Beyond the mat
Kenneth “The Frogman” LeBlanc sits in his living room holding a photo of his days as a professional wrestler. In the other hand, the Thibodeaux native and current Ville Platte resident hold a jar of Cajun Partie Sauce, which LeBlanc helps distribute. (Gazette photo by Raymond Partsch III)
A screen shot of Frogman LeBlanc during his wrestling days.
By: RAYMOND PARTSCH III
Kenneth LeBlanc still remembers the disbelief he felt the first time he watched himself wrestle on television.
The then 35-year-old was by himself in his condo in Fort Worth back in 1987 watching the wrestling bout he had taken part of the night before. LeBlanc watched the screen as the ring announcer grabbed the microphone and said “Hailing from the swamps of the bayou -- Frogman LeBlanc!!!” Down the aisle came a man with long blonde hair in green spandex wrestling trunks -- that man was him.
“That first time I watched myself on TV it was the funniest thing,” said LeBlanc, who is now 64-years-old. “To watch yourself and to know that thousands of others were watching you at that same time is something else. It was a level of success that I had never thought would happen for me.”
The Frogman leaps to life
LeBlanc was born and raised in Thibodeaux and attended E.D. White High School where he played linebacker and fullback on the school’s state title teams in 1968-69. After high school, LeBlanc joined the United States Air Force, and later the Air Reserves, as a mechanic and even owned and operated his own speed shop in the Baton Rouge area, and also spent time playing semi-pro football for the now defunct New Orleans Blue Knights.
LeBlanc though would finally find his true calling when he was 35 years old.
“They advertised on a wrestling TV show one Saturday asking people if they wanted to become a professional wrestler. My friend Melvin “Black” Lirette said I should do it. I thought why not?”
So LeBlanc, who earned the nickname Frog as a kid, asked some friends to help him put together a submission video. A friend provided a camcorder to use, another had a boxing ring and LeBlanc made a green spandex mask to wear. His friends filmed the 5-foot-10, 240-pound LeBlanc working out in the gym and they did a mock interview inside the ring.
“They called me up a few weeks later and said ‘do you want to train to become a professional wrestler?’” LeBlanc said.
So LeBlanc paid the $3,000 for the eight-month training course that was to be held at the Ft. Worth Stockyards. During his training, LeBlanc and his fellow wrestlers would moonlight as bodyguards for musical acts that performed next door at Billy Bob’s Texas, the iconic honky-tonk. LeBlanc remembers serving as bodyguard for Lee Greenwood, Barbara Mandrell and a young Dwight Yoakam.
He also remembers a lesson learned during his training that he applied to his night job.
“I can’t remember who the guy was but one night all these fans made him homemade pies and cakes,” LeBlanc said. “There were so many that he tried to give them to us bodyguards but we didn’t take them.
“They told us during training to never accept any food or drink from a fan because you never know what is in it.”
LeBlanc had also planned to have his identity be a secret as he planned to wear a mask.
That all changed after his first match in Dallas.
“I was going to wear a mask,” LeBlanc remembers. “My first match was in Dallas, and it was a really hot summer day. I sweated so much that the mask turned around on me during the match so I ditched the mask.”
LeBlanc also quickly ditched his original ring name.
“The name Frogman came when I was doing one of my first televised bouts and the announcer called me Frogman LeBlanc instead of Frogs LeBlanc. So since it was on TV and thousands of people saw me with that name I just went with it.”
Becoming a fan favorite
LeBlanc, whose signature move was called the “Frog Gigger,” wrestled a who’s who of 1980s and early 1990s stars, as he competed in numerous wrestling organizations based in the south and southeast, including the old National Wrestling Alliance (NWA) and World Championship Wresting (WCW), World Class Championship Wrestling (WCCW), United States Wrestling Association (USWA) and the Global Wrestling Federation (GWF).
In the WCCW, which was run by the famed Von Erich wrestling family, LeBlanc took on Dustin Rhodes, son of legend Dusty Rhodes and known to millions now as Gold Dust, and he also took on hard core legend Mick Foley back when he was known as Cactus Jack. LeBlanc also took on Jeff Jarrett, Black Bart and Tugboat Taylor in GWF, and in 1989 he wrestled one of the most beloved wrestling champions of all-time, Sting.
LeBlanc also wrestled in tag teams versus the Samoan Swat Team in both the WCCW and WCW, and even once had a pineapple smashed over his head by one of the Samoans at the end of a match. The Samoans also sent him to the hospital.
“They did a duplex off the top rope that knocked me out cold,” LeBlanc said. “The next thing I know I woke up in a Dallas hospital the next morning.”
Even though he was on the losing end of many of those matches, LeBlanc’s popularity didn’t wane as The Frogman became a middle-card fan favorite.
“He was never the big star of the show,” said close friend and fellow former wrestler Lolly Griffin, who wrestled under the name of Francis “Crybaby” Buxton. “He was so popular with the people even with wearing those ugly green tights he wore. He would go out there and smile and the kids would run up to him. He had charisma. Everybody loved him.”
Don Noakes was one of those fans who loved LeBlanc.
“It was hard not to know who Frogman LeBlanc was back in the day,” said Don Noakes, who wrestled for a few years himself back on the East Coast. “He did a lot of shows for (General Skandor) Akbar and that’s how I got exposed to him. I always sided with the enhancement guys. They were the ones that laid the ground for the superstars.”
