Orlando Sentinel – September 24, 2000
By Gary Taylor of The Sentinel Staff
Wannabes Can Learn From Star In Sanford
Inside a small warehouse hidden away at the rear of a south Sanford business complex, a half-dozen or so men in workout clothes and sneakers are looking for a new career.
They have little else in common. One owns a cleaning service, and another owns a tile business. There’s a tow-truck driver and a computer technician.
But each aspires to be the next superstar of pro wrestling.
The odds are against them, says John Tenta. Their chances of making it big in the World Wrestling Federation are slim.
But when they graduate from the John Tenta Wrestling School, they will have all the skills they need to wrestle professionally and perhaps some will even turn the skills into a career, he said.
Tenta should know. After all, he has been to the top in professional wrestling.
Wrestling under the name Earthquake, Tenta teamed with Typhoon to form the Natural Disasters and win the WWF World Tag Team Championship. His eyes literally sparkle when he recalls fighting in England’s Wembley Stadium in front of a crowd of 80,000.
Tenta was at the top, taking on Hulk Hogan when Hogan was in his prime and battling the likes of Andre the Giant.
Tenta was about 6 years old back in Vancouver when his dad kept switching the television from cartoons to wrestling. The youngster quickly became a fan.
He wrestled and played football in high school and college and then went to Japan, where he became a sumo wrestler.
His decision to abandon sumo wrestling, where he had a 24-0 record, for Japan’s professional-wrestling circuit was such big news in 1986 that it pushed soccer’s World Cup off the front pages of several Japanese newspapers.
Tenta, who has lived in Lake Mary for the past five years, once tipped the scales at 470 pounds. He’s 6-foot-7 and currently weighs in at 380 pounds. Besides his years as Earthquake, he has wrestled under his own name as well as Avalanche and Shark.
Back surgery has sidelined Tenta for a few months, but he is eager to return to the wrestling circuit. The surgery forced Tenta to cancel appearances in England, Australia and New Zealand.
At 37, he still thinks he has several years on the pro-wrestling circuit, and his dream is to start his own circuit. The school is the first step toward that.
Tenta hopes to use wrestlers from the school to help fill the 12 to 16 spots needed for a wrestling circuit. Beginner classes are Monday and Wednesday nights, and advanced classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays at the school at 1396 Tropical Park Drive. There is an optional combined Saturday class. In just two months, all the students in his first group of classes have moved up to the advanced class.
While he is building toward his own circuit, Tenta will also have his eyes out for that exceptional student who might be material for the WWF. “If I can get one of my students up to that league, there’s no better advertising,” he said.
Tenta has high hopes for John Meloche, an Oviedo resident who owns a cleaning service.
“When I saw him, I saw immediate potential,” said Tenta. At 33, Meloche might be a little old to be starting out, but he is 6-foot-5, 320 pounds and in great physical condition. He previously played semipro football. Meloche, who wrestled for three years in high school, spotted a flier for Tenta’s school at a gym where he works out. His sons, Andre, 14, and Dustin, 10, can’t wait to see their dad in the ring.
“They’re real excited,” he said. “They are big wrestling fans.”
Assisting Tenta with the school is 40-year-old Gino Carusso, a veteran of the World Championship Wrestling circuit. Carusso is a second-generation professional wrestler. His dad, Gil, fought as The Spoiler before retiring.
Carusso was in the Army and in law enforcement, including a stint with the New York Police Department, before moving to DeLand about a year ago. By day he is an aircraft technician at Orlando Jet Center at Orlando Sanford Airport.
He was on the verge of starting his own school when he learned about Tenta’s school and decided to team up with him rather than compete for a limited number of students.
Tenta is quick to admit that wrestling is “sports entertainment.” But injuries can occur if someone is not properly trained. He said he worries when he sees stories about backyard wrestling matches where teenagers without training imitate pro wrestlers. At the wrestling school, students learn all the moves and how to both give and take.
At least half the potential students who stop by the school to watch a class or ask for a tryout never come back. “It’s not for everyone,” Tenta said.