A look back at the career of Larry Zbyszko.
Lawrence Whistler, better known under his ring name Larry Zbyszko, trained under Bruno Sammartino and debuted in 1973 as the babyface “Larry Zbyszko”, with his name a tribute to 1920s Polish American wrestler Stanislaus Zbyszko. He initially wrestled for the Studio Wrestling Program in Vancouver and spent three years with the World Wide Wrestling Federation before traveling to California in 1975.
Zbyszko returned to the WWWF in 1976 and formed a tag team with Tony Garea, with whom he won the WWWF World Tag Team Championships on November 21, 1978 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Their reign lasted until March 6, 1979, when they were defeated by the Valiant brothers in Allentown.
Zbyszko feuded with Bugsy McGraw, Abdullah the Butcher and “Superstar” Billy Graham in addition to wrestling Killer Kowalski and Baron Mikel Scicluna. In 1978 he summarized his mat-based ringwork with the statement, “I just believe in science over brawn”.
At the end of the 70’s Zbyszko became frustrated with being known as Bruno Sammartino’s protégé. This would lead to him challenging Sammartino to an exhibition match, claiming this was the only way he could step out of Sammartino’s shadow. Sammartino only agreed to the match after Zbyszko threatened to retire if he was not granted the match.
The trainer and pupil faced one another in Allentown on January 22, 1980, with Sammartino dominating the early stages of the match. After Sammartino threw him out of the ring, an irate Zbyszko seized a wooden chair and struck Sammartino, leaving him in a pool of blood in the middle of the ring and instantly turning Zbyszko into a reviled heel.
Zbyszko’s run as a heel was backed by such Sammartino fan hatred that his car was repeatedly damaged and taxis in which he was traveling were overturned by fans. Zbyszko was also struck with an iron pole following a match with Ivan Putski, and was stabbed in the buttock following a match with Pedro Morales in the Washington Avenue Armory in Albany, New York.
Sammartino and Zbyszko fought one another repeatedly in a lengthy feud that stretched throughout 1980. This is perhaps his most well known feud. In the course of the feud, Zbyszko began referring to himself as “The New Living Legend” (a reference to Sammartino, who was often addressed as “The Living Legend”). The feud culminated in a steel cage match at Showdown at Shea at Shea Stadium in Flushing, New York on August 9, 1980 that saw Sammartino defeat Zbyszko in front of an audience of 36,295.
After leaving the WWF in 1981 Zbyszko worked for NWA, AWA, WCW and TNA. For a brief time there was a rumor that he would replace Jerry Lawler as a commentator on Monday Night Raw after Lawler’s departure. However, that spot was filled by Paul Heyman until Lawler returned to the company.
He is currently signed to a WWE Legends contract along with a deal to record interviews for the WWE Network and future DVD releases.
Throughout his career Zabyszko was a two-time AWA World Heavyweight Champion as well as a WCW and WWWF Tag Team Champion, once each.
He will be inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on March 28, 2015 by his former mentor and rival Bruno Sammartino.
Full Throwback Thursday 2015 Hall of Fame Preview:
Tags: abdullah the butcher, Baron Mikel Scicluna, bruno sammartino, Bugsy McGraw, Killer Kowalski, Larry Zbyszko, Superstar Billy Graham, The New Living Legend, Throwback Thursday, Tony Garea, World Wide Wrestling Federation, WWE Hall of Fame 2015, WWE Hall of Fame Inductee, WWE Legends, WWWF