Gene LeBell

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Gene LeBell
Born Ivan Gene LeBell
(1932-10-09) 9 October 1932 (age 83)
Los Angeles, California
Style Catch wrestling, Judo, Jiujitsu
Rank      10th degree red belt in Judo
     9th degree black belt in Jujutsu
Notable students Chuck Norris, Gokor Chivichyan, Karo Parisyan, Neil Melanson, Bob Wall, Ed Parker, Manny Gamburyan, Ronda Rousey, Tony Halme

Ivan Gene LeBell (born October 9, 1932) is an American martial artist, instructor, stunt performer, and professional wrestler born in Los Angeles, California. LeBell has also worked on over 1,000 films and TV shows[1] and has authored a number of books.[2]

In 2000, the United States Ju-Jitsu Federation (USJJF) promoted him to 9th Dan in jujitsu and taihojutsu. On August 7, 2004, the World Martial Arts Masters Association promoted LeBell to 10th Degree and in February 2005, he was promoted to 9th Dan in Traditional Judo by the USJJF.[3]

Early life[edit]

Ivan Gene Lebell was born in Los Angeles, California.[citation needed] At the early age of seven he began training in catch wrestling under Ed "Strangler" Lewis. After turning eleven, he went to train in the Main street boxing gym under "Sugar" Ray Robinson. As a teenager he started to gain interest in Eastern martial arts and trained in such styles as Taekwondo, Shotokan, kenpo, Greco-Roman and freestyle wrestling and also enjoyed motor sports. Later he wanted to move to Japan to learn more about grappling, mainly from Judokas and Jujutsukas.

In wrestling[edit]

Finishing moves


Competing in the heavyweight division, LeBell won the Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships (both heavyweight and overall) in 1954 and 1955. On December 2, 1963 in Salt Lake City, Utah, LeBell participated in a match with 39-year-old journeyman middleweight boxer Milo Savage in a special challenge match. The bout came after writer Jim Beck made a challenge to any judoka that if they could defeat a boxer he would award them $1000 of his own money.

The agreed upon time limit for the match was five three-minute rounds. The rules allowed the smaller and "out-primed" Savage to use any type of punch, while LeBell could use any judo or karate techniques except kicks. Furthermore, the agreement allowed Savage to wear a pair of speed bag gloves, but in return, he was required by Lebell's side to wear a judo or karate-gi for easier gripping. The fight lasted four rounds with LeBell failing to takedown Savage on many attempts. Once the boxer was tired however, LeBell successfully executed a left side harai-goshi on Savage, before landing on his opponent and choking him out. Within seconds, Savage was unconscious and LeBell declared the winner. With the hometown favorite Savage having lost, the crowd began to react adversely, throwing bottles, chairs, and other debris into the ring. To prevent a full-blown riot, hometown hero and rated professional boxer Jay Fullmer (brother of boxers Gene and Don Fullmer) entered the ring to congratulate LeBell.[4]

Following his combat sports career, LeBell, along with his brother Mike, ran the National Wrestling Alliance's Los Angeles territory, NWA Hollywood Wrestling from 1968 to 1982. In June 1976, LeBell refereed the infamous boxing-versus-wrestling contest between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki in Tokyo, Japan. LeBell was selected from over 200 other applicants to referee the bout.[5] LeBell has opened two martial art schools in cooperation with others and has touted his 1963 match with Milo Savage as the first televised MMA fight in America.[6] In his 2005 biography,[7] LeBell also claimed the deceased boxer, Milo Savage, had put brass knuckles on his gloves and greased himself in vaseline.

Along with the awards received for feats in Judo and grappling, LeBell was the 2005 recipient of the Frank Gotch Award in celebration of the positive recognition he brought to the sport of wrestling, the Cauliflower Alley Club presented the award. On March 18, 1995, the Cauliflower Alley Club's again honored LeBell by presenting him with the "Iron Mike Mazurki" award; presented by one of his teachers, legendary professional wrestling champion Lou Thesz.

Television and film work[edit]

LeBell has worked on over 1,000 films, TV shows and commercials as a stuntman or as an actor (including multiple appearances as himself.)[1] LeBell appeared in three Elvis Presley movies as a minor character who starts a fight with the character played by Presley.[8] In addition he also worked on the set of the Green Hornet TV show, and claimed to have had an encounter with Bruce Lee that led to them becoming friends, exchanging ideas[9] and sharing various fighting techniques.[10]

LeBell also appeared in "The World of Martial Arts - Budojujitsu". This 1982 homevideo production, introduced by Chuck Norris and narrated by John Saxon, featured LeBell as a car thief and mugger who (in the prologue) accosts Mitsuru Yamashita and Budojujitsu creator Al Thomas...much to LeBell's regret. The program featured several other martial artists including Graciela Casilas, Karen Sheperd, Victor Ledbetter, Steve Sanders, brothers Benny and Reuben Urquidez, and Dave Vaden.

