A demonstration of Gene LeBelle Rear Choke

Judo Gene LeBell

Ivan Gene LeBell was one of the most influential martial artists the world has ever seen. An American stunt performer, a professional wrestler also known under the moniker “The Godfather of Grappling”, he is the man who popularized grappling in the fighting world, which served as a precursor to the modern world of MMA.

Gene LeBell wrote 12 books and worked on over 1,000 TV shows. Many joked around calling him a sadistic bastard because of his insane desire to progress. He left a huge trail in the world of boxing, wrestling, Judo, and combat sports overall.

A drawing of a bow between two martial artist

Gene LeBell

Gene Lebell was born on October 9, 1932, in Los Angeles, California. Lebell died on August 9, 2022, in Sherman Oaks, California. Yet, legends live forever, as Lebell reached the status of 10th-degree black belt in Judo and Kyokushin Budokai, plus he is a 9th dan black belt in Jujutsu.

Early Life

Gene Lebell was training in boxing and catch wrestling since his early days and was heavily influenced by his mum, Aileen Eaton, known under the nickname “Red Head”, who owned the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles territory.

He kicked off a catch wrestling career at seven years of age, then later transitioned to Judo. When he earned a Judo black belt, LeBell moved to Japan, where he started training with Kodokan.


LeBell returned to the United States of America at the age of 22, and immediately captured both the heavyweight and overall Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships. He pulled out a massive upset against legendary Judoka John Osako, whom he finished via lovely osaekomi.

Upon transition to professional wrestling, it took some time before this legendary martial artist earned celebrity status. Interestingly, he became known as “the policeman of the promotion”, especially during bouts with his brother Mike LeBell. LeBell teamed up with Roy Staggs, where he wrestled with a mask under the nickname “The Hangman”.

Lebell Lock

Created by legendary Gene LeBell, LeBell lock is the version of Omoplata designed to put a strain on the scapula(shoulder blade), The humerus (upper arm), and the clavicle(collarbone). Also, if done properly the hips should provide extra pressure on the arm, which leads to a tapout.

You will also hear people calling it “sidebar Gene Lebell” because the martial artist traps the opponent on his stomach and overextends his neck for the extra layer of pressure.

It is effective and entertaining, but it’d hardly work against an MMA fighter with an average BJJ defense because you can grab the attacked arm to prevent an Omoplata attempt and roll toward your opponent to prevent him from trapping your upper limb.

Why Is It Called The LeBell Lock?

Because of its creator Ivan Gene LeBell. Daniel Bryan popularized this attack when he joined WWE, and nowadays you can see Taiji Ishimori doing it from time to time. It is also known under the name “Yes Lock” in the professional wrestling world.

Gene Lebell – Bruce Lee: The Real-Life Event That Spawned The Bruce Lee Scene In Once Upon A Time In Hollywood

If you’re a fan of Quentin Tarantino’s work, then you’ve probably heard of the movie “Once Upon A Time In Hollywood”, where Bruce Lee worked as an actor. But there is an interesting story behind this movie, and the combat between the two decorated martial arts masters – a Judo champion and the founder of Jeet Kune Do.

Here’s What Really Happened When Bruce Lee Fought A Stuntman In Hollywood

An arrogant Bruce Lee took part in a fist brawl with a stuntman to a stalemate, which made many people furious. Lee heavily disagreed with Tarantino’s arrogant depiction of him, and many saw a toe-to-toe brawl with a stuntman, but what really happened? Well, keep reading the story, it’s pretty much entertaining!

In 1966, Bruce Lee took part in a real fight with stuntman Gene LeBell when Judoka unloaded a surprising move while they were taking part in the scene for the movie “Green Hornet”. For Gene, it was a joke, but it seems the Chinese legend didn’t understand it that way.

The Reel Fight

The arrogant Bruce Lee (Mike Moh) was standing on the Hollywood backlot doing some stunt work for the movie “The Green Hornet”. He bragged that he’d beat up legendary Muhammad Ali if they participated in combat. Stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) insulted Lee, calling him “a dancer”.

Lee challenged Booth to fight, a “friendly contest”, a fight choreography, where they’ll see who’ll end up on his butt twice, and Cliff Booth accepted the callout.

Lee jump-kicked Booth to the canvas, then Booth slammed Lee into the door of the car. The score is 1-1, and they began again, but the stunt coordinator broke up the combat and it ended in a draw.

Lee’s family and friends came to his defense, and Lee said that he was not bragging at all, and added that “Muhammad Ali would beat him up in the fight”.

The Real Fight

While recording the scene for “The Green Hornet”, the legendary actor was too stiff towards other stuntmen, and the stunt coordinator Bennie Dobbins called a dangerous stuntman Gene LeBell to teach him a lesson.

LeBell had an extensive background in fighting, and he decided to pursue his stunt career. When they walked onto the scene, Dobbins told Gene to put Lee in a headlock. LeBell picked him up and ran with Lee on his shoulders, while Lee was making funny noises that made him famous in many martial arts movies.

Bruce started yelling at Ivan “Put me down or I will kill you!”, and Ivan responded, “I can’t put you down or you’ll kill me.” The show continued, then Lee was put on the ground, and Judo Champion said that he was just kidding.

The Fallout

Many in Lee’s position would’ve felt ashamed because of the incident with a Judo man, but this moment skyrocketed in popularity in the world of martial artists, in Lee’s eyes.

Lee understood that Ivan discovered a major flaw in Lee’s martial art Jeet Kune Doo, as Lee didn’t incorporate grappling into his kung fu style.

Did Judo Gene LeBell Defeat Bruce Lee? If not, Would Bruce Lee Have Been Able To Defeat An Experienced Grappler Like Judo Gene?

