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.
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."