Lee Sanders of The RCWR Show recently interviewed 2015 WWE Hall of Famer Larry Zbyszko on a wide range of topics including the passing of AWA promoter Verne Gagne, his WWE Hall of Fame induction, working in the AWA, being back with WWE and more.

 


Below are highlights of the Larry Zbyszko interview. You can download and listen to it by clicking HERE and catch The RCWR Show with Lee Sanders live Tuesday night at 10pm ET on Spreaker.com

 

Lee: Alright, we are very pleased to welcome our guest at this time, who’s no stranger to the world of professional wrestling, as his career in it has spanned over four decades. Whether in the WWWF, NWA, AWA, WCW, TNA, no matter the name of the promotion, he’s always strive to deliver excellence in and outside the ring. Amongst many of his fans he’s perhaps known for his feud with wrestling legend Bruno Sammartino, a former RCWR show guest, and the very same man who inducted our guest at this time in this year’s WWE hall of fame. Ladies and gentlemen, appearing on The RCWR show for the very first time is the living legend, Mr. Larry Zbyszko, how are you sir?

Larry Zbyszko: Well Lee, I’m doing really good, thank you very much. You know it’s a tough life in Florida. I had a hard day of pool floating. So now I am tanner than the Hulk (Hogan).

Lee: That might be a good thing, depending.

Larry Zbyszko: Yeah it looks good on me, I have hair!

Lee: Well thank you so much for taking the time to do this. You did some work for the Pro Wrestling Syndicate promotion out in New Jersey recently. Can you tell the folks about the overall experience? We always try to encourage folks to support local independent wrestling promotions.

Larry Zbyszko: You know what? You’re going to have to refresh my memory. There are so many indies right? I really only kind of deal with the upper indies I guess you would say because most people can’t afford me anyway. So I try to be reasonable but I really don’t need to fly around for money. I did something in New Jersey with some people…I think Eric was the guy’s name.

Lee: It looks like Mick Foley was there, Bully Ray, Devon Hughes–

Larry Zbyszko: Yeah, Bully Ray, Devon, yeah. I did it for a guy named Eric. He was a good guy, good people, I mean it was a good time, and they had a real good house. 1500 people or 1200. It was a good size, good set up. I don’t do too much anymore. Sometimes I’m bored but now I’m in WWE doing stuff so I’m not as bored. It’s exciting and as I don’t fly out but once in a while I’ll fly out and do something. I’m doing something else with this Eric guy, June 5th. I’m flying in to New York doing signings and then in that same weekend me and Eric are doing something else. I have good experiences with everybody I’ve worked with so I can’t complain and it’s a fun thing for the fans as usually it’s not super big. So with the legends there, it’s an intimate setting as fans get a chance to meet you. It’s fun cause during my generation it was almost taboo to meet the fans. Face it, I mean if you were a hated guy half the fans would throw stuff at you, and you don’t want them to know to you anyways cause it killed the mystique.

And even the good guys would sneak out, kept more of a mystique, it was a different kind of business. Now that I’m a legend and I don’t do anything. It’s fun to meet the fans and watch their faces light up. I’m really surprised when meeting younger people that know me! I’m meeting people that are in their twenties or thirties, and even in their teens that know more about me than me! Bruno and stuff… I guess WCW gave me a whole new era too in the 90’s doing all that TV with the broadcasting and the New World Order (NWO) stuff. I’m amazed how many young people who know about me, and the WWE network having all the shows coming with footage of legends, we’re going to become more popular. So it’s becoming fun as I’m back home and doing enough to have fun. I’m doing enough to have fun but enough to drive myself crazy. The kids are grown as I’m in my second childhood chasing the divas around!

Lee: Well it’s good you’re not going insane over there.

Zbyszko: No, not going insane, I’m actually one of the normal people from the  business especially from my era.

Lee: We were talking about your hall of fame induction in the opening. I just have to say as a wrestling fan it was such an amazing night to see you officially go in. When I was growing up as a kid in the 1980’s my dad, uncle, and my grandfather hipped me to wrestling. They told me stories about you and Bruno, early WWF days with the Hulkster running around and all that. I gotta follow up on your hall of fame induction as did it seem surreal to you? Like you’re now a WWE hall of famer? Especially when you think about the company you have. Not just with your hall of fame class but in general.

Zbyszko: Oh it was a thrill of a life time. You know I tried to keep it simple and not talk too philosophically. It was a real interesting night because I didn’t write any speech. I just wanted to go out and talk to the fans and tell them a quick story, a true story about how I was one of the biggest fans ever and just wanted to be like my hero. One day I end up crawling through these stupid giant hedges cause I caught a glimpse of him (Bruno Sammartino). It was like going through a rabbit hole. Next thing I know I’m on the stage and in the hall of fame. Got the same ring and my dream kind of came true. But it was a wild experience because I mean all the energy in the room was really cool, I kind of went into a different dimension. I remember looking up and seeing people I knew and it through me off for a minute. I remember saying I lost my train of thought and then I don’t remember saying a word until afterwards. Vince (McMahon) thought it was great. Arnold Schwarzenegger pulled me over and said: ‘You have the greatest act ever, that was the greatest speech I ever heard!’ I said really? I think I blanked out, I don’t remember what the hell I said.Then some guy in a big three piece suit come running up, said I am so and so from the WWE Board of Directors telling me that was the greatest speech he ever heard and I couldn’t remember what what the hell I said. I was in a different dimension. I was watching replays of it and I was like I did say that, I did say that!  Vince said yeah you were in the moment brother! That’s what I wanted! I’m in a twilight zone man! It was wild!

