Tom Zenk Interview 2000

Tom Zenk Shoot InterviewThe following extensive interview features former AWA, WCW, and WWE wrestler Tom Zenk. Zenk was one of the most outspoken guests in Pro Wrestling Radio history and talks about everything from his career, Brian Pillman, Jeff Jarrett, the state of WCW, Ric Flair, and more. The interview was taped September 03, 2000 and broadcast on Pro Wrestling Radio.

Eric – Tom, are you there?

Tom Z – Hey Eric, how are you doing?

Eric – How are you Tom?

Tom Z – Excellent. If I were any better, I’d be twins …

Eric – What are you doing with yourself these days?

 Tom Z – I’m working for a multinational company here in Minneapolis. I manage a production arm of it.

Eric – Excellent, maybe they could bring you into WCW as the manager over there…..

Tom Z – Well yeah – I’d work good with Flair, Johnny Ace and Terry Taylor – I think that would be a good booking committee.

Eric – What about Vince Russo?

Tom Z – I don’t know Vince personally. I think he might be on the right track. I don’t know. I heard from Terry Taylor one time that he’s got a really creative mind and he knows the TV part of it – so I’ve heard only positive things about Russo when Taylor spoke about him.

Eric – I’ve got to ask you because somebody asked me to ask you this question – given 30 minutes with Brad Seigel – what would you tell him?

Tom Z – I’d tell him what they’ve got going on down there. First of all, they haven’t progressed in the 10 years that I’ve been watching them or been associated with them. They’re on track to lose $80 million! Now who are we going to blame for that? Someone’s got to take the heat here. And I say it’s Bischoff ..

Eric – Of course!

Tom Z – He was a mark. He got suckered by the boys. He took the bait – hook, line and sinker. Paying all these big multi-million dollar contracts. And these guys are sitting at home collecting money! Now first of all the company has to make money. I mean its unbelievable but Eric Bischoff could probably break the U.S. Government.

Eric – And that would be pretty hard to do….

Tom Z – Is it! But I think he could do it.

Eric – Well, now they have Gary Coleman working over there. The guy from “Different Strokes” – the little guy – well maybe they could have him run the company.

Tom Z – Are you serious?

Eric – Yeah – he was on the Pay Per View last week. You know it’s funny – I used to goof around when they had Jason Harvey booking and I used to say “Who’s that? Gary Coleman?” And then he shows up… (laughter).

Tom Z – The last I heard of him, he’d supposedly punched some woman security guard.

Eric – Yeah! A security guard. It’s funny, I had Chris Jericho on the show the week that that happened and we had a whole conversation about Gary Coleman punching the security guard and the next thing you know he’s doing run ins and taking guitar shots from Jeff Jarrett [on WCW].

Tom Z – Oh no!!

Eric – They’ve got the retro 80 stars, they’ve got everyone coming in there now.

Tom Z – Oh no!! I mean I remember some of these guys – they were kind of OLD when I was down there. I’m going to be 42 soon and I’m thinking “My goodness, how are these guys still around? They were old when I was down there?” Oh God. They are just doing the wrong thing.

Eric – And I think it’s obvious when you watch it each week….

Tom Z – Yeah!

Eric – Do you watch what’s going on?

Tom Z – I do a little bit. The last time, I tuned into the pay per view (Fall Brawl) I saw Jim Barnett in the crowd next to The Destroyer (Dick Beyer) with his mask on!!!! – I’m going “This is the year 2000 and you’re wearing a mask in the audience!” I watched some of it and I watched Vince’s pay per view but Vince is so far ahead. Instead of trying to compete with them, they [WCW] should just give the people a different product, a different style of wrestling product. Don’t go back [to the old days]. But change it – incorporate some of Vince Russo’s new ideas and get back to more athleticism. You’re never going to catch Vince because he’s on the cutting edge. So give it a little variation – And not just alter the tables where Tony Schavione sits! You have to get some new blood into the show. Inject different things. Flair, he can get on there and talk, but dear gawd take his kid off!! Pay his kid to sit at home. You know Ric Flair, has a legacy He’s done enough damage to himself. Give the kid a rubber mask or something…

Eric – You know Tom, you’d think if your father was Ric Flair you’d be able to go out there and cut a decent promo or something …

Tom Z – Here’s my prescription for Ric Flair’s kid. He should wake up in the morning. Eat a big breakfast. Go to the gym and watch 10 -12 hours of Ric Flair promos and matches every day and go to the Power Plant. Keep him off TV for 2 years until he can fill daddy’s shoes. We’ve seen Dustin Rhodes, we’ve seen Bill Watt’s kid – where are they now?

