Mandy Leon fell in love with professional wrestling at an early age, inspired by the empowering women who competed. Today the Ring of Honor beauty has an active role in the growth of the Women of Honor brand and is motivated to build on the foundation those before her created.
“For me, it was always Lita, Trish Stratus and Chyna who I looked up to the most,” she said. “I was fortunate enough to meet them. They all really impacted me because they were so genuine and humble people in real life. That really pushed me to hear their stories and to see how far they have come…When I met Lita and Trish, they both said to work hard. At that time, it wasn’t the full transition of what you see with women’s wrestling right now on shows where it’s the full-blown athletic, hard-hitting action.
“It was still in the transition phase. To hear it from them, it was to take the time to train and create your revolution on your own by getting the experience traveling the world. You’ll get where you want to be if you never give up. If you look at it now the women’s revolution has transformed into something great.”
A vehicle for the positive direction women’s wrestling has taken is social media. It’s where Leon and others promote themselves. The 25-year-old recognizes the importance of using technology to create visibility in a competitive marketplace.
“When you are trying to promote your own brand, social media is everything,” Leon said. “I tell that to people who come to the Ring of Honor tryout camps. When I first started, my previous side job was modeling and acting because I wanted to save money to go into professional wrestling to get my training. From there, I would recruit girls and know how to promote the companies. When I got into pro wrestling I knew what to do.
“As far as building your brand and selling merchandise, social media is everything. Twitter, Instagram, any type of social media platform you can use you should use it. Women of Honor is a prime example of that. Where we are today and the women’s roster has grown to be what it is because everything we have right now is through social media. We don’t get a lot of actual TV time yet, so YouTube is important. We are promoting the girls’ promo shots, merchandise and meet-and-greets on Twitter. It’s grown to more than 14,000 Twitter followers in a little under a year. We have millions of views on YouTube. As soon as I post something about my merchandise, I get sales. It just proves you have to constantly be interacting with your fans, promoting your brand. I always say it’s creating your own hype. If you create your own hype, people are going to want to believe it.”
Despite the great strives Women of Honor has made, there is still more work to be done. The female competitors have yet to get a match on the actual Pay-Per-View events on a regular basis with Women of Honor appearances few and far between on the weekly television show.
“I understand the business end of it,” Leon said. “Pay-Per-View is priority, and right now, we don’t have enough TV time. The priority is to get the men’s stories over. We are lucky enough to have Women in Honor episodes air on TV every few months. We are filming another one that will be airing on July 29. For the Pay-Per-View events specifically, for me, I was just appreciative having the pre-show match. We haven’t had a Pay-Per-View opportunity. We haven’t been built up. I think for me on the business end it doesn’t make sense to air a Women of Honor on Pay-Per-View when there is no story behind it or a championship belt or a tournament that can keep the fans invested. It’s then a match without purpose.
“I feel right now through YouTube we are building these characters and building this brand up to where Ring of Honor will dedicate the time and invest more into the women, which I’m pretty sure we will be doing into 2018. Hopefully, we can introduce a tournament and a championship belt. I think that’s kind of the big debut. That will be the big bang for the Women of Honor. So I think the pace it has been going is great. In a short time, we’ve gone pretty far. We have the top views on YouTube compared to the men in a lot of cases. Fan interaction with people wanting a belt. I know we are going to get there. It’s a matter of time and building up the girls.”
Leon remains driven not only inside the squared circle, but outside of it as well. She has taken on numerous responsibilities behind the scenes with the goal to absorb and learn everything about all facets of the business.
“When I came here there was no women’s division,” Leon said. “There was a dark match every now and then through the year. I wanted to be good enough so they would finally give me an opporutinty to prove we can do this. That was proven with the match between Deonna [Purrazzo] and me. I wanted to learn behind the scenes as well.
“You see me do the recaps. On social media, I help out with the Ring of Honor and Women of Honor social media. I’m actually in charge of the Women of Honor social media. I’m constantly on there. I do Instagram. I monitor the YouTube comments because sometimes they can get pretty nasty. I do everything. If I’m ringside, I will do the timekeeping and the bell when I can or I will be ringside to watch for social media. Anything I can do during the show, I’ll do. You’ll see me backstage. If I’m not wrestling, I’m getting promos from the guys and girls. Most of those videos that you have seen were filmed by me, all those promos. Anything that I can do. I want to learn it all so one day if someone is not there I want them to be able to say, ‘Mandy has this experience. She can do it.’”
Leon’s hard work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In August, she will have the unique opportunity to wrestle for the all-women’s promotion Stardom in Japan.
“Mr. [Rossy] Ogawa, the owner of Stardom has been wanting me since I first debuted. He wanted me to go in there fresh and train with them,” Leon said. “I just wasn’t ready. I didn’t want to go to Japan until I knew I was good. I didn’t want to be a new ‘young boy’ as they call them in Japan. I wanted to go to Japan and be good and be one of the top names out there from America.
“I wanted to showcase what I can do and represent Ring of Honor. So I just wasn’t ready, coupled with some personal stuff, it just wasn’t working out. Now years later we have a partnership with Stardom. It’s extremely exciting because outside of wrestling too, I’ve always wanted to go to Japan. Then on top of it I get to wrestle there. So it’s kind of a dream come true.”
Leon is proud to be a part of this resurgence in women’s wrestling. Helping shine a mainstream spotlight on it further has been GLOW, the acclaimed new Netflix series inspired by the 1980’s promotion of the same name.
“I watched the entire series, and I loved it,” Leon said. “I think in a Hollywood aspect it made sense, but a wrestling aspect and mindset I wished there was more wrestling. I loved it overall. I think they focused on trying to build the company to where they only had one little match at the end of the season. I wished there was more wrestling. From the Hollywood standpoint, I understand it and with more seasons we will see more of it featured I’m sure. I also wish they kind of used more from the independent scene. They used a lot of the guys. I wished they used more of the girls. I know [Awesome] Kong was in it. It would have been cool to see some actual independent wrestlers cast in it. Overall though I think it was really good.”
So producers if there is a season two of GLOW, you might want to give Leon a call. The model-actress turned wrestler has her own aspirations within the entertainment industry.
“The two people to look up to in this business is The Rock and John Cena. As much as people might hate them, they are true businessmen,” Leon said. “They do it all. They can go out there and wrestle. You see them in movies. You see them inspiring kids and at charity events and award shows. That’s kind of what I want to be. That will be my focus when I come back from Japan. I want to keep wrestling, but go out there and try to get back into acting and really put myself out there.”
Leon thinks women’s wrestling has a bright future with Women of Honor only scratching the surface of its potential. WWE has provided its own platform for the ladies of the ring. The company is taking it to another level with a tournament dubbed the Mae Young Classic.
“So far the names they have announced for it are some of the top independent talent in the world. It will be exciting to see. As far as the independents go, if they decide to sign all these girls from the Mae Young Classic, there is still top talent all over the world. The beautiful thing is talent keeps coming in the industry. It’s kind of like Ring of Honor. We always say if someone leaves Ring of Honor, we’re not losing out because there are so many out there who are so talented and just need that opportunity to become stars. Flip Gordon and Jonathan Grisham are prime examples of that. It’s the same with the women. There is an unlimited amount of talent that keep coming up so that if they take more, we will fine. We will keep building up talent.”
Ring of Honor TV can be seen in syndication through Sinclair Broadcast Group affiliates, online and Wednesdays, 12am/11c, Comet TV.