Gary Stretch on the Late Gene Lebell, a Compelling CYInterview

On August 9th, fight fans everywhere lost one of the all-time greats. The Godfather of Grappling, “Judo” Gene Lebell died. He was 89 years old.

Mr. Lebell was a pioneer in mixed martial arts (MMA.) In 1963, he competed in the first televised MMA match, against Milo Savage.

Mr. Lebell was also a stuntman, professional wrestler and teacher. He was a teacher of many grappling skills. One of his most famous pupils was UFC star Ronda Rousey.

Speaking of Ronda Rousey, Gene Lebell was featured in a documentary film about Ms. Rousey, released in 2019, titled the Ronda Rousey Story: Through My Father’s Eyes. The film was directed by past CYInterview guest Gary Stretch [see here]. Mr. Stretch is a remarkable individual. He is a former professional boxer, boxing trainer and model, as well as a current actor/writer/director/producer. The documentary came to fruition when Gene Lebell first introduced Gary Stretch to Ronda Rousey.

Mr. Stretch joined us on CYInterview to remember Gene Lebell. On what people should remember about the legend, he offered this:

“You know, he was a very interesting man. I love psychology and he was someone you wouldn’t work out. He was an animal in some regard, in other regards he would never swear in front of ladies. He had a very, very kind of crossover, like complex personality. He was, he’s what you see is what you get. He was a comedian, very, very funny. But then, he could turn on a dime, which was you know, very, he was, people around him who knew Gene, you know, he was certainly not a bully, he was an absolute gentleman, but you always had a sense of he could turn on a dime. He never kind of switched it off. Even in his late years, when he was very old, he still put the fear of life in people because he had a side to him that was very, a little bit dark.”

Gary offered some powerful insight as it pertains to fighters:

“I think if someone just went for a little run in the morning, had a shower and then went to work, the day normally would be much better than if they just dragged themselves out of bed after a night on the drink and crawled into work. There’s something about physical fitness and health and the steps that you push yourself to go through that I believe creates a certain amount of satisfaction and when we satisfy, we function better I think.

So, yeah I think Gene and every fighter I’ve ever met, they’ve got a story. And fighting is the way they in which they deal with that insecurity. I was a very insecure child, but I was a very good fighter. And how do you put them two equations together? You cannot unless you use the insecurity to get you up in the morning.”

Featured columnist Jay Bildstein joined us for this CYInterview to talk about what motivated Gene Lebell, as well as the psychological compenent of athletics among other topics.

You can listen to it in its entirety below:

Listen to the entire Gary Stretch CYInterview:

Listen to the entire Gary Stretch CYInterview on YouTube:

You can learn more about Gary Stretch’s Ronda Rousey documentary film by clicking here.