I absolutely loathed “The Living Legend” Larry Zbyszko when I was a kid. He was smug, a braggart, cheated each and every time the opportunity presented itself, and topped it all off by never running out of things to say to make fans despise him. In short, he was one of the greatest wrestling heels in the history of ever and doesn’t get nearly enough credit for his genius.
I’ve been watching pro wrestling for over 30 years and during that time, I’ve seen few wrestlers I’ve wanted to choke more than Larry Zbyszko. Yet, when it comes time to start naming some of the greatest bad guys to ever lace up the boots, fans and experts alike are quick to throw out names like “Nature Boy” Ric Flair and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper.
Both men entertained me for more hours than I could ever begin to count, but as great as they were, they each retained the same redeeming quality: Ric and Roddy were hilarious. Sure, they did some awful things, but they were almost so charming in how terrible they were being, I couldn’t help rooting for them. With Larry Zbyszko, that sort of thing was never an issue. I never did anything but hate that dude and I’m quite sure he’d be pleased to know that.
No Cheering, Spudhead!
There simply wasn’t a thing about Larry that made you cheer for him. He wasn’t a cool “shade of gray”, he wasn’t trying to impress the crowd with his wit and in-ring ability; he was just a complete prick.
Watching Larry’s old matches now, I marvel at how well he worked a crowd. When I was a kid, I wanted to punch him in the face every single time he’d stall on the outside of the ring, roll back in, then right back out to stall some more. It was infuriating stuff.
So good was he at being a heel, I’ve heard there were even wrestlers who would get angered at his in-match antics. When you’re getting the guy in the ring with you to lose it, you’re really doing work!
Zbyszko did everything he could to be a despicable human being, and regardless of how ‘smart’ you thought you were to the business, he still found a way to reel you in.
Old School Will Always Be Cool
I’m a bit too young to have seen “The Living Legend” in the WWWF, but his feud with Bruno Sammartino is legendary. Universally abhorred (with heat as white hot as you can get it), Zbyszko really took off when he turned on the popular babyface and mentor Sammartino, attacking him with a chair, leaving him bloody and broken in front of thousands of hardcore Bruno fans. This set the stage for a feud that accounted for many sell out crowds throughout 1980, culminating in their most famous match together, the Shea Stadium Steel Cage Match in which Bruno finally got his revenge in front of more than thirty six thousand fans.
I’m most familiar with Larry Legend’s work in the AWA and NWA/WCW. As a kid growing up in East Texas, I was afforded a good many wrestling options on my television each week. Everything from World Class to Mid-South, WWF to NWA could be seen weekly thanks to superstations like USA and TBS, and a local channel out of Dallas, KXTX.
When you consider the talent those promotions sported during the early to late-80’s, it’s more than a little overwhelming. Many of the all-time greats were plying their craft at the highest of levels then, and I had the honor of seeing them all.
I got up close to The Freebirds, Jimmy Garvin, The Four Horsemen, Bobby Heenan, and countless other heels, but none of them elicited a hate from me like the hate I felt when I watched Larry Zbyszko. If you’ve never yelled at your television screen, then you don’t really know how much fun it can be to get totally taken in by a wrestling bad guy. Larry Zbyszko was that guy for me.
Larry Legend Is The Measuring Stick
I wonder, if more of today’s wrestlers were willing to go that extra mile at being a heel, placed more emphasis on being legitimately hated, could wrestling reclaim a bit of what’s been lost since fans decided it was cooler to be a jerk than to be a superhero?
I know times have changed, but I still say there’s a place for the bad guy who just wants to be a loathsome character. Jinder Mahal and Tommaso Ciampa are do a great job being just that, although wrestling fandom has changed so dramatically, I’m not sure they’ll ever truly be appreciated for their level of brilliance.
Perhaps it’s just a sign of the times, but I believe many of today’s wrestlers would do themselves an enormous favor to go back and watch as much of Larry Zbyszko’s work as they can possibly find.
The WWE might not ever go out of its way to tell the ‘Universe’ how amazing “The Living Legend” was, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t.
Will Samoa Joe Finally Headline WWE WrestleMania?
David Levin takes a look at the Samoa Joe roadmap to WWE success, asking if he can finally get his WWE WrestleMania spotlight.
It wasn’t a typical Samoa Joe night Tuesday night. But it was a night many of us expect from the WWE superstar on the way to WrestleMania 35. The former NXT Champion brutalized Mustafa Ali in a match that best described how the man on a mission wants to finally reach the pinnacle of his career and win the Royal Rumble.
This is how Joe, who has been a contender for the Universal Title and the WWE Title in the past year should be thought of – as the biggest threat to 29 other WWE performers with one goal in mind – to win the Royal Rumble match and head to the biggest stage with a chip on his shoulder and a possible dream realized.
Phoenix could be the start of something big for one of the company’s best performers in and out of the ring.
Joe’s resume looks like a roadmap of how to become a successful professional wrestler.
Joe established himself in Ring Of Honor from the promotion’s beginning in 2002, holding the ROH World Championship for a record 21 months from March 2003 to December 2004. Upon joining TNA in June 2005, he embarked on a 19-month-long undefeated streak, and went on to hold the TNA World Heavyweight Championship once, the TNA X Division Championship five times, the TNA World Tag Team Championship twice, and the TNA Television Championship once; completing the TNA Triple Crown and the TNA Grand Slam.
Add to that a stint in WWE NXT where he was the brand’s first ever two-time champion and later, an enforcer on WWE’s main roster. His size, speed, agility and ability to deliver a kick-ass promo makes him one of the best the promotion has to offer. The only thing eluding him is a belt and a moniker as the best of the best at what he does. Underutilized? For sure. Underrated? It’s not even a discussion.
