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ONLINE ONSLAUGHT
John "Earthquake" Tenta, Dead at 42...
Plus Other Midweek News 
June 7, 2006

by Rick Scaia
Exclusive to OnlineOnslaught.com

 

Some sad news today: following a lengthy battle with cancer, John Tenta -- best known for his very successful main event run as "Earthquake" in the WWF -- has passed away. It might surprise you to learn that he was only 42 years old.
  

It has actually been over 2 years since Tenta was first diagnosed, and was given less than 18 months to live. After the initial diagnosis, an aggressive treatment program seemed to be helping, and Tenta was even given a slim chance of surviving the cancer. However, last October, things took another turn for the worse: the cancer which had originally been located in his 

bladder had begun to spread to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy and radiation treatments really only delayed the inevitable.

Early this morning, the cancer finally got the better of Tenta. After a serious downturn in his health over the weekend (and after 2 years of publicly discussing his health situation), Tenta's death certainly doesn't rate as surprising and shocking as other wrestling deaths in recent memory. But it still rates as an unfortunate and much-too-soon end to the life of a man who was one of the unlikeliest stars to be created by bodybuilder fetishist Vince McMahon.

John Tenta was born in British Columbia in 1963, and by the time he was a teenager, was well over 6-foot-tall. He participated in both wrestling and football, and in fact, attended Louisiana State University where he pursued both hobbies. Although not necessarily a stand-out performer in either sport, Tenta still stood out simply for being 6'5" and eventually topping out at around 350 lbs. by his senior year, all while maintaining remarkable agility for such a large man.

Following graduation from LSU, Tenta decided to put his unique physical skills to the test by moving to Japan to explore Sumo Wrestling. In 1986, he was only the second westerner to ever attempt to become a Sumo. For about a year, he trained and competed under the name "Kototenzan" (which my half-assed, rushed research tells me translates as "Heavenly Mountain Harp")... but within that year, Tenta also realized that he did not have the desire to dedicate his entire existence to the stifling and rigid Sumo lifestyle.

Still, Tenta loved Japan and enjoyed using his unique brand of athleticism. So in 1987, he entered the All Japan Dojo, and started studying to become a pro wrestler under the tutelage of Shohei "Giant" Baba. A quick study, Tenta made his AJPW debut later that same year.

The Japanese fans always flocked to see giant-sized gaijin (westerners), and over the course of 18 months, Tenta became one of All Japan's more popular feature attractions. He'd team frequently with Baba and the Great Kabuki in crowd pleasing matches. All the while, he was also continuing to train and learn (including absorbing tidbits from other visiting gaijin like Dory Funk).

Meantime, back across the pond in the United States, the WWF had long since perfected a formula for their signature star, Hulk Hogan. Some monstrous bad guy would do something horrible to Hogan, Hogan and the monster would travel across the country having Epic Battles (all while their feud remained inconclusive on TV), and after about 4-6 months, Hogan would smite the Monster once and for all.

Problem is, you have to keep creating compelling monsters 3-4 times per year in order for the formula to work. Throughout Hogan's golden era from '85 through '92, you certainly had a few memorable monsters... but you also had the WWF trying to serve up the likes of Sika as legitimate competition to the Hulkster. Which, for you kids out there, would be basically the 1988 version of if Umaga headlined the next PPV against John Cena. So: sometimes the formula worked better than others... and it had a lot to do with how convincing the monster was at beating the crap out of Hogan.

Needless to say, by early 1989 John Tenta was on the WWF's radar. A well-trained, deceptively athletic giant (now tipping the scales at more like 450 lbs.) hidden away in Japan where no American fans could possibly have seen him before? That's just what the Fed was looking for.

So Tenta was signed by the WWF in the Spring of '89, at the age of 26 (don't let that hairline fool you!), and debuted that Summer. The WWF took advantage of his anonymity by introducing him in a unique fashion: they planted him in the audience and pretended he was just an average fan. And I don't think it's just that I was a stupid kid at the time: I think they probably managed to fool just about everyone watching.

