SummerSlam is coming up this Sunday and the big match involves Seth Rollins yet again trying to take the WWE Universal Championship from “The Beast Incarnate” Brock Lesnar. These days, Brock Lesnar is treated as the ultimate end boss of WWE, but it wasn’t always like that. Prior to breaking the Undertaker’s streak and demolishing John Cena, Lesnar had a rather strange role in the company. He was a special attraction who only appeared a handful of times, but was ruined by some high-profile losses. His first match back to the company was a loss to Cena and then he had a big loss to Triple H at WrestleMania. It took a while for WWE to figure out what to do with him.
The whole thing makes me nostalgic for my childhood and it makes me think of another brick wall of a man who was a part-timer and a special attraction, who got to main event SummerSlam and was treated as a main eventer despite his iffy win-loss record.
I think now’s as good a time as any to talk about the career of Zeus.
With Randy Savage as the WWF Champion in 1988, it allowed Hogan to step back and film the ’80s schlock classic No Holds Barred. In it, he played Hulk Hogan…only his name was Rip, he wore white instead of yellow, and he did a different trademark hand gesture. Other than the slimy, Vince McMahon-like businessman he had to deal with, Rip’s main antagonist was Zeus. Played by Tom “Tiny” Lister Jr., Zeus was an unstoppable terror and convicted murderer who had just been released from prison. Curiously, his in-movie reign of terror had him beat up legendary wrestler Stan Hansen, whose very role in the movie was a mystery, considering he hadn’t had anything to do with WWF since the ’70s.
Anyway, the movie was a big pile of cheese that’s only remembered for the scene where Hogan made a man poop himself out of fear. Not going to lie, my 8-year-old self thought that was the funniest thing. The movie didn’t do so well, but that didn’t stop McMahon from putting his ankle into promoting it.
By the time the movie was ready to be released, Hogan had won back the WWF Championship from Randy Savage and he was primed to defend the belt against the Big Boss Man in a steel cage on an episode of Saturday Night’s Main Event. Boss Man’s manager Slick hinted at a surprise in store and that surprise came in the form of Zeus, standing between Hogan and the cage while wearing his entrance gear from No Holds Barred, looking like Scorpion in the NFL.
He pounded down on Hogan and left him for dead. Hogan still defended his belt and retained against Boss Man. When asked about it backstage, he mentioned that he had a lot of problems working with Zeus on the movie.
Zeus would start making appearances in the weeks that followed, angry that he didn’t get top billing. So you had Terry Bollea playing Hulk Hogan playing Rip on one side and Tiny Lister playing Zeus playing Zeus on another. This is like an onion of fiction right here with all the layers. Zeus’ ramblings eventually caught the eyes of the equally-insane Randy Savage and Queen Sherri. Savage hated Hogan just as much and offered to fight side-by-side with Zeus if he were to ever step into the ring for real.
At the same time, Savage had a feud going on with Brutus “The Barber” Beefcake based on Beefcake being a total misogynistic tool when it came to Sherri. Much like with Savage’s feud with Hogan, it was one of those things where Savage was painted the bad guy, but when you actually explain it, the other guy is totally the asshole. A tag match of Hogan/Beefcake vs. Savage/Zeus was signed for the second annual SummerSlam on August 28, 1989.
I should point out that they went all-out on making Zeus look godly. At another Saturday Night’s Main Event show, he attacked Beefcake during a Beefcake vs. Savage match and put him in a bearhug. Hogan came to the rescue and waffled him with a chair, but it had no effect and Zeus just smiled madly at him. Beefcake also had a chair and there was a completely badass stand-off of Hogan and Beefcake holding chairs while Zeus stood before them, beating his chest and ready to fight them both until Savage convinced him to leave.
The writers were smart enough to know how limited Zeus was, not only as a wrestler, but as a guy who rarely ever sold offense. Pairing him up with Savage was an act of brilliance, considering Savage had a way of planning all of his matches to a tee, as opposed to how most other wrestlers improvise. The guy was perfect for leading him around and knowing how to play to Zeus’ strengths, which were mainly standing around, yelling, and looking really imposing.
The match itself wasn’t bad. Being in a tag match can do wonders from someone with limited wrestling ability (see also: Erick Rowan and Shield-era Roman Reigns), so Zeus was able to not stick out like a sore thumb by working with three guys who knew what they were doing. He remained a strong opponent, mainly with how his own real weakness was his eyes. Hogan’s offense would do no damage whatsoever until he’d rake the eyes…which is a weird thing for a good guy to do, but being celebrated for being a dick is what Hogan was all about back then.
With the help of their manager Miss Elizabeth, Hogan and Beefcake ended up winning. Sherri was armed with a loaded pocketbook that she earlier used on Hogan, but Hogan was able to disarm her and use it on Zeus. Hogan was vindicated in the “turnabout is fair play” sense, but at the same time, he didn’t really prove anything against Zeus. The idea of keeping the feud going was still open.
The only real drawback of the match was that it kind of made Savage look like crap in comparison. Even Jesse Ventura on commentary was pointing out that Savage was the one you’d need to target. Regardless, I still loved how any time Beefcake or Hogan went for a tag, Ventura would bring up, “Then what?! The other guy isn’t going to do anything to Zeus either!”
