to do great things early on") ... Defeated Don Muraco and Bob Orton at Wrestlemania III ("We were really pumped up wrestling in front of that huge crowd") ... But the Can-Ams' promise fizzled out, and Zenk split with his partner and left the WWF ("I told Rick it wasn't working. He was constantly trying to overshadow me") ... After taking some time off, Zenk returned to the AWA in an attempt to capture the World Title Martel once held ("I had to prove that I was at least Martel's equal, if not better") ... Wrestled with Stan Hansen in Japan ("Stan's a wildman, and he's one of the greats") ... On February 7, 1989, in the battle royal to determine a new AWA World Champion, Zenk and Zbyszko were the last two men in the ring ("I thought I had the match won, but Zbyszko is a crafty veteran") ... Many of his title shots against Zbyszko have ended in controversy ("Sometimes it seems the only way to win is to cheat") ... Has also wrestled tag team matches with Ken Patera, Wahoo McDaniel, and Brad Rhenigans ("The World Tag Title is still one of my goals") ... Ultimately, Zenk wants nothing less than a world championship ("There's no doubt in my mind I'll be champion one day") .
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