Going in depth with Mike Tenay
By JOHN MOLINARO -- SLAM! Wrestling
There is a moment during the Rey Misterio Jr. versus Eddie Guerrero
the Halloween Havoc '97 telecast that I'll never forget.
As Tony Schiavone was furiously calling the action, Mike Tenay was
informing the viewing audience of some little known facts about Misterio
and Guerrero's career.
Mike Tenay. Photo courtesy WCW.
I can remember being totally astounded by the manner in which Tenay
delivered these obscure facts. He had clearly done his homework and by
imparting these facts on the respective careers of the wrestlers in the
ring, he made the match seem that more important. Bobby Heenan was so
blown away with Tenay's preparedness that he jokingly asked, "Mike, tell
me what you don't know. Is there anything you don't know?"
Professionalism is a trait that all too few in wrestling possess. It's a
trait that Tenay has an ample amount of. But it's just one of many.
Personable. Genuine. Down-to-earth.
These are just some of characteristics used to describe Mike Tenay's
on-air personality. Never having the opportunity to speak with him
before, I was anxious to see whether he's that way in real life.
He is. The soft-spoken, mild-mannered Tenay comes across in real life
exactly how he does on TV.
Wrestling is in the business of hype. It's an industry comprised of
self-promoting braggarts scheming to get ahead at
any cost. Mike Tenay is one of the few exceptions. He brings less hype
to the table than anybody else.
For him, it's still about the wrestling.
"I have such an incredible love for the wrestling business," said Mike
Tenay during a recent three-hour interview with SLAM! Wrestling. "My
buddies from high school commented to me that 'what you do, you can't
call that work. You can't call that a job because you're having too
much fun.' They're right."
Tenay's love affair with pro wrestling dates back to his childhood.
"I grew up in Southern California and my first exposure to wrestling was
in Los Angeles (Gene and Mike LeBell's NWA territory). I was first
exposed to wrestling on TV in 1962. Within a couple of months I had
talked my father into taking me to a live event. We went to the Olympic
Auditorium in Los Angeles and the wrestler that caught my attention was
"I was real fortunate to grow up (watching) a territory like the Los
Angeles promotion just because of the diversity of talent that came
through there. You always had new faces coming through and I got to see
all the big names: The Destroyer, Freddie Blassie and John Tolos
Wrestling would become a lifelong obsession for Tenay, planting the
small seedlings of a future career.
"Even at a young age I remember starting to buy Wrestling Revue magazine
and I was really interested in a lot of journalistic aspects of
sports writing and I really followed pro wrestling as much as I could.
At the time there was not a lot of inside information that was
available. It became a lifelong quest to find out more information
about the inner workings of the wrestling business."
Tenay's quest to gain inside information led him to publish "Mat News",
one of the very first pro wrestling newsletters.
"What I decided to do in 1966 was to start a newsletter that would be
amazingly close considering the times of what you would see as a
Wrestling Observer newsletter today. I wrote to as many people as I
could and lined up correspondents and we would correspond by mail."
In the early days of newsletters, information was tough to gather.
There was no Internet. People didn't think to call one another long
distance. Back in wrestling's territorial days, TV programs
didn't air nationally, only locally, making it tough for fans
to keep abreast of what was going on in wrestling.
"At the time there was not a lot of inside information that was
available," recalled Tenay. "There was a real secrecy to wrestling and
it wasn't at all as open as it is today."
As a result, members of the underground wrestling press
relied on each other, developing a network by which they traded news and
results with each other.
"I (corresponded with fans) from all over the world: The U.S., England,
Japan, Australia, and I would get all the results from all the
promotions in Southern California and I would exchange the news and
results with all the correspondents. I had all this info and I decided
to put it in a newsletter form."
Tenay was also among the first wrestling tape traders.
"I would make audio cassette tapes of the Los Angeles TV wresting
program. I'd duplicate them and trade them with guys in New York,
Detroit, Texas, San Francisco who were doing the same thing. That was
the predecessor of the today's VCR tape trading."
But "Mat News" was Tenay's true passion.
"It was very different for its time. I would have one page of inside
news and notes and the rest was results from the rest of the world. I
can remember each week waiting by the mailbox impatiently for those
letters with the results from all over."
Once "Mat News" ceased publication in 1973, Tenay began writing for
several national wrestling magazines. He also started penning articles
for the Olympic Auditorium's print program.
After high school, Tenay's interest waned as he moved onto a career as a refrigeration and air conditioning repairman.
Years later, he ended up in Las Vegas supervising horse racing bets
for the Gold Coast Hotel and Casino. A friend of his from Los
Angeles had an overnight sports talk radio show that was
struggling. He asked Mike to help out.
"He was having such a hard time attracting listeners and he was
basically reading the sports section of the USA Today over the air,"
laughed Tenay. "He was having a real hard time. He asked me to come on
and talk about sports. An hour and a half into it, nobody was
calling up. He was desperate. He remembered I was a wrestling fan from
our days in L.A. and he asked if I would mind talking about wrestling.
"We started talking about wrestling at about 3:30 in the morning and we
looked at each other as the lines all lit up. The owner of the Sports
and Entertainment Network heard the show that evening, called me up the
next day and I had a show."
Ironically, Tenay hadn't even considered a job in pro wrestling.
"It really was the furthest thing from my mind," chuckled Tenay. "I
never even thought about it."
