Tenta won an athletic scholarship to Louisiana State University (LSU), where he competed in NCAA-level collegiate wrestling. At LSU he was nicknamed "Big John" Tenta, lettering on the Tiger varsity wrestling team and participating on the football team. LSU had dropped varsity wrestling to comply with Title IX in 1985, forcing Tenta to choose a new sport.
Tenta then moved to Japan to pursue a career in sumo after being recruited by a former Yokozuna who met Tenta on a trip to Vancouver. In October 1985, he joined a sumo stable, Sadogatake, run by former-Yokozuna Kotozakura Masakatsu (his stable also produced current Ōzeki Kotoōshū Katsunori from Bulgaria). Following tradition, the young sumotori took the name of Kototenta (Koto + Tenta), translated as Tenta the Harp.
Beginning the sport at age 22, he entered nearly 7 years later than many non-college aspirants. However, the combination of his size—he already weighed 192 kg (423 lb)—and training as a wrestler were to his advantage in learning and advancing in the sport. The novice won a string of 17 consecutive victories in his first six months, and was later renamed Kototenzan, Heavenly Mountain Harp. The novelty of being a rare Westerner sumotori in the mid-1980s, and the third-ever Caucasian, garnered him press coverage, and he earned the additional nickname of the "Canadian Comet".
Despite doing well as a newcomer he soon quit the sport due to the difficulty of the sumo lifestyle and the toll the hard ring surface was taking on his body. In addition, the sumo world frowned on the large tattoo of a tiger on his left biceps and, though he covered it during matches, would have required him to remove it via skin graft before moving up to the higher level competitions (in Japan tattoos are associated with gangsters).
Earthquake's first PPV appearance was when he replaced Barry Windham on Randy Savage's team at the 1989 Survivor Series. Earthquake survived the match, along with Savage and Dino Bravo. He made his WrestleMania debut at WrestleMania VI, defeating Hercules.
Tenta's career peaked when he entered a feud with Hulk Hogan. The feud exploded in May 1990, when Earthquake snuck up on Hogan from behind during a segment of The Brother Love Show (on WWF Superstars of Wrestling) and repeatedly crushed Hogan's ribs with his "Earthquake splash." Eventually, Hogan recovered and gained revenge on Earthquake and defeated him in a series of matches across the country, starting with Hogan's countout victory at SummerSlam 1990. Hogan and Earthquake would be the last men left in the 1991 Royal Rumble, with Hogan getting the victory.
In the spring of 1991, Tenta entered an infamous feud with Jake "The Snake" Roberts, in which Earthquake performed his Earthquake splash on Jake's pet snake, Damien. In truth what he crushed was a length of pantyhose filled with hamburger meat that had been swapped for the actual snake, which was stored in a cloth bag. He would later serve quakeburgers to babyface announcer Lord Alfred Hayes, only to reveal later that they were made (kayfabe) from Damien's carcass. Earthquake and Roberts would feud through the summer months of 1991.
At the end of the Roberts feud, Tenta teamed up with his friend Fred Ottman, who changed his ring name from Tugboat to Typhoon, and the two became a tag team known as The Natural Disasters, managed by Jimmy Hart. Initially heels, the duo tried on many occasions to capture the WWF World Tag Team Championship from the Legion of Doom. The Disasters would later turn face when Jimmy Hart betrayed them and joined forces with Money Incorporated, Irwin R. Schyster and Ted DiBiase, who had just won the tag titles from the Legion of Doom. Although Earthquake and Typhoon would eventually win the tag titles (and defeated the Beverly Brothers at SummerSlam '92 to retain the titles), it wasn't long before Money Inc. regained the belts.
Tenta left the WWF in January 1993 after losing to Bam Bam Bigelow the night after the Royal Rumble for a spell in Japan, but returned in January 1994 when he assisted Bret Hart in a match with Shawn Michaels by countering Diesel's interference. He defeated Adam Bomb in a quick squash match at WrestleMania X. He then engaged in a short feud with Yokozuna, with whom he had a sumo match on RAW (the early days of Tenta's Sumo training were also revealed).
Earthquake was scheduled to face Owen Hart in a King of the Ring qualifying match. However, during a May 14, 1994 house show in Anaheim, California, Earthquake had been injured by Yokozuna and Crush. Footage of Yokozuna hitting a Banzai Drop at the show was televised before the qualifying match to explain his absence in which Doink the Clown was his replacement. He again disappeared from WWF thereafter.
Tenta was introduced as Avalanche and feuded with Sting, but the character name was dropped after WWF threatened legal action over similarities to the Earthquake character. He then joined the Dungeon of Doom faction as The Shark. Tenta believed this could be the beginning of a long term gimmick and even changed the tattoo on his arm of an LSU Tiger to that of a shark. Rumors were that WCW management forced him to do that, but in reality, it was John himself that brought the idea up. He eventually left the Dungeon of Doom and wrestled under his real name after delivering a scathing promo about the many other names and gimmicks he'd been forced into in the past, including the memorable line "I'm not a fish. I'm a man".
Following a match with the Dungeon of Doom's Giant, half of Tenta's head was shaved by Big Bubba Rogers, another Dungeon member. The two would go on to feud against one another, with Rogers shaving off Tenta's beard as well.
John "Earthquake" Tenta passed away this morning, June 7, at the age of 42 after a lengthy battle with bladder cancer. Tenta is survived by his wife and three kids.
On the June 9, 2006 edition of SmackDown! and the June 12, 2006 edition of RAW, before each show began, World Wrestling Entertainment showed an eyecatch that said "In memory of John "Earthquake" Tenta 1963-2006."
Tenta is survived by his wife, Josephine and their 3 kids.
John Tenta's professional wrestling career garnered him appearances in several video games. In 1991, Tenta as Earthquake was portrayed as a feature character in Technos' popular arcade video game WWF WrestleFest. He was also included in the 1992 home video game WWF Super WrestleMania by Flying Edge for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (he wasn't in the Sega Genesis version). In 2004, the Japanese video game developer Spike released King of Colosseum II, a puroresu-wrestling game for PlayStation 2 that featured Tenta as an unlockable character; it was a Japan-only release.