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John Anthony Tenta, Jr. (June 22, 1963 - June 7, 2006) was a Canadian sumōtori and professional wrestler best known for his work in the World Wrestling Federation as Earthquake. After a promising start to his sumo career, using the name Kototenzan, Tenta switched to professional wrestling and became a high-profile star for the WWF, feuding with Hulk Hogan and winning the WWF Tag Team Championship with partner, and personal friend, Typhoon. His professional wrestling career also encompassed runs in World Championship Wrestling, where he was known as Avalanche and The Shark, All Japan Pro Wrestling and a return to WWF as Golga. Tenta died in 2006 after a lengthy battle with cancer.
John Tenta was born in Surrey, British Columbia. Named after his father, he was a large baby weighing 11 pounds, 3 ounces at birth. Inspired by professional wrestlers Gene Kiniski and Don Leo Jonathan, Tenta decided to pursue wrestling at age 6. He learned freestyle wrestling at North Surrey Secondary, becoming a Canadian junior champion in 1981. Shortly after his 18th birthday, he finished sixth in the super-heavyweight category at the World Junior Wrestling Championships at Vancouver.
Tenta won an athletic scholarship to Louisiana State University (LSU), where he competed in NCAA-level collegiate wrestling. At LSU he was nicknamed "Big John" Tenta, lettering on the Tiger varsity wrestling team and participating on the football team. LSU had dropped varsity wrestling to comply with Title IX in 1985, forcing Tenta to choose a new sport. Tenta then walked on to the LSU football team, where he played in some junior varsity games as a defensive lineman. He was also known as a quiet giant bar bouncer at an LSU college bar, The Bengal. Tenta also played rugby union for the LSU Rugby Club.
Tenta then moved to Japan to pursue a career in sumo after being recruited by a former Yokozuna who met Tenta on a trip to Vancouver. In October 1985, he joined a sumo stable, Sadogatake, run by former-Yokozuna Kotozakura Masakatsu (his stable also produced current Ōzeki Kotoōshū Katsunori from Bulgaria). Following tradition, the young sumōtori took the name of Kototenta (Koto + Tenta), translated as Tenta the Harp.
Beginning the sport at age 22, he entered nearly seven years later than many non-college aspirants. The combination of his size—he already weighed 192 kg (423 lb) at a height of 6´5.75"—and training as a wrestler were to his advantage in learning and advancing in the sport. The novice won a string of 17 consecutive victories in his first six months, and was later renamed Kototenzan, Heavenly Mountain Harp. The novelty of being a rare Westerner sumotori in the mid-1980s, and the third-ever Caucasian, garnered him press coverage, and he earned the additional nickname of the "Canadian Comet".
Despite doing well as a newcomer he soon quit the sport due to the difficulty of the sumo lifestyle and the toll the hard ring surface was taking on his body. In addition, the sumo world frowned on the large tattoo of a tiger on his left biceps and, though he covered it during matches, would have required him to remove it via skin graft before moving up to the higher level competitions (in Japan tattoos are associated with gangsters).
Professional wrestling career
All-Japan Pro Wrestling (1987–1989)
After leaving sumo, he quickly signed up for Puroresu (Japanese pro wrestling) under the tutelage of Shohei "Giant" Baba. He made his professional wrestling debut with All Japan Pro Wrestling on May 1, 1987. Tenta had a solid 18-month career, teaming with popular Japanese wrestlers Giant Baba, Jumbo Tsuruta, and The Great Kabuki, before getting the attention of American pro-wrestling promoters, as well as making tours in Vancouver for Al Tomko's NWA All Star Wrestling.
World Wrestling Federation (1989–1993; 1994)
After making two dark match appearances under his real name in March 1989, Tenta joined the WWF full-time in September 1989. In his first match after signing on, a dark match on September 21, 1989, he was known as Earthquake Evans and managed by Slick. Tenta then made his WWF television debut on the November 11, 1989 edition of WWF Superstars of Wrestling, where he was planted in the audience as a normal spectator at the taping held in Wheeling, WV. During an in-ring interview with Gene Okerlund, Dino Bravo challenged The Ultimate Warrior to a strength competition. In order to demonstrate, Bravo and manager Jimmy Hart suggested that they pick a random audience member to come into the ring and sit on the backs of Bravo and the Ultimate Warrior as they did push-ups to see who could do the most. The Ultimate Warrior agreed, and Hart, after pretending to look around the audience, centered his attention on the very large Tenta who was sitting in the audience in casual clothing and appeared surprised. Tenta came down into the ring, identified himself as "John from West Virginia" and proceeded to sit on Bravo's back as he did a set of push-ups. During the Ultimate Warrior's set, however, Tenta jumped down onto the prone Ultimate Warrior using a seated senton that was adapted to be his signature move. Bravo and Tenta then beat and unleashed multiple big splashes on the prone Warrior. Both then celebrated as Tenta was inaugurated into the WWF as a heel with Hart as his manager. Tenta was pushed as The Canadian Earthquake — and by WrestleMania VI, simply Earthquake - an unstoppable monster heel who often sent his opponents out on a stretcher after repeatedly hitting them with his sitdown splash.
