There are many names that get credit for pushing WWE’s Divas Revolution: Triple H, Stephanie McMahon, Paige, AJ Lee, the NXT Horsewomen.
But there are only two names responsible for the re-launch of the Women of Honor: Deonna Purrazzo and the “Exotic Goddess” Mandy Leon.
Their random dark match-turned-viral sensation ignited a spark in Ring of Honor, showing the “the powers that be” how hungry fans are for women’s wrestling. In the two years since, ROH has built a women’s division featuring several talented athletes and mesmerizing characters, all vying to prove that they are the best in the world.
In order to prove that first part, they want a title. And nobody wants that title more than Leon. She vowed to be the first ROH Women’s Champion the first day she walked into training school. With each victory, chant and YouTube hit that follows, she’s inching closer and closer to her goal.
Leon and the Women of Honor will be in action on Mother’s Day as ROH returns to the 2300 Arena in Philadelphia for TV tapings. Standing Room Only tickets are available at 2300arena.com. For a list of matches scheduled and stars available for signings and photos, check out rohwrestling.com.
Leon joined Wrestledelphia Radio this week to discuss the nagging question about getting a Women’s Championship, the growing division, War of the Worlds and much more. You can listen to that interview here. Below are excerpts from the conversation.
Let’s talk about how you broke into wrestling. Your mom used to watch?
Mandy Leon: “Yeah, when I was younger, she was just a big fan of wrestling. She loved Hulk Hogan and Razor Ramon and all those guys. I was never too into it until I started seeing the coming of the Attitude Era where I saw women like Chyna. For me, she developed such an attractive character and Lita and Trish. I wanted to be like those women. That’s what triggered my passion for it and made it something I wanted to do.”
That fascinates me because my mom hates wrestling.
Leon: (laughs) “A lot of people who are in this business have had that. When they wanted to do this as a career, unfortunately, there are certain people in their family who don’t support it. And you know, I have people in my family who wanted me to do other things in life, too. But when I told my mom that’s what I wanted to do and what I wanted to save all my money up for, and go to training to be a professional wrestler and have everything in this career that I want to do and be a part of, she was on board with it 100%. She just asked if I’m sure I want to do it. You know, it’s a big investment and a lot of hard work, but if you want to do it, I’ll have your back. And she did.”
Well, you’ve also done other things before wrestling like modeling, and let me get the story on this, go-go dancing during a Pauly D car show?
Leon: “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Oh God, that’s so funny. That was so long ago. The truth behind it is everything I did as far as a modeling career and promotional modeling and go-go dancing was to save up money to go to wrestling school. Everything that I was doing prior to wrestling was to get into wrestling. For me it wasn’t really a transition but I guess I see how people see it that way.
But yeah, I did do the Pauly D show. Around the time when the whole Jersey Shore thing was very popular, I knew Snooki’s father and their whole family. They were running a boxing event and asked me to be one of the ring card girls. It was called Team Snooki Boxing. So I did that and then I also did car shows. I did a lot of car shows and would travel everywhere. I was huge into the car scene. A guy reached out to me saying they would be having a show with Pauly D. I was like, okay, what do you want me to do? (laughs) He was like well I was just wondering with your dance background and everything…
And just to clarify, I know people hear go-go dancing and they get freaked out by it. It’s not stripping. It’s literally just dancing like you do, you know what I mean? When you go to the nightclub sometimes, you just see girls dancing. I only did it a few times and they knew I was good at recruiting girls for car shows, so they asked if I could recruit for the Pauly D show. So that’s what I did. I recruited girls and got them prepared with the travel and the information and fliers they’d be handing out. It was an interesting experience.”
Why did you choose to train at Ring of Honor? At the time, the company didn’t have a strong focus on women.
Leon: “I wanted to be a professional wrestler, but I didn’t know where to begin. I was so young at the time, I was like 17, 18, 19, you know? I wasn’t that familiar with independent wrestling. But I always heard about these diva searches with WWE and I was too young at the time to be a part of them. So I did my research to find out where do the majority of these WWE guys come from. Through my research, I found like the top five schools in the United States to train for wrestling and Ring of Honor was number one. The more research I did, the more I watched Ring of Honor and I loved it. And it so happened that the school was only an hour from me.
After some time, actually it’s a funny story. The people I contacted at Ring of Honor thought that I was not a real person.”
Leon: “Well, when I did promotional modeling for example, when you go to casting calls, you submit your bio and resume as far as work goes, and some pictures of yourself. So that’s what I did for Ring of Honor, but duh, you don’t have to do that to train at the school. But in my mind, that’s what I was used to. So they just thought it was some fake girl playing a joke on them.
So I didn’t hear back from them and I got mad. Eventually, I kept bothering them until they realized I was real. I met with them and had a consultation with Delirious and the office. I loved it and started training at the end of 2012. I paid my entire course in full and they were shocked. They were like, are you sure you want to do this? A lot of people come in here and decide it’s not for them. After my few classes of training, they took me seriously and were like okay, this girl really wants this. The more and more I proved myself, the more and more respect I got. It’s an honor to be in that Ring of Honor, it really is.”
Well, you’ve really forced everyone in wrestling to take you seriously. The Women of Honor, for instance, was relaunched in great part because of your work with Deonna Purrazzo.
Leon: “You know, it’s funny because the first time I stepped foot into training, I told Delirious, the head trainer at the time, that I know Ring of Honor is male-focused and there’s no legit women’s division. Every now and then we’re having dark matches where maybe one or two girls would have matches once every other month or something. We haven’t seen wrestling since MisChif and Daizee Haze and Sara Del Ray days, and even then, it wasn’t a full division. I told him my main goal here is to learn how to do a moonsault (laughs) and to bring a women’s division into Ring of Honor. I want to be the first Women of Honor Champion. I want to work so hard that we build an amazing division here and we can introduce a championship and I want to earn that title.
They looked at me like I was nuts when I said this because, of course, I’m out of my mind. I can’t even wrestle yet. Once I did my training and I debuted and I committed and I worked hard, all I did was say hey, we haven’t had a women’s match in months. I met this girl Deonna, we have great chemistry, she’s great in the ring. Deonna and I were still very new at the time, so all I did was ask for a dark match in Baltimore to prove ourselves. If you like it, you like it. If you don’t, you don’t.
Something happened that day in Baltimore where the internet exclusive match didn’t work out. I don’t know what happened, but they decided to put the women’s match on YouTube instead. It turned into this whole overnight sensation where it had so many views and comments. We decided to do another match and another match and another one til we got to the point where okay, the Women of Honor is back. Let’s start creating a division and see where this goes.
We built up characters more and more. We didn’t want to shove it in people’s faces. The progress that we’ve made in almost two years has been amazing. We’ve finally found our core girls. We’ve finally built up our characters. We finally have people know who we are so hopefully we can have a tournament one day and introduce a title. Ring of Honor is known for having the best wrestlers in the world. We’re elite. Now we’re known for having the best women’s wrestlers in the world. It’s only going to go up from here.”
I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter about this tournament. Do we have to start a petition? How can we make this happen?
Leon: “I know! I’m asking the same question, trust me. I’m praying it works out. I think we’ve built up our characters so well that they’re now accepted by the fans and fans want to see more. We have Ring of Honor fans buying tickets just to see the women. It’s getting there and in due time that tournament will come around. I hope it’s soon.”
For details on Leon being a Rosebud, wrestling in Japan and horse and buggy parking spots at Target, listen to the full interview below.
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