After feuds with Finn Balor, Roman Reigns, A.J. Styles and Brock Lesnar what is holding him back? Injuries for one. Maybe a lack of direction and third, the changes WWE has implemented in the past month has set a course for new talent and bigger matches. Joe should be leading this charge.
Joe does not want to get into a situation where he is known as the “greatest to never win the WWE Title”. It’s a road Hall of Fame stars have traveled. Rick Rude, Roddy Piper, and Rick Steamboat. There are others on the company roster who can make a case for the same moniker. Joe is first in line.
There are eight days until the Royal Rumble as I write this blog. It’s already electric. Expect Joe to be one of the last four standing next Sunday night. I expect him to walk out of Phoenix with a ticket to WrestleMania 35. I know fellow blogger Sarah Hirsch will be fangirling when this happens because a Joe-Finn Balor main event is quite possible.
It’s part of the continued evolution of Samoa Joe. And the next step takes place in Phoenix at the Royal Rumble.
Could Finn Balor Actually Beat Brock Lesnar at the WWE Royal Rumble?
Finn Balor is on his way to the main event of The Royal Rumble on January 27. The Irish born Superstar has the chance of a lifetime against Brock Lesnar and that chance may deliver the Universal Championship. Finn has worked hard for this moment as he’s finally getting another run at the top.
That is the narrative that’s currently being written by WWE. Finn Balor’s career resurgence is a feel-good story and understandably so. It’s been nearly three years since he’s truly been in serious world title contention. He is one of the most popular Superstars on the roster and fans want to see him do well. All of this is true. But is he really going to win it all on January 27?
Balor’s rise to the top back in 2016 seemed like a perfect move. He was riding a wave of momentum from his run in NXT and he was gaining popularity with each passing week. The fans saw him as a top babyface and that’s how WWE booked him.
His debut on the main roster was met with overwhelming approval, as fans couldn’t wait to see him mix it up with Raw’s biggest names. One of those names was of course Roman Reigns, who Bálor defeated en route to beating Seth Rollins and becoming the first-ever Universal champion.
Both wins were a statement by WWE. It wasn’t often that the company moved anyone ahead of Reigns, but that’s exactly what happened with Finn. Roman wasn’t going anywhere of course and Bálor was probably not taking his place.
But WWE was giving the fans something new, something different. Balor was a breath of fresh air on a program that often grows very stale at times. However with Finn at the helm, there was little chance of that happening again.
So now that he’s finally regained momentum after three years, what are the chances that Finn Balor will once again be slowed to a dead stop? His injury the night he won the Universal title was through no fault of his own. These things happen and it could very well happen to any WWE Superstar at any time.
But there is definitely someone to blame for Finn’s booking since relinquishing the championship. WWE surely could not be expected to immediately reinsert Finn into a top spot the moment he came back from injury. But to wait this long to elevate him to the world title picture?
WWE had to change plans after Finn went down. Fans surely realize that. The company really cannot afford to sit still for anyone, especially someone that had just arrived on the main roster. But Balor’s lack of main event success in the time following his return is indeed a curiosity.
Brock Lesnar was the top titleholder for the majority of the time after Finn returned to Raw. WWE’s plans didn’t include Balor versus Lesnar. So why not move Finn to SmackDown Live and give him a run against then-WWE champion AJ Styles?
A feud between the two could have led to a WrestleMania 35 showdown for the WWE Championship. The founder of The Bullet Club versus the man who took his place. Two veteran stars that made their names outside of WWE now waging war on the WrestleMania stage. It’s a story that really could have written itself.
But even as fans contemplate what could have been, there’s no denying that Finn is once again in a great place in his WWE career. Maybe it did take too long for him to return to this elite level. But he’s back nonetheless and now he indeed has a chance of achieving greatness. All he has to do is get past Brock Lesnar.
Facing Lesnar right now is a somewhat odd prospect for Finn Balor. On one hand, Finn has to look good and he most likely will. The contrast between the two men is apparent and that contrast should make for an intriguing matchup.
Balor will stick and move, he will weather the storm and he will continue to come out swinging despite how long the match lasts. But what happens when crowd fatigue sets in, as is often the case, during Lesnar’s matches?
The fact is that may bode well for Finn, because once he starts his comeback, the crowd will go along for the ride. The real drama in Brock Lesnar’s matches typically does not come until the end. That’s when the real test begins, as fans hold their collective breath to see if Brock’s opponent will actually pull out the win. The problem is, that win rarely ever happens.
But this is actually in Finn’s favor as well. Even if Finn loses to Brock, it probably won’t affect Balor that much at all. No one expects Lesnar to really ever lose and when it does happen, it’s a complete shock to the system. So, Balor would be just another star that tried and failed. How could anyone hold that against him?
However will the notion that Finn is destined to be nothing more than a top mid-card star once again become the prevailing opinion? Fans have always debated Balor’s worth and WWE’s apparent refusal to use him as a main event star. Will a loss at The Royal Rumble once again put Balor right back in the middle of that situation?
The truth is that for fans desperately wanting to see the Universal Championship back on Raw full-time again, nothing would be sweeter than a Lesnar loss. Roman is still out action and it’s clear that Braun Strowman is not the answer to Brock. So now may be the perfect opportunity to take a different path and reinsert Finn Bálor as the new top titleholder on Monday Night Raw. WWE did it before. Whether or not it will happen again is anyone’s guess.