Bob Calhoun

Bob Calhoun
Pacifica, California, USA
June 18
Bob Calhoun is a regular contributor to Film Salon and observer of offbeat media. His 2008 punk-wrestling memoir "Beer, Blood and Cornmeal: Seven Years of Incredibly Strange Wrestling" (ECW Press) has spent one entire week on the San Francisco Chronicle's Bay Area bestseller list.

Editor’s Pick
AUGUST 26, 2010 4:06AM

Daniel Bryan and the LeBell Lock

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lebell lock
Vegan grappling sensation Daniel Bryan slaps "The LeBell Lock" on the Miz on this week's "Monday Night RAW."

Even at 70-something years old "Judo" Gene LeBell is still the toughest man alive, but he can't use YouTube worth a damn.

LeBell is a two-time national judo champ and held the National Wrestling Alliance world heavyweight championship for an astonishing 12-seconds. As a martial arts master, he taught no less than Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris how to break arms. As a Hollywood stuntman he roughed up poor ol' James Garner in more than a few episodes of "The Rockford Files" and gets tossed into the pool by Steve Martin in "The Jerk." And yes, "Judo" Gene also reportedly choked out a certain stony faced actor with a pony tail fetish whose first and last names both begin with the letter S. When I was helping Gene write his autobiography, titled "The Godfather of Grappling," he'd never tell me the tale of choking out a Tinsel Town tough guy who may or may not be Steven Segal. Don't get me wrong. Gene is a sadistic bastard. He doesn't have a problem with bruising peoples' bodies but bruising a man's ego is another matter entirely.

I first started working on Gene's book in 2002. It's eight years later and I'm on the phone with Gene, trying to coach him in the use of YouTube. World Wrestling Entertainment's vegan grappling phenom Daniel Bryan has started calling his finishing hold "The LeBell Lock" after "Judo" Gene. The move first got noticed on the WWE's big pay-per-view Summer Slam a couple of weeks ago. The hold didn't have an official name then. A couple of days later on his blog, Bryan wrote: "It's actually an omoplata with a crossface, but I’ve mostly just called it the LeBell Lock."

I didn't expect to hear much more of the matter after that blog. Dubbing it the LeBell Lock was a nice gesture on Bryan's part, but surely the WWE's brain trust would come up with a flashier name for it. As George W. Bush would say, I misunderestimated the WWE. On this week's installment of "Monday Night RAW," announcer Michael Cole actually called it the LeBell lock on the air when Bryan applied the face-crushing maneuver to The Miz during a post-match melee.

I didn't watch "RAW" on Monday and was just now getting to it through the magic of my DVR. I called Gene to tell him the news. He was unaware of this. While we were on the phone, I sent him a link to a possibly illicit YouTube video of Bryan slapping that hold on The Miz. Michael Cole utters the name "LeBell lock" at the 6:20 mark of the video.

"I don't have to watch all six minutes and 20 seconds of this thing do I?" Gene said cantankerously. The earlier bout between John Cena and The Miz held little interest for him. He couldn't wait to see the wrestling hold that bore his name like a kid on Christmas Eve.

"No Gene," I said, "You see the little circle underneath the screen there. Just move that until the text above it says 6:15 and let it play from there."

Afer a couple of fits and starts, Gene moved the circle to the right place and let it play. I could hear Michael Cole and Jerry Lawler's blow-by-blow commentary over the phone.

"It's a neck crank where you're key locking the guy's arm so he can't roll," Gene explained.

As Bryan sunk in the hold, referees rushed into the ring to pull the two wrestlers apart. Gene laughed. ""They've got four zebras in there," he said, referring to the refs' black and white striped shirts.

Then Gene heard Cole call the move by its new name. Gene quickly figured out how to move that little circle back to the right point so he could hear it again. "Wow, they put that over real good," he remarked.

Gene LeBell
"Judo" Gene LeBell, the toughest man alive and a self-proclaimed sadistic bastard takes time away from causing pain to feed his beloved squirrels.

