Part 1 - Rick Martel and the Can-Am Connection
This is the first time Tom Zenk has spoken in detail on his tag partnership with Martel ... their work together in the IWA, AJPW and WWF.... the events leading to the Can-Am split -- on the eve of winning the WWF Tag Team Championships in July 1987 -- and the detailed reasons behind the split.
All previous accounts place responsibility for the split on Zenk. Zenk's detailed account entirely explodes that myth......
Part 1 appears below.
First off, thanks for taking time to talk to www.tomzenk.com. I'd like to go through some of the early background first and come on to the WWF period a bit later....
1. When did Martel first appear on the Zenk radar?
The first time I became aware of him was in 1984 - when he was AWA champion. People at the gym told me we looked alike. I met him later in the AWA in Minneapolis through Curt Hennig.
Martel, Zenk, Hennig, 1985.
Hennig and Zenk were buddies from High School in Minneapolis
and formed a successful tag team in the AWA
2. Did you ever appear with Martel on TV in AWA? On the same program? In the same match in AWA?
3. What were your first impressions of Martel?
He was a solid impressive worker. I couldn't see through his work. But I was never a mark for him or for wrestling really. Rick, on the other hand, was a real mark for the business - a 'working mark' as Scott Doring and I used to call guys who took it too seriously.
4. How do you respond to Martel's comments that in the early stages of your career, you modeled yourself in part on him?
Yes, I saw some of the moves he made and I always took bits and pieces from the people I respected. And I did respect Rick. I still respect Rick. He was a great worker by today's standards. He got screwed over. What is DDP compared to Rick? Yet Rick never made a million dollars like DDP.
5. Was there any conscious imitation on your part?
I learned from some of his moves. I knew we'd be a team and I realised he was grooming me for it. I knew the deal and I saw what was coming (I can hit a curved ball!) I knew at the time he was taking a real interest in me because he saw money in it - and I went along with it. That meant developing a compatible in-ring style.
6. Did any of your early impressions of Martel survive your actual encounter with him?
Well, I learned early on that he can be real charming - on and off like a switch. He's a good guy - but knowing what I know now, he was really only cultivating me to get where he wanted to go. Some people think the whole world is a movie and he had a part for me. He was going to work me - a young dumb guy - and I played along...... for a while anyway.
7. Did you take away from your encounter with Martel anything of enduring value.
The one thing I'm grateful to him for is his warning about Dusty Rhodes. He told me how egotistical these @#*!!s were. He said he'd never go back any place where he'd have to kiss Dusty's ass. Martel was always very good- hearted. And he looked after me when I was sick in Japan.
FRIENDSHIP OR WORK RELATIONSHIP?
8. Did you share any interests in common?
No - apart from working out and stuff - Rick was a mark for bodybuilding. But it was mainly a business deal. On the road I drove and he'd sleep. We traveled in fours. With another guy and a referee. He was one of the bookers in Montreal and sometimes we talked about booking.
9. Did your working relationship with Martel ever develop into a friendship - or did it remain largely a working relationship?
Well, I THOUGHT we were friends ....but I caught him lying too many times for a good interpersonal relationship.
10. What sort of things did he lie about?
He lied to me about his age. He lied about money. You know the saying "Do as I say and not as I do"? The first time I heard that phrase was from Rick. My father never told me that. When I asked him "what did you make last week?" y'know, he couldn't look you in the eye. He was making $6,000 a week in Japan while I was making $2,500 as his partner. He was playing me with the promoters (as in) "I've got this kid....." -- I sold, I played the part of the lesser guy with no ego.
11. Was there anything else about him that annoyed you?
He was real cheap. He'd book us into Red Roof Inns. I thought if we're going to work in this business at least we could stay in Marriotts and Holiday Inns. I often wondered how come we had to scrimp and save - instead of looking after our main asset - our bodies? I never managed to get high self-esteem from the money in WWF. We were over like Kings on Earth. People came up to us at airports - businessmen, everyone. Great push..... but no money!! I've never been so insulted as I was in WWF. Whoever had the throttle on my money should be ashamed of themselves.
12. What would be some of the best memories of working with him?
I was just starting out and I wasn't that good a worker back then. He gave me a lot of good insight. He critiqued my work. He gave constructive criticism. I played naive. I played dumb. All the old timers like to believe they're 'working' the young guys.
Mark I - the Japan try out
- as McMahon envisioned it.
IWA, Montreal - 1986
13. In 1985/6 you were working happily in PNW. How did Martel convince you to move to Montreal to work for him at IWA?
IWA were in trouble. The Rougeau's had quit IWA for WWF and he called a favor. In retrospect, maybe I should have stayed with PNW. Don Owen liked me a lot and I spoke his language. He (Rick) promised me more money - but that never happened. He promised that he and I would be a tag team in IWA - but that never happened. He wanted to be a singles' champion. He wanted to be somebody. That's what I mean when I say he was a mark for the business - he wanted to be the IWA champion. That meant something to him!