LeBlanc was a classic enhancement wrestler, which meant he was the regionally established wrestler that up-and-coming stars wrestled to gain notoriety. That is where LeBlanc’s biggest claim to fame lies.
LeBlanc was the first televised opponent of iconic wrestler Steve Austin. Before he became the world famous “Stone Cold,” Austin in 1989 was a long blond haired wrestler in the USWA known as “Stunning Steve Austin”
Inside and outside the ropes
LeBlanc was typically cast as the baby face (good guy) rather than the heal (bad guy) but every once in a while he got to be the villain.
“I had to get a police escort once,” LeBlanc said. “We were wrestling in Burris and I was the heel that night. Gov. Edwin Edwards was still the governor back then and I told the audience that he was going to take away all of their food stamps. They started throwing ice at me. There were even some fans waiting for me outside. It was crazy.”
For LeBlanc, his favorite memories of his time as “The Frogman” weren’t in the ring but on the road.
“Two to three guys would go together from city to city,” LeBlanc said. “Sometimes we would all chip in and get a hotel and sometimes we would just sleep in the car. We had some good times out there on the road.
“I remember one time we were coming back from Brownsville, Texas and my Camaro started running hot. So we decided to have a little party in the car. We had some beer and some shots of Jagermeister. We had ourselves a good ol’ time.”
The Thibodeaux native’s distinctive Cajun accent though provided plenty of laughs for his friends on the road.
“We would be traveling in Oklahoma or Mississippi, and we would stop off at a gas station,” Griffin remembered. “He would start talking to the cashier and asking for 10 dollars in gas and the cashier wouldn’t know what the heck he was saying. I would have to translate. It was so funny to watch him talk with that accent.”
Life as a middle-card wrestler though was not one that provided a lavish lifestyle by any means.
“It was like living like a gypsy,” LeBlanc said. “You really live city to city. The WCW would pay you $1,500 per night while with World Class you would only get $400. We got more money in WCW because Ted Turner had more money to hand out.”
“There were many nights we would get a Motel 6 and we had two people in each bed and a mattress on the floor,” Griffin said. “That way six of us would stay in one room. You did that to save money.”
That era of professional wrestling has also become known for the long list of guys who took massive amounts of steroids. LeBlanc though doesn’t remember seeing anyone that he was close with doing that.
“I didn’t use them and to be honest I didn’t see a lot of guys use them either,” LeBlanc said. “Back then guys didn’t care how they looked, especially on the lower levels. You look at the old videos and a lot of those guys were athletes sure but they didn’t have six packs or huge biceps. They were just wrestlers. We would wrestle that night and then go out and drink and party.”
Those years of competing in the squared circle have taken a toll physically on LeBlanc.
LeBlanc is currently coming off shoulder surgery to reattach his rotator cuff. He has also had bone spurs, three hernia surgeries, four knee surgeries, and is looking to have knee replacement surgery in 2017 and has back problems.
“He is paying for it now,” Griffin said. “Frogman though wasn’t scared of anything. If they wanted him to jump off from the rafters of the Coliseum he would do it. He didn’t care about winning and losing or even his body. He just wanted to entertain the people.”
Life away from the ring
LeBlanc’s career in the ring winded down by the end of the 1990s, and he returned home to Thibodeaux in 1994. There he began a second career as a wrestling promoter.
“Promoting is a whole lot more difficult,” LeBlanc said. “You put in more time to promote than actual wrestling. I would set up the ring, set the cards and then take down the ring.”
Eric Nicholas, a wrestler LeBlanc promoted during that time, remembered that LeBlanc was more than just a promoter but also a teacher.
“He taught us a lot of stuff in the ring and outside of the ring,” Nicholas said. “He knew a lot about the wrestling business. He taught a lot of people about wrestling. I learned a lot from him. He was really good teacher.”
He left promoting and then took on a slew of different projects. LeBlanc was involved with a semi-pro football team called the Thibodeaux Wildcats, he owned and operated a food truck in Baton Rouge, worked construction in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina and worked as an on-air personality for radio stations.
The past year he has been working at distributing the Ville Platte-based Cajun Partie Sauce, as he has relocated to Ville Platte and lives with his girlfriend Debbie Perry. LeBlanc also started a monthly newsletter called “U R the Future La” which highlights achievements of high school students for their contributions in academics, athletics, arts and community achievement.
“The kids nowadays they don’t have anything to really do or be focused on in the afternoon,” LeBlanc said. “We have to get in the schools to help these kids promote themselves. They can go out there and promote themselves like a politician.”
Yet those closest to him believe that LeBlanc still has a future in the ring.
“I have told him several times over the past decade that he needs to get back into wrestling,” Noakes said. “I have told him that ‘you need to get into TNA and talk to Jeff Jarrett and become a referee. You still got a little notoriety and people remember you’. He could still be backstage and helping young talent. He still has a folklore attached to his name.”
“I think he could teach a lot of the young guys about the business,” Nicholas said. “He could also be a good referee or manager. I mean when he was promoting there would be crowds watching him set up the ring because he was the Frogman.”
LeBlanc admits that he is debating getting back into promoting next year. Even if he doesn’t though, the man fans called Frogman is proud of his time as a professional wrestler.
“Look I did something at the age of 35 that most people only dream of doing,” LeBlanc said. “I proved a lot of people wrong by even making it as a wrestler. I always say that if you want to do something then you should do it. It is really up to you what you do with your life. You have to live for today, don’t look back and always look to tomorrow."
Link to Frogman's match against Sting
Link to Frogman's match against Steve Austin