Class of 2015
The Other Living Legend, Owner of Larryland
Hall of Fame Rating
6 out of 10
Our next inductee comes from the long list of former WWE enemies. Larry Zbyszko, for a long time, sat squarely in the camp of those no one ever expected to join the WWE Hall of Fame. The reasons were many, in 2001 Larry Zbyszko sued the WWE over the moniker “The Living Legend”as WWE had started calling Chris Jericho by the name and Larry took exception, claiming it was his. This quickly deteriorated into a “pride off”, with both Zbyszko and the WWE giving each other the “finger” publicly. WWE began repeating The Living Legend Chris Jericho often, with McMahon himself even saying it on RAW (Not that Jericho needed ANOTHER moniker or catchphrase)
Zbyszko then challenged McMahon to a legit fight on the World Wrestling All Stars PPV and began working for TNA, all the while continuing to bash the WWE at any given moment. It was a bitterness which, historically, is very common with former WWE talent after the death of the last territory: WCW. Zbyszko really had nowhere to go, plus probably had a chip on his shoulder for not being brought in for commentary in 2001 (rumored to replace Jerry Lawler when he left). Can you imagine this pairing?
A common phrase is apropos here: time heals all wounds. Hopefully the older you get, the more you temper and Larry is in his 60s now.So last year, Larry Zbyszko made peace and even signed a Legends contract. His WWE Hall of Fame induction has quickly followed. WWE tends to like to bring back those who used to hate the organization. It’s a good story and contrition feels good for both parties. Plus, NXT films down from Larry’s house. Convenience!
Larry didn’t get into the Hall of Fame because he made peace. He deserves it. He is a type of pro wrestler that really doesn’t exist anymore. Larry Zbyszko ,as a heel, exuded negativity and became inherently unlikable, a role he played to a tee. Today, you rarely see a super successful mid card heel character. The best comparison in modern WWE is the Miz. The difference between the “Must See Superstar” and the Living Legend is their environment. Miz has to deal with both the mindset of modern wrestlers (be the cool bad guy) and the PC PG environment. Larry Zbyszko could be as unlikable as possible; a good smarmy heel.
Larry didn’t start out as a heel, his debut and first six years were spent as a fairly generic tough Pittsburgh babyface. He has runs throughout the territory systems, holding tag gold. What stopped Zbyszko from being just another Tony Garea was his career defining mid-card feud against Bruno Sammartino. This feud lit fire due mostly to the time period it occurred. Bruno was the semi-retired beloved figure. Larry was his student and protegé.
Larry not only betrayed Bruno, he battered him. The fans of the 1970s wouldn’t accept it. How could anyone turn against the beloved Bruno? Instant heel, and done well.
Larry was a product of his time. As his feud with Bruno cooled, Zbyszko cooled in the WWWF. But in 1981, he could go to another part of the country and succeed in a separate territory. The territory system benefited wrestlers as their careers were not automatically over if they cooled in WWE (Looking at the Miz once again). Vince McMahon being the see all, end all of wrestling has hurt some very talented individuals, such as Mr. Kennedy. Kennedy is a wonderful example of a heel who was following in Larry’s footsteps. Both strived to be as annoyingly heelish. Once Kennedy was fired, he had nowhere to go (TNA doesn’t count), Larry went to the AWA.
In AWA, Larry had two larger successful runs, due both to his skills and that great to decision to marry the owner’s daughter:
Verne Gagne also seemed to believe in Larry’s abilities, at least more than his own son Greg Gagne’s. Larry ended up becoming a two-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion, while Greg….looked like this:
Zbyszko has the dubious honor of being the last AWA World heavyweight Champion before their closed their doors permanently in 1990/1991. While in the 70s and early 80s the championship was a great honor, held by legends like Nick Bockwinkel and Mad Dog Vachon, by 1989, it didn’t really matter. Larry’s first series of feuds were poor, mostly due to his opponent caliber. AWA’s death knell period was weird and mostly nonsensical. (Anyone remember the Team Challenge!?)
On top of that, Larry won his belt in a battle royal, the weakest position for a new champion’s legitimacy, (Looking at you Khali), in a nonsensical over the top rope pinning battle royal. It was AWA in its final years…
Larry’s final active stop was WCW where he played the role of veteran. He ended his career teaming with Arn Anderson, being part of Paul E. Dangerously’ Dangerous Alliance and winning the World Tag Team Championship. While he hadn’t lost a step promo wise, his age began to catch up to him in the ring. By 1993/1994, Larry stepped into semi-mostly retirement and used his promo skills for another career: commentating. (Think Jerry Lawler circa 2010)
Larry Zbyszko wasn’t the best commentator, but he certainly wasn’t the worst. He had his niche, he played Larry Zbyszko, a smarmy heel like guy who supported WCW in the fight against the NWO. He coined the comically disparaging nickname, New World Oder for the rogue group. Larry had his last great fight against the New World Order, challenging both Scott Hall and Eric Bischoff to matches in 1997 and 1998.
Both Bischoff and Hall got the opportunity to step into Larryland, a term Zbyszko used for stepping into the ring with him. The phrase was so old-fashioned, silly and frankly bizarre that it got over. Fans could be heard wailing :LAAAAARRRRY at Zbyszko in what has to be the most annoying chant to exist before the dreaded “WHAT?!” chants.
While Larry wouldn’t be a first ballot inductee, his status as multiple time World Champion (even from the AWA) makes him qualified. More 2015 heels should look at Larry’s work and learn from him when he visits the performance center. To be a heel is to be unlikable, Larry’s speciality. Expect him to give the best speech of the night at the 2015 Hall of Fame Ceremony.
On one final note, I am finally excited to talk about a wrestler in the 2015 class who doesn’t frustrate on some level. With 9 inductees, this is the biggest class since 2004, and it includes three terrible inductees and one deceased child….. Larry Zbyszko is the type of inductee who belongs in this Class….
Larry Zybszko recently made peace and has come in regularly as an advisor at NXT. He has joined the WWE family and WWE likes to reward those who come back to the fold.
Plus every year lately have wanted to do a back to the fold candidate. 2013 was Bruno. 2014 was Warrior and even Roberts and Hall to a degree. 2015 is Alundra Blayze and Larry Zbyszko.
Opens Door For?
More outside World Champions who never were in WWE. Rick Martel should go in soon. Stan Hansen too. Perhaps Lex Luger or DDP from WCW. I agree with all these choices.
Reasons this shouldn’t have happened.
WWE instead of hitting all the possible categories for inductees in 2015 (and going with 9) decides to only do terrible ones. Gotta leave Larry off at that point.