Leo Burke was born Leonce Cormier on June 29, 1948 in Dorchester, New Brunswick. He was one of thirteen children in his family. During his childhood, Leo and his family lived on a farm. Throughout their lives the Cormier brothers have been heavily involved not only with professional wrestling but also with horses and harness racing. His older brothers Rudy Cormier (who wrestled as Rudy Kay) and Yvon Cormier (The Beast) had already broken into the business when they trained Leo to wrestle prior to his 1966 debut. His brothers had travelled throughout the U.S. working since breaking into the business.
Leo claimed in an interview with Slam Wrestling that he had been a major wrestling fan since he was six years old. After being trained by his brothers to wrestle he took the professional name of Leo Burke. Leo borrowed the last name Burke from his friend, boxer Jackie Burke, in order to have his own identity separate from his brothers. Of course, since this is professional wrestling, the future Maritime legend had to spend part of his early career wrestling as “The Batman” for Stu Hart’s Calgary Stampede wrestling.
Between 1966 and 1967 he worked in Calgary in matches against his brother The Beast as well as Jerry Graham, Stan Stasiak, Dave Ruhl, and Kurt and Karl Von Steiger. In 1968 he worked in Vancouver for promoter Sandor Kovacs against wrestlers such as Jerry Graham, Chris Tolos, George Cannon and Abdullah The Butcher. On August 7 he teamed with Rocky Johnson and Don Leo Jonathan to beat George Cannon, Baby Boy Shields and Red McNulty (Ivan Koloff). In 1968 he worked a number of matches in Stampede against Ox Baker, Waldo Von Erich and Archie Gouldie.
Leo appears to have first wrestled in the Central States territory as Tommy Martin in 1968. Martin went to a draw against Pat O’Connor on October 3, 1968 so it would seem like he had a good position on the cards. On October 11, 1968 Martin defeated Bob Brown for the Central States Heavyweight Title. On October 31, 1968 he and his brother Terry Martin beat Bob Brown and Bob Geigel for the Central States Tag Team Titles and subsequently lost the tag titles on November 7 to Dusty Rhodes and Dick Murdoch. Martin lost the Central States Title to Dusty Rhodes on December 13, 1968 in what is cited as the first major singles championship for Rhodes.
Leo then spent the winter working for Stu Hart in Calgary prior to touring the Maritimes in the summer of 1969. At the age of 21, he seemed to be featured more prominently on the Maritime cards, appearing on show posters for cards promoted by Al Zinck. During this tour Leo was able to work with Ox Baker, The Spoiler, Rocky Johnson, The Stomper and Al Costello and Don Kent.
It would appear that this is the point in time when Leo started to work the summer months in the Maritimes and touring elsewhere in between as the Maritimes only ran a season from Spring until Autumn. Between July and September of 1969 Leo worked in Montreal. In July and August he had singles matches against Ben Sharkey and Don Serrao. In September Leo had separate tag team matches against The Mongols, with Luigi Marcera and Tony Ballairgeon as Leo’s partners. Leo also had a singles match against Ivan Koloff on September 8 at the Paul Sauve Arena. In November 1969 Leo returned to Central States as Tommy Martin and was able to work with wrestlers such as Terry Funk, Lou Thesz, Ernie Ladd, Bob Geigel, Waldo Von Erich, Blackjack Lanza, Bobby Heenan, Lars Anderson and Angelo Poffo.
1) Vance Nevada’s Leo Burke match history at http://www.infinitecore.ca/superstar/index.php?threadid=246
2) Title history at http://www.wrestling-titles.com/
3) Biographical history at http://www.canoe.ca/SlamWrestlingBios/burke_leo.html
4) Maritime show posters at http://jerome-macdonald.magix.net/
5) Biographical history at http://yvon-cormier.co.tv/
6) Montreal records at http://sportsandwrestling.mywowbb.com/forum2/577-5.html