Earthquake's first PPV appearance was when he replaced Barry Windham on Randy Savage's team at the 1989 Survivor Series. Earthquake survived the match, along with Savage and Dino Bravo. He made his WrestleMania debut at WrestleMania VI, defeating Hercules.
Tenta's career peaked when he entered a feud with Hulk Hogan. The feud exploded in May 1990, when Earthquake snuck up on Hogan from behind during a segment of The Brother Love Show (on WWF Superstars of Wrestling) and repeatedly crushed Hogan's ribs with his "Earthquake splash." Eventually, Hogan recovered and gained revenge on Earthquake and defeated him in a series of matches across the country, starting with Hogan's countout victory at SummerSlam 1990. Hogan and Earthquake were the final two participants in the 1991 Royal Rumble, with Hogan getting the victory.
After WrestleMania VII, Earthquake instigated a feud with Jake "the Snake" Roberts when, in their match that aired on WWF Superstars of Wrestling, he "squashed" Damien with his Earthquake splashes; Earthquake had tied up Roberts in the ropes before going on his rampage. In reality, Roberts' bag — one of two left at ringside for the match — contained pantyhose stuffed with hamburger, and a small motor to simulate a "live snake." When the match aired on WWF Superstars of Wrestling, footage of Earthquake landing on Damien was interrupted with cutaway shots to that show's "Events Center," although the incident aired uninterrupted and uncensored during WWF Prime Time Wrestling the following week. Later, Earthquake participated in a skit on WWF Prime Time Wrestling where he cooked "Quakeburgers" on a grill and served them to co-hosts Vince McMahon, Bobby The Brain Heenan, and Lord Alfred Hayes; later, Earthquake revealed that the meat was ground from Damien's carcass. Heenan had already eaten 3 or 4 of the Burgers and Hayes was curious about the meat. Earthquake mentioned the animal from which the meat was taken rhymed with quake and Hayes said they were snake burgers. Heenan got sick and nearly threw up. Vince was angry over this and knocked the tray out of Earthquake's hands which knocked all the burgers onto the floor. Roberts and Earthquake feuded throughout most of late spring and into the summer.
Later in 1991, Earthquake formed a tag team with Typhoon (Tenta's friend, Fred Ottman, who had previously wrestled as Tugboat before turning heel) called The Natural Disasters, managed by Jimmy Hart. Initially a heel tag team, the duo feuded with the Legion of Doom over the WWF World Tag Team Championship, but were unsuccessful. Later, the Disasters turned face when Jimmy Hart betrayed them and joined forces with Money Inc., a team composed of Irwin R. Schyster and Ted DiBiase; Money Inc. had just won the tag titles from the Legion of Doom. Although Earthquake and Typhoon eventually won the tag titles (and defeated the Beverly Brothers at the 1992 SummerSlam pay-per-view to retain the titles), it wasn't long before Money Inc. regained the belts.
Tenta left the WWF in January 1993 after losing to Bam Bam Bigelow the night after the Royal Rumble for a spell in Japan for WAR, but returned in January 1994 when he assisted Bret Hart in a match with Shawn Michaels by countering Diesel's interference. He defeated Adam Bomb in a quick squash match at WrestleMania X. He then engaged in a short feud with Yokozuna, with whom he had a sumo match on Raw (the early days of Tenta's Sumo training were also revealed).
Earthquake was scheduled to face Owen Hart in a King of the Ring qualifying match. However, during a May 14, 1994 house show in San Jose, California, Earthquake had been injured by Yokozuna and Crush. Footage of Yokozuna hitting a Banzai Drop at the show was televised before the qualifying match to explain his absence in which Doink the Clown was his replacement. He again disappeared from WWF thereafter and returned to Japan for WAR.
World Championship Wrestling (1994–1997)
Personal financial difficulties led Tenta to contact World Championship Wrestling. Hulk Hogan, a longtime friend, lobbied to have Tenta come in, and so Tenta broke his WWF contract to join WCW. Before joining WCW, Tenta worked a tour of Japan for UWF International, where he teamed up with Super Vader.
