When Ronda Rousey squares off against Liz Carmouche during the UFC’s first-ever female fight on February 23, she’ll have a wise old veteran shouting encouragement from her corner.
Most fight fans know him as “Judo” Gene LeBell, frequently referred to as the “toughest man in the world.”
Rousey knows him as Uncle Gene.
“I’ve known Ronda long before she knew who I was,” 80-year-old LeBell told Fighters.com over the phone from his Hollywood home. “I knew her mother, who was a very good judo person” (Ann Maria Rousey DeMars became the first American to win the World Judo Championship in 1984).
During his combat heyday, LeBell was a world-renowned judo master who later applied his talents to professional wrestling and Hollywood stunt work in order to make a living.
He has remained a familiar face in martial arts and combat sports over the decades and helped train famous wrestlers and fighters including Chuck Norris, Bob Wall and Rowdy Roddy Piper. When Rousey decided she wanted to adopt the “Rowdy” nickname, it was LeBell who called Piper and got the pro wrestler’s heartfelt blessing (“He said he’d be honored,” recalled LeBell).
LeBell and Rousey have been working together for several years at Gokar Chivichyan’s Hayastan MMA Academy in North Hollywood, where Rousey sometimes teaches classes.
“Ronda beats a good percentage of the men who are bigger than her — and good ones, too,” says LeBell. “She doesn’t fool around. There’s no sitting down and signing autographs. It’s all business to her.”
Rousey has won all six of her professional fights, all by armbar submission, and LeBell says it would be a safe bet she will achieve the same result against 7-2 Carmouche at UFC 157.
LeBell jokes that coaching Rousey is easy because it only requires him to utter three words: “Break her arm.”
He concedes that Carmouche will prove to be a “a very, very strong opponent” with a “heart that won’t stop.” Then, unable to resist a wisecrack, he adds that Carmouche “should give a good fight for about 30 seconds.”
The secret to Rousey’s winning ways, LeBell says, has more to do with her mindset than her physical attributes.
“Nothing bothers her,” he says. “She’s got icewater running in her veins. She doesn’t give a damn about pressure. She’s a sadistic wench.”