14. Did he make the promises personally or on behalf of Brito and Bravo?
He was a partner in IWA. They (Gino Brito, Dino Bravo, Rick Martel and Tony Muley) had aced out Frank Valois. The year before (in 1985) I'd worked the same territory for Frank Valois. It was Rick who made the promises.
15. Do you think he had plans to form a tag team with you as far back as PWN or did the idea come later?
He had the plans a long time before - and triggered them to suit his career.
16. There's a story that Martel wanted you to form a brothers' tag team. Is this true?
That's when I really began to be suspicious of him - when he tried to hook me up with his wife's sister. He wanted a tag partner for life.
17. Can you tell us something about your daily work program in IWA?
(a) How many nights a week did you work?
(b) What towns did you work?
Most of the towns in Quebec and Ontario.
(c) What sort of crowds did IWA draw?
Not as big as under Valois. WWF was getting most of the TV and quickly taking over the business. It was the beginning of the end for IWA. Eventually Martel went off to cut a deal with WWF behind Brito's back.
(d) Who did IWA's booking?
The booking was a conglomeration of all of them.
(e) What sort of angles were you working?
I was the "Young Lion," "Young and Upcoming Champion," "Tom Terrific" etc., according to [commentator] Milt Avruskin. But in reality I was stuck in the coin return. Going nowhere. Rick really wanted the heavyweight belt. Steve Strong and Dino Bravo were fighting for it but Rick wanted it for himself. But being champion didn't mean anything. That's what I mean - they were real marks. I used to say "Pay me $5,000 and give THEM the belt." I've never thought there was any prestige in being a wrestling champion.
(f) You held the IWA tag belts with Phil Lafon. What was Phil like to work with?
Phil Lafon. A great guy. I miss him. A legit tough guy. Likes to drink, chase women, a sweetheart of a guy. We hung out together in Japan. Gosh he was a good guy.....
Phil Lafon - aka "Dan Kroffat"
a "sweetheart of a guy..."
Steve di Salvo - aka "Steve Strong"
"Clumsy, klutzey, stiff guy, terrible to work with..."
(g) Steve di Salvo or "Steve Strong" is something of a kitsch wrestling icon - what do you remember about him?
Steve Strong - a cave man. Clumsy, klutzey, stiff guy, terrible to work with. Nothing good to say about him as a wrestler .... And he injured my shoulder!
18. How did the promotion manage against WWF?
Well, it lost out to WWF. I remember one occasion, IWA had a show booked in the Montreal Forum. The Montreal Commissioners bumped IWA for WWF which was in town the same night. WWF got the Forum. IWA got the Paul Sauve Arena. Everyone knew we couldn't compete. So Martel flew off to cut his own deal with Vince [McMahon]. Martel claims he 'lost $50,000' when he left IWA. I knew that if he screwed Bravo he could screw me. All that stuff about "how could Tom leave me (in the Can-Am)" - when he had done THIS to his own long term friends and partners in the IWA! In many ways I think he had no respect for other people - Rick looked out for Rick.
|People's palace - the former Paul Sauve Arena in Montreal - a controversy erupted when municipal authorities demolished the arena to make way for expensive condominiums(courtesy Claude LeDuc)|
19. Did Martel discuss with you anything about his plans for WWF?
All I heard back [from his meeting with McMahon] was that Vince wanted all white instead of all blue jackets and trunks for the tag team. Rick tried to convince McMahon that it was Vince's idea all along - to make Vince the genius that Vince wanted to be. Rick was a good worker and put Vince over. They made a deal.
20. Did you ever get the feeling that Martel was maneuvering you to increase his longevity by bringing you onboard?
Yes, I knew Rick had been thinking about the Can-Am for a long time and the IWA's imminent collapse triggered his plans. People told us that we looked like brothers. And it was common knowledge among the wrestling community that Rick couldn't give an interview because he had a hard time with English. After the Montreal promotion's decline, it was obvious that he needed a new "ticket to ride," and, I guess, I was it!
The Can-Am try out in Japan
|"After we wrestled the Funks
in Japan, the office came back. Lord Bleares called Rick aside. Rick had
cut Bleares some slack from their time in Hawaii. Rick came back and said
"They want to put us over in the tournament - over Hansen and DiBiase."
But Rick told them "We can't." He told them we had commitments in the US.I
said "Rick, let's take it, It's twice what I'm earning in WWF."
They [AJPW] wanted us to win the tournament. The deal would be one-month-on one-month-off, and they'd pay the airfares and tax. But I found out in the next day or two that Martel hated Japan. All the stresses he had about being away from home just doubled in Japan. He was also allergic to peanut oil which they cook with there. His face would blow up like the elephant man. He'd break out in a rash if I ate a Snickers bar in the car. And, like Johnny Ace he wanted, above all, to be a big star in the US. He wanted to be the wrestler from Quebec who made it in the US. But, in the back of my mind was the nagging question "Why wouldn't Martel want to be tag team champion in All Japan- the most prestigious tournament in Japan" - UNLESS he had a better deal in WWF - certainly better than the one he'd cut for me...."