Eric – Yeah, exactly. I honestly think they should give him a DNA test because there’s no way Ric Flair could have any of his genes in that kid.

Tom Z – Oh no. I was going to say he was just like ‘”a chip off the old block” That would be the best burn you could tell Flair ” Hey, he’s just a chip off the old block.” Boy, that would make Ric seethe.

Eric – Y’know it’s funny. I heard a story once from one of the boys that, before the shows, Arn was working out with his kid [David Flair] trying to teach him a figure-four leg lock, how to apply it, and he couldn’t grasp it. And the guy who was telling me this yelled out “You’d think if your father was Ric Flair, you’d know how to put on a figure-four leg lock.”

Tom Z – The best one I ever heard was when his kid, I wasn’t watching it at the time, but Jumpin’ Joey Maggs – remember him? ….

Eric – Yes, of course ..

Tom Z – He rang me and said “Tom, Tom, turn on the TV right away! Flair’s kid is on there. He just gave a guy a supplex and the guy he gave the supplex to beat him up.” (laughter) Stood up before Flair’s kid – I mean, it’s just a shame and very embarrassing and guys that claim they love the sport, and they protect it, and say they love the business, well you wouldn’t have your son out there. I mean its like “Don’t you know?” And if you don’t know, I’m telling you now Ric. “Keep your kid off TV!!” I’m sure none of the boys care if he gets paid – (‘the bloodlines’ or whatever lie you want to say). But don’t expose your son. You’re setting him up to fail. You shouldn’t do that. It wrecks wrestling and it wrecks credibility. And wrestling has none now and that’s what it needs.

Tom Z – Oh Pillman and I were just seething!!! (laughter) They were taking up valuable time. And all the boys would give you the ga ga – “Oh, he’s a nice guy brother..” brother.. all the brother jive (laughter) I cut to the chase. I didn’t want to see it. I’d played the game in the WWF and that was the worst part about wrestling – all the lies. All the BS. Nobody gets down to business. And they still are floundering. You have to keep your mouth shut. And guys get quiet in the car. Pillman and I used to light guys up just to gauge their reaction. You could figure out the stooges. The top guys. They’re the stooges and they’re still there. When was the last time Sting had a memorable match? He didn’t draw when I was down there and he doesn’t draw now!

Eric – That’s so true.

Tom Z – So who likes them? What have they got going on?

Eric – So true…

Tom Z – Do they have nude pictures of somebody? I don’t get it.

Eric – You know Tom, it’s so funny because I did this show about a month ago called “Who’s got pictures” with exactly that concept. I never had a more popular show in my life. I still have people ringing in 5 weeks later saying ‘I know who’s got pictures.” It’s the same concept as they got over there. Now speaking of Brian Pillman. You teamed with him for quite a long time and had a most successful tag team …What are your memories of Brian Pillman?

Tom Z – Brian Pillman was a fantastic guy. His first love was football, but like Dynamite Kid, he was always fighting the short man thing. But they both had so much athletic ability. Pillman was a fantastic guy, a good friend and it just killed us when Ole (Anderson) broke up our tag team. We had great matches with the Midnight Express [Eaton and Lane]. But I believe behind the scenes they leveled the playing field – some of the top guys that couldn’t compete with guys like myself and Brian night after night after night. If you’re running around, chasing women at night, having a good time, and you still could perform when you got trashed the night before and have fun – they don’t want to see it because they are miserable and they are married. …Pillman, he got buried by Dusty in The Yellow Dog angle. They had Pillman in the Light heavyweight division, but Watts just canned that. Then he got screwed over by Bischoff with the Hollywood Blondes and that was the best thing they had going as a tag team. Behind the scenes there is a lot of stuff that goes on. A little clique of guys and then finally the booker man. Now I know for a fact that Pillman never wanted to go to the WWF. Everyone wants to retire in WCW. Anyone that’s jumped – Luger, the Steiners – they all come back. Because the money sucked before in the WWF. Vince paid you what he wanted to pay you. Then, Bischoff got the cash [ATM] card and started giving out money, so Vince had to up the ante. He never wanted to do that. That’s the old trick of a promoter you know. Tell him “You’re a star [because] You’re on my TV.” Anyway, Brian – that’s a really sad case. Some of these guys [journalists]. They know what goes on behind the scenes. Some of these guys that know these thing have to be accountable. Supposed journalists. They should be more accountable. You could see it happening. He was in a downward spiral.

