An author once wrote, “Respect cannot be learned, purchased or acquired — it can only be earned.” Saturday, the friends and family of Don Leo Jonathan honor the “The Mormon Giant” with the most respected award given out by the Cauliflower Alley Club — The Iron Mike Mazurki Award.

Born Don Heaton in Hurricane, Utah, he grew up into the business. His father, Jonathan Delawn Heaton, was a renowned professional wrestler from the 1930s known as Brother Jonathan. Before the age of five, Don Leo was already working out and attending matches with his father.

Long before Jake “The Snake” Roberts brought a snake to the ring, Brother Jonathan was accompanied to the ring by the family pet — a seven-root rattlesnake named Cold Chills.

Jack Brisco and Don Leo Jonathan at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion in Las Vegas in April 2005. Photo by Rose Diamond

“Cold Chills never bothered me, I could pick him up and play with him,” recalled Jonathan. “When I was five-years-old, I was in Los Angeles. If I wanted to go out for walk, dad would say take Cold Chills with you. We had a little collar and leash for him. When I had that snake on that leash, no one even approached me. People would cross the street to get away with me, no one would get on the elevator with me and the lobby would clear out.”

While growing up a second-generation wrestler certainly had its advantages, it also came with some rather unique challenges.

“In some cases it made me feel good, but it made my life pretty hard during school,” Jonathan recalled with a chuckle. “When I was in the first grade, I had to whoop everybody up until the fourth grade. I couldn’t handle some of those fourth graders!”

While stationed at Treasure Island during his service in the U.S. Navy, he began considering professional wrestling as a formidable career.

“I hadn’t figured on going into the business,” explained Jonathan. “I had other things that I was going to do, but I got out of the Navy and I needed money. I had already done a lot of wrestling in school and in the Navy. It was about when I got stationed at Treasure Island before I was discharged that wrestling became a career option. I was doing a lot of martial arts then. I figured I would pick up a little money to do the others things I wanted to do, and wrestling became quite lucrative so I just stayed. I still thought about other things, took the courses and done the things that I needed to do so I would have another profession.”

After being discharged in 1949, Jonathan started working for San Francisco promoter Joe Malcewicz. He continued to ply his trade by wrestling in territories throughout North America in the 1950s and 1960s. Jonathan also competed throughout the world including frequent visits to South Africa, Japan, Europe and Australia.

During his career, Jonathan would hold both singles and tag championships in the NWA and AWA. He grappled with a who’s who of opponents, from the smoothness of Lou Thesz to the wildness of The Sheik.

In 1972, the 6-foot-6 Jonathan and the 7-foot Andre the Giant (billed as Jean Ferré) would sell out the Montreal Forum in a series of matches known as the Battle of the Giants.

After sustaining back injuries, Jonathan retired from the ring in 1980 to pursue a successful career in deep sea diving. He currently resides in Vancouver, B.C. with his wife of 43 years, Rose, where he spends time making knives and fishing.

Jonathan shared his initial reaction on finding out he was this year’s recipient of The Iron Mike Mazurki Award with SLAM! Wrestling, to be presented Saturday night at the annual reunion in Las Vegas: “I was surprised. It was sort of kept a secret from me until it came out in the bulletin because we had to make arrangements to make it. We had to reschedule some doctor’s appointments. My wife and [CAC board member] Dean Silverstone were making a lot of calls.”

Rose shares in her husband’s excitement and appreciation regarding this weekend’s special recognition. “In his day, my husband was great as far as wrestling was concerned,” she said. “He was very talented, and I think it’s a very nice honor they are giving him. We both knew Mike Mazurki, and we are quite honored to receive this award.”

“Since Mike was a good friend and a family friend, it’s been a long time coming,” added Jonathan. “I knew him for so long. I probably knew him longer that anyone else that is going to be at the Cauliflower Alley Club reunion.”

“A guy likes to be remembered for what he does,” continued Jonathan, who was inducted into the Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2006. “You know, it was a hard life and it was tough. I can have some 50- or 60-year-old recognize me and tell me ‘You know, Mr. Jonathan, that I will remember you for the rest of my life for the pleasure that you gave my grandfather and I when I was six years old and my granddad used to take me to watch you.’ That sort of puts it all into perspective for me that I did give a lot of people enjoyment.”

Iron Mike Award – Don Leo Jonathan
Lou Thesz Award – Danny Hodge
Lifetime Achievement Award – Bob Geigel
Posthumous Award – Yukon Eric, Betty Jo Hawkins
Other Honorees – J.J. Dillon, Rock Riddle, Tito Carreon, Duke Myers, Bob Leonard, Laura Martinez, Bob Kelly