Mandy Leon is a professional wrestler, broadcaster, behind-the-scenes runner for Ring Of Honor wrestling. CP caught up with Leon before the ROH/NJPW's Global Wars event at Stage AE on Oct. 13 to chat about her time in Japan, developing the Women of Honor Division and what's next.
What has it been like to be given the reins when it comes to helping develop the Women of Honor division? It's something special, and kind of unbelievable, even years later. Ring Of Honor has always been male-dominated, and pro wrestling in general, kind of. The company itself really only featured women's wrestling on occasion in dark matches, once or twice a year. But there was no division.
So when they gave us the opportunity to Deonna [Purrazzo] and I to have that match was such a surreal experience and was so special, because it was supposed to be a dark match, just a simple dark match to show what we could do. And overnight they put it on YouTube and it turned into a viral sensation and people wanted to see more.
So we gave it more, and the feedback and support from fans was out of control! And it's only grown into something so big right now. Now we have a division. Now we're just waiting for Ring of Honor to say "Okay, we've had a few TV episodes, it's been a hit on YouTube, now we need to put it on the program regularly, every episode."
When is it going to get there? Hopefully soon! But every woman in Women of Honor has worked so hard to get where we are, and we're finally creating storylines. The chemistry is through the roof and we're having great matches, the support is amazing. It's really historic.
There's never been a women's division here or a women's title, and that's what we're working towards.
As fans we see the feuds and fights, but wrestling is also a sport that requires an immense amount of trust in your opponent. Could you speak to the dynamics of the Women of Honor behind the scenes? As far as the locker room goes, we're mixing with the guys, so it's Ring of Honor and Women of Honor, and the roster is really a family. I always say that. The talent in that locker room's relationship is unlike anywhere you're going to work in this business. When we come here, we're brothers and sisters. We look out for each other. There's no negative vibes, and you know that everyone has your back.
Everybody is going to support you and is willing to help you and give each other feedback. The women are treated equal in that space, and that's what's so great about this roster in general.
Even when we hate each other in the ring and are working each other, we still put that aside and support each other when anyone needs help. I don't know how to describe it other than "amazing"!
What is your training regimen, and how many hours of every week do you devote to this art? Well! I just got back from Japan, I did a two month tour of Japan, so it was way more vigorous and intense out there. I loved it. In general when I'm back in the states and I'm home, my regimen consists of training whenever I have free time, being in the gym constantly. You're always on the road traveling.
For me, it's more important about finding a balance between having the "me time" where you're alone with yourself and can come back to a sane place, and then getting back into the mood of health, working out and training, because that's just how you get better and better.
But my life basically consists of wrestling 24/7 [laughs]. If I'm not wrestling, I'm watching wrestling. If I'm not watching wrestling, I'm breathing wrestling somehow because someone's in my ear about it or I'm in someone else's ear about it. It takes over my life.
Photo courtesy of ROH
Mandy Leon takes on Deonna Purrazzo in their viral YouTube match from 2015
Are there any wrestlers right now that you really enjoy watching or working with? I enjoy all of the Women of Honor first and foremost. As for other companies, I had the honor of working her, Io Shirai of Stardom, she's absolutely amazing. I also love Mayu [Iwatani], Kagetsu. They are all amazing and are some of my faves, and we got really close when I was in Japan working them, and it was amazing.
WWE-wise, I think right now I'm just thoroughly enjoying all the independent wrestling women who are getting opportunities through the Mae Young Classic. A lot of them are friends, so it's so cool to see all those faces come in. Main roster-wise, Charlotte, Sasha Banks, but I'm enjoying seeing the independent girls work their way up.
But right now my obsession has been Joshi style wrestling.
How would you describe your own in-ring style? That's tough. I like being versatile. I like doing some same things, but I like to grow my arsenal of moves. I never like to be the exact same, and I don't want people to be able to predict what I'm going to do next. But sometimes I do want the familiarity! I'd say I'm fast and aggressive. I have a mysterious aura in the ring, but I also have a strong submission style. I love creating submissions and putting on submission holds, doing sequences where I can trap the person and get them into a surprise lock. For me, it's kind of everything mixed. Mat wrestling, submission style and a little bit of the high flying—I'm all over the place, in a good way! I want to mix everything I learn and am inspired by on my journey.
What was the moment you realized that you wanted to pursue pro-wrestling as a career? My mom was actually a huge fan of wrestling. She watched it and I watched it with her when I was younger. But it never clicked for me that I wanted to do it or that I was really inspired by it until I was a little older watching it and started seeing Lita and Trish Stratus and Chyna. They all really stuck out to me, their aura, their presence in the ring and the wrestling on top of it.
I've always been a creative person, so I've always wanted to be in some field that lets me express myself and creativity but that I also love, like, entertaining. So every job I've ever had has dealt with entertaining or art. To me, I was so mesmerized by the women I was watching on TV, it made me want to do it. It incorporated everything that I loved doing.
So from that point on, every job that I did I put money aside to start training. And I got lucky enough to find that Ring Of Honor was really close to me after doing research. When I started, I didn't know anything about Ring Of Honor or independent wrestling, I only knew WWE. When I found my passion for wrestling and did my research and saw all these amazing guys were coming from ROH and seeing how high they stood in their ranks—they prove how amazing they are.
I was lucky enough to get into the ROH Dojo in Philadelphia, and I was the only female student at the time.
No pressure! Yeah! And again, to go back, throughout my training I was the only female there at the time. There were other female students in the past, but I was the only one there at that time. I was training with the guys, every seminar and tryout and camp I was the only female there, I worked with the guys and no women. But ever since the match with Deonna and when Women of Honor started to take off, more and more women started to show up.
At one seminar there was 10 women, and I literally had to get in the ring and cry because I was super emotional and express what it meant to me to have so many women here at this tryout working out with the guys, because for so long I was the only girl. There was never opportunities here, and it was frustrating for me.
To be someone who helped create [WOH], it's really special. It was a really emotional experience.
To me ROH is the best wrestling in the world, and to be one of the faces of the company and WOH, to be part of something literally historic...it's really special.
What's been your favorite moment so far of 2017? There's so many! It's impossible to pick one. but I think it'd have to be my tour of Japan. Between the growth of Women of Honor and, outside of that, my tour of Japan and [ROH's] partnership with Stardom. It's always been one of my dreams to wrestle in Japan and even just visit Japan, and to get that opportunity and work the top stars and my dream opponents, it blew my mind, and I was so honored.
Do you have anything you'd like to accomplish in 2018? I want to travel a lot more, I want to get into the U.K. scene and go to Mexico, too. I'd like to do as much traveling as I can to really embrace an international name. I want to learn more and grow more, and I'm feeling more confident in the ring after my tour of Japan. I'd love to go back to Japan and see how the relationship with Stardom goes.
I just want to travel more and enjoy life and soak up so much knowledge and grow. And a WOH belt would be pretty great too!