Well, it was not a real fight, just a showtime performance in the stunt world. But there was a massive size and experience difference, so Bruce Lee would’ve probably lost the fight as he lacked grappling and wrestling skills. He would’ve probably ended up pinned to the canvas. One art leaves many vulnerabilities.

Bruce Lee Vs Gene Lebell – Why Judo Gene Taught Bruce Lee?

A statue of Bruce Lee

Then Lee befriended Judo black belt, who taught him how to grapple. The Judo champion confessed that he trained with Lee and taught him grappling skills, while Lee showed pro wrestler some kicking and punching techniques in return.

It was something for something relationship, where a grappler learned striker to grapple, while a super-fast striker taught heavyweight pro wrestling star how to kick, counter, and throw explosive combos.

Did Bruce Lee Know Judo?

Not in the first place, but upon the stunt confrontation with Gene LeBell, he started learning it extensively.

Did Gene LeBell Fight Bruce Lee?

They didn’t fight for real in front of the cameras, it was a stunt incident, directed by the stunt coordinator. Yet, the pro wrestling star trained with Lee, so they probably sparred from time to time.

Was Bruce Lee A Black Belt In Judo?

Bruce Lee studied ancient Japanese martial art, but he never reached black belt status. Why? Well, he did it in the 1960s, while belts were introduced by Jigoro Kano in Japan at that time. Different locations, so the answer is no… also, Bruce has never talked about learning Judo in public.

What Did Gene LeBell Think Of Bruce Lee?

LeBell called Lee a great martial artist and didn’t have any negative thoughts about the famous actor.

Gene Lebell vs Steven Seagal

A close-up of the black belts of two martial artist

Steven Seagal is known as the legend of Hollywood stunt work and movies, but his confrontation with legendary LeBell didn’t end well. The Aikido master felt the true power of catch wrestling and chokes.

What Did Gene LeBell Do To Steven Seagal?

Steven Seagal said that he’d be immune to being choked unconscious while working as a stunt coordinator for the movie “Out of Justice”.

Unfortunately for Seagal, LeBell heard about his statement and let Seagal prove it, placing his arms around Seagal’s neck. When Steven said “go”, he ended up unconscious with losing control of his bowels.

That’s why you never pair one martial artist with an actor, mixed martial arts and movie is not the same. LeBell told Black Belt Magazine for a reason “you are not a complete martial artist unless you do everything”.

Gene LeBell Had A Hilarious Response To That Famous Steven Seagal Story

LeBell offered a humorous response in the HourMMA podcast in 2012, and here is his answer, word by word.
“Well, if a guy soils himself, you can’t criticize him. Because if they just had a nice big dinner an hour before, you might have a tendency to do that.”

LeBell Didn’t Deny The Story

Steven Seagal called him “a pathological scumbag liar” in 2012, and insisted that nothing has ever happened. Yet, LeBell failed to deny the story.

“Closed mouths don’t catch any foot … If 30 people are watching, let them talk about it.”

He said that Steven bit more than he can chew, and finished with another funny sentence.

“Sometimes, Steven has a tendency to cheese off the wrong people, and you can get hurt doing that, y’know?”

Judo Gene LeBell Vs. Boxer Milo Savage: America’s First MMA Fight

Gene calls this combat the first televised MMA bout – he was known mostly for Judo, but he had an extensive background in boxing, Taekwondo, Kenpo, wrestling, and Karate. So, technically, it was a battle between a well-rounded MMA fighter, a complete martial artist, and a punching machine.

Ed Parker, Kenpo Karate guy, came to Gene LeBell’s grappling world and said that Jim Beck called them “Karate and Judo bums” and offered 1k to anyone he couldn’t beat. Then Karate guys decided he’d fight Beck because he’s “the most sadistic bastard” they know.

He thought he’d be fighting Beck, but they changed the opponent and put Milo Savage, a boxer with a wrestling background. The fight took place in Salt Lake City, Utah.

LeBell won via choke in the fourth round in Salt Lake City thanks to his great Judo skills. After Savage was put to sleep, it took around 20 minutes to revive him. The next morning, an eye-catching headline appeared in the newspaper – “The Savage Was Tamed”. The old-school mixed martial artist taught boxer a lesson.

Who Was Milo Savage?

Milo Savage used to be a heavyweight boxer number five who participated in the first televised MMA battle against Gene LeBell.

A heavy-handed hitter with a powerful right hand was putting many people to sleep, but when all the martial arts allowed, it gets rough for punchers as you cannot land big powerful punches off your back, plus you don’t train takedown defense in boxing. Milo Savage had some wrestling background, but it was not enough against a well-rounded guy like Ivan.

Who Did Gene LeBell Train?

An mage of the indoor training of a martial artist with a punching bag

LeBell trained celebrities like Chuck Norris and Ronda Rousey, and many other famous stars who took part in movies and real fights.

Is Gene LeBell Dead?

Yes, unfortunately, he passed away in August 2022 in his sleep. But the legend of Judo Gene LeBell will live forever, and his influence on the world of martial arts will be remembered.

Thanks to this martial artist, there are mixed martial arts competitions all around the globe, people were calling LeBell “The Godfather of Wrestling” for a reason!

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has been training in the art of kickboxing for over seven years, holds a Taekwondo black belt, and has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. He's a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster.
Article by

Vladimir Vladisavljevic

Vladimir Vladisavljevic has a master's degree in sports and physical education. He has been training in kickboxing for over seven years and holds a Taekwondo black belt. He's also a huge mixed martial arts fan. Vladimir is a big deal in Bulgaria as a mixed martial arts commentator, analyst, and podcaster. He was known as The Bulgarian Cowboy in the Western world. In addition, he has a YouTube channel where he talks about his love of esports, one of the fastest-growing fields in the world. Our testing and reviewing method.
Scroll to Top