Lee: Couldn’t help but notice there was a little bit of heckling from the fans going on. Like especially when Daniel Bryan had opened up about Connor (Michalek). There was a little bit of heckling after he told fans how it’s not all about him (fiction vs non-fiction). I also remember there was something going on with Roman Reign as I think his name was mentioned (during Rikishi’s induction) and some heckling was going on. A lot of people have been coming together saying we love these hall of fames and the hall of famers. We want these nights to be special for individuals such as you and others. Maybe it should be a situation where it’s closed off to the public. It’s just invitation to the wrestlers being inducted, their families maybe a certain number of media outlets and the press. Do you agree to an extent that’s something WWE needs to play around with or it’s not necessary?

Zbyszko: Well you know, unfortunately it’s like every other thing in the world, there’s 98% percent of humanity that are great people and it’s 2% of humanity that are psychopaths and idiots. To be honest with you after my speech I went off to twilight zone. I didn’t see the rest of the hall of fame. I really can’t comment about the heckling, what was said and everything they were doing. The WWE is such a great company. I mean I look at it and see some of their policy and they are just so nice. I mean if it was me running it you think I’d put someone through rehab ten times? I’d give them one shot. You want to go to rehab? Here, great! You messed up? You big dummy too bad! The company bends over backwards to help people like the Connor thing and the hall of fame. That’s really sweet but with your comment…Does it belong in the Hall of Fame? I don’t know…

Lee: I respect that. Now how did you first hear about your hall of fame induction? Can you take our listeners back to that monumental day?

Zbyszko: It was a normal day and I got a call from WWE office. I hear that Vince just came out of a meeting working out the hall of fame. I got a call saying they’d like to have me in the hall of fame. I figured it was long overdue and said well thank you very much, I’d love to. It was a dream come true. The hard part was keeping my mouth shut cause I knew a couple of months before the announcement was official. There was some rumors about Ray “The Crippler” Stevens and me. There was a RAW in Pittsburgh and it was originally scheduled to be shown in Pittsburgh. Then there was rumors where they postponed it an extra week and showed it the next week which through people off. It was hard talking to people and denying things, keeping my mouth shut. That was the hardest part of the whole thing. Not even my kids and when they and everyone else found out they were like ‘Oh you son of a b***’ you got us! Ah man!

Lee: During your speech you took time to thank key individuals for helping you along the way. One of those people was your father-in-law, Mr. Verne Gagne, and definitely our condolences and our listener’s condolences to you and your family for your loss. Can you tell our listeners what it was like working with Verne in the AWA?

Zbyszko: Well you know what, Verne was a fun guy. He was one of the last of an era, of an old-school promoter. He was a guy who was an old school wrestler, a tough guy who appreciated tough guys and that kind of style. The AWA was in those days really a premium territory and one of the territories that was hard to get into. WWWF was like the big territory, cause it had the whole northeast, and the population, the magazines at that time which would come out of the northeast mostly. The AWA was a great territory to work in because in the winter time which was long and horrible, it was great for us cause we’d go to Minnesota, maybe all the way out to Denver, San Francisco, Chicago and all the cities, Las Vegas…It was a great place to work. There was only nine months out of a year when it’s pretty busy, normal everyday schedules and you’d work. Three month during the summer when the weather was good we didn’t work because everybody wanted to get the hell out of the house cause for months they were snowed in so it was a gold mine in the winter with a nice break in the summer. He was a good payoff guy because his overhead was different. There was a difference. If you were the opening bout in Madison Square Garden, you’d make $300. If you were the opening bout in St. Paul, Minnesota you’d make $1500. It was a good place to make money cause Verne didn’t have all the high overhead like the state, New York State income tax, city income tax, Madison Square Garden 50% of everything tax and all that overhead stuff. So yeah it was a great territory.

Lee: What were the differences between Verne Gagne the AWA wrestler and promoter versus father-in-law to you?

Zbyszko: In terms of a father-in-law, he was a great guy. Him and granny would come over play five hundred with me and Kathy. Me and him would play against the laddies and there would be cursing, it was a cartoon. He was a very loving, grandparent, always took care of his grand kids, very jovial guy. He was a good guy! It was really sad because in the last 4 to 5 years, I mean poor guy…The Alzheimer’s was so bad. He had no idea he was even there. The family was kind of sorry because we had a pacemaker put in him some years ago because… just wanted to basically keep the body alive, but he wasn’t in there. Then he couldn’t get up, staying in a wheelchair 24/7, no leg circulation as they were all black, purple, and blue… If he got up he fainted, he couldn’t talk… It was pathetic. You wouldn’t put a little dog through that. So that went on for a while, he was in hospice for the last year.  It got to the point where…God bless him! He had a great life, and was a great guy, it got to the point where he should rest in peace. Now he’s resting…He had a great life and left a great legacy.

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