From 1991 to 1995, "Wrestling Insiders" was broadcast nationally
across the U.S. and boasted 450 affiliate stations. Live guests on the
show included Sting, Bruno Sammartino, Buddy Rogers, Jesse Ventura and
Jim Cornette. The show became such a success that Tenay was approached
"WCW contacted me in 1993 to fill an opening on the WCW hotline,"
recalled Tenay, a role he still fulfills to this day.
"After doing that I had decided I would take the radio show on the road
and do remotes from major wrestling events. The first remote was for
the first WCW Hogan versus Flair match in Orlando and I did the show from
the arena. I had a lot of the WCW guys on. I did interviews for the
WCW hotline at that show. They decided to bring me on the road to do
that, and I still did my radio show."
Tenay's next break came shortly after.
"I had Eric Bischoff on as a guest on the radio show and he decided to
me back to Atlanta for a screen test for an announcing job."
It's no accident that Tenay is perceived and marketed by WCW as a
walking encylopedia of wrestling knowledge.
"When Eric hired me his entire thing was he wanted me as the information
guy. He told me he wanted me to be the credible wrestling announcer.
So, they brought me in as a specialty announcer on Japanese and Mexican
matches on PPV and from there it evolved into doing work in '96 for WCW
International, (a syndicated TV program for international markets
outside North America). From there in September of '96, Eric gave me
call and said Steve McMichael was going to be a pro wrestler and they
asked me to join the Nitro team."
The big leagues. A full time colour announcing spot with WCW. In the
eyes of many, Mike Tenay had finally arrived.
Yet, to hardcore fans who knew better, he had arrived two years earlier.
In 1994, WCW was working in conjunction with AAA, a Mexican wrestling
group, promoting their "When Worlds Collide" PPV. The deal was set up
so that AAA would provide the facility and book the show, while WCW
would help out with the show's production and promote it on its TV
Weeks before the show, WCW was in trouble. None of their regular
announcers were familiar with the Lucha Libre style of wrestling, (nor
were they willing to do any research and learn) and felt uneasy about
commentating on a show featuring a product they didn't understand.
Without an announcer to call the action, the event was going to be a
Enter Mike Tenay.
"Gary Juster happened to be out in Las Vegas (Mike's home at the time),
and we went out to breakfast. They were in a tough situation there
because the WCW announce crew were not volunteering for that duty. They
were up against a wall. He asked Chris Cruise to do the show and they
offered me the colour spot and the rest kind of fell into place."
"None of the WCW announce crew were willing (to work the show). They
were apprehensive, understandably so, because they were unfamiliar with
the Mexican product and they didn't want to risk ruining their
reputations by looking silly. I can't say that I blame them."
Tenay seized the oportunity granted him. Although he was a regular
follower of Mexican pro wrestling, he took it upon himself to do
research for the event. He consulted top Lucha experts on the history
of Mexican wrestling and went to great lengths to speak with several of
the wrestlers involved beforehand to learn as much about their
background as possible.
Tenay and Chris Cruise went so far as to fly to Mexico at their own
expense to watch live cards and learn more about Lucha Libre.
The amount of work,
research and time he spent preparing for the show spoke volumes about
Tenay's level of professionalism.
"I flew down to Tijuana, Mexico for shows as often as I could," recalled
Tenay. "I got to know Konnan
and Rey Misterio Jr. They helped educate
me and supplement the knowledge I already had."
The show was not only the first foray into PPV by AAA, it was also the
first time Tenay would call a national PPV telecast. He was nervous.
With a quiet, understated confidence, Mike Tenay and Chris Cruise took
to the air. On what many hardcore wrestling fans consider one of the
of all time, Tenay and Cruise delivered the announcing performance of a
Over the course of the two and half hour show, Tenay was able to impart
the rich history of Lucha Libre, the significance of the show and the
storylines behind the matches. It was an incredible performance, made
even more special by the fact that Tenay was able to educate a viewing
audience who, for the most part, were watching Lucha Libre for the very
first time. That Tenay and Cruise were able to get the Lucha Libre
style over and make the viewing fans care was even more incredible.
Tenay's efforts didn't go unnoticed. The show was a
benchmark in his career.
"It was a huge turning point from the standpoint of gaining positive,
critical reviews from Dave Meltzer and Steve Beverly (editor of Mat
Watch, a weekly wrestling newsletter focusing on the TV end of the
A lot of other announcers would have fallen flat on their faces. But
Tenay rose to the challenge. The reviews were unanimous: Tenay was a
And yet, in typical Mike Tenay fashion, he's uneasy about the personal
accolades, maintaining the quality of the show made him look good.
"It's that old story that an announcer is only as good as the material
he has," Tenay said sheepishly. "If the wrestling is great, people will
think the announcer is great. We were fortunate we hit paydirt with a
show that a lot of people still today consider one of the top PPV
Tenay's modesty aside, it was a landmark announcing performance that
granted him national TV exposure for the first time. For Tenay,
however, his memories are of the exposure it gave the Lucha style.
"It was a landmark show, not so much from an announcing standpoint but
certainly from an exposure standpoint. When you talk about Konnan,
Rey Misterio Jr. and Eddie Guerrero, that was their first exposure (to
American audience). It also exposed Art Barr
. Art made his name on
that show and people had their eyes open to who he was."
It also opened the eyes of many people to who Mike Tenay was.