|This is another article based on a number of fictitious attributions. It overemphasizes Martel as "the veteran" and underplays Zenk as "the young rookie" - but then of course this was the Can-Am (not the Am-Cam) Connection. Martel hogs the interview time. Similarly in the ring - it was open to either Martel or Zenk to finish (using the team's signature "Can-Am catapult"). But it was invariably Zenk who took the bumps to deliver Martel the hot tag and the finish. The match mentioned below is no exception.|
Rick Martel and Tom Zenk both had to cross borders to discover the land of opportunity.
Martel, a broad-shouldered native of Quebec City, Canada established himself as a wrestler in rings around the midwestern United States. Zenk, Martel's well-sculptured partner, left his hometown of Minneapolis, Minnesota, to build a fan following in Montreal.
Each appreciates the qualities of the other's country. "I am very grateful to America because I got my start here," says Martel in the French-Canadian accent that female fans find "adorable." And Tom, I know, loves Canada. When we decided to pair up as a tag team in the WWF, we wanted to bring the message of Canadian-American teamwork to our audience. That's why we called ourselves the Can-Am Connection."
Says Zenk - "Everyone thinks of America and Canada as being the same - the same people, the same values, the same lifestyles. The only thing separating the countries is a line on the map. You really think of the two as one."
Ditto for the Can-Am Connection. Mat followers and even wrestlers have mistaken the members of the handsome duo for one another. "It's actually gotten to the point that, when someone in a hotel lobby or airport yells 'Rick," I turn around." confesses Zenk.
If Martel and Zenk's physical similarities weren't enough, they share matching clothing tastes. Outside the arena, both favor blue jeans, casual shirts and boots. To witness them jogging sown the aisle to the ring , their red and white boots crossed with the Canadian and American flags and their ivory trunks highlighting deep tans, is to observe the similarities of the nations they represent.
Once the bell rings, both specialize in the same rapid-fire moves: front scissors, cross bodyblocks, dropkicks. This is not mere coincidence. "Even when I was wrestling as a single, I tried to pattern myself after Rick Martel," says Zenk, the younger of the two. "The first time I saw him in the ring, I wanted to be like him. He personifies what a wrestler should be: an athlete and a gentleman."
The teams signature, the Can-Am Catapult, has arenas quaking and opponents shaking. Either Martel or Zenk - it doesn't matter; they've spent months in the gym fine-tuning their interchangeability - flattens a foe in the ring, then tags off. The partner stands on the apron gripping the top rope with both hands. The first wrestler pulls the strands toward himself and catapults his friend, chest first, on top of whoever the hapless adversary happens to be.
"The Can-Am catapult is something that is uniquely ours," claims Martel. "It would take another team forever to get the timing down, to master it. Tom and I have a built-in sense of knowing when to use it: if your opponent is not completely worn out, he can move out of the way and you can break a rib. I think the catapult adds another dimension to the world of tag team wrestling."
Martel knows that world as well as he knows the words to his country's national anthem, "Oh Canada." He entered the mat wars at the tender age of 17, teaming with older brother Michel. He has traveled the globe, pairing with the sport's greats, and on two occasions he has worn a World Wrestling Federation Tag Team Belt.
Before stepping into the squared circle, Zenk gained a following in bodybuilding contests. He was Mr. Minneapolis and Mr. Twin Cities in 1981, and Mr. North Country in 1982. Realizing that muscle alone does not bring success in the ring, he developed a sophisticated repertoire that dazzled early rivals and caught the attention od some veterans.
Remembers Martel, "I was passing through Montreal and one of my friends told me about a guy - he called him 'Zink' - who looked and wrestled like me. I had a night off and went to the arena to watch. As soon as I saw Tom mix it up, I got a weird feeling. I really felt as if I was watching a videotape of myself: it was a mirror image. You've probably heard 50 wrestlers tell the same story, but I swear I'm telling the truth. I knew we'd be tag team partners one day."
What they didn't know was how well they'd work together. "I never get my hopes too high when I first team with somebody," Martel says. "I've been partners with guys who were great wrestlers with styles very much like mine, but then we sadly discovered that something was missing. Sometimes we couldn't coordinate our movements or strategies: other times ego got in the way. The first time I teamed with Tom, I left the ring very excited. I had trouble sleeping that night, to tell you the truth. We perfectly complemented each other. I knew we were going places."
During a televised bout against Barry O and the Gladiator, the Can-Am Connection was flawless - a rarity for a recently formed combination. Zenk and Barry O were the first two in the ring. Barry, a rulebreaker well-schooled in the sport's scientifics, put Zenk in an armbar. Zenk quickly evaluated his predicament, then left his feet, head-scissored Barry and rolled him to the canvas. Martel was tagged and rapidly rattled Barry with a high side kick that elicited a respectful gasp from the crowd. Stunned, Barry scurried to his corner and tagged his partner. After being placed in an armlock, the Gladiator discarded the rule-book, kneeing Martel in the midsection and dragging the former tag team titlist to the corner.
A sneering Barry O wound up his fist, but Martel alertly ducked, and the Gladiator found himself reeling. Taking advantage, Martel bodyslammed the masked villain and tagged Zenk. The Twin Cities sensation attempted a small package, but Barry O was quick to interfere. Without exchanging a word, the Can-Am Connection took to the air, simultaneously dropkicking their opponents on the side of the head. Now the fans were roaring, flashbulbs were popping and MArtel and Zenk sped up their assault. Martel treated the Gladiator to a spine-crusher, then Zenk powerslammed him. As the fans - most of whom had never before seen the Can-Am catapult - shrieked, Martel flew over the top rope, crushing the Gladiator and bringing the Can-Am a victory.
"We try to throw the unexpected at our opponents," Martel says, referring to the bout. "That way they can't figure out our strategy and mount a defense." He realizes that the same outlook is characteristic of another WWF team: the Hart Foundation. "I don't care how much the fans boo them, you have to respect the abilities of Bret Hart and Jim Neidhart. They've been together a long time and are aggressive, fast and technically sound. Their 'Hart attack" is devastating. But Tom and I are capable of surprising them, of knocking out their cockiness."
Another the "Connection" seeks is the Dream Team, Greg "The Hammer" Valentine and Brutus Beefcake. "Out of the two, Greg is more of a wrestler," Zenk says. "He can fight, but he ties you up in knots on the mat. I'd plan an aerial offense against him. Beefcake is very strong and a brawler. But Rick's been in a lot of torrid battles, and he's taught me a couple of things you might not expect a 'nice boy' to do."
Rather than becoming embroiled in a feud, Martel and Zenk are taking their matches one at a time. "We're prepared for anything," Martel says, "but we're testing the water, learning about the strengths and weaknesses of the competition."
As they complete, the Can-Am Connection should advance in the ratings. "I don't like to think too far ahead," states Zenk, "but we're going to the top." His voice loses its even tone, and his poster-boy face breaks into a smile. "The only obstacle is time."
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