"Pin me and pay me ....
but you'll never make me quit"
An analysis of Tom Zenk's Match History
July - December 1990
In first 4 months of 1990 (January to April), with a booking committee led by Ric Flair and Jim Cornette, Tom Zenk took to the ring in more than 70 singles and tag matches (with Brian Pillman) and was booked to lose only 5. In the remaining 8 months (from May to December 1990), with a booking committee presided over by Ole Anderson, Zenk wrestled around 65 matches, mainly against less talented workers and 'monster heels' - and was booked to lose more than 50%. Anderson's simple logic was "getting beat kills your career." But why did Anderson want to kill Zenk's career? ......
Anderson wanted to force out Zenk and the other young talent contracted by Jim Herd (Executive VP, NWA). Anderson planned to replace them with ring veterans (guys who 'owed' Ole) plus 'green and cheap' workers recruited on a limited or no contract basis.
The Observer (8/13/1990) confirmed that, under Anderson, there would be "no more guaranteed money contracts for wrestlers when the current pacts expire, sometime next spring or summer.... Without guaranteed money contracts and being paid on the houses ...all but a few wrestlers would probably want to make the switch [to Titan]. I expect early next year that some of the guys under contract will be phased down and out while greener and cheaper talent will be brought in for the same spots. In fact one could make that assumption just looking at the 9/5 Clash line up." The Clash of Champions XII card included new and cheap talent in almost all the main event matches.
Despite critical and popular success, the tag team of Z-Man and Flyin' Brian had been disbanded by Anderson and the uncontracted Rock'n Roll Express brought in to replace them. In solo matches Zenk was being booked against veterans like Buddy Landell, Dutch Mantell and The Iron Sheik or green talent like Zan Panzer (the son of Gene Anderson - Ole's former partner in "The Minnesota Wrecking Crew"). He was tagged with the newly recruited Tim Horner and Brad Armstrong, while Pillman was teamed with Tommy Rich. Rich was receiving a greater push than either Zenk or Pillman, despite his proven failure to get over with the fans.
Anderson also brought in a series of 'monster heels' - Sid Vicious, Mark Callas, Vader, Stan Hansen, etc and booked the contracted workers, particularly Zenk and Pillman, to put them over. Zenk was booked to lose to Vader through August 1990.
The Japanese promoters wouldn't permit either Vader or Hansen to be defeated in the US. In booking Zenk for defeat by Vader and Hansen, Anderson was not only removing heat from Zenk in the US but, at the same time killing the reputation he had made for himself in Japan. A letter in The Observer in August (8/13) questioned Anderson's booking practices - in particular "Letting the dull Van Vader squash Zenk was ..a surprise. Vader is all hat and no skill." Others were equally skeptical - "Big Van Vader is nothing but pure WWF" and " I don't think Vader will get over in the NWA".
On 8/6, Anderson temporarily reconvened the tag team of Zenk and Pillman - but only as a vehicle to put across Sid Vicious. A title match was arranged between Zenk and Pillman and the Midnight Express and 'abandoned' mid-match when Vicious ran in, attacking everyone in ther ring -
Before his arrival, TV audiences had a momentary glimpse of what they might have been seeing if Anderson were pushing NWA's real talent - "A solid three and and a half star match" (WON 8/30)."Match was real good until it was halted" (WON 8/13).
Anderson booked the match to put Sid over, but things didn't turn out that way. (Below) Sid denies Zenk the finish; the men in the ring appear to take exception to Sloppy Sid's push and (below right) instead of 'fleeing the ring' Eaton hammers Vicious, as the show goes to a commercial.
Another of Anderson's 'monster heels' was his old school friend, Stan Hansen. Initially Anderson had booked Paul Orndorff against Hansen for Clash XII (9/5). Hansen was already a millionaire through his work in Japan -"the most miserable millionaire in the world" - but had little profile among US fans. However, among wrestlers, Hansen was notorious as a stiff worker and brawler. Despite playing heel, Hansen rarely called a match. His opponents were forced to work as best they could with little co-operation from him. Orndorff refused to job for Hansen on tv and quit. Instead of choosing one of NWA innumerable jobbers, Anderson booked Zenk for another humiliating squash.
The Observer (9/17) protested - "Stan Hansen pinned Tom Zenk in 3:18 with a lariat. Hansen worked fast and stiff. It was fine given the time limitations since it was all action, but for the life of me if I had a guy who was under contract to earn $156,000 per year (like Zenk is) who is a pretty decent worker, I'd have at least made this a competitive match. Hansen obviously needed to get over in the end, but if he got a clean win, having a good match and winning would help him just as much. And destroying Zenk in this fashion when he can mean more in a tag team with Pillman (which they are putting back together again) and given his contract is about as smart as throwing $3,000 each week into a furnace .... Tom Zenk filled in for Paul Orndorff who was taken off the card either because he wasn't going to do the job for Hansen on television.....or [they] just filled Zenk in in the place."
