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July 29, 2014

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The face of pro wrestling

Age:

52

Birthplace:

Los Angeles

Hometown:

Las Vegas, since 1986

Nicknames:

"Iron Mike" (wrestler Dusty Rhodes says Tenay's well-rounded knowledge of pro wrestling reminds him of late wrestling great "Iron Mike" DiBiase); "The Professor" (former co-announcer Tony Schiavone, also referring to Tenay's vast knowledge of wrestling holds and history)

TV:

When Worlds Collide (1994), World Championship Wrestling (1996-2001); Total Nonstop Action Wrestling (2004-present), "Arliss" (1999); "House" (2007).

Movie:

"Ready to Rumble" (2000)

Video Games:

Featured voice on "Nitro," "Thunder" and other EA Sports products (1998-2000).

Previous Employment:

Host of "Wrestling Insiders" on Las Vegas radio stations (1991- 96); Gold Coast hotel/casino race and sports book shift manager (1986-96); salesman and manager for Halderman Inc., air conditioning equipment in Los Angeles (1973-86).

Print:

Mat News newsletter (1967-73); wrote for numerous wrestling publications; currently writes a hockey column for the Los Angeles Kings program.

Announcing traits:

Stares inquiringly at "heels" (bad guy wrestlers) when he believes their characters are not being totally up front with him.

Major awards:

Wrestling Observer's Best Television Announcer: 1997, 2002-06

Family:

Wife, Karen; one son; one granddaughter

His grandfather changed his life by flipping on the black-and-white console.

Joe Mikulecky, a one-time carnival wrestler, was visiting from the Midwest and settled down to watch professional wrestling televised from the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles.

Seven-year-old Mike Tenay was mesmerized.

"The first wrestler was a masked man called The (Super Intelligent) Destroyer who said he would give any wrestler in the arena $1,000 if they could escape from his figure- four leglock," Tenay says. "The next day, I was wearing a paper bag mask with eye and mouth cutout holes and running around the neighborhood putting kids in figure- four leglocks.

"My parents got real concerned when I told them I wanted to be referred to as being 'from parts unknown.' "

Tenay, now 52, is well known, one of wrestling's most recognizable faces and, more to the point, voices.

The veteran announcer broadcast his 2,000th wrestling show this month. After years broadcasting World Championship Wrestling, Tenay can be heard on Total Nonstop Action (TNA) Wrestling at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Spike TV.

During his long journey through the collar-and-elbow jungle, Tenay me t his childhood hero, The Destroyer. The famed grappler, now 75, has been a frequent guest in Tenay's Summerlin home.

Tenay, who has lived in Las Vegas for 21 years, was a shift manager at the Gold Coast's race and sports book for a decade before becoming a full-time wrestling announcer.

Until then, wrestling had been a passionate hobby. At 11, Tenay started publishing Mat News, a nationwide fan newsletter. He caught the eye of editors and wrote for national wrestling magazines while in junior high and high school. He even hosted a nationally syndicated radio show, Wrestling Insider, for three years in Las Vegas.

But his dream came true when he agreed to call the matches for When Worlds Collide, a pay-per-view event featuring Mexican wrestlers called luchadors doing unconventional holds and maneuvers.

"No other announcer wanted to touch it," Tenay says. "But I knew the product."

Tenay had developed a vast knowledge of the high-flying form of the grunt 'n' groan game during more than a dozen trips to Mexico to watch "lucha libre."

So when the producer of the lucha-themed show called Tenay and asked if he had experience doing TV wrestling play-by-play, a confident Tenay lied - and landed the job.

The promotion wound up introducing U.S. audiences to young but established Mexican stars, including Rey Mysterio Jr. and Konnan, who became major attractions north of the border.

"That pay-per-view really exposed the United States to how wrestling was changing - the Mexican lucha libre style," said Konnan, who is under contract to TNA as a wrestler and match booker for Mexican arenas.

"It's considered one of the best pay-per-views of all time in great part due to (Tenay's) contribution."

Since then Tenay has called about 15,000 matches with a vigor and sense of credibility that belies the fact that what he is describing is not always what it appears to be.

Pro wrestling officials no longer deny that action is scripted or that the winners are predetermined. Today's wrestlers are called sports entertainers, acknowledging they perform wrestling as their art.

Tenay said people today "are more sophisticated and appreciative of the athleticism of wrestlers" and they turn off any disbeliefs they might have to enjoy the action, much as they would do when going to a movie.

Shortly after the Worlds Collide show, the World Championship Wrestling organization made Tenay one of its full-time announcers. He hasn't been off the air since.

Tenay continues to earn accolades.

The Wrestling Observer newsletter has named Tenay announcer of the year six times. Publisher Dave Meltzer says, "It's knowledge and decades of following wrestling that allow (Tenay) to understand how every situation should be sold to the public."

"Mike can rattle off historical data off the top of his head," says Bob Ryder, owner of the 1Wrestling.com Web site. "That adds so much to the story he tells as he is calling the matches."

Jeff Jarrett, former WCW and National Wrestling Alliance champ, once hit Tenay in the face with an acoustic guitar and put him in a figure- four leglock as part of a story line. "Mike's knowledge and passion for this industry put him in a league of his own," he says.

Tenay's broadcast partner, Don West, says, "Quite frankly he is the best wrestling announcer in the business today."

When the WCW was acquired by the larger World Wrestling Entertainment five years ago, Tenay joined the fledgling TNA. WWE is the king, drawing 5 million viewers to its Monday night TV show. TNA is its only serious competition with about 1.3 million viewers on Thursday nights.

Each week Tenay commutes from Las Vegas to Nashville or Orlando, Fla., to tape wrestling shows. In 12 years he has racked up 3.5 million miles in air travel and has logged 3,560 hours of TV air time.

Tenay calls his wife, Karen, a saint because she puts up with his travel. They celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary last week.

One day some hungry, young broadcaster will come along and take his place behind the microphone, Tenay says, just as Tenay took the baton from his mentor, Gordon Solie.

"I have considered every day I have been on TV a bonus," Tenay says. "I consider myself fortunate to have fallen into this job. But I don't think of myself as having been lucky. I was opportunistic.

"And when my time comes to leave, I hope I can be the gentleman Gordon Solie was."

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