WWE HALL OF FAME, CLASS OF 2015, PROFILES: LARRY ZBYSZKO

Posted March 23rd, 2015 by jshannon

WWE Hall of Fame, Class of 2015, Profiles: Larry Zbyszko

Jay Shannon takes a look at the long and storied career of the “Living Legend”.

Professional wrestling is a lot like a rock band. You have the lead singers and guitarists that get almost all the credit. Then there are the bass players and drummers that provide the foundation and building blocks of the groups. Larry Zbyszko is the Alex Van Halen of pro wrestling. He is exceptionally talented but is often over-looked by your average fan. It’s time to take a trip to Larryland to show the proper respect for one of the best in the business.

The Early Days

Larry Whistler grew up loving professional wrestling. In 1972, Larry was introduced to Bruno Sammartino and the long-time champ agreed to train Larry. Bruno was assisted in the training by Geeto Mongol. Sammartino wanted Larry to be more linked to wrestling history so Larry was given the surname of Zbyszko, a tribute to Stanislaus Zbyszko (a pioneer of pro wrestling). The backstory was that Larry was distantly related to the superstar from the 1920s. Larry worked mostly in the Pittsburg area, starting in 1973.Larry would eventually work in the Vancouver, BC area and then spend time in the old WWWF. Starting in 1975, Larry worked his way through California and down to Central America. After that tour, Larry returned to the WWWF. He formed a successful team with Tony Garea. They would win the World Tag Team tiles, before losing them to The Valiant Brothers. Larry feuded with some of the most brutal men of the era, including Abdullah the Butcher, “Superstar” Billy Graham and Killer Kowalski.

As the 80s began, Larry started to resent being known primarily as “Bruno’s Protégé”. To break away from Bruno’s massive shadow, Larry challenged his teacher to a match. Larry was ready to retire if Bruno did not agree to face him. Bruno eventually agreed to the match. The initial match took place in Allentown, PA. Larry shocked the wrestling world when, on January 22, 1980, Larry used a wooden chair to split open Bruno. The crowd reached a near-riot pitch as the blood poured down Bruno’s face. Larry’s life was threatened and he was stuck with a metal pole and stabbed (in the backside) by fans. Larry was courted by numerous managers of the era but he wanted to remain on his own. His sole focus was to end the career of Bruno Sammartino. After more than six months, the feud came to a head on August 9, 1980. Bruno and Larry squared off in a Steel Cage Match at Shea Stadium, in front of 36,295 fans (an unheard of crowd for the time). The match was intense and Bruno finally vanquished his former student and sent him out of the WWF.

The first run in the NWA

Larry took his Sammarino feud to the next level when he went after David Sammartino in the independent circuit. That feud only lasted a few months. Larry then headed to Georgia. Larry took advantage of Bruno’s decision to go into semi-retirement, claiming he (Larry) forced Bruno to retire. Larry feuded with Paul Orndorff over the National Heavyweight Title. When Larry could not defeat Orndorff, he came up with an alternate plan. Larry stepped back and allowed “Killer” Tim Brooks to take the title. Larry then offered Brooks $ 25,000 for the title. Much like the Andre/Ted DiBiase storyline of years later, Larry was stripped of the title by NWA President, Bob Geigel. Larry rebounded from this to win the tournament to crown a new National champion. He overcame Mr. Wrestling II in the finals. He held the title for just over four months, before dropping the title to Bret Wayne (Sawyer).

The AWA, Round One

Larry relocated to the AWA in 1984. He was given the America’s Championship and feuded with Sgt. Slaughter. Slaughter eventually took the title on June 21, 1985. Larry would be unsuccessful in future rematches. In 1986, Larry switched to feuding with Nick Bockwinkel over the AWA World Title. He also battled Ray Stevens and boxer Scott LeDoux. Larry lost most of the high-profile matches during this time. Larry helped Curt Hennig defeat Bockwinkle for the World Title, when he handed a roll of coins to Hennig. Larry would later be suspended for his attacks of Bockwinkle. Larry left the AWA in 1987.

Back to the NWA

Larry headed to Jim Crockett Promotions and immediately went into a feud with Barry Windham over the Western States Heritage Championship. Larry would eventually claim the title. Larry was initially managed by Baby Doll (Nickla Roberts) but eventually came under the guidance of Gary Hart. Hart paired Larry with Al Perez. The duo went into a program against Kendall Windham and Dustin Rhodes. Gary Hart wanted his men to get a shot at NWA World Champion, Ric Flair, but both were passed over. Larry eventually left Jim Crockett Promotions, due to being passed over and not having a workable angle in the company.