Eric – Were you surprised when you heard the terrible news about Brian?

Tom Z – No, to tell you the truth. I predicted he had about two years to live after his ex-girlfriend killed herself. I knew him well. He was at Joey’s (Maggs) house in Atlanta when he got the news (about his ex-girlfriend). I got a phone call right away. Joey had to pick him up off the floor about four times. He said “I think that’s as close to a nervous breakdown as he ever had.” He said “It was just terrible.” Just awful. It didn’t help what they did to him in wrestling. They manipulated him. Brian was a heck of an athlete, it’s just a sad, tragic, story of misuse.

Eric – Shawn Michaels recently did an interview where he said, the night before Pillman passed away, he was just in real bad shape, real bad shape, and the signs were all over the place – and the guys really weren’t surprised.

Tom Z – Exactly. And he died in Minneapolis here, right out in Bloomington.

Eric – Yeah, right in your home town …

Tom Z – All the signs were there. And then the next night [after Brian’s death] Vince comes on TV at Brian wife’s house. Quite a business!

Eric – Yeah, wonderful business!

Eric – What lead up to you pretty much hanging it up. I mean you had a real good thing going, you were always in great shape, and ahead of a lot of the other guys?

Tom Z – Well, it just depends on the bookers. I went through Ole, Flair, Dusty, Bill Watts. They all had their turn with the Turner people. I’m sure that the Turner people, Herd, Petrick, and Kip Frey, and look at what they did to that Bill Busch. They’ve all had their run. They manipulated them. Then they were sick of wrestling talent being in charge so they got Bischoff. He talks out of both sides of his mouth. He knew how to play the corporate game and then the boys hooked him….. He’s just a guy that likes to hang out with big guys. I’ll never forget his son down in Florida one time at a TV taping. Remember when they used to do it down at Disney? I said “Hey, how’re you doing?” He said “Do you know who my dad is? My dad’s Hulk Hogan’s boss!” I wonder where he got that from? ‘Out of the mouths of babes…” So the psychology was quite easy to figure out with Eric. And all Eric was in the AWA was a coffee boy for Verne Gagne. So how come he got that spot? He must have wrote a heck of a resume, but I think there is a story that Jason Hervey, I heard a rumor once. That he wrote to the Turner people that he was real interested in hiring Eric as a game show host and Jason kind of put him over the top. It’s like in wrestling when nobody wants you, nobody wants you. When somebody wants you, everybody wants you. It’s like DDP putting out rumors. I heard he was in the WWF office. I’m sure they said “Yeah, OK we’ll keep in touch.” I’m sure Vince just grabbed his belly and had a heck of a belly laugh with that fool walking out of the office. I mean what is he – 55 years old?

Eric – Yeah pretty much ….

Tom Z – The only reason why he got anywhere was because of Bischoff, his next door neighbor ……and maybe his wife.

Eric – Well that helps …. You mentioned Bill Watts there. Now a lot has been said about the myth and the legend of Bill Watts. A very fascinating man to listen to. What was it like working for Bill Watts?