Zeus cooled off for the next month or so, returning to align himself with “The Million Dollar Man” Ted Dibiase, where he unsuccessfully tried to help him beat Hogan for the title on yet another edition of Saturday Night’s Main Event. It was there that Zeus introduced the closest thing he had to a finisher, where he’d snap Hogan’s neck like he was a henchman in a Steven Segal movie.
This was used to help build up Survivor Series, which took place on November 23, 1989. In a team that was just dripping with 80s wrestling awesomeness, Hulk Hogan captained the Hulkamaniacs alongside Jake “The Snake” Roberts and Ax and Smash of Demolition. On the other side was Dibiase’s Million Dollar Team, featuring himself, Zeus, and Warlord and Barbarian from the Powers of Pain.
At first, the Million Dollar Team kept the Hulkamaniacs out of the ring, but Jake scared them off by throwing his snake Damien in there. Not sure how I feel about Zeus being afraid of a snake, but if Andre, Bad News Brown, and Earthquake were spooked by it, I suppose Zeus is no better.
Hogan and Zeus started things off and Zeus’ time in the match was very, very short. The two had a stand-off and thanks to the assistance of one of Zeus’ teammates, Hogan lost any chance of an advantage and got strangled half to death. The ref couldn’t get him to break the choke after several attempts to stop him. After Zeus shoved him across the ring, the ref called for his disqualification. Zeus was out early on and as the match continued, Hogan ended up beating Dibiase at the end to become his team’s sole survivor.
This was fine, though. By this point, it had been established that there would be a rematch of Hogan and Beefcake against Savage and Zeus, but in a cage. Ventura sold the match by pointing out that in the cage, the ref wouldn’t be able to protect Hogan. The big cage match was set up for December 27, 1989 (albeit it was pre-taped) where they did the very peculiar PPV No Holds Barred: The Match/The Movie. In one of the few PPVs not available on the WWE Network, they showed the No Holds Barred movie in its entirety and then moved to showing Hogan/Beefcake vs. Savage/Zeus in a cage. They built on this by having Savage and Zeus destroy Hogan and Beefcake backstage later on at that Survivor Series.
I’d be doing this a great disservice if I didn’t bring up the promos. Oh my God, the promos. Savage, Zeus, and Sherri seemed to be running a contest over who could be the most bonkers and least coherent. WWE released a highlight reel.
The match was…well, the match was actually really solid! I’m shocked, but I really loved it and while it was a mere 10 minutes, it once again played up everyone’s strengths while for the most part hiding Zeus’ weaknesses. It had an interesting dynamic where the match could be won in two ways: pinfall or both members of a team exiting the cage. That meant you could escape, but your partner would be completely screwed.
Beefcake ended up getting the better of a cheating Savage, climbed out of the cage, then opened the door to pull Savage out. Around the same time, Zeus strangled Hogan for a bit until Hogan was able to spring to life and Hulk Up (it would have looked better had Zeus done the neck snap first, but it is what it is). It’s already been established that Hogan can’t beat Zeus on his own strength. The only time he’s been able to take him down was with a foreign object. Luckily, the entire cage is like a foreign object, so Hogan was able to slam him into the bars over and over again, body slam him, and put him away with THREE LEG DROPS. I don’t recall him ever going with such overkill before that match. Even for Andre, one leg drop was enough.
Zeus was defeated and he faded off into wrestling obscurity. Supposedly, there was talk of doing Hogan vs. Zeus at WrestleMania VI, but enough was enough and cooler heads prevailed. Instead, they went with a Hogan/Warrior program and that worked like gangbusters.
The strange thing about the Zeus feud was how he was played as this unstoppable force who was penciled in to main event the biggest show of the year against the biggest wrestler of all time, but he never actually won. He was such a special attraction that he never had any build-up matches. No squashes against the likes of Barry Horowitz. No crushing the skull of Tito Santana or Jimmy Snuka. Zeus simply made some sporadic appearances and lost all of his high-profile matches.
I’m going to be completely honest here. I went into this article ready to just rail on the guy relentlessly, but really, I felt the WWF did a fantastic job with what was an inexperienced actor with a one-dimensional character and incredibly limited in-ring ability. Between Hogan and Beefcake’s selling, Savage’s leading, and some solid booking, Zeus came out looking better than anyone gives him credit for. I’d say he had a more memorable and positive ring presence than Mr. T when it comes to guest wrestlers, at least. In my eyes, I’d even call him one of the better Hogan feuds in the ’80s. It was one of the few times where Hogan didn’t come off as a total jerk and he wasn’t too invincible to the level of being taken out of the match.
But Zeus wasn’t finished with the wrestling business. A few months later, he made a special appearance in Puerto Rico’s World Wrestling Council. On July 7, 1990, they held the WWC 17th Aniversario show, where as a special attraction, Zeus took on none other than Abdullah the Butcher. Easily one of the most random pairings in wrestling history.