The AWA, Round Two

On February 7, 1989, Larry entered an 18-man Battle Royal to determine the new AWA World Champion. The title had been vacated, sometime earlier. Larry weaseled his way through most of the match, staying out of harm’s way. In the end, Larry faced off with Tom Zenk. It appeared that the match had switched to a standard wrestling match, thanks to referee, Gary DeRusha. When DeRusha got knocked out, Larry used a Fallaway Slam to toss Zenk over the top rope. The bell sounded and Larry Zbyszko was the new AWA World Champion. Larry would be the final recognized AWA World Champion. He was actually stripped of the title in December, 1990 but the company folded before another champion was crowned.

A decade in WCW

Larry worked with Terrence Taylor when he arrived in WCW. When that pairing didn’t click, Larry was partnered with Arn Anderson, as The Enforcers. The team went into a tournament to determine the new World Tag Team Titles. Scott Steiner had been injured. Rick Steiner teamed with Bill Kazmeier and made it to the finals against The Enforcers. Arn and Larry attacked Bill during a Weight Lifting demonstration. The attack allowed The Enforcers to win the tourney and the World Tag Team Titles. Larry got his alternate nickname of “The Cruncher” after he and Arn broke Barry Windham’s hand. The Enforcers were feuding with Windham and Dustin Rhodes. With Windham out of action, Ricky Steamboat stepped up and he and Dustin took the tag belts from The Enforcers. The duo then joined Paul E. Dangerously’s “Dangerous Alliance”. Larry was eventually ousted from the group after a mistake at WarGames, when Larry struck Bobby Eaton with a turnbuckle, causing his team to lose. Larry, for the first time in 10 years, turned face. Larry had a brief feud with Bobby Eaton and Steve Austin before retiring from full-time competition.

The next step in Larry’s evolution came as he began to work the announce desk. Larry has always had a great ability on the microphone. During his time as an announcer, Larry was taunted by “Lord” Steven Regal. Larry would return to action on May 2, 1994, to take the World TV title from Regal. He would drop the belt back to Regal on June 23rd.

Larry then went into an extended feud with the N.W.O., primarily against Scott Hall. Larry would end his run in WCW as a part of the “Old Age Outlaws”, alongside Terry Funk, Arn Anderson and Paul Orndorff. Larry left WCW in late 2000.

The Indy Circuit

Larry spent most of the next few years working for smaller organizations around the country. Larry auditioned to be Jerry Lawler’s replacement when he quit the WWE in protest to his then-wife’s treatment. The job went to Larry’s old boss, Paul Heyman aka Paul E. Dangerously. Larry did request that the WWE cease calling Chris Jericho “The Living Legend”. Larry claimed he had a “Common Law Trademark” on the term. That request went nowhere. Zbyszko even challenged Vince McMahon to a Street Fight in 2002. The match, obviously, never happened.

TNA

In 2003, Larry joined Total Nonstop Action. Larry had a very short program with A.J. Styles, until Vince Russo used his position as booker to end the angle. Larry left the company, temporarily, but returned a few months late. Larry feuded with Jeff Jarrett over the next few months. In 2005, Larry replaced Dusty Rhodes as the company’s Director of Authority. He used his position to make life difficult for Jarrett and his forces. Larry then went into an extended feud with Raven, who Larry had backed in the Raven/Jarrett feud. Larry was eventually suspended as Director of Authority, due to his actions. Larry was eventually “Fired” from the company.

Back to the indies

Larry entered the AWA Superstars of Wrestling organization and filed a complaint that he never lost he AWA World Title and Masato Tanaka’s position as World Champion was in error. After an extended deliberation, the new AWA agreed and Zbyszko was reinstated as AWA World Champion. He would not hold the title for long, as he was defeated by Brian Logan in a Triple Threat Match on April 18, 2008. When Logan walked out of the company, the belt was put back on Zbyszko. He would later drop the belt to Ricky Landell, the other person involved in the original Triple Threat Match. In 2009, Larry took a position as Executive Director of the Full Impact Pro Championship Committee.

Back to where he started

In 2013, Larry Zbyszko finally returned to the WWE. He was brought in to do commentary for the WWE Network and to work on future DVD Projects. Larry also helped to build the NXT organization, working in a strictly executive position. He will be inducted into the Hall of Fame by his old friend/enemy…Bruno Sammartino.

In Conclusion:

Larry Zbyszko has always been one of those wrestlers that I thought never got the credit he deserved. He held championships in almost every company he worked for. He is also one of the best “Stick Men” to ever hold a microphone. Larry had great success as both a singles and tag competitor. He very successful in transitioning from in-ring action to announcing duties. He has help build numerous companies and many young stars have been helped by the “Living Legend”. The Zbyszko name will continue, as Larry’s son Tim has entered the world of pro wrestling. Like his father did in 1972, Tim was named the Rookie of the Year in 2013.

Peace

–Jay Shannon
WordSlingerJay@Gmail.com

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