Hall of Fame wrestler Don Leo Jonathan has passed away at the age of 87 after being hospitalized since August.
Jonathan was born as Don Leo Delaun Heaton and was a second-generation wrestler, following in the steps of his father after he served in the Navy and is believed to have begun in 1949. Jonathan wrestled for Joe Malcewicz out of San Francisco to start his career, which took him around the world.
While his size was a great selling feature during his heyday, he gained fame among those that worked with him because of his ability to work such an athletic style given his stature. Jonathan and Don “The Spoiler” Jardine have often been discussed as the first ones to do the top rope walk made famous later by The Undertaker.
Jonathan engaged in a trilogy of matches with Andre the Giant in 1972 for the Grand Prix promotion, including a match billed as “The Match of the Century” on May 31st, 1972. According to historian Pat Laprade, their first match drew 16,164 to the Montreal Forum with Jonathan winning by disqualification after Andre wouldn’t let go of a choke. Their second match on August 2nd drew 20,347 at the same venue where Jonathan won clean but was attacked by Andre after the match with three piledrivers. Their final match was on September 7th and attendance fell to 12,000 and saw Andre win the final one.
The feud propelled both within Quebec with Jonathan representing Andre’s first major program since arriving in North America.
Jonathan won the Montreal version of the heavyweight three times with the first from Killer Kowalski on November 24th, 1953 but dropped it back to Kowalski eight-days later. His second run came after defeating Pat O’Connor on June 8th, 1955 and won it for the final time from Yvon Robert on August 24th, 1955.
In Laprade and Bertrand Hebert’s book, “Mad Dogs, Midgets and Screwjobs”, they note that the August 17th, 1955 match where Robert defeated Jonathan for the title drew 18,972 to Delormier Stadium and was the largest crowd that year worldwide.
Jonathan became a huge star throughout Canada with notable runs in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Calgary for Stampede Wrestling. He moved to Vancouver in 1963 and was remained there for the rest of his life.
Jonathan also had championship matches with the WWWF, including two title matches with Pedro Morales in 1973. In their first match at Madison Square Garden on April 30th, Morales won due to cut suffered by Jonathan and the referee called for the stoppage. They came back on June 4th with Morales pinning Jonathan.
The following year, Jonathan challenged Bruno Sammartino for the WWWF championship and they sold out The Garden on January 14th, 1974.
In 1977, Jonathan became the first person to defeat Catch Wrestling Association owner and top star Otto Wanz for the CWA title when he ended Wanz’s inaugural reign of 1,491 days in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jonathan remained champion until July 1978 when he dropped the title back to Wanz in Austria with Wanz holding onto the title for the next nine years.
Jonathan’s final match took place in Vancouver on March 10th, 1980 as teamed with his former rival Andre the Giant and a 25-year old Roddy Piper to defeat Buddy Rose & The Sheepherders (the future Bushwhackers).
Jonathan was part of the inaugural class of inductees into the Wrestling Observer Newsletter Hall of Fame in 1996 and added to the Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006 in Amsterdam, New York. He was also presented with the Iron Mike Mazurki Award at the 2007 Cauliflower Alley Club banquet.