An exciting and popular star of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Tom Zenk, has passed away at the North Memorial Medical Centre in Robbinsdale, Minnesota at the age of 59.
Zenk grew up in Minnesota and attended Robbinsdale High School, where Verne Gagne had once attended, with a Who’s Who of wrestling stars of the 1980s including Curt Hennig, Rick Rude, Scott Simpson (Nikita Koloff), Dean Peters (Brady Boone), “Yukon” John Nord and Barry Darsow (Krusher Kruschev and Repo Man).
While it was once the norm to transition to pro wrestling from the amateur wrestling or football ranks, Zenk was part of a generation that included Sting and the Ultimate Warrior that had trained as bodybuilders before hitting the square circle. Zenk had competed in multiple bodybuilding competitions in the early 1980s before catching the eye of Michael Hegstrand (Road Warrior Hawk). The Road Warrior pointed Zenk in the direction of pro wrestling and he began training under the tutelage of Eddie Sharkey. Sharkey was a famed wrestling trainer who trained both Road Warriors, Jesse Ventura, Bob Backlund, Austin Aries and Rick Steiner to train just a handful.
Zenk began his wrestling career in 1984, initially working for Verne Gagne’s Minnesota-based American Wrestling Alliance before heading to Don Owens’ Pacific Northwest Wrestling. After winning the NWA Pacific Northwest Heavyweight Championship and, with Scott Doring, the area’s tag titles, Zenk tied with Jushin “Thunder” Liger for the Wrestling Observer’s Rookie of the Year Award for 1984.
Zenk head north to Montreal’s International Wrestling Association. It was in Montreal that Zenk began teaming with former AWA World Champion Rick Martel. With Martel being from Montreal and Zenk from Minnesota, the team was dubbed the Can-Am Connection.
In late 1986, Martel and Zenk headed to the then-World Wrestling Federation where they quickly became very popular with the WWF’s crowd. The Connection opened the show at Wrestlemania III with a victory over “Cowboy” Bob Orton and “the Magnificent” Don Muraco. They soon received title shots against then-Tag Champs, the Hart Foundation, before settling into a feud with Bobby “The Brian” Heenan’s Islander team of Haku and Tama. But before the Can-Ams could truly hit their stride, Zenk left the WWF.
After wrestling in All-Japan Pro Wrestling, Zenk returned state-side to work again for the AWA. He was promoted as a top contender to Larry Zbyszko’s AWA World title but soon moved on to World Championship Wrestling area of the NWA (later WCW).
In WCW, Zenk found success in both tag and singles action. Dubbed “the Z-Man,” Zenk was teamed with “Flyin’ Brian” Pillman and the pair won the United States Tag Team Championship. The Pillman-Zenk team had a Can-Am Connection dynamic in that it was a combination of two young and exciting competitors.
After an injury sidelined him for several months, Zenk became a singles competitor upon his return and defeated Arn Anderson to win the NWA TV Championship (which became the WCW Television Championship mid-way through Zenk’s reign). He would also team with Dustin Rhodes and Matt “Big Josh” Osborne.
Zenk would remain with WCW until his release in May 1994. He would return to All Japan Pro Wrestling for a couple of tours later that year. In the summer of 1996, he worked for the American Wresting Federation until his retirement later that year.