The angle was this: Canadian Strongman Dino Bravo and the Ultimate Warrior were feuding over which one of them was stronger. So one week, the decided to have a push-up contest. To up the ante, Bravo's manager (Jimmy Hart) suggested that they have somebody come up from the audience and sit on Bravo and Warrior's backs as they do the push-ups. Of course, as soon as they started scanning the audience, the crowd immediately started cheering for them to pick the ginormous 6'5", 450 lbs. guy. So after feigning concern, Hart finally relented and brought the big fella up into the ring.

Against all odds, Bravo was able to complete a series of push-ups with the guy on his back. But when Warrior dropped down, the mysterious audience member got a running start and plopped down hard on Warrior's ribs, squashing him like a bug. It was the first of many "Earthquake Splashes" (basically a seated senton). In coming weeks, the audience member would be revealed as a compatriot of Bravo's who was complicit in setting Warrior up for the squashing. He was briefly billed as "The Canadian Earthquake," before the name was shortened to simply "Earthquake."

Quake's credibility was instantly established when he took out Warrior, and then over the autumn and winter, he continued gaining momentum by taking out lesser stars. This was per The Formula, as the monster always needed to be built up before being fed to the Hulkster. At WrestleMania 6, Quake easily polished off his most recent victim (Hercules, I think). And then at TV tapings later that week, it was time for Hogan to finally cross paths with the Earthquake.

In real life, Hogan needed a few months off to film whichever of his crappy movies got made in 1990 (Suburban Commando?)... but on TV, he was confronted by Jimmy Hart and Earthquake on the Brother Love Show. And Hogan got squashed. A series of Earthquake Splashes on the unforgiving wooden platform left Hogan suffering the Internal Bleeding of Extreme Organ Damage. Hogan even did a stretcher job. This led to the laughably-horrible "Hulk Hogan Friendship Bracelet" gimmick, where Hogan's "best friend," Tugboat, implored fans to send in Get Well cards, and also a few bucks so that they could show their support for the Hulkster by wearing a friendship bracelet.

Needless to say, that gimmick was so stupid that it tanked horribly. And it took Tugboat out with it. They decided to have Quake take out Tugboat, so that when Hogan finally came back, he needed new back-up (in the form of the late Big Bossman, who was there to counter Quake's buddy, the late Dino Bravo). Hogan beat Quake in his return match at SummerSlam, but it was only via count-out.

That meant that the feud was still on: Hogan and Earthquake headlined shows across the country, and for TV purposes, they could bust out Hogan/Bossman vs. Quake/Bravo matches, and ancillary things like that. Starting in April, right after WrestleMania 6, the Hogan/Quake feud lasted through the end of 1990, and didn't hit its official end till 10 months later. Hogan finally pinned Quake on TV on the final Saturday Night's Main Event (it may actually have been just "The Main Event," if I recall, airing on a Friday evening) leading into WM7.

I think that 10-month run pretty much cements Earthquake as one of Hogan's more successful "Formula" opponents from that era. Although, realistically, it was also the peak of Tenta's career, as he never ascended to those heights again. But that doesn't mean that Tenta didn't still contribute as a valuable role player in the years that followed...

In need of a reset following the end of the Hogan feud, Quake again feasted on some lesser stars. I think he padded his WM resume with a meaningless win over Greg Valentine at WM7, and then started looking for something more substantial to do. He found it in the form of Jake "the Snake" Roberts. In a perversely memorable Saturday Morning Superstars Moment, Earthquake squashed Jake's python, Damien. Or at least, squashed a bag purportedly containing Jake's python. Even in my youth, I recognized a bait and switch when I saw it, and found it quite suspicious that the bag with Damien was -- for some reason -- briefly thrown under the ring before being retrieved by Earthquake.