On March 23, 1991, LeBell was awarded the Honorary "Reel" Membership by the Ring of Friendship of the Cauliflower Alley Club. This award is only given to a select few. Others awarded have been James Cagney, Kirk Douglas, Karl Malden, Cesar Romero, Mickey Rooney, and Sylvester Stallone (movie stars that also did boxing and wrestling).


LeBell has made himself the nicknames "Judo" Gene LeBell, "the Godfather of Grappling" and also "the toughest man alive" for his participation in combat sports. He has trained with or taught grappling skills to many well-known wrestlers and martial artists, such as Benny "The Jet" Urquidez, Bob Wall, Chuck Norris, Ed Parker, Gokor Chivichyan, Karo Parisyan, "Rowdy" Roddy Piper, Mando Guerrero, Manny Gamburyan.

The pink colored Judo Gi became a trademark of LeBell and was a result of a laundry mixup while preparing for a competition in Japan. A pair of red shorts were mixed into the laundry that contained his Gi and turned the uniform a shade of pink. He was set to compete the following day, and being a Saturday evening when he received the now colored uniform, he had to compete in the pink uniform. This set the Japanese crowd livid (it was considered very insulting). LeBell claimed that he went on to win his division.[10]

LeBell is associated with Gokor Chivichyan's Hayastan MMA Academy where he teaches grappling classes. He also does interviews for magazines, newspapers, and radio as well as judging fights.

LeBell has been spotted in the corner of former US Olympic judoka and current mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey, often seen standing next to her to celebrate her victory. "He befriended Rousey’s mother, AnnMarie De Mars, leading up to her winning the judo Worlds in 1984. He’s known Ronda since birth."[11]


LeBell has authored at least twelve books, including:

  • The Handbook of Judo: An Illustrated Step-by-Step Guide to Winning Sport Judo by Gene LeBell and Lauri C. Coughran. 1962, 1963, 1969, 1971, 1975, 1996.
  • Your Personal Handbook of Self-defense by Gene LeBell. 1964, 1976.
  • Judo and Self-defense for the Young Adult by Gene LeBell. 1971.
  • Pro-Wrestling Finishing Holds by "Judo" Gene LeBell. 1985, 1990.
  • Grappling Master: Combat for Street Defense and Competition by Gene LeBell. 1992.
  • Gene LeBell's Handbook of Self-Defense by Gene LeBell. 1996.
  • Gene LeBell - The Grappling Club Master by Gene LeBell, Ben Springer, and Steve Kim. 1999.
  • Grappling and Self-Defense for the Young Adult by Gene LeBell and Bob Ryder. 2002.
  • How to Break Into Pro Wrestling: "Judo" Gene LeBell's Insider Guide to the Biz by Gene Lebell and Mark Jacobs. 2003.
  • Gene LeBell's Grappling World: The Encyclopedia of Finishing Holds by Gene LeBell. 1998, 2000(2nd expanded edition), 2005(3rd edition).
  • The Godfather of Grappling (authorised biography of LeBell) by "Judo" Gene LeBell, Bob Calhoun, George Foon, and Noelle Kim. 2005.

Championships and accomplishments[edit]


Amateur Athletic Union
  • AAU National Judo Championship (1954)
  • AAU National Judo Championship (1955)

Professional wrestling[edit]

  • Iron Mike Mazurki Award (1995)
  • George Tragos / Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame
  • Frank Gotch Award (2005)


  1. ^ a b Gene LeBell at the Internet Movie Database
  2. ^
  3. ^ Gene LeBell biography - at the USA Traditional Kodokan Judo website (a program of the USJJF)
  4. ^ Black Belt Magazine May 1964. URL accessed on April 2, 2010.
  5. ^ Dave Meltzer. Boxers in wrestling a rich tradition. March 27, 2008.
  6. ^ MMA History - Gene Lebell VS Milo Savage, 1963 on YouTube
  7. ^ The Godfather of Grappling (authorised biography of LeBell) by "Judo" Gene LeBell, Bob Calhoun, George Foon, and Noelle Kim. 2005
  8. ^ According to the cast audio commentary on the DVD of "Reno 911 Miami"
  9. ^ "Where Are They Now?". Inside Kung Fu. Retrieved 2011-01-22. 
  10. ^ a b Jacobs, Marc. "Tough Guys Wear Pink.1995-04-03. Sports Illustrated.
  11. ^ ""Gene LeBell and Ronda Rousey's golden lineage"". "Fox Sports". 
  12. ^ "NWA Central States Heavyweight Championship history". 
  13. ^ Gerweck, Steve (2011-11-14). "NWA Hall of Fame Class for 2011 announced". WrestleView. Retrieved 2011-11-14. 
  14. ^ "NWA Americas Tag Team Championship history". 
  15. ^ "NWA Hawaii Heavyweight Championship history". 
  16. ^ "NWA North American Heavyweight Championship (Amarillo version) history". 


  • Corcoran, John; Emil Farkas (1983). Martial Arts: Traditions, History, People. Gallery Books. ISBN 0-8317-5805-8. 

External links[edit]