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SLAM! Wrestling Canadian Hall of Fame: Leo Burke
: Leonce Cormier
: June 29, 1948 in Dorchester, NB
: Leo Burk
Leo Burke is interviewed by Norm Kimber in Maple Leaf Wrestling in Toronto.
Click here for more Burke photos.
Canadian wrestling fans are thankful for Leo Burke.
Not only was he one of the greatest, most consistent, and memorable
stars ever to come out of Canada, wrestling from coast to coast and
around the world, but he has also had a hand in training some of the
next best from Canada, included Test, Edge and Christian.
At 51, he still dons the tights and gets back in the ring. On this July
Saturday night in Berwick, Nova Scotia, he was teaming with his brother
The Beast (Yvon Cormier) and young Rene Rougeau in a six-man tag match
for Atlantic Grand Prix wrestling against the Cuban Assassin
, his son
(appropriately named Cuban Assassin #2) and Wild Man Austin.
Though he may say that he didn't want to wrestle on this trip out east
to visit family, and that he got talked into it by promoter Emile Dupre
and his brother, somehow it seems right that he's still out there. "It's
good to see all the wrestling fans, my friends over the years. So I'm
catching up," Burke admitted to SLAM! Wrestling.
Yet despite his success, looking back, Burke is not sure that he'd do it
"I'd rather have my health," explained Burke in the dressing room before
his match. "My knees are shot now, I've had eight operations on them.
When you're young, it's different -- you might get hurt but it takes a
week to heal. Now it takes a couple of months. So, I would honestly have
to think about it, do it all over again, I'm not sure if I would chose
professional wrestling again or not."
To describe what Leo Burke, and his three wrestling brothers (The
Cormier brothers: The Beast, and Rudy & Bobby Kay), mean to The
Maritimes is no easy feat. Besides the excursion to the Grand Prix show,
real reason for this reporter's trip was a wedding. The cabbie
on the way to the airport guaranteed that he would return for the
pick-up just to hear stories about Grand Prix and Burke. During the
wedding, Maritimers were easily distinguished from the Upper Canadians
as they were the ones asking about Leo Burke; in fact, the groom, upon
hearing of the trip to the Grand Prix show, requested and got an
autographed photo of the wrestling legend.
Just as wrestling has always been a part of his life, so too has he been
a part of Maritime wrestling lore.
"I lived, ate, drank wrestling since I was six years old. And of course,
I have two older brothers in the wrestling profession that made me want
to follow in their footsteps," said Burke, referring to Yvon/Beast and
Rudy. Brother Bobby is a year younger than Leo, known on his birth
certificate as Leonce.
After being trained by his brothers, he borrowed the last name Burke
from friend, boxer Jackie Burke. "I didn't want to do it
on my brothers' reputations. So I needed to do it on my own or not at
all," Burke, who turned pro in 1966, said
"I've been everywhere," said Burke of his career, and "I've wrestled
them all at one time or another." That colloquial 'all' includes four
NWA world champions: Harley Race, Jack Brisco, Dory Funk Jr., and Terry
His favourite territory was always The Maritimes, of course. "Home is
home," Burke said. "I've always said that if I was to move from The
Maritimes, it would be [to] Calgary. That's where I'm at now. Of all my
travelling, I loved New Zealand a lot. Basically, it reminded me of
He didn't like India. "Nothing against Indians, just that it was so
poor. I can't describe it to you, unless you see it yourself. Anyone who
says that they want to leave Canada, all they have to do is go to India,
they'll be glad to come back home."
Leo Burke on the Grand Prix tour in 1989.|
Click here for more Burke photos.
In Calgary, he was North American champion nine times for Stampede
Wrestling, including legendary feuds with Bret Hart, Stomper Gouldie,
Bulldog Bob Brown, "the list goes on and on." Many of those
feuds had cross-country appeal, and when Grand Prix would start up in
the summer months, the battles would move East.
Burke 'retired' in 1992 and through his friend Bret Hart he got a job
as a trainer in Calgary for the WWF.
"Bret has a lot of respect for me over the years. I wrestled him maybe a
hundred different times," said Burke. "They were looking for a wrestling
coach, and he said 'I've got one that you'll really like.' That's how I
got in touch with Vince McMahon. That's how I started."
He worked for the WWF for three years training wrestlers. Today's fans
will definitely recognize the names Ken Shamrock, Glenn Kulka and Mark
One stands out for him. "I had Test for two years. He's only 22 years
old. He's got everything going for him and I see a bright future for
him. I'm not surprised. I could tell when I had him that he was going to
be a good one."
When his contract expired a year and a half ago, he switched over to
WCW. He has about 15 working with him now and most are looking to sign
contracts. "You'll hear from them in the next six months or so."
Two of the names are on the Grand Prix circuit this summer: Wild Man
Austin and The Mighty Hercules.
"I don't really recruit anybody," Burke said. WCW sends up the talent
and "I do what I can with them."
