Tom Zenk, a bodybuilder turned wrestler who was one of the most popular guests on Wrestling Observer Live after his career in wrestling ended, passed away on December 9th at the age of 59.
Few details are available at this point other than he passed away at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, Minnesota.
Zenk was a Mr. Minnesota winner in bodybuilding who grew up and went to Robbinsdale High School with Curt Hennig, Brady Boone, and Rick Rude in his graduating class and knew Hennig's wife from first grade. He was shaken up years ago realizing the four of them grew up and went to school together, and by the time he was in his early 40s, he was the only one still alive.
Like so many weightlifter and bodybuilder types in that era, they saw the success of the Road Warriors and grew up with the popularity of Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and Ken Patera in the AWA and were interested in wrestling.
He was trained by Eddie Sharkey and because of his looks and physique, became a star in short order working for Don Owen in the Pacific Northwest where he held both the singles and tag titles right away. His success led him to tie Keiichi Yamada (now Jushin Liger) in the 1984 balloting for Rookie of the Year. But his career never reached the level of his potential.
Only two years into his career, he was signed by the WWF for a tag team called the Can-Am Connection with Rick Martel. They were being groomed as the promotion's top babyface tag team, and were to win the tag titles, but Zenk quit the promotion, unhappy about money.
He became bitter with the McMahons because they tried to legally stop him from wrestling with All Japan after he left WWF, citing he was still under contract to them.
Eventually he went to WCW as The Z Man, with his best success coming as U.S. Tag Team Champion with Brian Pillman. Zenk was thought of as having a great look and he was a good athlete, but was not a favorite of the bookers and after the team broke up, was relegated to jobber duty. He was often bitter, citing that his looks and his ability to get women should have made him pushed above promoter's sons, but also he didn't work hard on breaking through and if he wasn't pushed, would stop lifting citing if he was going to be used as a jobber he would look like one, which led to a spiral downward.
Zenk testified against Vince McMahon in his 1994 trial, and later, pretty much disappeared after legal threats were made regarding comments he made publicly on a number of shows.