(b. John Tunney, 1935 – January 24 2004
) was a Canadian wrestling
promoter. Tunney was known worldwide for his appearances on World Wrestling Federation
television as the promotion's figurehead president, suspending wrestlers, stripping them of titles, and ordering matches. This was during the company's initial worldwide popularity boom in the 1980s, the peaking days of Hulkamania.
The Tunney family had a long history of running the wrestling promotions in Toronto
and the southern Ontario
area, going back to 1939. His father, John Tunney, and his uncle Frank Tunney were promoters of wrestling in Toronto and all over southern Ontario. What they didn't promote, they still had control over, allowing small promoters to run small towns where it suited them. John was the head promoter until his sudden death. Frank Tunney was an incredibly well-known and liked promoter, both in the city and around the NWA, in which he had great sway.
Maple Leaf Wrestling
As a young man, Tunney entered into employment in the Queensbury Athletic Club -- the proper name for the Toronto Wrestling promotion for many years, before it became known as Maple Leaf Wrestling
-- and worked alongside his uncle, Frank, announcer Norm Kimber, Frank Ayerst, Ed Noonan, and wrestlers Whipper Watson and Pat Flanagan. The offices were across the street from the famed Maple Leaf Gardens. Later, Tunney ran his operation out of the Gardens itself. Jack worked for years under his uncle Frank Tunney until Frank's death in May 1983 when he took over the Toronto promotion. Jack Tunney and his cousin Eddie Tunney (Frank's son) took control of the Queensbury Athletic Club. With the years of experience under his belt, Jack moved into the spotlight his uncle loved, and Eddie was a silent partner.
At the time, the Toronto office was in partnership with Mid-Atlantic Championship Wrestling promoter (in the Carolinas) Jim Crockett and had been since 1978 (A deal brokered by George Scott, a key executive with Crockett who had been a preliminary wrestler for Tunney from 1950-1956). But when the promotional wars heated up, Crockett felt he could no longer spare the top name wrestlers, and had a distrust of Tunney, who had a long history of working with Crockett's main rival, Vince McMahon, and McMahon's booker George Scott, who was a partner in the Toronto promotion. The Toronto cards got progressively weaker through 1983-84, dwindling down to audiences of 3,000 for some shows. Leo Burke and his brothers became the lead heels, along with Don Kernodle when the top Crockett stars were no longer available.
World Wrestling Federation
In 1984, Jack decided he no longer wanted to promote cards with a mix of WWF, NWA, and other wrestling talent and decided to switch allegiances from the NWA and aligned himself with Vince McMahon's WWF, promoting only WWF cards north of the border. Jack, with Frank's son Eddie as his silent partner, transferred controlling interest of the promotion to the WWF in a maneuver which made Toronto a WWF city and was instrumental in consolidating the company's power base in Canada. Jack Tunney and his cousin Eddie Tunney retained a one-third stake in the Maple Leaf Wrestling promotion, with George Scott holding one-sixth (until 1987). Tunney still controlled the Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto to a large extent, and also covered southern Ontario and Buffalo, NY.
Tunney would usually promote 40 or more WWF shows per year, making him a very important man in the expansion of the WWF, and keeping WCW out of key Canadian markets well into the 1990s. It was a brilliant business move, signing up just as the WWF was about to hit it big. He had positioned himself as Canada's WWF promoter, leading McMahon's army as they destroyed promotion after promotion. Soon, wrestling promotions across Canada fell on hard times as Tunney helped McMahon take over their territories. All-Star Wrestling in Vancouver expired. The AWA stopped coming into Manitoba. Stu Hart's Stampede promotion began eroding until he too was forced to sell to McMahon (and later starting up again for a few years). Grand Prix out of Montreal fought Tunney, but also eventually succumbed. Dave McKigney's Big Time Wrestling couldn't make a go of it due to Tunney's pressuring of Ontario's Boxing & Wrestling Commission to make insurance too expensive for the little guys.
As the figurehead president
To present Canadian fans with a familiar face as the WWF tried to expand northward, Tunney was named the WWF's figurehead president on the company's television programs in the mid-1980s. This role was strictly ceremonial, to provide an authority figure to announce major decisions on television, and Tunney held no backstage power beyond what a standard regional promoter would. Still, he was used on TV whenever a major decision was to be announced. He was a kayfabe
, on television, the most famous decision being when he stripped Ted DiBiase
of the world title he acquired through deceptive means and an implied financial payoff. His hard nosed way of doing things earned him the nickname "The Hammerhead". Furthermore, to reward Tunney for his work he was made the chief WWF Promoter for Canadian tours (This is the position that is currently taken by Carl Demarco) and was legitimately the president of Titan Sports Canada, the WWF's Canadian corporate presence, after McMahon began operating under that entity in late 1989.
Tunney's position grew smaller over time, and by the early 1990s he was only seen sporadically on TV. In 1995, McMahon chose to run the shows in Toronto without any involvement from the Tunneys. The final show at the Gardens was held on September 17, 1995. That year, Tunney retired. Gorilla Monsoon was given the role of on-screen WWF President.
Tunney met his wife Ann in the fourth grade, and they had two daughters. Ann died in 1991, and Jack died Saturday, January 24
in Lindsay, Ontario.