When I was working on Gene's book, he always tried to demonstrate the most painful, bone-breaking finger locks on me. "Gene, I need my fingers to type your manuscript," I pleaded. Gene could see that I had a point, so he decided to show me knee locks instead. When I started to walk around with what he referred to as a "Transylvania Twitch," I asked him to show me some other type of holds for a while. Gene chose to have his students put me through a series of neck cranks not much different than the one that Bryan used on The Miz. Things were a little bit easier for me when Gene took time away from causing pain to toss nuts to a family of squirrels that made their home on the roof of his townhouse. Gene often held out his hand with some shelled walnuts in it. I'd watch as the squirrels scampered down the stucco walls and ate right out of his deadly hands.

At this point in time, Gene LeBell has seen it all and done it all. He's crashed cars, been set on fire, jumped off of buildings and has even wrestled a bear (no he really did this). As an ass-kicking renaissance man, he's worked with every martial artist, pro wrestler and movie star that you can think of. But when he heard that the WWE had named a move after him, he was actually touched.

"You tell this Bryan guy to come by the dojo," he said. Of course I don't know Bryan but I could send him the link to this blog through Twitter and hope that he sees it. That's how our world works these days.

"You know champ," Gene said as we were wrapping up our phone call and YouTube lesson, "that really made my day."
Gene LeBell
Me with "Judo" Gene LeBell in 2003.
You can buy "Judo" Gene's autobiography, "The Godfather of Grappling, at By allowing me to help him write his life's story, Gene taught me more about my craft than I could have learned from any MFA program, plus there were those knee locks.

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Great story!

No pics of him nailing Segal? Would be the laugh of the year.
You are one my favorite writers on OS as you never fail to fascinate and you always affirm the best of humanity.
I sat next to Gene LaBell in an airport in January as we waited to board the same flight and was gobsmacked by the number of people, young kids particularly, wanting his autograph and professing adoration. Interesting piece, Bob.
There's always a mushy side to these tough guys. Feeding the squirrels was sweet.
Love your stories of people that most of us might never know!
Wonderful blog, Bob. I love the juxtoposition of the hold details with the tenderness of feeding the squirrells. Gene is a sweet loving man, but don't steal his lawn ornaments! :)

Antonio Inoki was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame last year for being a trailblazer of MME during his match with Mohammed Ali. Gene Lebell was the referee for that fight. I hope the WWE will give respect where its due and induct Gene Lebell into the Hall of Fame this year.
bob... a fascinating story... years ago, my good friend and mentor,Ed Parker, mentioned the incident of one tough stuntman choking out Seagal; kudos Gene LeBell.
@Harry's Ghost, If there was footage of Segal being choked out by Gene, you can bet we would have seen it by now.

@Kathy, In his own way, Gene LeBell is one of the biggest cult figures or niche celebs ever.

@Stetson, That would be Gene. He was really close with Ed Parker. Parker's the one who put Gene up to the boxing vs. wrestling match in 1961 against the fourth ranked light heavyweight, Milo Savage.

@Larry Brody,It's funny. Gene is always being cast as a drunk and he's never touched a drop of booze in his life. He's just so crazy and cantankerous that he plays drunk really well. When Gene crashes a car, it's part of his job.

As Gene would say,

Keep smiling.
Bob, he certainly generated more excitement in an airport than I have ever personally witnessed before. And, apologies for misspelling his name above, should be LeBell. He was very gracious, fascinating, delightful company.
Lebell is the Charles Bukowski of stunt work and wrestling. And I for one believe the Segall story---or maybe I just want to.

I mean to comment on this months ago when I first read it, but this is truly and amazing story. Fans today if they don't know want to know about guys like Gene LeBell. With the proliferation of info and video online, wrestling fans are eating up all this stuff and when a guy like American Dragon gives someone that legendary a nod, it's a great thing.

Damn fine writing son.