Opening the LeBell Lock
It happens in an instant. One moment, The Miz is taking a swing at Daniel Bryan and the next he is facedown on the mat, twisted and contorted in a brutal submission hold — his left arm crudely wrenched around Daniel Bryan's leg, his neck cranked at an impossible angle.
The maneuver tearing The Miz apart is the LeBell Lock and in between the United States Champion's cries of anguish you may have heard Michael Cole or Matt Striker referring to Gene LeBell — innovator of the vicious hold that Daniel Bryan has made famous and "the toughest man alive" in the eyes of many. But who exactly is the sadistic individual who dreamt up a maneuver as torturous as this? (PHOTOS)
"You hear a lot about Gene LeBell if you're interested in the history of professional wrestling," Daniel Bryan said. "He's a really interesting figure."
Describing LeBell's unique life in brief is a task unto itself. Born in Los Angeles, Calif., in 1932, LeBell grew up around the rings of L.A.'s fabled Grand Olympic Auditorium, which was run by his mother. Here, the youngster received an early introduction into the world of combat sports.
"I got a chance to work with all the champion boxers and wrestlers — "Sugar" Ray Robinson, Gene Fullmer, Art Aragon," LeBell told WWE.com. "I used to take Muhammad Ali to the wrestling matches. He liked to see Freddie Blassie."
Grappling with mat legend Lou Thesz and trading punches with boxing great Archie Moore, LeBell soon grew into a fighting machine and began seeking out different martial arts instructors across the country, looking to add more maneuvers to his already devastating arsenal.
"When I was a kid, I hopped a freight train from L.A. to Chicago just to work out with one guy, because he had a particular hold I wanted to learn," LeBell explained.
By the age of 20, the California native was the national champion in judo. From there, he transitioned naturally into the world of sports-entertainment where he locked up with legendary opponents like Wilbur Snyder and Pat O'Connor. And in 1963, LeBell became the first man to appear in a televised mixed martial arts match when he defeated middleweight boxer Milo Savage.
"The guy had brass knuckles, grease all over him so I couldn't grab him," LeBell remembered. "It was very interesting."
Throughout the '60s, the martial arts master would continue to dominate judo competitions in Japan and outwrestle random challengers across the U.S. This amazing ability to whip any man put in front of him soon earned LeBell the title of "the toughest man alive." But while many fallen opponents will attest to LeBell's tenacity, the man himself never let the name go to his head.
"It's just a moniker," LeBell humbly stated. "On a given day, I have three ex-wives that could beat me."
With his rough guy reputation preceding him, LeBell became an in-demand actor and Hollywood stuntman, appearing in everything from "The Munsters" to "Planet of the Apes" to "Blue Hawaii" with Elvis Presley. He also earned repute as a skilled instructor and began to work with legendary fighters like Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris and WWE Hall of Famer "Rowdy" Roddy Piper.
To this day, LeBell has trained thousands of grapplers, including the man who would go on to train with Daniel Bryan.
"I learned the [LeBell Lock] from a guy named Neil Melanson," the Raw Superstar told WWE.com. "He's my grappling coach and he trained with Gene for a long time."
It should come as no surprise that Daniel Bryan adopted the hold as his own. Versatile and devastating, the maneuver can be executed from unexpected positions and can bring down even the largest opponent.
"It's a necklock," LeBell explained. "If you hook the arm and go in deep, you got a shoulderlock and an elbowlock. It's a hell of a thing."
"It's the neck and shoulder area that's causing the tap out," Daniel Bryan added. "And then there's the pain of the actual crossface — especially when you get someone across the nose."
For the former WWE NXT Rookie, it's the crossface that brings the hold to the next level.
"Once I get around the face, it's pretty difficult to get out of," he revealed. "When guys try to sit up, it increases the pain."
The LeBell Lock also complements the diverse pedigree of Daniel Bryan's offensive style. A hybrid attack, the maneuver mixes elements of LeBell's favorite fighting styles — specifically Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and British catch wrestling — to form one vicious and unique submission maneuver.
"I'm from the old school," the martial arts master asserted. "I do a lot of holds that people don't ordinarily see."
This old school appeal was another thing that drew Daniel Bryan to the LeBell Lock.
"I've always tried to respect the history of this industry," the Raw Superstar said. "I like the throwbacks to previous generations — especially people who have taught me or I've learned from."
Although Daniel Bryan's grappling predecessor is seen as a legend in the fight game, LeBell is still a very active stuntman, actor and martial arts instructor at the age of 77. Coming from this environment where respect is everything, he is appreciative of the reverence Daniel Bryan and WWE have shown him.
"It's nice when you get credit," LeBell admitted. "It's not as good as five dollars cash, but it makes me happy."