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'Mormon Giant' Don Leo Jonathan passes away

Don Leo Jonathan, the famed "Mormon Giant," who is considered by many to be the most athletic big man in pro wrestling history, passed away earlier today according to the Cauliflower Alley Club.

Born Don Leo Heaton, the son of noted pro wrestling star Brother Jonathan was 87.

Jonathan was one of pro wrestling's biggest stars of the 50s, 60s and 70s, a headliner everywhere he went and an easy Hall of Famer. He was also Andre the Giant's biggest drawing opponent of his career prior to Hulk Hogan, with the legendary "Battle of the Giants" series in Quebec in particular, but also in Japan.

But as big of a star as he was to the crowd, he was almost mythological to those in the business, very much like Andre or Danny Hodge. While Andre stories were about his power, food and alcohol intake and Hodge stories were about his wrestling, toughness and grip strength, Jonathan's stories were about natural athletic ability, both strength and agility. He was 6-foot-6, wrestled as between 285 and 340 pounds, and would do dropkicks, leapfrogs, skin the cats and flying head scissors.

In the early 70s, when Rocky Johnson's dropkicks were all the rage in wrestling, the old-timers would say that Jonathan did the same stuff Johnson did, except he was 70 pounds heavier. Bruno Sammartino would always list Jonathan and Ray Stevens as his two most amazing opponents, for very different reasons. Sammartino always noted his 1974 match with Jonathan, who by that time was already well past his prime, was one of his favorite matches of his career.

Red Bastien always said that if Jonathan came along in the 80s, he'd have pushed into a legitimate sport and excelled at it, noting he never lifted weights or used steroids, and was well conditioned at more than 300 pounds, with great leaping ability, thinking he could have easily been among the most athletic big men ever in the NFL, and an even more impressive physical specimen than anyone in pro wrestling.

Jonathan was legendary for his toughness as well, and even Lou Thesz said that for a man who had only a minor background in actual wrestling, that Jonathan was extremely difficult to handle. Jonathan once legitimately pinned a wrestling bear. He had skirmishes in the ring with Anton Geesink, a gold medalist in judo, and Big Daddy Lipscomb, at the time the toughest giant in the NFL, that became legendary among the talent in the 60s and 70s.

He wrestled all over the world, although ended up settling in Western Canada in 1964, where he resided until his death.

Jonathan held four different versions of the World Heavyweight title, in Montreal, Omaha, South Africa and Germany.