The death of Damien was probably supposed to jumpstart another lengthy feud for Quake, this time with Roberts. But fate conspired to put the kibosh on that. The WWF was in a bit of a state of flux at the time (this was right around one of Warrior's hissy fits), and it was decided that it was already time to un-retire Randy Savage to fill a spot on the roster (after all of 5 months). To facilitate this, the Fed needed to turn Jake Roberts heel. To the best of my memory, the Quake/Jake feud never reached anything resembling a climax, as Jake was pulled out to execute a heel turn.

Quake was quickly given something else to do, albeit something a few rungs lower down the ladder: he formed a full time tag team with his one-time adversary, Tugboat. Quake was having some sort of issue or another with the Bushwhackers, and Tugboat shocked the world by coming out to the ring and -- instead of helping the Bushwhackers -- he joined Earthquake. Tugboat was renamed "Typhoon," and the Natural Disasters were born.

Fully established as heels by SummerSlam of '91, the Natural Disasters were in the Tag Title mix by the turn of the New Year. Right after the New Year, more flux-tastic roster shake-ups meant that the Fed's top babyface tag team, the Legion of Doom, was on a hiatus. This necessitated a face turn for the Disasters... because of the strength of Money Inc. (Ted DiBiase and Mike Rotundo) as heels, they actually pulled this off. After falling short in their first tries, the Disasters eventually did enjoy two short reigns as WWF Tag Champs in 1992.

When the WWF brought in the Steiner Brothers in January 1993, the Disasters lost their spot as a top tag team, and Tenta was savvy enough to know there probably wasn't gonna be much for him to do as a singles performer (especially as a babyface), either.  He left the WWF on pleasant terms following the Royal Rumble that year.

In early 1994, the wrestling world was shaken up by the announcement that Hulk Hogan (who'd left the WWF in mid-1993) would be signing with World Championship Wrestling. And much to the chagrin of many WCW fans: Hogan was gonna bring a LOT of his trusted pals with him in an attempt to recreate past glories. One of the guys he asked to come with him? John Tenta. Debuting in WCW almost simultaneously with Hogan, Tenta originally used the name "Avalanche" (until WWF's lawyers suggested that was a bit too close to "Earthquake"). So WCW slapped "The Shark" gimmick on Tenta, forever cementing Tenta's ties to the crappiest of WrestleCrap.

As part of the "Dungeon of Doom" (a cheesy bunch of cartoonish monster heels with the sole goal of eliminating Hulk Hogan), "The Shark" may have gotten a TV match or two with Hogan, but certainly the magic of 1990 was not recreated. When "The Shark" came up short against Hogan, he was actually ostracized from the group, and probably spent more time feuding with them than he spent working for them. At some point in late 1995, right after the creation of Monday Nitro, Tenta cut a promo in which he threw aside "The Shark" gimmick and tried to establish himself under his own name. This flopped in short order, and before long, Tenta parted ways with WCW.

At some point during the WWF's darkest days in late '96, Tenta came back and had a cup of coffee with the company. It might even have just been a one-shot deal, where he came in to face Yokozuna in a Sumo Match. This led to nothing in the short term, but it did put Tenta and the Fed back on friendly speaking terms.

Which was convenient, since less than 18 months later, at the height of Attitude, the WWF put together a stable of "Human Oddities." And when trying to put together the most bizarre possible assemblage of performers, Russo and Company came up with the idea for a rolly-polly, leather-gimp-mask-wearing, Cartman-obsessed guy named "Golga." John Tenta was called in to fill the role.

The Oddities lasted about a year, which is about the shelf-life for a crowd-pleasing comedy act. By mid-1999, the Oddities were gone, and Tenta was again out of a job. He surfaced one last time in the WWF, working as Earthquake in the WrestleMania 17 "Gimmick Battle Royale."

