Z-Man Settles in with NWA


By Kris Pope
Twin Cities Wrestling Update, October 4, 1989

This month our interview is with local native, turned major league wrestling superstar, The Z-Man.  The Z-Man, who many know as Tom Zenk, has recently been employed by the National Wrestling Alliance in their attempt to gain the top talent today.  Z-Man recently made his NWA debut at the Clash of Champions 8, which was broadcast live on nationwide cable TV.  Z-Man defeated the Cuban Assassin in a very impressive win on the show.  His touring starts in October, so the Update has brought another exclusive Ė this time with the Z-Man.  Here is our telephone conversation:

Update:  What was your impression of the NWA during Clash of the Champions?

Z: I was very impressed with their production.  They had a good crowd and things went well.  They've really turned things around. It was a first class show.

Update: At the Clash, did things go the way you had planned?

Z: Yes, I was pleased with the way things turned out.  My match with the Cuban Assassin was long, but the victory is what counts.

Update: What do you think the future holds for the Z-Man in NWA?

Z: I think Iíll have a good career.  I've got a nice 2 year contract and itís the best opportunity since leaving WWF.  I like singles competition best and thatís what Iíll be doing in the NWA.  The future looks real good.

Update: What are some of the names that youíd like to wrestle in the coming year?

Z: Ah, the Great Muta, Rick Flair and Lex Luger.

Update: Out of those names, which one do you think you wonít wrestle against?

Z: Definitely Flair.

Update: Turning the conversation around a little, what are some of your more memorable moments?

Z: Wrestlemania 3 was the big highlight.  That stands out you know, wrestling in front of 93,000 people was exciting.  Other memories like being in Madison Square Gardens for the first time and winning titles also stand out as the best.

Update: What title have you won?

Z: Thereís been quite a few.  The big ones are probably the International tag team titles with my partner Dan Kroffat and the Pacific Northwest singles title.

Update: How many federations have you wrestled for and out of them, which one stands out as the best one to work for?

Z: I like where I am right now, in the NWA.  From a business standpoint, the WWF could be better with pay and percentages in marketing.  I like the WWF but the travel was the hard part.

Update: How about PWA [Sharkey's Pro-Wrestling America - see end of page] vs the AWA.  Which one do you think is better?

Z: Personally, the PWA because the AWA is a letdown.  They donít try.  The AWA has the TV and exposure and they donít make use of that.

Update: What do you think of their new ďTeam Challenge Series?Ē

Z: Itís different, but I donít think anything will come of it.

Update: Can you tell us a little about your background?

Z: Sure, I was born and raised in Golden Valley, MN.  Iím a graduate of Robbinsdale High School and was in the graduation class along with Curt Hennig and Rick Rude, and I went to the University of Minnesota for three years majoring in Speech Communications.

Update: How much longer do you want to stay in wrestling and what are your plans for a post-wrestling career?

Z: I wonít wrestle anymore than 10 years and no less than 5. Iím very independent so Iíd say I might start a business when wrestling is over.

Update: Who do you think some of the best people to tag team together would be?

Z: Johnny Ace and Brian Pillman come to mind.  Rick Martel was a good partner, but we just didnít get along.

Update: You were so close to winning the AWA world title from Larry Zbyszko.  So close, you were only 1 count away from the belt.  What could have possibly made you leave the AWA and title hopes with it?

Z: Well, I couldnít make a living.  Thatís about it.  The AWA didnít have enough bookings for me and I wasnít under contract.  It ended up that they couldnít afford me and I had offers from other places.

Update: Did you mind the comments made by Lee Marshall about your career after you had left?

Z: Of course I was very hot, you know.  It was slanted the wrong way (see box below).  I thought Lee was a good guy but I guess they have to protect themselves.

Update: To leave us off, can you tell us your prediction on who will win the PWA tournament?

Z: Ricky Rice [see second box below].

Update: Thanks for you r time and good luck in the future, Z-Man.

Z: Thank you.


Verne Gagne and Lee Marshall in the dying days of the AWA

Zenk left the AWA in mid 1989 for Japan and the NWA, after it became clear he had no future there. The promotion itself was within months of terminal collapse.

In an on-air segment, a week after his departure, Lee Marshall and Larry Nelson, the front men on AWA's "Championship Wrestling" attacked Zenk for leaving  - 

Lee Marshall - "People are just wondering why I said what I said about Tom Zenk which was that I didn't think he could be focused long enough to be champion and that he was kinda the athlete that never wins the big one". 

Larry Nelson - "I want to give you credit for honest commentary. As far as I'm concerned you ought to be respected for those views".  (ESPN, May 6, 1989)

This didn't go down too well with fans, who bombarded AWA with what Marshall described as "hate mail". 

Marshall was happy to stoke the controversy and returned to the issue the following week - 

Lee Marshall - "I'm not saying that Tom Zenk isn't a spectacular athlete.. I'm saying that Tom... let me put it this way .... There are guys that have the hearts to be champions like Gale Sayers, Orel Hershiser... I don't think Zenk has the heart to be a champion". 
Interestingly, at the time of this exchange, Larry Nelson had been cut back from 5 days to 1 day a week and was barely making a living from the AWA. A few months later he decamped to Florida -
"any kind of courtesy, even a resignation notice, was not in my best interest ...so [I decided] I would grab my paycheck, cash it and head for the airport.. I would have to ditch the AWA without warning... Without a second thought, I made my escape before the crumbling AWA fell into total ruin." (Larry Nelson, Stranglehold, 1999 p 141-2)(more here)

"Stagger" Lee Marshall eventually made his way to the WCW. He was later fired  but reappeared in commentary for the revived GLOW.

 Pro-Wrestling America
(Minnesota : 1985 - 98? Promoter - Eddy Sharkey )

PWA Heavyweight Title History

Mad Dog Vachon  85/01/15  Anoka, MN
  * Defeats Steve Regal to become first champion.
Ricky Rice  86/03/17  Omaha, NE
Larry Cameron  87/09/12  Fridley, MN
Ricky Rice [2]  89/07/08  Yellowknife, NT *
Charlie Norris  89/11/16  Fridley, MN
Ricky Rice [3]  90/05/14  Fridley, MN
Jerry Lynn  90/08/12  Fridley, MN
Ricky Rice [4]  90/09/22  St. Charles, IL
Terminator Rigs  91/01/14  Fridley, MN
Charlie Norris [2] 91/02/07  Minneapolis, MN
Terminator Rigs [2] 91/02/11  Fridley, MN
Charlie Norris [3] 91/05/11  Shakopee, MN
  * Defeats Golden Idol when Rigs no-shows.
Teijo Khan  91/10/14  Fridley, MN
Charlie Norris [4] 91/12/22
Punisher Sledge  92/02/17  Fridley, MN
Charlie Norris [5] 92/04/26  Minneapolis, MN
The Hater  92/10/20  Minneapolis, MN
Tommy Ferrera  93/05/10  Fridley, MN
The Hater [2]  93/06/12  Albertville, MN
Wellington Wilkens Jr. 96/08/25  Sendai, JAPAN

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