For all the nice things I said about his WWF run, Zeus’ lone WWC match just proves what a great job Hogan, Savage, and everyone else did hiding all of Zeus’ in-ring shortcomings. His clubbing punches looked goofy, but still effective against Hogan, who treated them like he was getting hit with baseball bats. Here, his punch delivery was sloppy from the get-go and Abdullah wasn’t exactly keen on making them look great from his side either. Abdullah couldn’t come close to carrying Zeus and this was made worse from the fact that this was Zeus’ one and only singles match ever.
It was bad, folks. Really bad. One of the worst matches I’ve ever seen in my life. It went over 10 minutes and it was just senseless brawling between two guys who couldn’t really do anything to each other. It got almost interesting when Abdullah pulled out a fork, but Zeus disarmed him and got it out of the ring. It just went on and on and only a little boy in the crowd seemed to pay it any mind. Everyone else threw garbage into the ring and for good reason.
Mercifully, it came to an end when the two brawled into the crowd and got counted out as they vanished off towards the back. That would be Zeus’ final wrestling match for years.
Lister continued to get tons of work in Hollywood in the meantime, including his most famous role as Deebo in the Friday series. After years of calling himself Tiny “Zeus” Lister to remind everyone that he was the guy from No Holds Barred and SummerSlam 1989, he was finally able to drop it because he found a more mainstream role that people would remember him for.
He came back for one more match in WCW in 1996. A group of heels were dedicated to getting rid of Hulk Hogan once and for all, so they put together a team known as the Alliance to End Hulkamania. At the time, the team was made up of Ric Flair, Arn Anderson, Kevin Sullivan, Lex Luger, Meng, and the Barbarian. On an episode of Nitro, during a match between the Booty Man (Beefcake) and Arn Anderson, Zeus and another massive guy stepped out. Rather than have a “Z” etched onto the side of his head, Zeus instead had “GANGSTA” on it. Being that they didn’t want WWF suing, they referred to him as Z-Gangsta.
Tony Schiavone would constantly call him “Z-Gangster” because he’s as white as Tom Sawyer’s fence. They also established that he had a history with Hogan, but never elaborated. At his side, the massive face-painted man was referred to as the Final Solution. Considering that’s a reference to the goddamn Holocaust, someone in WCW realized after the fact how offensive that was and from there on he was instead called the Ultimate Solution.
At Uncensored 1996, Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage banded together against Flair, Anderson, Sullivan, Luger, Meng, Barbarian, Z-Gangsta, and the Ultimate Solution. Yes, it was a two-on-eight match. They were going that far with Hogan.
The match was called the Doomsday Cage and despite all of its drawbacks, it was still an admittedly ambitious concept. The arena had two rings. One was normal. The other had a cage surrounding it. Above that ring were two floors of cage, making it like a chain-link condo. The middle floor had two rooms. Hogan and Savage had to start at the top, where they’d fight Flair and Anderson. Like a reverse Game of Death, they would have to fight their way to the second floor, get through Meng and Barbarian, go into the next room, get through Luger and Sullivan, then get into the ring and fight through Z-Gangsta and Solution to earn their freedom.
Despite Z-Gangsta’s many limitations, he didn’t even crack the list of top five of things wrong with this match. For most of it, he and Solution weren’t even there. Hogan and Savage fought with Flair and Anderson and got out thanks to throwing powder in their faces. And really, the more cheating involved from the Mega Powers, the better, because it’s easier to swallow than having them cold beat up eight guys. They got through Meng and Barbarian, fought with Luger and Sullivan, and then exited the cage to instead fight on the scaffold stairway to the side of the cage, where Hogan tried to outright murder Sullivan. The brawling went on forever as the fight reached the regular ring.
Eventually, Z-Gangsta and Solution arrived, overpowered the two and threw them into the ring inside the cage. The beatdown continued until Hogan and Savage made a comeback. Then Flair and Anderson returned to turn it back around. Booty Man made an assist, handing frying pans to Hogan and Savage, allowing them to clean house. Once again, Hogan was only able to beat Zeus/Z-Gangsta via bludgeoning him with something metal. Luger ran into the ring and accidentally-on-purpose punched Flair with a loaded glove, allowing Hogan and Savage to escape. Only Savage decided last second to go back in there and pin Flair before leaving.
I really don’t know if those were part of the rules. I don’t know if anyone actually knew the rules. Now that I think about it, Flair was already deemed “eliminated” from the match before this, so I have no clue what the point of that was.
Either way, Hogan and Savage defeated eight guys, so it’s no wonder why the fans were starting to turn against them.
Z-Gangsta was barely an afterthought in one of the most confusing of all WCW matches, but that was all she wrote for his wrestling career. He returned to acting, where he continues to get a million roles per year. You might recognize him from a little movie called The Dark Knight.
Zeus is a peculiar footnote in professional wrestling. Just an actor brought in to hype up a movie that not too many saw who was pushed to the top. On one hand, he retained his credibility throughout his entire career and was never defeated in a decisive way, even by a wrestler who had every right to go over him decisively. On the other hand, he never won a match. Ever. He had five matches across three companies and he lost every single one of them. It’s so strange.
At least Zeus has a victory over both Stan Hansen and the Joker. I can’t think of too many people who have that on their resume.
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