Kayfabe, Lies and Alibis: Old School w/ Larry Zbyszko

Dr. Tom Pritchard hosts Larry Zbyszko for an informal Q and A on his career.

Dr. Tom and Larry Zbyszko start off by explaining how they are here just to “shoot the shit”.   Larry is just glad they are here at all. He’s thankful he still has all his original parts.

Pritchard starting wrestling in 1979, with Zbyszko starting in ’72. Pritchard grew up watching Texas wrestling, but read all about the WWWF in the magazines.

Larry explains how the wrestlers didn’t want you to join in the business. The shooters like Karl Gotch would break your arm to scare you off.

The vets accepted Zbyszko due to being connected with Bruno Sammartino. Larry was born in Chicago, but moved to Pittsburgh at age 12. Larry soaked in the WWWF TV.

Zbyszko wrestled in high school and began to “stalk” Bruno at his house. One day Larry snuck into Sammartino’s yard and introduced himself. One thing lead to another, and Bruno ultimately began to lift weights with Zbyszko.

Sammartino made Larry go to college before he would train him for pro wrestling. After some seasoning, Bruno went to bat for Larry and got him a job in the WWWF.

Being associated with Sammartino got Zbyszko over right away.

Zbyszko was named rookie of the year, and was then placed in a team with Tony Garea to help him learn the business.

Bruno ended up retiring and it was then that Zbyszko realized that he was only over because of who Sammartino was and he ended up lost in the shuffle.

Larry then decided to propose bringing Sammartino out of retirement and working a feud with him. Zbyszko goes over turning on Bruno as if it was a shoot. He claims he “snapped” during the match and whacked Sammartino with a chair. He then ran out of the arena and drove off in an adrenal rush.

Death threats came in from the mobsters over injuring Bruno, and the fans took to smashing his cars.

Tom tries to get more details on the heel turn, and Zbyszko continues to play it off as a shoot, talking about how tough it was to endure Sammartino hating him, and losing a friend over what was just a misguided outburst.

The McMahons took care of the main event guys, but the undercard guys were not getting much for pay offs.

Bob Backlund defended against Zbyszko and Backlund was receiving double the payoffs that Larry would get for being the same match. This led to Zbyszko fighting for his proper payoffs and he no showed several events as a protest.

Zbyszko again talks about how tough life was with Bruno hating him and wanting to pound him nightly as if things were real.

Larry told the McMahons he wanted 10% of the gross profits from his main events. This led to him getting $15-20,000 payoffs from the big arenas for a weekend until a new deal was worked out.

Vince Sr. told him that Backlund had to be paid more because he was the champ. Larry pointed out to him that it was a work and the McMahons picked the champ.

Zbyszko claims he and Bruno sold out Shea Stadium, which is a huge fib.

The early 80’s marked the beginning of the roided up wrestlers getting pushed everywhere. (Well duh?)

Larry ended up getting 1% less of the profits than Bruno during their feud as a compromise with Vince Sr.

The McMahons started to try and get Larry to do jobs but Zbyszko was able to get out of them by pointing out that Sammartino never pinned him, so why would anyone else.

Zbyszko left the area several months later. He claims that he was not blackballed by the WWF despite the fact that he was never brought back into the mix there.

Larry used the Bruno angle as a source of heat for himself for the next two decades as he wrestled around the country.

Verne Gagne didn’t want to push the roided up guys, so this opened up a good opportunity for pure wrestlers like Zbyszko.

The WWF had decent payoffs, but you lost a lot of money thanks to New York taxes. The AWA and NWA didn’t have that problem and could pay the guys off better. (Larry doesn’t account for the merch cash)

They start to talk about the AWA, and Larry again goes into kayfabe mode and talks about how Nick Bockwinkel had a long running relationship with AWA president Stanley Blackburn, and this led to Bockwinkel being able to choose his opponents. Larry was shut out for title matches and thus felt the need to interfere in a match with Curt Hennig and Bockwinkel and help Curt win the title.

Zbyszko talks about how he followed in Bruno’s footsteps by becoming a (AWA) world champ, and then retired to become a commentator.

Larry was running an angle in early 1988 where he and Baby Doll were going to blackmail Dusty Rhodes. Baby Doll ended up married to Sam Houston, and refused to kiss Dusty as part of the angle. She was sent away soon after.

Verne Gagne tried to convince Jim Herd to run a WCW vs. AWA angle where Sting and Zbyszko would meet in a battle of world champions. There was fear that Zbyszko would shoot on Sting and take his title, thus ending that plan. Zbyszko says they stole the idea for the n.W.o. (So many LOLs in this statement alone!)

Larry did not mess around with any office positions for WCW. He focused on golfing while being paid to come in for voiceovers a few times a month.

Zbyszko claims he formatted a lot of the early n.W.o. angle.

The “Armstrong Curse” was started by Larry as he was talking one day on air about how Bob Armstrong stole a shrunken head from Abdullah the Butcher, which led to his kids being cursed to lose most of their matches.

Curt Hennig borrowed a lot of his in-ring tricks from Zbyszko.

The WWF offered him a spot on the Smackdown announce team, but they wanted him to try out first, despite spending the past ten years on the air for WCW.

Larry tried to get Chris Jericho to work an angle with him over Jericho calling himself “The Living Legend” this instead ended up with the WWF and Zbyszko battling in court over the rights to the nickname.

Zbyszko buries Jericho’s abilities as a payback.

Kurt Angle told Zbyszko that he inspired him to become a wrestler. The WWF deleted Angle putting Zbyszko over in his book.

Zbyszko tried out for the PGA tour and nearly qualified.

HHH and Larry had talks over the WWE using him in footage, this lead to HHH convincing him to talk Bruno into returning to the WWE fold.

Zbyszko is now working for the WWE network doing voiceovers and other tasks.

Larry doesn’t see many true great athletes in the wrestling world today. The modern workers are flying around the ring too much and not working a power move heavy style with MMA influences, which The Living Legend feels they should move towards.

The death of the territories meant the end of guys being able to properly learn their craft.

The WWE training center is the best chance for the future due to them having so many experienced teachers there to train the next generation.

Larry wants the modern product to stop having cameras everywhere. The fans are spoon-fed took much info and room needs to be left for them to use their imagination.

Zbyszko feels he could double the ratings within a year by scaling back the story telling and focusing on wrestling.

The WWE has a lot of good talent, but they are poorly booked and over exposed.

Final thoughts: I enjoy Larry as a talent in the ring and on-air, but this shoot didn’t really dig too deep past everything we already knew. Too much stuff is glossed over, and some of what Zbyszko does talk about is done in the kayfabe sense, which defeats the whole purpose of an interview.


Written by Andrew Lutzke

The grumpy old man of culturecrossfire.com, lover of wrasslin' and true crimes.