Tom Z – He came in and he played that big, old, tough cowboy. (impersonating) “Now you boys are gonna get back to kayfabing and being professional.” The day he came in and read the riot act in the locker room was the day of that match I had with Pillman in Jacksonville, FL (WrestleWar ’92). So we went out there and we tried to steal the show. And we had a heck of a match. But, if anyone was watching that. Pillman and I worked good together, just like Benoit and myself or Austin, but THEY NEVER MADE ANYTHING OF IT. Bill came in, he didn’t care. He cut salaries, and I think he got a percentage of what he cut. ….. He was full of BS also. Putting himself over. He didn’t last long. What do you think of his son? I think he was getting like 750 a week to get trained at the training camp.What kind of message do you think that sends in the locker room for guys that just stumble upon the business, work their butts off, like in ECW. Travel around the world and try and be something. And then the booker puts his son in there and the kid’s got two left feet. He’s never made it without daddy. But I guess it’s the American way, look at Bush and look at Al Gore. So …I don’t know.

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Eric – You also worked with Paul E. [Heyman] when he was a manager?

Tom Z – He was a great guy. A great guy. He was really good. I remember him, he was really nice to me in New York when I was first getting in the business with Verne. We traveled around Manhattan, he set me up with some chics, a lot of fun. He was a great guy. How is he doing by the way?

Eric –Last week was supposed to be the last week on television with TNN.. But they extended him with the help of Vince McMahon to the end of the year or until he gets another deal

Tom Z – I wonder why they don’t get it hooked up together. Vince and Paul E. They are both New York boys and why don’t they feed off each other, have a little talent pool or help them out. Vince has a lot of money now.

Eric – I wonder if they’ve worked out something like that behind the scenes?

Tom Z – That’s what I would think. Paul E.’s real clever and real crafty. He’s a survivor. He’s been around the business since he was a kid I believe.

Eric – So you’re not surprised at the success he had with ECW?

Tom Z – Not at all. See that’s the thing. Paul’s got a great mind for it and he’s tenacious too. He doesn’t back down. I saw him throwing a garbage can at Ric Flair, like they were in a cat-fight. “Oh yeah, f’ you, and f’ this.” Back and forth. It was a draw. No punches were thrown, but he was mad as heck and they were back and forth, back and forth. It was great entertainment. It’s a great memory of mine. He didn’t take anything from Ric. Yeah, he stood his ground and I always knew he’d be a success and always be in the business. He’s got a great mind, they (WCW) should use it. They should put their egos aside and let’s do business. With all the money that they’ve spent in WCW, Harley Race could still be on the payroll. They never take care of their own kind.

Eric – You’d think so.

Tom Z – Yeah but different minds have different perceptions. ….. Oh man, they could collaborate but the guys don’t stick together

Eric – Yeah, now another guy you mentioned you worked alongside was Steve Austin. Are you surprised at his success?

Tom Z – No, he was one of the hardest working guys, always in shape, he could go, go, go. I never had a problem with him, he never hurt me. He was always careful. He was with his first wife, Jeannie I think? That was his valet. But all I was doing was kind of getting him settled down or experienced putting in 20, 15 minutes and just kind of being vanilla, getting him ready for Dustin.

Eric – Yeah – feed him to Dustin, ha ha.

Tom Z – Yeah. Shine him up and feed him to Dustin! The best Vince could do [for Dustin] was dress him up, give him a wig and some makeup. Just like they did to daddy and the polka dots. They don’t use people right in WCW. Look at all the talent they had that went to Vince and he made them stars.

Eric – Exactly. Look at Benoit. He was there for 4 years and they didn’t even use him in the world title picture until the last six months. But he’s been with Vince for less than six months and he’s already in the title picture.

Tom Z – Exactly! Vince, I’m sure he just laughs at what fools they are in WCW. He runs a class act, or he knows the wrestling business. He lives it. That’s why he’s successful. Down in WCW, they got hold of the pocketbook. They don’t have professional management, you know what I’m saying? Vince is living proof that the style works that he has. He’s going to have to be held more accountable now because his company is a publicly listed company. WCW is living proof that you can’t put old style promoters close to other people’s money and expect there to be anything left at the end of the day.

Eric – When is the Tom Zenk book coming out?

Tom Z – I don’t know, there’s something in the works but I don’t know how cutting edge to be.

Eric – Well these days everyone is just saying whatever’s on their minds.

Tom Z – Yeah but I always did that before when I was in the business. I have always been pretty much of a straight shooter. Have you read any of the books?

Eric – Wel I read Mick (Foley)’s book.

