British Columbia

Remembering John 'Earthquake' Tenta — a Surrey native who was larger than life

John “Earthquake” Tenta was larger than life from the moment he was born.

The famous wrestler died at the age of 42 of bladder cancer

John "Earthquake" Tenta might be the most famous person to come from Surrey, B.C. (World Wrestling Entertainment)

John "Earthquake" Tenta was larger than life from the moment he was born.

At 11 pounds, three ounces he was by far the biggest baby in the nursery at Surrey Memorial Hospital.

From then on, wherever Tenta went, he was always the largest person in the room.

A young Earthquake showing off his catch sometime in the 1970s. (Brenda Tenta)

By the time he finished growing, Tenta stood nearly two metres tall at six feet six inches, and weighed more than 440 pounds.

His mother, Irene Tenta, noticed there was something different about her son when he was about six years old.

"He would lift up our picnic table, which was pretty heavy, but he would get under it and lift it up and down," she said.

"One day I looked out the kitchen window and saw the picnic table going up and down. I went out there and said, John, what are you doing? He said, mom, I'm just trying to get muscles."

Don't mess with John

As the nickname in this yearbook photo suggests, John Tenta was the biggest person at North Surrey Secondary School. (Brenda Tenta)

Tenta's size and the muscles he developed from lifting picnic tables helped him become him a wrestling champion at North Surrey Secondary School.

He later attended Louisiana State University on a wrestling scholarship.

One day on campus, Tenta saw some white students threatening a young black man.

They found out the hard way that Tenta didn't tolerate racism.

"John said leave him alone, if you want to fight him, you have to take me on, too," Irene said.

"John got ready to fight them and they took off."

Tenta was a successful amateur wrestler long before he stepped into a pro wrestling ring. (Brenda Tenta)

Great white hope

Tenta caught the attention of a sumo master who brought him to Japan in the mid 1980s.

He excelled at the sport but had a hard time dealing with the ancient traditions of sumo.

"All the sumo wrestlers sleep in what they call a stable, so it was just the ground," said his sister, Brenda Tenta.

"It was hard for him to get used to that and, I guess, after a while he decided it was enough."

Earthquake was managed by the legendary Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart. (World Wrestling Entertainment)


The World Wrestling Federation came calling in the late 1980s, putting Tenta in the ring with the company's biggest star, Hulk Hogan.

"John was an attraction," said Tenta's former manager Jimmy "Mouth of the South" Hart.

"He was somebody that when he walked through the airport or walked into a room, he got everybody's attention. Not by saying anything, just by his size and his look."

Tenta had a successful run in the WWF as Earthquake, including a memorable feud with Jake "The Snake" Roberts.

Gentle giant

Tenta bounced back and forth between the WWF and rival company, World Championship Wrestling, appearing as "Big" John Tenta, Avalanche, the Shark and Golga.

He never recaptured the popularity he had as Earthquake.

He opened a wrestling school in Florida but his business plans came to an abrupt halt when he was diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Tenta died June 7, 2006 at the age of 42.

Irene remembers her son as a gentle soul who would only only fight when it was time to stick up for the little guy.

With John Tenta, the other guy was always the little guy.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?