Pro Wrestling
Pro Wrestling

John "Jack" 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. Tunney's tenure was during the company's initial worldwide popularity boom in the 1980s, the peaking days of "Hulkamania".

Working for his uncle

Tunney's father, John Tunney, and uncle, Frank Tunney became the promoters of Toronto's Qeensbury Athletic Club in the 1930s. John Tunney died in 1940 at age 32, and Frank became the sole promoter, As a young man, John Tunney and worked for the promotion alongside Frank, 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.

Taking control

After Frank Tunney's death on May 10, 1983, Jack and his cousin Eddie Tunney (Frank's son) took control of the promotion. Jack moved into the spotlight as the frontman for the promotion, while Eddie had a low public profile. At the time, the Toronto office was in partnership with Charlotte, North Carolina-based Jim Crockett Promotions. When the promotional wars heated up between Crockett and Vince McMahon's World Wrestling Federation, Crockett felt he could no longer spare his top wrestlers for shows in Toronto. The Toronto cards got progressively weaker through 1983-84, dwindling down to audiences of 3,000 for some shows. Johnny Weaver was the primary booker for the shows, with Leo Burke and his brothers as the lead heels, along with Don Kernodle, when the top Crockett stars were no longer available.

Aligning with the World Wrestling Federation

In June 1984, Jack and Eddie switched allegiances from the NWA and to the WWF. They began promoting only WWF cards, becoming another stop on the WWF circuit. This maneuver made Toronto a WWF city and was instrumental in consolidating the company's power base in Canada.

Following the WWF takeover, the name Maple Leaf Wrestling continued to be used for the WWF's Canadian TV program (a staple of Hamilton station CHCH-TV for many years). TV tapings for the show were held in Brantford and other cities in southern Ontario for the next two years, until the WWF ceased the tapings in 1986 and decided to use the Maple Leaf Wrestling name for the Canadian airings of WWF Superstars of Wrestling (with some Canadian footage, such as updates by on-air announcer and former wrestler Billy Red Lyons, and special matches taped at Maple Leaf Gardens, added in).

There were several sellouts of 18,000 at the Gardens with the WWF crew, but the city's (and, at the time, world's) attendance record was shattered by the show at CNE Stadium on August 28, 1986 which drew 65,000 people, with a gate of over $1 million. Initial projections were for a crowd of 25,000-30,000.

Chief WWF promoter for Canadian tours

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. Soon, wrestling promotions across Canada fell on hard times as Tunney helped McMahon take over their territories. All-Star Wrestling in Vancouver closed down. 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).

As the figurehead president

In the summer of 1984, the WWF named Tunney its storyline "president." This made Tunney known to fans in the United States and elsewhere. The title was ceremonial only, as he held no backstage power beyond that of a regional promoter; as such, his main roles were that of a storyline authority figure and to announce major decisions or events on television. Some of his major television appearances included:

