Leon Hearth is a man of solid stature and a whole lot of confidence. It takes some serious confidence for a big man to don floral tights, a cape and a colourful singlet and climb into a wrestling ring. This is where Leon plays the role of wrestling villain Lenny Lilac.
Leon is a performer in Kitchener’s Pure Wrestling Association (PWA), where he not only plays the role of wrestler, but also a wrestling stage manager and a storyline developer (known in wrestling terminology as the booker).
Leon delights in talking about wrestling. “Essentially wrestling is a theatrical competition between a good guy and a bad guy in a ring. The good guy is better at wrestling and the bad guy has to break the rules in order to win,” he says. The ongoing storyline, which is orchestrated by the booker in a classic soap opera fashion, typically ends with the hero conquering the bad guy. Leon is always the bad guy.
As a young man, Leon Hearth worked at the Hart Brothers School of Wrestling in Kitchener, where he did everything from selling advertising to announcing the matches to letting wrestlers practice their moves on him in the ring. “This was a dream job for me,” said Leon. “I grew up devoutly watching wrestling on TV and with this job I got to learn all about the behind-the-scenes mechanics and politics of wrestling.”
Fast forward to 2010, when Leon opened the now defunct Planet Leisure, a games store in Kitchener. Through the store, he met the owner of PWA, Mike Becherer and became involved in the organization, first by selling some stock from the store at matches and then by becoming a wrestling manager. That’s the loud-mouthed guy who represents a wrestler at the ringside, speaking for him and furthering the storyline of the character. Leon was quick to develop a persona as a crook and a cheat, breaking the rules and inciting vitriol from the fans.
“Over time, I ended up becoming the focus of the match and began to purposefully cheat behind the referees back,” he says. “And the audience loved it.” So he became a regular character and a storyline was developed around him. But the audience wasn’t satisfied by him on the sidelines. “They wanted to see me wrestle and get beat up in the ring,” he laughs.
In 2011, he gave the fans what they wanted. He took to the ring as a wrestler for the first time. He says his black hair, giant 70s-style side burns, Elvis sunglasses and penchant for outrageous clothing, encourages the crowd to boo at him as he steps into the room. “My outlandish costumes are created to get a reaction from the crowd: laughing, crying or yelling,” he says. “It’s all part of my bad-guy persona.”
The theatrics aside, there are real injuries that happen in the ring. He has suffered broken fingers, concussions, sprains and deep, deep bruises that last for weeks. While Leon was not formally trained as a wrestler and admits that most of his competitors are better wrestlers than him, his love of the sport and passion for dramatic storytelling can’t keep him away from the ring.
Leon wants people to know that today’s wrestling isn’t like the raunchy 90s-style wrestling you likely saw on TV with the WWF. It’s physical, athletic and at the PWA events, there is a cross section of styles: Mexican Lucha, Japanese style as well as full-on brawling, which is Leon’s style.
P.S. Leon’s favourite topic of conversation: politics.