By September, it was clear to wrestlers, wrestling journalists and, increasingly, NWA's executives that Anderson's appointment had been a disastrous mistake. "Less people are going to house shows.... Cable ratings have been good not because of improved booking but because Herd has been able to get TBS to keep the shows' time slots more consistent." In house shows, the "B" team to which Zenk and Pillman had been 'relegated' were bringing in consistently better houses than Anderson's "A" Team.
Ole Anderson argues with NWA Executive Vice President Jim Herd - Great American Bash,1990
Serious disagreements began to develop among senior NWA management. The Observer reported "Jim Herd and Ole Anderson aren't seeing eye-to-eye about usage of older talent like Bob Armstrong, Buddy Roberts, Ivan Koloff and even Stan Hansen.
Following publication of the card for Halloween Havoc 1990 - The Observer again protested "The line-up for the 10/27 PPV makes it more than obvious that the NWA is trying to phase down the guys under contract and replace them with cheaper and less experienced talent. For example, on this card, the Midnights who have contracts, are phased down to the opener with mainly non-contract guys in the second through seventh match. Pillman and Zenk aren't even on the show... The idea is obviously with the exception of Sting, Luger, Vicious, and to a lesser extent Flair, Steiners, Doom and maybe Arn Anderson, to make sure the contract guys don't get hot or have any noticeable following so when they are cut loose at the end of their contracts it isn't a loss. So this is the business reason for these unknowns being pushed, simply because even though the NWA is committed to paying the other guys anyway, the new guys will work cheaper in 1991.. This is the same recipe Verne Gagne used for his great success [in] the latter part of the decade". (WON 9/24/90)
Herb Kunze in Canada was among those wondering aloud at the logic' behind the booking for the Havoc card, informing his readers (October 1990) that, for some reason " they seem to be jobbing out Tom Zenk."
Zenk does what he can with Ole's cheap 'talent' - in this case, the 350 lb Motor City Madman.
For Tom Zenk, with a two year contract and a six figure salary, there was no way Anderson would force him out. His motto became "Pay me and pin me .....but you'll never make me quit." Anderson, however, was unrelenting. In September, 1990 he booked Zenk for a series of straight losses to the unknown 'Master Blaster Steele' in bouts booked to last less than two minutes. TheObserver concluded "Basically .. they are trying to get Zenk to quit and he hasn't yet so they are turning up the pressure" (10/8/90).
"They used us like whores - it was only bickering over the price."
Zenk at $3,000 a week puts over J.W. Storm.
In October, 1990, one of the NWA wrestlers wrote anonymously to The Observer to report - "They are bringing in and pushing guys whho have never worked on live national television. They had the Indian guy (Alan Iron Eagle) laying in the hallway two minutes before his television match teaching him how to do an Indian Deathlock. He has had only 23 matches in his entire career. Tony Zane went out in the parking lot after doing an angle with Sting and got busted. They handcuffed him and towed away his car in front of a lot of fans. ..... If the Detroit Red WIngs weren't winning, would they bring back Gordon Howie? If the Lakers weren't winning would they bring back Wilt? If the Red Sox weren't winning, would they bring back Yaz? No, and it doesn't work that way in wrestling either. Guys who are too green, too old or are simply 6-foot-8 or more seem to be the only guys getting a push here."
By mid-October, Jim Cornette and Stan Lane had had enough and quit. Bobby Eaton chose to stay with 6 months remaining on his contract. Cornette and Lane's decision came after an argument with Anderson over booking Eaton to work three times at a tv taping. "Ironically the Midnights were ...the company's most consistent act nightly on the road but at the same time were given virtually no push and almost treated as glorified jobbers ...Cornette was one of Anderson's biggest supporters when he was first named booker, although that changed 180 degrees."
By November, The Observer was reporting (11/19) that "Ole Anderson's position [is] anything but stable" The pressure on Zenk lifted slightly as Anderson fought to shore up his own position. The Observer reported "Tom Zenk is getting a renewed push." A further sign that Herd was reasserting his authority came with the news that The Renegade Warriors and some of Anderson's 'cheap and green' workers, including Jeff Warner (JW Storm) were on their way out. Despite The Observer's premature claims about a renewed push for Zenk, the quality of his opponents barely improved throughout November and December.
