Larry Nelson interviews Tom Zenk

Many of the matches in the Tom Zenk Collection #1 and 2 - (AWA 1984-5) were taped in Winnipeg for AWA's Canadian TV show.  This show aired weekly on TSN but was taped once a month in Winnipeg with AWA wrestlers and crew traveling north from Minneapolis - and staying overnight in a local hotel. What happened at night in the local hotel is the subject of much of AWA commentator Larry Nelson's recent book Stranglehold. In these extracts Nelson writes about 'carney', Eric Bischoff and a typical night out in Winnipeg - "the best party stop on the AWA circuit." 

Extracts from Larry Nelson's recent book Stranglehold -

"People in the wrestling business have their own language. This specialized communication is necessary in the ring and in public. When I finally learned this lingo, I began to feel like an insider. This insider's language, "carney", really is a simple twist of English invented in the carnival's early days. You add the sound "eeuhzz" between the first and second syllables of any word. Talk becomes 'tee-uh-zalk'. Stop is 'stee-uh-zop'. It works for names as well. Larry, for example, is 'Lee-uh-zarry'. This seems and sounds no more difficult that pig Latin, yet it has been a puzzle to the public for over 100 years. No one explains this language to a newcomer who isn't a wrestler. It's something they must pick up on their own......."

"Our group was housed mostly on the same floor [of the hotel] and the boys wandered from room to room. So did the groupies. I had gone looking to bum a beer somewhere, when I encountered a beautiful young woman hurrying down the hall, wrapped in a blanket. "That big guy's crazy!" she exclaimed. I offered her admittance to my room. She hesitated. The elevator door opened and Stan Lane of the Fabulous Ones stepped into the hallway. He approached us and asked what was going on. I could already detect chemistry building between the two.... Stan Lane was a cocksman and the Fabulous Ones were, for female fans, the most popular babyface tag team in the AWA. He asked the woman to open the blanket ...Stan looked her up and down ..."Come on" he said and they went to his room. A groggy Hawk came out of his room dressed only in his underwear. He mumbled something about "Does she want a man or a mouse?" and knocked on a door across the hall.....

Steve Keirn and Stan Lane - the Fabulous Ones

"Every month we went to Winnipeg and every time this type of thing happened. The bar would close and wrestlers and groupies wandered the halls in search of sex, booze, drugs and adventure. Some of the women simply disappeared into a wrestler's room for the night. Others went from room to room. A few of the boys wrestled, returned to the hotel, then retired to their rooms alone. Most partied the night away with various combinations of women, alcohol and drugs. I watched Stan Lane tell three young women to strip in his room one night. On another occasion I witnessed a spontaneous and friendly match erupt for the world title between champion Rick Martel and challenger Curt Hennig in room 311........

Usually the recreation area and pool were closed off, with only the wrestlers and crew permitted entry -

"Once inside, with our booze and drugs, we did as we pleased. Usually, most everyone was naked within minutes! These gatherings had people in the pool, sauna and jacuzzi, enjoying every form of sex imaginable. I once walked into the men's room and froze at the sight of the world's champion and a young woman he had positioned on the wash basin shelf. He glanced over, nonplused ... and kept on. The young woman paid me no mind at all.....

Sex, booze and drugs were everywhere. Women were on male laps in the jacuzzi. Wrestlers sat on the edge of the pool with females as others nonchalantly made conversation in lawn chairs, oblivious to it all. It was nothing out of the ordinary. Not at these parties. The smoke could be from cigarettes, cigars or joints. The plastic cups could hold soda pop or whiskey. Though no one had to participate in anything, anyone could participate in everything....

Most entertainers come to town once, perform, then move on. Their encounters are singular. Wrestling territories, on the other hand, booked matches in the same towns on a regular basis. The women who flocked to the wrestlers did so after every match and some became regulars. Competition among these groupies could be intense and sometimes violent. You may be surprised that most professional wrestling groupies are not stupid, ugly or strangers to personal hygiene. Some are professional women with big salary careers, who look upon the monthly gatherings as an exciting forbidden break from the boredom of corporate jobs or pressure packed self-employment.  ....Two women worked as nurses at a local hospital. They had unusual influence with us, because of their readiness to supply an assortment of drugs. Because none of us wanted to chance transporting drugs across the border to Canadian matches.

The few female members of our AWA entourage steered clear of these parties. Really the only women who consistently made the trip were women's world champion Sherri Martel and "Georgeous" Jimmy Garvin's wife, Patty, who served as his valet. Jimmy and Patty pretty much stayed in their room, while Sherri hung out with Larry Zbyszko in his room. I suspect they shared more than a few games of Battleship....

Eric Bischoff's 'whiskey muscles'

Eric Bischoff takes over,
after Nelson fled the AWA

"When I first met Eric Bischoff, he was involved in music. We met through my work in radio.... He was intrigued I was in wrestling and wondered if there could be a career opportunity for him in it. I went to our producer Mike Shields who wanted a marketing person to call people on the phone and sell our product. I made the introduction, got Eric an appointment and they hired him. Eric made phone calls, marketed the production and put promotions together. Occasionally he would run camera while I conducted interviews. Eric had no previous broadcast experience . This mattered little and he soon went out on the road with us too. 

He was born in a pretty rough Detroit neighborhood. One day when we were talking, he took his false teeth out, front ones, and showed them to me. I asked how he had lost the teeth. He recalled walking to school as a kid, and being beaten up by black guys for his lunch money. Eric, a victim more than once, began to study karate. Though he was pretty nice to me, there was some anger in him. When he drank, he'd get aggressive. He even tested the waters a few times, to see how tough the wrestlers in our group really were. Eric never had the courage to do it sober, and always fared poorly......

In 1989, as the AWA headed for bankruptcy, Nelson fled the company for Florida.  Eric Bischoff replaced him in commentary.  At the time of AWA's collapse, only Bischoff, Zbyszko (who had married Verne Gagne's daughter) and Greg Gagne (whom the promotion had been built around) remained.  Zbyszko and Gagne jumped to WCW. Bischoff auditioned for WWF but wasn't hired.  Eventually, with Dallas Page's help, Bischoff became a part-time 'C-squad announcer' in WCW. He mysteriously assumed control of WCW just over a year later, courtesy of TBS Executives Bill Shaw and Bob Dhue.  One of his first actions was to sack Greg Gagne. 

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