The British Columbian who became a sumo wrestler and WWE star

John Tenta's decision to exit a promising career in sumo wrestling stunned fans of the sport. But he had his reasons.

John Tenta's wrestling skills brought him opportunities on the other side of the world

John Tenta on Midday

36 years ago
Duration 4:29
In July 1986, John Tenta spoke to CBC"s Midday about his decision to leave the sport of sumo wrestling.

John Tenta was going to be a star, even if he left sumo wrestling behind.

But the story of the B.C.-born wrestler's rapid rise and sudden split from the sport of sumo wrestling made headlines in the mid-1980s.

In 1985, the 6'6" Tenta, who'd been developing his wrestling skills since his high-school days, had gone to Japan to begin training in sumo and to compete — and he quickly saw success, racking up 21 consecutive victories at one point during his rookie season.

But by the summer of 1986, the man who'd been known as Kototenzan (or Heavenly Mountain Harp) in Japan had had enough and announced his retirement from the sport. 

'I just can't live the lifestyle'

John Tenta had been picked out as a sumo wrestling prospect in 1985 and went to Japan to pursue the sport later that year. (CBC News)

"I like sumo, I like the sport, but I just can't live the lifestyle," Tenta, then 23, told reporters when he made his announcement.

Days later, he was back home in Surrey, B.C., and talking to CBC's Midday about his departure from the sumo world.

"There's a lot of demands and a lot of pressure put on you," Tenta told Midday. "I had to answer to guys that were much younger than me, I had to do anything that my senior wrestlers asked me."

Tenta said many of his days began before dawn and involved harsh training, sumo competition and other duties that lasted until the evening.

New opportunities, but a return to Japan

John Tenta is seen arriving back home in British Columbia, the day before he spoke to Midday about deciding to end his sumo wrestling career. (CBC News)

He also talked about the pressure not to draw any bad publicity for the sport.

"Sumo wrestlers are always in the public eye, so you have to be very careful of scandals and things like that," said Tenta.

Even though Tenta was done with sumo wrestling, he didn't regret his decision to pursue the sport.

"I had a good time, I have become well-known in Japan. I enjoyed myself and now it's opened doors for other opportunities," Tenta told Midday.

In fact, Tenta would soon return to Japan to pursue professional wrestling, just not of the sumo variety.

Eventually, he'd find himself mixing it up with Hulk Hogan and other premier wrestlers in the United States-based WWF (now the WWE) and WCW.

Tenta died in 2006, a few weeks shy of his 43rd birthday. A report in the Globe and Mail indicated that the wrestler had died of cancer.

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