Born Oct 9, 1932
Blackbelt Magazine's 1991
Judoka of the Year
Gene LeBell started young in the world of fighting. Gene’s mother, Aileen Eaton, owned and
operated the Olympic Auditorium. The Olympic was built in 1927 for the Olympic Games in
1932. It has housed some of the greatest boxers and wrestlers of all time - Muhammad Ali,
Jerry Quarry, Gorgeous George, Jimmy Londos, John "The Golden Greek"
Tolos, Sugar Ray Robinson, Andre the Giant, Archie Moore, Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, Henry Armstrong,
Gene Fullmer, Emile Griffith, Floyd Patterson, Lauro Salas, Ike Williams, Mando Ramos,
Danny Lopez, Carlos, Palomino, Jimmy Carter, Art Aragon, Sugar Ramos, Carlos Ortiz,
Willy Pep, Lou Thesz, and a thousand more - and Gene was warming up the mat with them
as early as age 6. One wrestler in particular, Ed “Strangler” Lewis, started Gene off in the
world of grappling (not wrestling, wrestling has different rules). Ed explained that with
grappling you could do just about anything to your opponent. You could hit the guy, do heel
locks, ankle locks, armbars, back locks, neck locks, tweak the nose or choke him out.
Needless to say, when Gene entered his first out of school judo tournament at the age of
14, the officials were horrified to see Gene performing “illegal” grappling moves on his
opponents - tossing them into the air and jumping on them, dropping elbows on them, and
simply terrorizing his competitors. Unfortunately it was a short day for Gene, the officials
ended up disqualifying him from the event stating that he used too much strength. "I don't
count disqualifications as losses. If you've never been disqualified, you've never been afraid
of your opponent."
Undaunted, Gene worked even harder to improve his skills, training every day in martial arts
and boxing, and competing in tournaments on the weekends. Gene was gearing up for
At the age of 20, Gene LeBell had 14 years of hardcore training from the best in the world, and he set his sights on the National
Judo Championship in 1954 at the Kesar Pavilion in San Francisco. Gene tore through the ranks of competitors with everything he had.
After the smoke cleared, Gene LeBell was the last man standing - he had won the National AAU Heavyweight Judo Championship and
the USA Overall Judo Championship back to back. Skeptics called it a fluke - they said that Gene had more luck than talent, and wrote
him off. Gene has often said "the harder you work, the luckier you get." He came back and took the national championships again in
1955, this time at the Olympic Auditorium where he had trained during his youth.
After taking two consecutive Judo Championships, Gene decided to try his hand at Pro Wrestling. "I had won over 200 trophies, and if I
cashed them all in, they wouldn't make a single house payment." The highlight of his professional wrestling career was in Amarillo
Texas when he beat Pat O'Connor (from Australia) for the world's heavyweight wrestling
championship. Then, while flaunting the championship belt, Gene accidentally hit the
commissioner and split open his head. Even though it was an accident, Gene was
disqualified, and his belt was taken away. "At least I was the champ for 12 seconds."
Unbelievably, lawsuits were actually filed against Gene, and he decided to take a trip to
Hawaii while the heat died down.
On Dec 2 1963, in Salt Lake City Utah, Kenpo master Ed Parker
told Gene about a boxer named Jim Beck - a man who claimed that a professional boxer could easily best any martial artist. Gene
agreed to step into the ring and prove Jim wrong, but upon arrival Gene realized that they had pulled a bait-and-switch; instead of Jim
Beck stepping into the ring, Gene was facing off with Milo Savage - the no 5 ranked light
heavyweight boxer in the world. Unfazed, Gene
held true to his end of the bargain and took his place in the ring. Milo
Savage was wearing brass knuckles - not only that, Milo was
greased from head to toe, making it nearly impossible to keep a hold of him. After 4 hard fought rounds, Gene choked out Savage.
He stayed out for 20 minutes.
During Gene's more than 25 years of wrestling he did far more than
wrestle. He was also doing stunt work for movies and television, and still is today. In his ongoing career to date, Gene has appeared
in more than 1,000 movies and TV shows. Gene is considered one of the greatest martial artists of all time, in addition to being a teacher of champions. He has
taught grappling to such greats as Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Benny "the Jet"
Urquidez, Gokor Chivichyan, Bob Wall, Ed Parker Hayward Nishioka, and Bill "Superfoot" Wallace just
to name a few. Gene says "It wasn't a one-way street. I learned a lot from each of these
Gene LeBell has made a tremendous contribution to the martial arts community, and
though he will stoutly deny it, he is admired and appreciated by nearly all of the greatest
fighters alive today.
Official Site Gene
LeBell's official website. FLASH site.