This became apparently clear, at Clash of Champions XXIII "Thanksgiving Thunder" (Jacksonville, Florida 11/20) where Zenk was booked against the inexperienced Brian Lee. "Tom Zenk pinned Brian Lee in 3:10 after a dropkick off the top rope. Decent paced but you could tell they had never worked together because of timing problems. Still it was decent enough except for Zenk missing a flying bodypress off the top rope while Lee was still in Tallahassee or somewhere." (WON, 12/3/90). Lee oversold a throw and missed his spot for the high finish by a mile. Zenk was wild.
In early December, the Observer (12/3/90) reported that "Most of the [NWA] wrestlers seem to be excited" over the news of Ole's impending departure....The thought is that the promotion has hit rock bottom with Ole Anderson at the helm." On the other hand there were rumors of Dusty Rhodes coming in as a replacement. "The thought is that Rhodes will be a good booker so long as he himself isn't an active wrestler. Of course with his son naturally going to be brought in, that has to be almost as bad." (Meltzer uses the word 'naturally' with only faint irony - suggesting that, even among journalists, nepotism was wrestling's accepted modus operandi). It was a sign of how far things had sunk that Rhodes was generally regarded as incapable of doing further damage to the NWA.
In the first week of December 1990, NWA confirmed Ole Anderson's sacking and the release of road agent Bob Roop. An interim committee was appointed comprising Jim Ross, Tony Schavione, Kevin Sullivan and Ric Flair. The new committee began to discard the workers recruited by Ole - in particular JYD , Iron Sheik, Night Stalker (Bryan Clark) and Rocky King (WON 12/10/90). At last the contracted workers began to be pushed again. However talk of Zenk getting a push proved premature when the booking sheets for January showed him booked against the Iron Sheik for the 1/11 Meadowlands show.
Finally, in December, a brief push arrived when Zenk was booked to win the TV belt, revitalizing a title that had lost much of its status during Arn Anderson's tenure. "A television taping on 12/4 at Center Stage in Atlanta before a sellout crowd was headlined by Zenk winning the TV title from Arn Anderson after a dropkick off the top rope. Told it was a great match. They are doing a gimmick where Zenk has a 46 match winning streak so he's getting a big push now with the new booking team."
Things were beginning to look up for Zenk .........or were they?
Tom Zenk's match history for 1990 is NOT the story of one booker (Ric Flair) succeeding and another booker (Ole Anderson) failing to recognize Zenk's talent and push it.
On the contrary, Ole Anderson knew exactly what he had in Tom Zenk, both as a singles wrestler and as one half of the team of "The Z-Man and Flyin' Brian."
The proof came in the second half of 1990, when Anderson regrouped Zenk and Pillman to rescue the company from low ratings and historically low house attendances. Each time "The Z-Man and Flyin' Brian" hit the ring, in July, August, September and November, they turned out 3 and 4 star performances that brought audiences back to the NWA. And each time, as they began to gather heat, Anderson disbanded them.
Anderson's problem with Zenk stemmed from his general rejection of long term contracts for wrestlers. Anderson grew up in the old promotions where wrestlers were hired and fired at will. Zenk and Pillman represented a new breed of wrestlers, signed by Jim Herd on the understanding that, with guaranteed job-security, they would become long term investments for the NWA.
Anderson radically opposed Herd's approach and set out to replace the organization's contracted wrestlers with cheap, short term workers who could be pushed or jobbed as it suited him. That meant using the contracted workers in such a way that, as The Observer noted, they "don't get hot or have any noticeable following - so when they're cut loose at the end of their contracts, it isn't [widely regarded as] a loss." (WON 9/24/90).
It was expected that, under Anderson's regime, most of the contracted workers would jump to Titan when their contracts expired in early 1991. Zenk on the other hand had a 2 year contract (unusual at the time) and was contracted for an additional eighteen months. It would need additional pressure to make Zenk quit. When Zenk refused to go, Anderson applied the simple logic that "getting beat kills your career" and piled on the losses and humiliations.
Significantly Flair, who had been so keen to recruit Zenk (despite Zenk's commitments in Japan) did nothing to help the newcomer or ensure that the spirit of his contract was honored. Flair's response was - "'No-one has done more jobs in wrestling than me." And he left it at that.
In the end it was Anderson who was forced out.
Tom Zenk had survived another round in the booking wars. Things seemed to be looking up - or were they?
Back to Part 1 (Jan - June 1990)
Back to match results (Jan - May 1990)
Back to match results (July - December 1990)
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