To get to where local pro wrestler Jake De Leon wants, he needs to put his body through the wringer

By Stan Sy | Photos courtesy of strongerwithgab

The Philippines has had an interesting relationship with professional wrestling.

In the late ‘80s, the Ramon Jacinto-backed Pinoy Wrestling was a cult favorite on television but was then shelved heading into 1990 after a contractual dispute between management and talent. 

It wasn’t until 2014 when Philippine Wrestling Revolution (PWR) emerged as a vehicle to fulfill the dreams of Filipinos who have always wanted to be pro wrestlers themselves. One of those O.G.s is Jake De Leon, a two-time Kampeon ng Pilipinas, who headlined the company’s biggest show to date, “PWR Special: Homecoming” last Saturday against the most well-known Filipino pro wrestler not named Dave Bautista, TJ Perkins.

A veteran of 21 years, Perkins—or more commonly known as TJP—has wrestled in virtually every major promotion all around the globe, including New Japan Pro-Wrestling, Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre, Ring of Honor, Impact! Wrestling, and the WWE, where he won the cruiserweight classic as a representative of the Philippines. Perkins has carried that Filipino pride wherever he’s gone, donning our country’s colors and insignia in his gear from his early days as a pro wrestler on the independent circuit.

Meanwhile, De Leon—or JDL, as he’s affectionately called by the local wrestling community—has begun to call himself “Mr. Philippine Wrestling” over the last couple of years, a title that’s been generally acknowledged and accepted because of his de facto role as the industry’s standard-bearer in this country. From being the promotion’s first champion to being its president for almost three years to being one of three homegrown talents to be invited to a WWE tryout in Shanghai last July, De Leon has made it his mission to embody the very concept of Philippine wrestling.

Despite the loss to Perkins, De Leon found himself in a dream match, one that bridged Perkin’s 21-year journey, and his own to raise the platform for Philippine wrestling. Knowing the gravity of this match and what this means to himself, to PWR, and to the local pro wrestling community at large, De Leon knew that he had to push himself to be in peak condition. 

With De Leon nursing a nagging right shoulder injury, Palanca designed a program that aimed to improve De Leon’s strength and explosiveness while scaling back the pressing movements to avoid aggravating the shoulder. The goal was simple: develop strength and power, with the aesthetics coming in as a bonus

“Before TJP vs. JDL was made official, I was just doing a whole lot of bodyweight exercises,” recalls De Leon. “Pushups, sit-ups, squats, and handstand pushups, but no real sense of direction or progression. As long as I did my workout for the day, I was good.” It served its purpose, keeping him in ring shape for wrestling training every Sunday and the monthly PWR live event. 

But when the WWE itself came over and scouted PWR at a January 2017 show, De Leon received some concrete feedback from the big leagues that would eventually shape the way he trained. WWE senior director of talent development Canyon Ceman was present and acknowledged how De Leon had his in-ring game down pat. “But I had to work on my aesthetics,” he admits, “which basically meant my body.”

He knew he had to get a personal trainer. “I collaborated with an old college friend, Gab Palanca,” he says.

A personal trainer for the last five years with experience in powerlifting, bodybuilding, and Olympic weightlifting, Gab Palanca—more known these days as strongerwithgab—specializes in strength training and fat loss. He and De Leon reconnected shortly after the latter’s WWE tryout in July. With De Leon nursing a nagging right shoulder injury, Palanca designed a program that aimed to improve De Leon’s strength and explosiveness while scaling back the pressing movements to avoid aggravating the shoulder. The goal was simple: develop strength and power, with the aesthetics coming in as a bonus.

Being a pro wrestler with a day job is no joke, as De Leon would tell you himself. His regular 9-to-5 sees him working as a digital marketing specialist, while he squeezes in his workouts with Palanca at 8:30 am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays before he goes to work. “And then there are Sundays, when the wrestling training happens and that lasts the whole day,” he explains. “It’s definitely hard balancing the workouts, the wrestling, my day job, plus other activities I want to do but it’s all going to be worth it in the end I believe. All for the love of wrestling!”

De Leon is beginning to see the changes in his body since he started training under Palanca. “They’re more intense and more frequent,” he says, “Plus, it’s no longer just bodyweight stuff now!” He’s able to surpass PRs and increase his strength while becoming more explosive in his lifting and adding deadlifts—which De Leon now loves—to his program. “Before training with strongerwithgab, I almost never did a deadlift in my life,” JDL confesses. “Now, I’m deadlifting around 225 pounds, which is well over my body weight. My goal is to deadlift double my weight.”

On top of his work with Palanca, De Leon also cites his experience during the WWE Tryouts in Shanghai as something that has changed his outlook towards certain exercises. “I’ve learned to love squats!” he laughs.

But on top of the physical improvements and changes coming out of Shanghai, De Leon understands how equally important the mind is when it comes to becoming the best version of oneself. “My biggest takeaway was definitely the mental strength to push through whatever workout or obstacle,” he says. “I was able to bring that mental strength home and apply it to my workouts. No matter how hard it is or how heavy the weight is, I will push through.”

With quotes from George Carlos Pastor of Smark Henry

Subscribe to our newsletter to receive the latest sports news and active lifestyle and fitness features you need