Tom Z – I read Mick’s book, I read DDP’s book but Dynamite Kid’s book was the best and most honest with Foley’s so far.

Eric – Dynamite’s book was awesome. DDP’s book was great but he just talked about how great he was.

Tom Z – But that’s his favorite subject, you know what I mean? DDP, it’s like. OK, in the book. Can you see where all the guys allude to all the pads, the knee pads. They ribbed him!! This guy was bandaged up. He’s the king of rehabbing. Oh, c’mon. Give it up.

Eric – The book WAS kinda funny. Everytime someone had a excerpt in there, instead of a story, it was just talking about how great DDP was.

Tom Z – Yeah, yeah like ” Can you guys please say something good about me”.

Eric – And Rocky’s book. It’s a good idea but what does this guy have to say. He’s only been in the business about 4 years!

Tom Z – Well, he drew out the mega-mall here in Minneapolis. He drew the biggest crowd they ever had. There were people lined up for the book signing. He’s really a show man and it’s like WCW never learns. It’s always someone else’s turn. Not Z-Man’s turn, not Hulk Hogan’s, not Ric Flair’s, there are always young guys. It’s a young man’s business and they think the world is gonna stop when they are done with wrestling. Well, I’ve got news, it just keeps going on and on. I mean, look at Vince. Look at how they created him (Rock) from nothing.

Eric – Well with Kevin Nash, Gary Coleman and Jeff Jarett …..

Tom Z – Now that Jeff Jarrett …. didn’t he get beat by a woman? How does he have a top spot in WCW? He got beat by a woman? What’s that?

Eric – Well, it’s the good ole boys network…

Tom Z – That’s right, Jerry Jarrett promoter in Tennessee. That’s right.

Eric – He’s also Vince Russo’s boy, what can I tell you.

Tom Z – I don’t know. I don’t see any talent with Jeff. He’s short and he’s just really not much of anything.

Eric – I don’t see any talent whatsoever in the guy. You know he’s the kind of guy who – and this is my opinion – that they give you the ILLUSION is over becasue they put him on TV so much. But he’s not!

Tom Z – Yeah. He’s not over. Just look at the gate. You can hear the crowd. Who they roar for. Now, this is my biggest axe to grind. I used to take it personally. I used to thin “God did I do somthing wrong?” What did they do to Bill Goldberg? What’s the deal with this guy? I’ve never met him, but I got phone calls “Who’s this Goldberg guy?” The guys at work, they were really into it with Goldberg. They took the shine off this guy in record time. Gosh.

Eric – It’s UNBELIEVABLE. They had their Rocky and they had their Steve Austin right under their noses.. and you know Tom, exactly, it’s just the politics. He was too new to the business and he didn’t know how to play the political game.

Tom Z – Well I knew how to play the game. I didn’t kiss anyone’s arse in the business and I still don’t. I walked away from it. ….Oh my! If you play the game, you’re gonna get burned and I gotta look at myself in the mirror [next day]. Some of these guys that play the game, well I guess they’re good for the economy. I’m sure they’re pissing away their money. But, oh man, just the dangerous games, the dirty games. Look at the bodies piled up. Rude, Pillman. I mean, I never buried any friends or guys that I knew OTHER than wrestlers. I mean, that’s really sad.

Eric – Very sad.

Eric – I knew a couple of the boys and would go back to the lockerroom in Philly some times. You used to come in and there was no hold on you and you would talk about anything and anybody. You could have a guy standing 5 feet away from you and you’d say “This guy sucks!” And what was funny was, when Vince had that thing going down with the sex scandals, you were very vocal about that stuff that was going on there.

