“To be successful in wrestling, there cannot be a divide between the person you are and the wrestler. It’s not a character. It’s an extension, an exaggeration of who you really are,” the 35-year-old LeRoux said this week. “I am Lash LeRoux. I still have that part of me — that part that’s a little off-the-wall, a little random, a little obnoxious.
“And it’s served me well.”
Leroux was a standout athlete at Oxford High School. From 1998-2001, he was an up-and-coming star for WCW and a fixture on the company’s flagship program, Monday Nitro, as well as numerous pay-per-view cards.
LeRoux fully expected to have a career like his heroes — Hulk Hogan and the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair — but God had other plans.
Last month, he became the youth minister at West Weaver Baptist Church.
“Wrestling gave me a lot of tools that I’d use in the ministry later on,” LeRoux said. “Talking to people, working a crowd, encouraging people and sharing my story — it’s not a conscious thing. It’s just who I am … it’s who God has created me to be.”
Fighting all his life
LeRoux has been fighting all of his life — it’s the opponents that have changed.
He grew up “dirt poor,” the middle of three brothers along with twin younger sisters. He never knew his father. LeRoux was homeless for a while in high school, taking a job working the night shift as a security guard for a local clothing store just to have a place to sleep.
He was a standout wrestler and a member of the 1993 state championship Oxford High School football team.
But it was in church where LeRoux felt he truly belonged.
“When I was about 6 years old, I learned who God was on a personal basis,” he said, “and it just grew from there.”
He was saved at 9 years old. When he and his family moved to Oxford, LeRoux met Donnie Sills, who would eventually become his pastor at West Weaver Baptist Church. Sills’ father would give LeRoux odd jobs to earn enough money to go on youth trips with the church.
LeRoux had a rebellious, sarcastic streak born out of his lack of a father figure and the sense of being looked down upon because his family was poor.
“That’s when I had this conversation with God,” LeRoux remembered. “I said, ‘I don’t have a father, but you’ve promised to be my father, to fulfill that role for me spiritually. So I look to you.’
“In that moment, I felt like God was opening doors for me.”
After graduating from Oxford High School, LeRoux enrolled at Jacksonville State University, where he planned on getting an undergraduate degree in biology before ultimately going to medical school. But the rigors of academia wore on him.
As a break from his core classes, LeRoux, who’d always loved to draw, took a figure study classes. He enjoyed it so much, he decided to take a year off from JSU and draw fulltime.
A huge wrestling fan from back in the glory days of The Four Horsemen, Dusty Rhodes, The Road Warriors and The Midnight Express, LeRoux would draw while wrestling played on the TV in the background.
One night, he caught a commercial for tryouts for the WCW-owned Power Plant, a wrestling school in Atlanta.
“I figured why not give it a shot,” he said. “What was the worst thing that could happen?”
The training was brutal
It was the first time LeRoux had ever set foot in a wrestling ring. The training was brutal.
For hours a day, he and other wrestling hopefuls did hundreds of squats, wind-sprints, push-ups, etc. At the end of a session, it wasn’t uncommon to see men passing out or throwing up.
“Physically, that was the most demanding thing I’ve ever done in my life,” LeRoux said.
When tryouts began, there were 22 men. The next day, there were 16; the next day, eight. On the last day, LeRoux was among two men standing, and thus qualified to train at the Power Plant. He was 19 years old.
“I guess I was too dumb to quit,” he said, laughing. “To this day, I don’t know what happened to that other guy. But I never saw him again.”
LeRoux continued working out at the Power Plant — 10 hours a day, five days a week —before attracting the attention of WCW talent scouts.
His first match was against Perry Saturn in mid-1998. In the beginning, he wrestled mostly “squash” matches — “getting beat up for five or six minutes to make the other guy look good” — before getting his big break.
WCW had partnered with the video game company EA Sports, which was creating wrestling video games using motion-capture technology that mapped out a wrestler’s body movements. One afternoon, representatives from EA Sports visited the Power Plant to film wrestlers.
“It just so happened that I had exactly what they were looking for,” LeRoux said. “I was big enough to do the power moves but athletic enough to be well rounded.”
LeRoux flew to Canada to work with EA Sports and, in the process, attracted the attention of scouts who awarded him with a match against reigning cruiserweight champion Billy Kidman. He debuted as Lash LeRoux — a take on the Cajun Western movie star Lash LaRue — on Monday Nitro on Feb. 2, 1999.
“I was really booked just to make Billy look good,” LeRoux said. “But at the same time, I had quietly grown out my persona — had my sideburns shaved into ‘L’s and had ‘Ragin’ Cajun’ on my tights. They were booking Lash LeRoux, but they didn’t know they were booking Lash LeRoux, the Ragin’ Cajun.
“When they hit my music, I got people’s attention. To Billy’s credit, he let the match go about 50/50 and let me shine.”
Fame is fleeting
LeRoux lost the match, but his star was on the rise. LeRoux traveled the country, wrestling upwards of 300 matches a year and becoming a regular fixture on TV.
But with stardom came the temptations of life on the road. Drug and alcohol abuse was common among LeRoux’s peers, but because of his commitment to God at such an early age, he remained an exception to the rule.
“I didn’t want to do anything to make God think I was unworthy of his blessing,” LeRoux said.
He wasn’t arrogant or “holier than thou” about his faith. He didn’t sit in judgment of the choices made by others. LeRoux was simply being himself. “Truth is, if you’ve got 100 people — all partying, drinking and taking drugs — chances are, they’re going influence you way before you influence them.”
LeRoux had also gotten married at age 20, and was focused on his family.
And then, in March 2001, the WCW was bought out by Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, and LeRoux’s promising career was derailed.
Over the next few years, LeRoux weighed his options. Back in Oxford, his old friend Ronnie Sills had been called to the ministry at West Weaver Baptist Church. He asked LeRoux to join the staff as a youth minister.
“Mark is the real deal,” Sills said. “He’s led a colorful life. He brings a perspective to these kids unlike anyone else. He brings the message to our kids that they don’t have to hit rock bottom to find their faith. They can use their faith to avoid that step altogether.”
LeRoux began attending West Weaver in July 2011 and was licensed to serve in ministry in April. He is not a full-time minister; he also works as a freelance cartoonist.
There was a time when Lash LeRoux couldn’t go anywhere without people clamoring for autographs or pictures. Today, he still carries photos around just in case, but the requests aren’t as frequent. And he’s fine with that.
“When the adulation stops, some of these guys feel worthless. They’re lost,” he said. “For me, God has always filled that void. I don’t see myself all that much different now than I did when I was on TV.”
As for his youth group, LeRoux knows he can’t depend on his former glory to get the attention of teenagers — most of which were about 3 years old the last time he wrestled on TV.
“Lash LeRoux isn’t the one getting the point across,” he said. “At the end of the day, if the scripture isn’t drawing them in, if God and the Holy Spirit isn’t reaching these kids and changing their lives, then nothing I do or say will make a difference … nothing.”
Contact Brett Buckner at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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