Gene Lebell in Boxing vs Judo fight in 1963
Before Royce Gracie pitted Brazilian Jiu Jitsu against the boxing of Art Jimmerson at UFC 1 and even before pro-wrestler Antonio Inoki fought the likes of Muhammad Ali in a mixed rules bout, another decorated grappler put his art on the line against the sweet science on a live broadcast all the way back in 1963, his name?
‘Judo’ Gene Lebell.
A decorated judoka who won the AAU National Judo Championship in 1954 and 1955 found himself having to represent the art in an open challenge issued by boxer Jim Beck in Rogue Magazine to practitioners of the Japanese martial arts claiming boxing would defeat any martial art style and even offering a $1000 cash prize.
Taking the bait Gene Lebell travelled to Salt Lake City to participate in the challenge only to have a last minute opponent change to a much more accomplished boxer in Milo Savage.
Like any style vs style bout there was a kafuffle over the ruleset with the boxer’s camp insisting Lebell could not strike with Lebell’s came returning with the stipulation that Milo had to wear a gi.
Come fight day Milo was wearing a much thinner and tighter Karate gi, not a Judoka gi and he had also lathered it up with Vaseline to make it much more difficult for Gene to grab him as well as the speculation that Milo’s gloves contained brass knuckles.
Regardless of the clear cheating and disadvantage, Gene Lebell was also able to close the distance getting Milo to the mat with a harai goshi, from here he was able to secure mount and sink in a rear naked choke.
Having defeated the hometown favourite, a riot occurred with chairs and bottles getting thrown in the ring but despite this it would also mark the first mixed rules bout to shown live on American television.