The Raven / Larry Zbyszko saga is that rare gem in today’s fast-paced pro wrestling world — it’s a storyline that has taken its own sweet time to develop and come to fruition. And to hear Zbyszko talk about it, it’s far from over.
“Unfortunately, it did go on a long time, as far as I’m concerned, because I thought I got rid of the moron about three months ago or so,” Zbyszko told SLAM! Wrestling over the phone during a recent TNA Impact taping in Orlando, Florida. “It probably wouldn’t have [gone on so long] if I was a wrestler, because guys would have settled things sooner. I have no plans of putting on the tights and jumping into the ring. I will if I have to defend myself or prove a point, make a statement or save the day. It’s a time for me to golf, and it’s time for these younger guys to give their career a shot.”
Zbyszko believes that Raven is nearing the end of his career, and the insecurities are piling up. He only has a short time left, and realizes that it’s time to make a real statement.
“Here’s a guy that had the belt, lost the belt. But instead of coming to TNA and the championship committee like a man, he hounded me, crying and whining. It got to the point where he’s blaming me for the loss to Jeff Jarrett up in Canada. Well, I wasn’t even at the building,” recalled Zbyszko. “Then it got to the point where he lost complete control. He was attacking me physically. At Universal [Studios, where TNA tapes], I was getting threats. I had to walk around with some security people. It got to the point where I couldn’t do my job and concentrate on TNA business, because in half of my mind, I’m scared some maniac is going to jump me.”
With Raven at home, enjoying some much-needed time off, the storyline sat in the background. In an interview earlier this year [Raven still addicted to wrestling], Raven talked about the benefit he got from the time off. “Being gone for ten weeks reminded me of what I love about this business, what I miss about it and really recharged my batteries. Let’s face it, we’re the only job that goes year-round, unended. Really, unless you get an injury, you don’t go home. I have never had a vacation where I wasn’t injured in some capacity.”
There’s no question who Zbyszko believes is behind the deal for Raven’s return. “I blame this Jim Cornette, who’s now involved with upper management on the business end of it. I don’t know if Raven got to him with his constant whining and crying. But the next thing we know — and there’s no doubt in my mind that Cornette had something to do with it, swerving the opinion of upper management of TNA. They decided to use their power and reversed a couple of my decisions, bringing back this maniac.”
It all lead up to a hair versus hair match between Raven and Zbyszko at the Victory Road pay-per-view. Raven was full of bluster before the match. “It won’t be a contest; it might be one-on-one, but it won’t be a contest. I will beat the crap out of him. Zbyszko was great in his day. I will say this, me and Zbyszko have fought once before, and I am undefeated against Zbyszko. I beat him once way, way back in WCW, so I have that going for me, which is nice.”
In the end, Zbyszko went down (again) to Raven, and had his head shaved. Again, not all that different than Raven with his “whining and crying,” Zbyszko has a good excuse.
“I didn’t find it hard putting on the tights, what I found hard about that particular match wasn’t getting in the ring with Raven,” said Zbyszko. “I’ve got this other maniac, pain-in-the-butt Slick Johnson who’s been on me to make me the senior referee. Now I have no idea why he thinks he deserves that position. … He winds up being the head referee in the match. That moron tripped me when I went over and tried to lock up with Raven. It should have been handled as a handicap match for Pete’s sakes. It wasn’t so much Raven, it was a combination of Raven being a desperate maniac and a corrupt referee who’s got his own agenda.”
As for the hair part, it was Zbyszko’s first where his locks were on the line. “I’m a professional. I do this for money, not for hair. I think some people might have the wrong idea, that I was a little temperamental about my hair. It’s not the thickest, but it wasn’t bad.”
The irony is not lost on Zbyszko. Here’s Raven complaining about being screwed over by management, and during his 34-year “glorious” career, Zbyszko wasn’t exactly known for keeping his opinions to himself. “I didn’t whine. I may have had a big mouth. Of course, people are jealous when you’re a good-looking guy, you’re successful, when you have championships.”
At the TNA shows, Zbyszko said he is sought out. “Wrestlers are following me around all the time for advice. I don’t blame them. I look at that as a sign of respect,” he said. “If I feel that a man has an opportunity, I’ll help him. I enjoy passing on information. I’m not going to do it to a crybaby whiner.”
Back in the glory years of “The Living Legend” Larry Zbyszko, authority figures like Phil Zacko in the WWWF or Wally Karbo in the AWA weren’t seen very often. “You rarely saw the upper management. They didn’t really want to get involved. People didn’t really know about them. I think the world has changed. I think with this ridiculous invasion of privacy called the Internet, everybody knows the business, and if something happens, people find out about it so they get curious. Wrestling, because people are so curious about it, is interesting. I think a little bit more of it is on TV than in the old days. … It’s just so out in the open because of the Internet. The access to information is just so available.”
The bigger scale of TNA on Spike TV on a cross-country basis is also different than the days of regional telecasts. “National publicity is great, but it also puts a lot of pressure on you because you can make yourself into a gigantic star, but you could also get killed overnight nationwide with one bad beat. It’s like a game of poker, with one bad beat, you’re out of here because everybody across the country knows. There’s a level of pressure on these athletes, there’s no question of that.”
But does the Living Legend feel the pressure? “Do I feel the pressure? Well, maybe in a backseat kind of way. I feel pressure in terms of doing what I can to make sure that TNA Impact, that we produce the best possible show, to feel that the wrestling fans get the most possible excitement that they can. I’m a perfectionist. I want every TNA show to be perfect. I want the pay-per-views to be perfect. I want the fans to be elated and excited, and enjoy it, because that’s what watching wrestling is all about.”
Unlike Larry Zbyszko, SLAM! Wrestling Producer Greg Oliver is not a Living Legend. But like Larry Zbyszko, his hair is getting a little thin. Hair restoration tips welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org.