-- By GREG OLIVER
, SLAM! Sports
May 13, 2006: Cormiers celebrated with laughter and music
Mar. 20, 2006: Leo Burke recovering in-kneed
Burke's brother The Beast (Yvon Cormier)
More Leo Burke photos
I remember watching Grand Prix Wrestling on Saturday afternoons on ATV,
seeing guys like The Beast, Buddy Lane, Rip Rogers, Bob Brown and of
course Leo Burke. From the time the bell rang until the match ended Leo
gave it 110%. Over the years I have had the pleasure of seeing Leo Burke
wrestle in New Waterford, North Sydney and Halifax, Nova Scotia. He had
some stiff competition in men like "Rotten" Ron Starr, Eddie Watts, The
Cuban Assassin and the list goes on and on. Today, when you see Grand
Prix Wrestling live odds are that Leo Burke may pop up some time during
the tour. He may not be as young as he used to be, but pound for pound I
would put my money on the man from New Brunswick to come out victorious
regardless of who his opponent is!
Where to start? Leo was alkways my favourite wrestler, quick to both
give and take a good beating. I remember he fought Rick Martel on tv for
the AWA title. It was a 60 minute, best 2 of 3 falls match and Leo got
the first fall pretty quickly, then niether fella could get the next
fall. Now, Leo's big move was the Sleeper hold and he slapped that on
Martel with about 30 seconds left in the match. Unfortunately, time ran
out so Martel kept the belt.
I had Leo's autograph many times..in university in decorated my dorm
room wall. It always gave us time to discuss the best Canadian
wrestlers..Leo, the Kays, The Beast.
MIke CRoss, Bedford, NS
What can I say about these two Maritime Legends that hasn't been said in
the past? They were my first introducion to the sport of wrestling. I was
only a small boy when my Grandmother would take me to see Atlantic Grand
Prix Wrestling and I loved it. Leo was my favorite, he was the master of
the sleeper and I always wanted to use that move as my finisher if I had
the opportunity to get into the business. Seeing Leo and the Beast on tour
this summer brought back a lot of memories that I wanted to share with my 8
year old daughter who is a huge wrestling fan. She saw her first Grand Prix
show a few years ago when Christian and Edge were wrestling her but when I
had the chance to show her my favorite wrestlers she really enjoyed it. I
hope to see them again before they hang up the tights forever, but if I
don't, they will always be in my memories as my favorite wrestlers.
F. Norman Robitza, Highlander1783
I've spent all of my life living on the praries, and that meant living in Stampede wrestling territory. I remember Leo best for his many battles
against Bret Hart and the Stomper. He also formed a great tag team with Hubert Gallant late in his career, although they never won the title in
Calgary. Because he was there in the prime of his career, Leo was probably the best North American champion that Stu Hart ever had, and that puts
him at the top of a group that includes Bret and Owen Hart, Mike Shaw, Bad News Allen, Davey Boy Smith, and Dory Funk Jr.
In my opinion, one of the best all-round and under-rated wrestlers of all
time. I've seen Leo battle them all, including World champions such as
Harley Race, Terry Funk, Jack Brisco, Dory Funk, Jr., Nick Bockwinkel, Rick
Martel, Bret Hart, the list goes on and on. Leo will always be considered
the best wrestler that never held a world title. None of the champions
mentioned above beat Leo Burke- he beat all of them! All of those title
matches back then were always 2 out of 3 falls, and there was never enough
time for Leo to get that second fall. The Burke matches that I will remember
above all, however, were the classic, bloody and violent wars he had in the
Grand Prix circuit in 1980 with none other than "Dr. D" David Shultz. Shultz
was at his meanest back then, but Leo never backed down from him, often
beating Shultz to a bloody pulp. Then, in 1985, Shultz's "cousin" Ron Starr
started a war with Burke that lasted the better part of six years, with the
two shedding gallons of blood between them. Starr was another hornery, mean
customer, but on many nights, Leo sent Starr home with the loser's share of
the purse. It was great to see Leo on the Grand Prix tour this past summer,
and although he has aged and put on a bit of weight, the ever-present fire
was still in his eyes. All the best to you, Leo, and on behalf of your
thousands of fans in the Maritimes, thank you for all the great memories!
John Greeley, Halifax, Nova Scotia
Thank you Leo for the endless memories. When I think of my childhood you and your friends are remembered. I have many fond memories of the North Sydney from where we laughed to kill ourselves most of the time. I thought I was something else standing there with you guys every week as you swept my baby brother out of my arms and entered the dressing room with him, I was spoiled, thank you. I often wondered what happened to the rest of the guys. I knew you and your
brothers were living in N.B, doing well. Some of the guys im refering to are Steven Petipas, Ameille D. Hubert Gallant, the Great Malumba,Killer Karl Krup, Antonio Rico, Nature Boy Dillion, I'm sure there are other who wonder about those entertainers.After all you could sing a pretty good tune too.,multi-talented. Again thanks for the memories, I lose myself in the pictures sometimes ha, sure would be great to see you all again. I did manage to catch up with you about 13/14 yrs
ago in Edmonton, Alberta at the Convention Centre on Jasper Ave. If you'rE ever in town please call an old fan won't you? Stop by for some down home cookin.all the best to you and your family .