Having saved wisely from his lucrative 1990 run with Hogan (and from his bloated WCW guaranteed contract), Tenta never had to slum it on the indie scene to make ends meet, and instead was able to pick his spots when he wanted to after the end of his full time WWF career in 1999. One of the wrestling-related things Tenta did spend a lot of time on in recent years was actually one of his more endearing: able to laugh at himself, Tenta became something of a spokesperson for "WrestleCrap" (both the website and the book). 

It was just one of the many things Tenta did that earned him a reputation as one of wrestling's truly good and well-grounded guys. Tenta busted onto the scene in 1989 and for two years was realistically the top money-making heel in the wrestling business; in later years, he'd be asked to be a Shark and an Oddity. And through it all, he never raised a stink, and remained a good company man.

And also a good family man. John Tenta is survived by his wife of 18 years and 3 children. Of course, our condolences go out to them, as well as to all of John's other family, friends, and fans.

A FEW MIDWEEK NEWSBITES

  • Monday's RAW bounced back to a 4.0 cable rating after a few subpar weeks. The 4.0 isn't necessarily anything to write home about, but it does put RAW back near the bottom end of the range in which it's been hanging out for the first half of 2006 so far.
     
    And to repeat: I didn't think it a particularly strong show. Not a particularly awful one, either. But for the first time in a while, RAW ended and I wasn't itching to see what would happen next week.
     
    Upon further review (and after perusing some e-mail feedback I got), I think I'll agree with the notion that Monday's show was an attempted throwback to "Crash TV," where you had a lot of shorter segments all glommed together. Which isn't inherently bad. It's just that even at the height of Crash TV, the shows always had an "anchor," whether it was one solid wrestling match or a bankable angle/promo.
     
    Monday had nothing resembling an "anchor." The wrestling was pointless across the board (no match longer than 3-4 minutes), robbing the show of the ability to change gears and stay fresh. Even the people who'd profess to love the entertainment and not give a shit about workrate would probably agree that the ability to tell at least a couple of stories within the context of a well-worked wrestling match helps to create a contrast that makes the stories told in skits and promos all the more enjoyable.
     
    And not a one of Monday's skits/angles/promos stood out as especially entertaining. Of the three big ones (Cena/RVD, Angle/Foley/Edge, and Vince/HHH), the first was kind of worthless and anvilly, the second was clunky and disjointed, and the third was just flat-out anticlimactic. [For the record: live fans in Pittsburgh have written in to say that after RAW went off the air, HHH did bust out the crotch chops and shoved Shane's face in Vince's ass, and in general gave them a big happy finish. So they got the climax and the air of finality, even if the TV viewers didn't. Whee?]
     
    There also exists a slim chance that the mere presence of Randy Orton soured me a bit on the show. Especially in the spot they put him in. There's a difference between putting somebody that certain fans love to hate (like Cena) into a hostile environment to goose the fans into lusty responses... but putting somebody that fans love to not give a shit about (like Orton) into that same environment, hoping that the Jackoff Quotient is high enough that Orton will actually be booed out of the building? That's just stupid. And it's the only reason I can think of for putting Orton on an ECW PPV.
     
    It also annoys me that he's back on TV before even completing his suspension, and he'll be earning a PPV bonus on the first day after that suspension lapses. The only way I see this making even a lick of sense is if Orton agreed to do the match with Angle WITHOUT a PPV bonus, as part of his Forced Maturation Process, and then they send him out there to get his ankle broken again, so he can resume his unpaid vacation until he learns his lesson. Cuz I guarantee you, a dickhead like Orton won't learn anything (except how to become an even more insufferable fuckwit) if the company that tried to discipline him comes crawling back to him before his prescribed sentence is even up.
     
    Unless they're trying to create another self-deluded idiot the likes of the Ultimate Warrior, bringing Orton back in this fashion simply makes no sense to me. "I can act like a jerk, and the company will keep on crawling back to me? AWESOME~!" Somehow, this has to be Johnny Ace's fault....
     
