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THE TRAGEDY OF A WWE COLOSSUS

200-pound man John Tenta aka Earthquake was one of WWE megastar Hulk Hogan’s most striking rivals in the nineties. He died tragically young 18 years ago today.

For WWE fans – especially the younger ones – he was once the biggest hate figure there could have been.

Hulk Hogan, the league’s superstar at the time, fell victim to the man they only called Earthquake – the Earthquake. A brutal attack by the Canadian would have seriously injured Hogan, or so the wrestling promotion was told. So seriously that the idol of millions of “Hulkamaniacs” might have to end his career.

It was the summer of 1990 and the peak of the career for the giant, whose real name was John Tenta and who was one of the most striking figures of the show-fighting era at the time.

Weighing around 200 kilos, Tenta was nevertheless an impressive athlete who had also achieved remarkable feats in other sports – including being one of the first North Americans to have success as a sumo wrestler in Japan. However, 18 years ago today, the special life of “Earthquake” John Tenta ended tragically early.

SUCCESSFUL AS A SUMO WRESTLER IN JAPAN – BUT NOT HAPPY

Born in the Canadian city of Surrey, Tenta was a talented amateur wrestler in his youth who also played football and rugby at Louisiana State University (LSU). After college, he made the unusual decision to go to Japan as a sumo wrestler – a former grandmaster had discovered him on a scouting trip to North America and got him interested in his sport.

Tenta, then 22 years old and weighing 192 kilos, moved to the Far East in 1985 and caused a media stir as one of the first western “rikishis” – which grew when he won all 24 fights in his debut year.

The “Canadian Comet” was soon the talk of the town – but he quit after a year because, despite his successes, he was unfamiliar with the sumo culture. “Nothing I’ve ever done – not football, not wrestling – was comparable to the physical abuse I experienced in sumo,” he later looked back.

A factor in Tenta’s decision was also an upper arm tattoo of a tiger’s head, which got him into trouble with sumo officials: they demanded the removal of any tattoos for participation in the higher classes, which are still stigmatized in Japanese culture today because they are associated with criminals and yakuza mobsters.

Tenta switched to wrestling and established himself there after training with the Japanese legend Shohei “Giant” Baba. 1989 saw the switch to the then WWF – and the peak of his career.

BIG WWE FEUD WITH HULK HOGAN

Tenta was introduced with an attack on the up-and-coming crowd favorite Ultimate Warrior, followed the following year by a major feud with Hogan, culminating in a duel at SummerSlam and another major confrontation at the 1991 Royal Rumble.

With manager Jimmy Hart at his side, Earthquake followed up with a major feud with crowd favorite Jake “The Snake” Roberts and the formation of a super heavyweight tag team with Fred Ottman aka Typhoon, the Natural Disasters. The two held the WWE tag team belts together, on paper the biggest success of their careers.

His last major WWE feud during this time was in 1994 with the even heavier Yokozuna (unlike Tenta, not really a sumo wrestler), the cousin of today’s WWE top star Roman Reigns, who died prematurely in 2000.

After Tenta’s departure from WWE in 1994, the really big successes failed to materialize. Between 1994 and 1996, he had further duels with Hogan and various other crowd favorites under new names (Avalanche, The Shark) in the then rival WCW.

Another WWE comeback followed in 1998 with a completely different character: he appeared as the masked oddball Golga, fascinated by the comic character Eric Cartman (South Park) and part of the comedy group The Oddities. Tenta had lost a lot of weight by this point, so WWE higher-ups didn’t see him fit in his old Earthquake role.

DEATH AT 42 AFTER SEVERE CANCER

Tenta – a gentle, thoughtful and approachable man away from the wrestling stage – ended his career in 2004 when he was struck by fate: He was diagnosed with bladder cancer, and doctors gave him only a 20 percent chance of survival.

A year later, Tenta informed his fans that his situation had worsened: chemotherapy had failed and the cancer had spread to his lungs. He died on June 7, 2006 at the age of 42, 15 days before his birthday.

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