Tom Z – Oh yeah, I knew about the different things. I mean, didn’t anyone ever figure it out. I left all the sudden. I mean you can read about it in the court papers [from McMahon’s 1994 trial]. It was Rick Martel, Pat Patterson, and Terry Garvin. I mean all of a sudden that happens [his departure], what did they think? That was the most fun I ever had, wrestling for that territory for Vince. That was what I wanted to do. Wrestle for the WWF. Above the Mason-Dixon line THAT’S wrestling. I never thought about going down south to the NWA and fighting Dusty and that clique of guys. I knew what was going on there. I heard from Martel. I mean, I worked hard in the WWF, but Rick cut his own deal. As to the WWF scandals … Oh my God. Well now Vince is going to have to be accountable [with public listing] and that stuff can no longer go on. I mean just think about the lives these guys have affected because they had some stroke with the office. I mean, I’ve never been in any territory that was run like that. Maybe it’s changed now, but it’s like “Oh my God and YOU’RE an agent to the company.” The best thing was just to walk away and then they sued me for every penny I made!! What! $77,000 and you disrupted my relationship with my girlfriend at the time and papered her parents house. I mean, c’mon you big bully Vince. That’s pretty [email protected]

Eric – How did that lawsuit go?

Tom Z – I stalled them for two years. They wanted money that I signed in Japan and they wanted a percentage. I said “Mrs. McMahon, you don’t have TV in Japan. You had it for one week and they canceled it.” They said “We have to have something to show that you just didn’t walk away.” The only money consideration in my WWF contract was 50 dollars for TV, like it said in Dynamite Kid’s book. You gotta be really proud of that Vince? I mean back in 1987, Wrestlemania 3. He had the nerve after Sheik and Duggan got pulled over and they had some gimmick on them. He said, and I will never forget it – I looked around the room. I sat in the back and I was listening to him pontificate to the boys – “This thing [wrestling] is bigger than the NFL,” and everyone was sitting there and shaking their heads like puppets. I’m thinking “The NFL has a Players Union.” I mean, OK Mr. PT Barnum. Just a big Carney. I thought “This goof. My checks aren’t THAT good….” I’m not proud. I worked hard for the company with Martel. We put in a lot of time. And I’m sure they had a hard time following us [on the card]. We had good matches and they couldn’t understand why I walked away. Well, two and two is four, I think they know now! All the things have fallen in line. I’ve always been opinionated but I guess I was right for what I said to you back when I talked to you in Philly.then. I guess I was right. Everyone knew where I stood. And now I think I was right all along. If not, then I’d like to hear it first hand.

Eric – I agree, Everything you said back then all came to fruition at some time.

Tom Z – Yeah, it did. I’m not a liar. I mean I can manipulate but I don’t chose to be that way. Wrestling’s a business. So much for honesty, responsibility, quality or goodwill. They complicate the business by manipulating people. Why? Because they can – because they have the stroke. And they like to play with people’s lives. I’d like to talk to Seigel. Sit him down and say “Don’t you get it man, don’t you get it?”

Eric – I guess he’s being worked

Tom Z – Of course he’s being worked. But how naive are you?

Eric – Well this past week, over at WCW, the boys have passed a petition around in support of Vince Russo, because obviously the ax is going to come down sooner or later. And every single guy back there with the exception of one signed this petition to go to Brad Seigel. And what I said was they should pass the petition around the wrestling fans and let them sign the petition and see what kind of reaction Brad Seigel gets.

Tom Z – I mean, my goodness isn’t that kind of kids stuff? “Let’s pass around a petition and let’s see what we want to do, we want to pick the coach, because he’s a good guy.” C’mon, have some kahonies! I mean, I’ve got a chain saw. I can start it up and come down to Atlanta and go through there and cut out the dead wood. “You got places to go? You go to Japan. C’mon DDP go to Vince. Here’s your unconditional release. No more free money.” Do you think Ted Turner wanted to make millionaires out of wrestlers? God love them, that’s great that they got in his pocket or whatever. But they’re all going to be real sad when they close the doors. Who’s going to pick it up? Crockett? Dusty ran that into the ground. I mean Dusty, what did he do? Piss away all his money?

Eric – I hate to end this and I’d love to have you back in the next couple of weeks…

Tom Z – OK, let me give you a little summary here. Here’s the keys and maybe you can tell Seigel. Professional management. Contracts should be based on merit and performance. They should have financial accountability, good booking and they should push real talent, not buy up used talent. Make stars. They have the power of TV, but they’ve never really learned how to utilize TV to create stars. I’d be glad to help them. If there is anything I can do to help WCW they can call. Johnny Ace knows my number. Taylor, Flair. I’d like to help them out, they’re on the wrong track. Too bad.

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