    Anyway, mostly a middlin' show. But middlin's not as good as RAW's been lately, and it's especially noticeable when you're supposed to be putting the big finish on things heading into a PPV. You can get the full report in my OO RAW Recap.
     
  • Diva Injury Status Update:
     
    Lilian Garcia suffered a badly sprained wrist after Charlie Haas chucked her off the ring apron by accident. I have it on good authority that she's been treated and is preparing to Bring The Hot to Dayton on tonight's TV special, though.
     
    Not such good fortune for Beth Phoenix, who suffered a fractured jaw. Still not sure which spot did it, but she was definitely holding her mouth from pretty much that one cool Tied-in-the-Ropes-Stone-Cold-Stunner type move onward. Although she completed the match as planned, Beth will now be on the shelf for at least two months.
     
  • To those who wrote in asking: yes, that was Harry Smith you saw during the opening segment on RAW (when the locker room emptied). He was wearing the blue Union Jack trunks and was front and center as the RAW guys sent ECW scurrying away.
     
    And no: he did not wrestle on Heat, and has yet to make an official WWE Debut (on TV, anyway). Which does make his presence a bit odd. But Harry worked around the horn on RAW house shows, and he did do a dark match in Pittsburgh, so he was dressed, and I guess they decided to let him head down to the ring, regardless.
     
    Don't be surprised if we just pretend it never happened, though, whenever it is that they finally do decide to debut Harry on TV.
     
  • Noticeably absent from RAW: Axl Rotten, who was scheduled to be a part of the ECW run-in, but no-showed the event. Needless to say, this puts his status with the new ECW in a bit of doubt. Dum dum.
     
  • WWE.com has officially announced that Road Warrior Animal has been released from the company. Even with his brother being in charge of talent relations, somebody must have realized that Animal has negative value as a singles wrestler, and wasn't worth the headaches of listening to him bitch about wanting more TV time.
     
    The guy oughta be grateful that, thanks to his brother, he got what should have been a 6 week nostalgia run (to sell some DVDs last summer) turned into a 12 month paycheck. My own damned opinion, anyway...
     
  • While MTV is still mulling over exactly what to do with their "Wrestling Society X" pilot, they are renegotiating contracts with performers who appeared on that first show. By and large, this amounts to signing contract extensions to keep the original roster exclusive for six more months until MTV decides what to do with the show....
     
    But some guys have asked for (and are receiving) releases to pursue other options. Justin Credible is one of these, and already it sounds like he's been locked in to a deal to join ECW. Oh joy. New Jack is also getting out, and I'd love to see him parlay that into sporadic, crowd-pleasing garbage brawls in ECW, yet there's no word that he's been in contact with WWE/ECW.
     
    For TNA fans, you can now look for Puma to become a full-time worker for the company, as he was the only other significant guy I remember hearing about that asked to be cut loose.
     
  • ECW has also signed Dave Heath -- he of the "Gangrel" gimmick -- to a contract. And thus, you can pretty much resign yourself to the fact that Sci-Fi Network didn't get their aliens, but Heyman will compromise and give them Vampires.
     
    For whatever it's worth, Heath actually did work for ECW way back near the start of Heyman's take-over, under the name "Vampire Warrior." Although to be fair, the way I remember it, that MIGHT have had something to do with the fact that Heyman was very much a fan of Heath's wife, Luna Vachon, and pushed her as the very first "Queen of Extreme." Heath might just have been along for the ride.
     
    If the Gangrel gimmick is going to be in full effect, that actually is a pretty cool look. And if they don't get TOO cheesy with it, well: starting out in the business as Gangrel's Associate Vampires sure seemed to work out well for Edge and Christian, didn't it? We'll see...
     
  • You've *got* to read this interview with Hulk Hogan.
     