I can remember every weekend. My dad would fill our car with as many kids as
he could get in, and make the drive from Glace Bay to the North Side forum to see the Beast, Leo the Lion, Rudy and Bobby.
It was the best of times. Each had his own specialty Beast was the chain match, Leo the man of 1,000 holds and Bobby's tape fists.
I just want to thank the brothers for all the great times they gave us.
PS. The greatest match ever was Leo and Rick Martel's 2 out of 3, that ended in a draw if I remember it right.....
Harold Morrison, Athens ON
Leo Burke: if brawling and scientific wrestling is the short cut to
victory Leo Burke was one of those wrestlers who had it all. he made a
chair to the head of the ''Cuban Assassin'' more common place than the
suplex is today. Yes, few wrestlers could do it all like he could, such
as textbook sleepers and Indian deathlocks.
Leo Burke's biggest weakness in the ring was his capacity for
forgiveness. I remember during the early 80's, the ''Cuban Assassin'',
Burke's long-time enemy, re-emerged in the Grand Prix circuit. Leo Burke
was to quick to forgive him of his sins. Of course, Leo Burke paid for
this mistake later on , and the ''Cuban Assassin'' joined with ''Cousin
Mike''. The point, despite all the pain and betrayals Leo Burke has had
to endure, he always remained an eternal optimist of all people. It was
Burke who gave ''Cuban'' a second chance. When it came to friendship,
his passion took over, and common sense was left behind.
That's why the Canadian wrestling fans loved him and love him today. He
was my childhood hero. Thanks Leo for all the great memories.
On the mat with J.Langille:firstname.lastname@example.org
I can remember back in the late Seventies/ early Eighties when I was
just a young kid. We used to go to the Halifax Forum every Thursday
night to watch the wrestling matches. Atlantic Grand Prix Wrestling at
the time was the hottest it had ever been. We used to see wrestlers such
as The Beast, Cuban Assasin, Bulldog Bob Brown, Big Stephen Petitpas,
Leaping Lanny, Macho Man Randy Savage, The Great Malumba, Dr.D David
Shultz, Killer Karl Krupp, Sweet Daddy Siki, No Class Bobby Bass, The
Super Destroyer, The Spoiler, Big Jos Leduc, Hercules Ayala Cortez,
Haystacks Calhoun, Rick Valentine, The Stomper and last but not least
Leo Burke. All the fans would go crazy when ever Leo Burke was around
and we couldn't figure that out as youngsters. The man had the Maritimes
in his hands all by himself. Every once in a while when the season
started in May Leo would arrive maybe 2 or 3 weeks late and when he did
it was like the fourth of July. It was amazing to see what he would
bring out of the fans each and every night.
As I got older I began to realize that Leo was one of the best technical
wrestlers ever. As I had spoken to various legends over the years they
all had this to say about Leo Burke.
1. Dory Funk " Leo was one of the toughest wrestlers I had ever gone up
2. Bret Hart "Leo taught me a lot about the art of scientific wrestling"
3. Terry Funk "One of the toughest"
4. Buddy Lane "Leo was the Maritimes"
5. Stoppin Paul Pellar "The best ever"
6. Emile Dupre "One our best draws"
As you can see Leo has the respect of many all over the globe. I had a
chance to talk to Leo back in the Summer of 98 when he made a guest
appearance for Emile. I thanked him for the entertainment he and the
rest of the boys brought us every Thursday night in the forum and he
thanked me for remembering those times. Leo was in a 6 man tag that
night with his brother the Beast and Cowboy Mike Hughes. When the bell
rang and the announcer announced his name Leo came through the doors and
everyone in the building gave him a standing ovation. I have never seen
that before at a wrestling event. Leo thanks again for displaying your
excellent ringmanship and talents to your maritime friends for so many
years. Keep producing young talent and pass on your great Skill,
Knowledge and Wisdom to future stars.
I remember Leo Burke as the ultimate babyface hero. He would always
fight the likes of "Rotten" Ron Starr, Rip Rogers, "Killer" Karl Krupp
(R.I.P.), "Bulldog" Bob Brown (R.I.P.), all of the "heels". I remember
one time when Bob Brown was doing commentary and he'd jump into the ring
in his tuxedo and pull out the ever popular brass knuckles and split Leo
Leo was laso a class act. The last time I caught him in action was in
1998 in North Sydney at "The Old Barn" (the North Sydney Forum). He
took on a wrestler by the name of Rick "The Bruiser" (who my dad was
convinced that he was Leo's son). He beat him after he slapped on the
dreaded DDT. When he came out before the match, the crowd in NS
literally popped for about five minutes for him. HE was hugging little
old ladies and giving hi-fives to children of all ages. After the match
was over, he left the ring to another tremendous ovation.
He came over to the autograph table and sat there siging pictures. I
asked him to take a picture with
me. He said "No problem!". He stood there and he was awesome!
I hope to eventually see him fight the good fight one more time.
Ryan Doucette, Glace Bay, Nova Scotia