ESPN certainly has been spotlighting some of Cauliflower Alley Club's upper echelon honorees lately. Rock Riddle's famous appearance as himself wrestling Soupy Sales giant dog "White Fang" on Soupy's second-run of his national tv show in 1975 just aired on Retro Cable TV Channel. And ESPN's latest primetime sports special features multi-CAC-honored Judo Gene Lebell in the new two-part Bruce Lee documentary tracing his childhood and earliest roots in MMA to universal fame and adoration. Many of you know Gene and Bruce were long time friends and Gene worked with and trained him for years. "I also worked with him as well on other events and entertainment projects. Bruce was really interested in me teaching him my grappling techniques to add to his own arsenal and we also exchanged ideas and of course time in my gym on lots of other fighting techniques and disciplines. He was a great friend we lost too soon."
ESPN's documentary featured Gene primarily in the long fight scene with fellow MMA legend Bruce in the latter's Green Hornet famous 1960's ABC Network weekly action-adventure tv show. It was very similar to another famous and amazing fight segment in the James Bond thriller You Only Live Twice. Yep, our Dwayne The Rock Johnson's grandfather, High Chief Peter Maivia went toe to toe with Sean Connery's James Bond all over that Japan high-security venue released the same year as Gene's work with Bruce. Gene did other stuntwork on Hornet besides still holding the record for most stuntwork and speaking line roles in over 1100 films and tv shows. Everything from the Jack Benny Show, Burns and Allen, The Munsters, Henry Winkler's The One & Only movie take on the life of Gorgeous George, and tons of others. "The Godfather of Grappling" Gene even headlined the very first televised MMA match in America taking on Milo Savage in 1963. His other nickname of "Judo Gene" came from his life's work and awards in Judo
Interestingly, Gene battled Maivia in the last main event show series before our famed Hollywood Eaton/Lebell wrestling office folded in December of 1982. Gene had oddly just turned heel on Peter and the two battled for my home base territory's top strap(the America's Championship Title). Peter had also recently turned(but as a face) after his long heel run in WWWF/WWF for Vince McMahon Sr while managed by yet another total Los Angeles beloved legend in Classie Freddie Blassie. Ask me at CAC this September to see footage of Gene Lebell taking on Blassie in the 60's(including Gene's occasional, later hooded Los Angeles tv appearances against babyface Fred when Gene moonlighted as The Masked Hangman). In 1976, Gene of course reffed the Ali-Inoki boxer versus wrestler match in Japan while also being the lead communicator to both of them during the match which ended up as an interesting work/shoot.
While Peter may have started and ended his career in Honolulu at his HIC/Honolulu International Center arena(CAC honoreed Ed Francis and Lord James Blears the promoter/booker), he called Los Angeles home when he wasn't main eventing at Roy Shire's San Francisco Cow Palace. Maivia had his lone NWA World Title bout with Dory Funk Jr there(yep, Dory was honored by CAC for a second time last year in Vegas just as he was at the 1995 Tampa ancillary CAC reunion as promoted by women's legend Ella Waldeck).
Gene was honored with the top men's award plaque in CAC's earliest formative years. Then Gene received our major Reel Award in 1991 for his entertainment work joining the noble ranks of past honorees like Jimmy Cagney, Mickey Rooney, Karl Malden, Sly Stallone, Oscar de la Hoya and more. Gene also received our Iron Mike award in 1995 presented by his long time training partner, friend and then-CAC President Lou Thesz at the Los Angeles Sportsman's Lodge(our home for many years). And most recently in Vegas as our 2005 recipient of the Frank Gotch award celebrating Gene's decades of positive recognition he brought to amateur and pro wrestling since the 1950's. Besides working with Bruce Lee in the 1960's, Gene also helped train hundreds at his famous dojo with protege Gokor Chivichyan in Southern California. Including twice CAC honored Roddy Piper, Bob Wall, Chuck Norris, Ed Parker, some celebrated Gracie family members, the Guerreros, Karo Parisyan. And of yes. Ronda Rousey to her own Judo medals, her MMA careers in Strikeforce and UFC. And then for WWE of course.
As Gene has said for years, "I was called the world's most dangerous man decades before Ken Shamrock started calling himself that. And I still am. Just ask Ronda!"
*photo credit: Dr. Mike Lano