Welcome to what I hope is the first in a series of mat monster articles here at That’s Not Current. From Vampiro and the Frankenstein Monster of the early ’80s Los Angeles LaBelle territory to a veritable litany of wrestling mummies (seriously, enough to start your own mummy-only promotion), you may or may not be shocked to know that professional wrestling has had plenty of movie monsters step between the ropes. Here’s but one of them.
Leatherface wasn’t always Leatherface. If you were a fan of the early 1980s rock ‘n wrestling boom, you’d probably know him by another name: Corporal Kirschner. The man from the 82nd Airborne took over the patriotic army role from Sgt. Slaughter when the Sarge left over a contract dispute and went off to join GI Joe. Seriously. I’ve heard tales that he tried to unionize the locker room, which is something that wrestling has still sadly refused to do. After a feud with the Iron Sheik and a big win over Nikolai Volkoff at WrestleMania 2, the Corp left town due to personal problems. After a rough divorce, he still wanted to wrestle, so he looked to the wrestling mecca that is Japan.
There’s a subset of Japanese wrestling called hardcore or garbage wrestling. Basically, Atsushi Onita was a junior heavyweight star who retired due to knee damage. He came back in the late ’80s to become the first independent star — working for neither of the big two, All Japan and New Japan Pro Wrestling. His Frontier Martial Arts promotion combined the Memphis style brawling that he experienced early in his career with barbed wire, blood and explosions. Throw in Onita’s palpable “charisma of tears” — literally the dude cried at the end of every match and the fans loved him for it — and you have one moneymaking cocktail. Imitators followed in FMW’s wake, such as W*ING, IWA Japan and Big Japan Pro Wrestling (which remains in business to this day).
I’ve always wondered, “Why did W*ING have so many monsters, like the Cryptkeeper, Freddy Krueger and Leatherface?” Whenever I have a pro wrestling question, I go to Masa Horie, who is perhaps the most intelligent (and definitely the most passionate) fan of the sport I’ve ever met.
“It was Victor Quiñones’ idea for helping wrestlers to get booked. The Puerto Rican wrestlers he brought in were good workers, but had no name value in Japan,” said Masa. One supposes a horror film icon has some cachet. Therefore, the former Corporal Kirchner may have had no name in Japan, but Leatherface sure did and he went about proving that he was the toughest of a very tough crew of wrestlers.
So tough that the action spilled outside the ring, too. In an interview with CANOE – SLAM! Sports, Kirchner said, “We were in Roppongi, which is a section of Tokyo with a lot of night clubs and stuff. I was with some of the wrestlers. One of the guys said something to a guy with a girl. He came up behind us and said, ‘You guys go back to America, leave back to America.’ We pushed him out of the way, just ‘get out of here,’ because we were walking around. He kept persisting. I turned around and, bad judgement, I just hit him one time in the jaw. I knocked him out. I just set him against the building and we just kept walking. I thought nothing of it. That’s what happened there. So I did four months in a Japanese prison for bad judgement, a $10,000 fine, and I got banned for a year.” Kirchner was being modest. His punch decimated the man’s face, leading to the prison sentence.
A year later, Kirchner returned to IWA Japan where Rick Patterson had replaced him as Leatherface. Now calling himself Super Leather, he teamed with Patterson as The Leatherfaces. Or at least, that was the plan. In their one and only match as a team, Kirchner became enraged post-match and legdropped Hiroshi Ono onto a bed of nails and then powerbombed him onto it.
This resulted in killing off all of Ono’s built up tough guy reputation and got him fired. He returned for WMF as Super Leather where he wrestled until the closure of the company in 2002. Other than a few one-off returns for Insane Clown Posse’s Juggalo Championship Wrestling promotion (on their legendary StrangleMania video, they refer to him as Leather Balls), Kirchner retired in 2004.
He was in the news again in 2007 when WWE wrongly believed he died. Today, he works as a truck driver.
They say monsters are all around us. If you watch enough wrestling — and enough hardcore wrestling — you just may come to believe that. Leatherface is but one of the monsters of the mat. Come back soon for more.