  • Suspending Andre the Giant from competition in 1986 after he failed to show for a series of matches against Big John Studd and King Kong Bundy, to the delight of Bobby "the Brain" Heenan. Heenan, after claiming that Andre was competing as the masked "Giant Machine," was told by Tunney that if Andre was proven to be one of The Machines, Andre would be suspended for life. (The angle regarding Andre's absence was due to a tour of Japan and to tend to health problems he was starting to experience.)
  • On "Piper's Pit," reading proclamations and giving trophies to Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant (for being WWF Heavyweight Champion for three years and attaining a 15-year undefeated streak, respectively). These appearances were part of an angle foreshadowing Andre's heel turn and set up the main event match at WrestleMania III.
  • Suspending referee Danny Davis "for life" after officiating a series of controversial matches where he favored the heels. The final straw came after a January 26, 1987 match where Davis allowed The Hart Foundation to use illegal double-team maneuvers before defeating the British Bulldogs for the WWF Tag Team Championship.
  • Later in 1987, in response to the kidnapping of the British Bulldogs canine mascot Matilda, indefinitely suspending The Islanders until Matilda was found. The Islanders, as part of an angle, kidnapped Matilda during a match to heat up their feud.
  • Stripping "The Million Dollar Man" Ted DiBiase of the WWF Heavyweight Championship after acquiring the title from new champion Andre the Giant in exchange for a huge financial payoff. Tunney, who also refused to return the title to Hogan by voiding Andre's controversial pinfall win, declared the championship vacant and announced a 14-man tournament to compete for the held-up championship at WrestleMania IV.
  • Restricting Demolition to two active members following the 1990 Survivor Series. (This action was announced to explain the departure of Bill Eadie, who performed as the "third" Demolition member Ax, from the WWF.)
  • Distorting the "Real World" title belt of Ric Flair in televised promos when he began performing for the WWF in the fall of 1991.
  • Prohibiting Jake "the Snake" Roberts from bringing his snake to the ring after a televised incident in 1991 where Roberts allowed a viper to bite the arm of Randy "Macho Man" Savage while Savage was restrained in the ropes. Weeks later, at the Tuesday in Texas pay-per-view, Tunney escorted Roberts from ringside after his match with Savage, following the post-match beatdown of Savage and slapping Miss Elizabeth's face.
  • In the aftermath of the Hogan-Undertaker WWF Heavyweight Championship match at Tuesday in Texas, stripping Hogan of the title and declaring that the championship would be filled by the winner of the 1992 Royal Rumble, which was won by Flair. In the buildup to WrestleMania VIII, Tunney declared Hogan the top contender for the WWF Heavyweight Championship, an announcement that angered Sid Justice and helped facilitate his heel turn.
  • Refusing to take action against Lex Luger over his controversial forearm smash finisher. The point of contention was a steel plate inside Luger's arm, which opponents claimed was a weapon used to increase the force of the blow; Tunney said the plate was legitimate as it had been medically installed, but ordered Luger to wear an arm pad in order to soften the attack.
  • Refusing to take action against Mr. Fuji resorting to dirty tactics when a wrestler was poised to pin Yokozuna, whom he managed in 1993. Oftentimes Fuji would throw salt at a competing wrestler, causing temporary blindness. Tunney refused to stop that on the basis that Japanese sumo wrestling has had a time-honored tradition of using salt prior to a match to be sprinkled on the ring for purification. However, Tunney said sumos did not use salt to attack their opponents and promised to look into Fuji's illegal use. However, no known suspensions or like sanctions were made against Mr. Fuji.
  • In the aftermath of the Royal Rumble — both Bret "the Hitman" Hart and Luger simultaneously eliminated each other, and two debating referees failed to agree on a winner — declaring both competitors "winners." On the WWF Monday Night Raw aired the week after the Royal Rumble, Tunney declared that a coin toss would determine whether Luger or Hart would get to first wrestle WWF Heavyweight Champion Yokozuna at WrestleMania X for the title. (A championship match at WrestleMania was the prize given to the Royal Rumble match.) Luger won the coin toss and the right to face Yokozuna first.

Tunney was rarely involved in physical confrontations with wrestlers. One exception was in the fall of 1988, when Bad News Brown confronted Tunney on the set of "The Brother Love Show" and demanded a WWF title shot against then-champion Savage. When Brown began implying that Tunney and Savage's manager Miss Elizabeth were involved in an affair (suggesting that Elizabeth was "doing favors" for Tunney to protect Savage from sure defeat), Tunney began scolding Brown for making such a claim, poking his finger in his chest to assert his authority. Brown then grabbed Tunney by his necktie and warned him never to touch him again. Also, during the Hogan-Undertaker match at Tuesday in Texas, Tunney was knocked down after he found himself in the middle of a brawl between Hogan and Flair outside the ring; he was present at ringside to ensure a "fair match."

Several times, Tunney's presence was known even off-camera. One such example was in early 1988, as part of an angle involving the Andre-Hogan match aired on The Main Event. As the Superstars of Wrestling program that aired February 6, 1988, was produced prior to the airing of The Main Event (where Andre's title win was booked to take place), a side storyline was contrived to have Tunney place a "gag order" on announcers and commentators from discussing the events surrounding the Andre-Hogan match. Heel color commentator Jesse "the Body" Ventura attempted to bring up the subject several times but was censored each time, upsetting him so much that he left the broadcast booth toward the end of the show.

The peak of Tunney's WWF reign was WrestleMania VI at Toronto's SkyDome on April 1, 1990. The first WrestleMania held outside of the U.S., the show drew over 67,000. In the main event The Ultimate Warrior cleanly pinned Hulk Hogan to win the WWF World Title, and Tunney announced on television there would be no rematch.

Leaving WWF

Later in the 1990s, Tunney's appearances on television and live events grew less frequent. One of his final major appearances came in early 1994, when he declaring Bret Hart and Luger co-winners of the 1994 Royal Rumble after it could not be determined whose feet hit the floor first. Modifying a stipulation of the Royal Rumble match's outcome, both men would be granted separate matches vs. WWF Heavyweight Champion Yokozuna for the title at WrestleMania X.

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 was forced out of the WWF, after which he retired and disappeared from the wrestling scene. Following Tunney's departure, Gorilla Monsoon was given the role of on-screen WWF President.

Personal life

Tunney met his wife Ann in the fourth grade, and they had two daughters. Ann died in 1991, and Jack died Saturday, January 24, 2004 in Lindsay, Ontario. Notably, nobody from the WWE attended Tunney's funeral.

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