Jan. 2, 2015
Justin Henry

The Dominance of a Natural Disaster

Symbolism is a powerful device. With symbolism, a subtle story can be told without spoken word to ruin the moment. Symbolism can possibly be so subtle, there are no words to explain it, for even the assigned commentators fail to see the relevance.

Journey back to WrestleMania VI sometime. It is Andre the Giant's last hurrah, one inspiring mixed feelings. On one hand, Andre is rendered so immobile by years of blinding back pain, the acromegaly that turned him into a money-making giant, that he never officially tags into his match. Haku does all of the work for nearly ten minutes, before the pair lose their Tag Team Championships to Demolition. Manager Bobby Heenan blames Andre for the loss and slaps him, and an incensed Andre pummels both he and Haku for their insubordinance. He *is* the Giant, after all, despite his creaky walk and jutting girth. After disposing of the ungrateful duo, Andre rides alone in the motorized ring cart back to the locker room, waving as a conquering hero of sorts. The fans in Toronto applaud this face turn for what it is, a career victory-lap for wrestling's greatest giant.

Enter the new giant.

Precisely one match later, an ogre smaller in height but with spring in his corpulence appears. Standing approximately 6'7" tall and weighing more than 450 lbs, undefeated ex-sumo star John Tenta took on the name of The Canadian Earthquake, with the nationality soon after broken off. That Earthquake was from British Columbia meant nothing; his awesome presence was meant to take the form of folklore like the Jersey Devil. And even Earthquake outsized such a beast; the Devil's mythos never saw him leave the Pine Barrens, while Tenta was capable of tormenting victims around the globe.

Minutes after Andre said goodbye, Earthquake assumed the mantel of WWE's boss monster, crushing the mighty Hercules beneath his running seated splash. Hercules wasn't the first victim of Earthquake (that would be Ultimate Warrior, whom Tenta crunched under the guise of a plus-size spectator selected for a strength contest between Warrior and Dino Bravo). Hercules also was far from the last.

To ramp up Quake's penchant for thoughtless carnage, he would land the same sitting splash upward of three or four times to the downed opponent after the match (referred to as 'Aftershocks', usually by Jesse Ventura). The poor victim would take a stretcher ride out of the arena to sell his devastation.

To place Earthquake on as equal footing of Andre's unattainable legend as possible, Quake's next feud would be with Hulk Hogan in the summer of 1990. To try and give Quake the sort of rub not even afforded Andre, they had him do what no one had ever done before: put Hogan out of action. And so it went on an episode of The Brother Love Show in May of that year, Earthquake attacking Hogan, and hospitalizing him with broken ribs, following a series of sitting splashes.

Once upon a time, Hogan would take the hot-from-the-oven monster and tour the house show circuit, performing championship bouts country-wide before moving onto the next heel-du-mois. By 1990, Hogan's wattage was fading, and it was Warrior who stood as champion anyhow. Hogan took nearly three months off to sell the beating, only enhancing Earthquake's status as a heartless fiend.

A lesser man wouldn't have been as impactful as Tenta, whose offense looked downright painful. To see a 450-pound man leap into the air, soles pointed out, and land with a trash-bag-sized rear end on the opponent's sternum raised the eyebrows of the dismissive, "this s--t is so fake" crowd. His elbow drops were a mix of theater and brutality. The way Tenta would slowly ease toward the prone opponent and swing the arm like the handle of a layman's spool was almost poetic. The thud of nearly a quarter ton hitting the canvas with some poor schlub beneath was resonant.

There's an artform to throwing your weight around, literally. In that respect, Earthquake fit the part of remorseless killer, capable of growling threat and staggeringly porcine agility. If Tenta were an artist, he'd be along the lines of Michelangelo, creating in different mediums. Most monsters in wrestling stick to the medium of simple punishment. Tenta added theatricality and athleticism to the sadism, to believable effect. Without a moonsault in his arsenal, Tenta isn't quite the Renaissance Monster that a Vader would be, but his work deserves its share of awe.

Just as memorable as his crushing of Hogan was his flattening of animal, in this case Jake Roberts' python Damian. In an unforgettable 1991 post-match bit, Roberts watched helplessly as Tenta repeatedly squashed his large green bag within which the snake was kept (in reality, the bag was gimmicked with hamburger meat).

If that horrifying act wasn't enough (Roberts sold anguish as he looked into the bag and saw a presumably dead Damian), on an episode of Prime Time Wrestling shortly thereafter, Earthquake went from animal cruelty to cartoonish super-villainy in one heavy-footed leap. Wearing his wrestling singlet with an apron and chef's hat, Earthquake served "Snakeburgers" to an oblivious Vince McMahon and Lord Alfred Hayes, while Bobby Heenan gleefully chomped on his, knowing full well that Damian was the meat.

The skit was absurd, and perhaps took some of the sting off of the fact that Earthquake fancied himself not above felony in front of thousands of witnesses. In wrestling, no act of villainy is too absurd, especially when you're a giant of mythical proportions. The fairy-tale ogre and the school-yard bully melded as one, played with conviction by an ex-sumo wrestler who understood his role perfectly.

Before long, Earthquake was put into a tag team with fellow monster Tugboat (renamed Typhoon to play along with Earthquake's motif of widespread human destruction; the duo would call themselves The Natural Disasters). After a face turn in 1992, the two won the Tag Team Championships from Money Inc, Ted Dibiase and Irwin R. Schyster. The turn was explainable for a man of Quake's heinous acts: manager Jimmy Hart had taken Dibiase and IRS to the gold instead of he and Typhoon, so they went after his new charges. It wasn't even so much as a face turn as the beast going after the stringy con artist he once trusted. That Quake was a bit more jovial in his pursuit of the slimy trio was the only affectation to suggest heroism.

Before that turn, and before he appropriated Typhoon for the double-trouble shtick, Quake brought his act full circle: he injured Andre, who was being courted by Hart for a comeback, with "The Mouth of the South" as guiding light. Andre refused, and a bewildered Hart made one remark too many before Andre went to attack. Quake clipped the knee of Andre with Hart's megaphone, and that was how Andre's physical activity in WWE ended: the new giant slaying him to establish rule over his domain.

Andre died in 1993, around the same time Earthquake left the company. After brief stints with the promotion in 1994 and 1998 (the latter under a mask as Golga the Human Oddity), Quake faded into civilian life before passing away after a long battle with bladder cancer in 2006, aged 42.

In an odd way, it's somewhat fitting that John Tenta, mythic monster, couldn't be done in by the drugs, alcohol, and other undoings that befall the troubled wrestler; too many of them dying before their time as a result. It took something different, something stronger, to fell Tenta, something out of his control. That's the greatest tragedy of Tenta's death: in a business where monsters are prone to losing control, Earthquake always looked to be in control, as a monster and as a man alike.

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