Tenta was introduced as Avalanche and was a member of Kevin Sullivan's 3 Faces of Fear. He later aligned with Big Bubba Rogers and feuded with Sting and Randy Savage, but the character name was dropped after WWF threatened legal action over similarities to the Earthquake character. He then joined the Dungeon of Doom faction as The Shark. Tenta believed this could be the beginning of a long term gimmick and even changed the tattoo on his arm of an LSU Tiger to that of a shark, a process that took 24 hours. Rumors were that WCW management forced him to do that, but in reality, it was John himself that brought the idea up. He eventually left the Dungeon of Doom and wrestled under his real name after delivering a scathing promo about the many other names and gimmicks he'd been forced into in the past, including the memorable line "I'm not the Shark. I'm not a fish. I'm not an Avalanche. I'm a man".
Following a match with the Dungeon of Doom's Giant, Big Bubba Rogers, who had just joined the Dungeon, shaved half of Tenta's head. Tenta said he wouldn't shave off the other half because he looked in the mirror and relive the embarrassment. He would get the mail and his neighbors were laughing. The two went on to feud against one another, with Rogers shaving off Tenta's beard as well after Tenta lost another match to The Giant. In the spring of 1997, John Tenta joined Roddy Piper as a member of his "family." The angle was quickly dropped and Piper instead joined forces with the Four Horsemen, dropping the members of his "family."
Return to World Wrestling Federation (1998–1999; 2001)
After his feud with Rogers, Tenta left WCW and resurfaced in the WWF on the May 25, 1998 episode of Raw is War under the name Golga. He wrestled under a mask as one of the Oddities and the character had a fascination with Eric Cartman from the TV series South Park. The gimmick was given to Tenta because he lost a considerable amount of weight, so much so that the WWF thought it wouldn't be believable for Tenta to reprise the Earthquake gimmick with the weight loss. This was a short-lived gimmick, and the group disappeared in the beginning of 1999 with all the members released.
He did however return to the WWF one last time in 2001 with the Earthquake gimmick, where he was one of the participants of the 20 Man Gimmick Battle Royal match at WrestleMania X-Seven. In December of the same year he also worked a tryout dark match against Joey Abs before an episode of SmackDown.
Illness and death
Tenta retired from wrestling in 2004 after it was revealed that he had developed bladder cancer, in which he was given a 20% chance to live, assuming he continued with his chemotherapy treatments. During his November 18, 2005 interview on WrestleCrap Radio, Tenta announced that a recent radiation dosage did not go as planned, and had no effect on the tumor. He also announced that multiple tumors had spread to his lungs.
The first public notice of Tenta's death was posted on WWE.com on June 7, 2006, at approximately 12:30 PM EDT, which read: "John 'Earthquake' Tenta died this morning, June 7, at the age of 42 after a lengthy battle with bladder cancer. Tenta is survived by his wife and three kids." On the June 9, 2006 edition of SmackDown, and the June 12, 2006 edition of Raw, WWE showed a bumper that read "RIP 'Earthquake' John Tenta" before each show began.
John Tenta's professional wrestling career garnered him appearances in several video games. In 1991, Tenta as Earthquake was portrayed as a feature character in Technos' popular arcade video game WWF WrestleFest. He was also included in the 1992 home video game WWF Super WrestleMania by LJN for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (he wasn't in the Sega Genesis version). In 2004, the Japanese video game developer Spike released King of Colosseum II, a puroresu-wrestling game for PlayStation 2 that featured Tenta as a playable character; it was a Japan-only release. On April 14, 2009, Tenta was announced as downloadable content for WWE SmackDown vs. Raw 2009 which was released April 16, 2009.
- Finishing moves
- Signature moves
- With Typhoon
- Typhoon hits a body avalanche and keeps the opponent cornered while Earthquake splashes his back, crushing the opponent with the impact of both of their weights
- Entrance themes
- "Winner Takes It All" by Sammy Hagar (AJPW; 1987–1989)
- "Lucky Ones" by Loverboy (NWA All-Star; 1987–1989)
- "La Marseillaise" by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle (WWF; 1989–1990)
- "Quake Shake" by Jimmy Hart and J.J. Maguire (WWF/WWE/SWS/WAR/AJPW; 1990–1994, 2001–2004)
- "Avalanche Theme" (WCW; 1994–1995)
- "Shark Theme" (WCW; 1995–1996)
- "One Crazed Anarchist" (WCW; 1996–1997)
- "The Greatest Show" by Insane Clown Posse (WWF; 1998–1999)
Championships and accomplishments
- All Japan Pro Wrestling
- January 2 Korakuen Hall Heavyweight Battle Royal Winner (1988)
- Tokyo Sports Grand Prix
- Rookie of the Year (1987)
- Wrestling Observer Newsletter awards