    There's too many interesting tidbits/highlights to even start discussing here. I got the link sent to me by a ton of readers, most of whom were disgusted and angered by some of the things Hogan said. But what I think makes the interview so interesting is the fact that Hogan's actually speaking the pragmatic truth on a lot of things....
     
    He may be egotistical and self-centered, but the fact is that the guy has also seen and done enough that you can't discount his slant on things like the countless issues he has with Bret Hart. In fact, on a lot of those issues, I say the Hulkster's side makes more sense than Bret's.
     
    Which is why the Internet Jackoff Consortium has long since rescinded my membership. But whatever... just check out the interview, and whether you agree or disagree with it, I do believe you'll learn a little something along the way.
     
  • I think that's about all I've got time for today. Live Televised Goodness (hopefully) awaits me out at the Nutter Center. You can watch along tonight on USA Network, or you can come on back here to OO tomorrow, where the Cubs Fan has graciously offered to do a recap of the ECW vs. WWE Special. Which means I can just go and enjoy the show without worrying about remembering every little detail or re-watching my DVR and throwing together a recap of my own. Supoib.
     
    Next time I'll be back up in your grill, then, will be with the ECW PPV Preview. And as always, I'll be bringing friends. See you then....


  
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Bonding Exercises
 
RAW RECAP: The New Guy Blows It
 
PPV RECAP: WWE Night of Champions 2012
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: 18 Seconds? NO! NO! NO!
 
RAW RECAP: The Show Must Go On
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Boot Gets the Boot
 
RAW RECAP: Heyman Lands an Expansion Franchise
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Losing is the new Winning
 
RAW RECAP: Say My Name
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Deja Vu All Over Again
 
RAW RECAP: Dignity Before Gold?
 
PPV RECAP: SummerSlam 2012
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Backfired!
 
RAW RECAP: Bigger IS Better
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Hitting with Two Strikes
 
RAW RECAP: Heel, or Tweener?
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Destiny Do-Over
 
RAW RECAP: CM Punk is Not a Fan of Dwayne
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: The Returnening
 
RAW RECAP: Countdown to 1000
 
PPV RECAP: WWE Money in the Bank 2012
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Friday Night ZackDown
 
RAW RECAP: Closure's a Bitch
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: In-BRO-pendence Day
 
RAW RECAP: Crazy Gets What Crazy Wants
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Five Surprising MitB Deposits
 
RAW RECAP: Weeeellll, It's a Big MitB
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: #striketwo
 
RAW RECAP: Johnny B. Gone
 
PPV RECAP: WWE No Way Out 2012
 
RAW RECAP: Crazy Go Nuts
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: You're Welcome
 
RAW RECAP: Be a Star, My Ass
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Needs More Kane?
 
RAW RECAP: You Can't See Him
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Lady Power
 
RAW RECAP: Big Johnny Still in Charge
 
PPV RECAP: WWE Over the Limit 2012
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: One Gullible Fella
 
RAW RECAP: Anvil, or Red Herring?
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Everybody Hates Berto
 
RAW RECAP: Look Who's Back
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Care to go Best of Five?
 
RAW RECAP: An Ace Up His Sleeve
 
PPV RECAP: WWE Extreme Rules 2012
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Sh-Sh-Sheamus and the nOObs
 
RAW RECAP: Edge, the Motivational Speaker?
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: AJ is Angry, Jilted
 
RAW RECAP: Maybe Cena DOES Suck?
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: No! No! No!
 
RAW RECAP: Brock's a Jerk
 
SMACKDOWN RECAP: Back with a Bang
 
RAW RECAP: Yes! Yes! Yes!
 
PPV RECAP: WWE WrestleMania 28

 
 
E-MAIL RICK SCAIA

BROWSE THE OO ARCHIVES

Rick Scaia is a wrestling fan from Dayton, OH.  He's been doing this since 1995, but enjoyed it best when the suckers from SportsLine were actually PAYING him to be a fan.

 

 

 


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