It’s hard to imagine a TNA broadcast without The Professor calling the action. “Iron” Mike Tenay and his trademark tux have been a fixture at the announcer’s table, calling the action play-by-play for Total Nonstop Action Wrestling since its launch in 2002. Most dedicated fans of wrestling also know him from his World Championship Wrestling work in the 90’s. But Tenay has been a lifelong fan and supporter of professional wrestling, whose hard work and dedication made him one of the most authoritative voices in the wrestling world today.
Mike Tenay was born on February 28, 1956 in Los Angeles, California. His first memories of wrestling date from 1962, according to an interview with Slam! Wrestling. “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,” he recalled. In 1966, at age 10, he began one of the country’s first wrestling newsletters, “Mat News”. He also made audio recordings of LA wrestling programs and traded them with fans, a precursor to the tape traders who would follow.
In the 70’s, Tenay would pursue writing about wrestling further, writing for the Olympic Auditorium’s programs and several national wrestling magazines. Once he left high school, however, his career shifted; first as a repairman and then a betting supervisor for a local casino. Then in 1991, after helping out a friend struggling with a late night sports talk show, Tenay once again got the chance to talk about wrestling with the nationally-aired radio show “Wrestling Insiders”, which aired until 1995. His guests on the show included many of the day’s greatest wrestling superstars, including Jesse Ventura, Jim Cornette, and Sting. It was because of this show that WCW asked Mike Tenay to work on the WCW Hotline. Tenay also on-location broadcasts of his radio show at WCW events. It was at one of these events that Tenay got his first major announcing job.
At a pay-per-view event called “When Worlds Collide”, a joint production of WCW and Mexican wrestling promotion AAA, it was WCW’s responsibility to provide announcers. The problem was that none of them knew anything about the Mexican lucha libre style of wrestling, and none of them wanted to embarrass themselves or WCW. Which is why, at a breakfast with WCW executive Gary Juster, Mike Tenay was offered a position next to announcer Chris Cruise. He gladly accepted.
Tenay threw himself into researching Mexican wrestling, as well as speaking extensively with the wrestlers involved in the show (which including Konnan, Eddy Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, Jr.). The result was a watershed wrestling broadcast, and much of it was thanks to Tenay’s extraordinary efforts. “Tenay was a HUGE help, and whatever credibility I achieved as a result of that event is due to him,” Cruise remarked, when asked about the event. Tenay would return as a special guest commentator for various pay-per-view matches involving Mexican and Japanese wrestlers, eventually leading a job on the internationally-syndicated WCW International in early 1996.
When Steve “Mongo” McMichael left his color commentator position on WCW Nitro in Septermber of 1996 to become a full-time wrestler, WCW brought in Mike Tenay to replace him. Tenay brought a knowledge base to WCW television that hadn’t been seen since the days of Gordon Solie. He particularly shined in the chaotic lucha libre rules matches, where he would casually point out the terms for wrestling maneuvers that were still alien to American viewers; even fellow announcers Tony Schiavone and Bobby “The Brain” Heenan. He would remain on Nitro until 2000, and then call the action on WCW Thunder until the company was purchased in 2001 by WWE.
Tenay would not be away from wrestling for long. In 2002, Tenay was signed on to be the lead announcer for TNA. Since then, he has called the action for every pay-per-view event (weekly and monthly), as well as every episode of TNA Impact!, and even TNA Xplosion from 2002-2006. He’s also doubled as an interviewer, and even interfered on behalf of wrestlers on rare occasions. In 2005, Tenay became a member of TNA’s booking committee, further cementing his influence in front of and behind the camera.
Mike Tenay is the classic example of a wrestling fan who put everything he had into living his dream. While Tenay has repeatedly proven to be far too modest to say so himself, there’s no question that he is a living legend in the mold of such legendary announcers as Lance Russell and Gordon Solie. At his best, his encyclopedic wrestling knowledge and wholesome everyman delivery can turn even the worst wrestling matches into epic displays of athleticism. With any luck, The Professor will be still taking countless fans to school for years to come.