It's Friday morning and I'm sitting in my Long Beach, California hotel room, something nerdy on TV, still tired and feeling slightly fun-drunk from spending the night with my fight family at Bellator 85 in Irvine. It's a great privilege of my career that I get to travel the world meeting fighters, trainers, and fight nerds (business types) and watching great athletes battle it out, usually from a seat so close to the action I get to sit next to people most fans only dream of meeting. In my life I've been blessed to meet some of the biggest stars in the world, both inside and outside of the fight game. While I truly appreciate the opportunity to connect, if even just for a moment, with these incredibly talented people last night's experience may have trumped them all...
For those of my friends who are in the combat sports industry we all know who "Judo" Gene LeBell is. The man who trained Bruce Lee. The man who has worked on over 1,000 films and TV shows. Grandmaster of Jujitsu and Kodokan Judo. Considered by many to be the grandfather of MMA. A true living legend in our industry. As we (my colleagues) hung around after the fights, leaning against the cage, shaking hands, cracking jokes, hugging friends "goodbye," and sorting out afterparty plans an immediate and humbling goofiness fell upon all of us at exactly the same moment. In that moment we combat sports professionals, who are so accustomed to socializing with celebrity, immediately lost all powers of speech, poise, and general professionalism. In that moment we all realized that "Judo" Gene LeBell was walking toward us and this would be our opportunity to meet our hero. As he approached we all jockied for position like goofy kids scared to talk to a pretty girl for the first time. "You talk to him." "No. You talk to him." Politely shoving each other like a game of schoolyard tag. "You do it." "No. You do it." So as I extended my hand toward this legend and began to introduce myself, smiling politely and hoping he wouldn't shrug me off, my hand was warmly caught by a massive paw and my shoulder met with another massive paw. I was now talking to one of my heroes. One of my colleagues' heroes. Hell, Bruce Lee's hero. And he was smiling at me like an old friend while I introduced him to my friends and colleagues. The same overwhelming dose of humility washing over all of us. Cheeseburger grins on everyone's face.
The next 15+ minutes were spent talking to Mr. LeBell about everything from fighting, Bruce Lee, racing motorcycles, Canada, England, and traveling. His wife joined the conversation and for a moment it seemed that time had stopped. We were connecting with "Judo" Gene LeBell on a personal level and none of us wanted the moment to end.
I'm truly blessed. I get to travel the world working in an industry I love with people I admire and attend the best events in the sports world. And for one all-too-brief moment on a Thursday night in Irvine, California I got to meet one of my heroes, a living legend even the coolest of combat sports professionals would (clearly) geek out for an opportunity to shake his hand and pose for a picture. He did pose with us for just such a picture and as soon as that photographer posts the group shot I'll gladly share it. For now, here's a quick shot I snagged as Mr. LeBell was telling me about riding motorcycles with my father 40 years ago. Yup, that happened! I'm truly blessed.
If only I had a TUFMED shirt to give him. Doh!