The Toughest Man Alive by Gene LeBell

November 8, 2019

While wildly entertaining, this comes with a recommendation that carries a disclaimer.

While LeBell may be best known to modern fans as the cornerman of Ronda Rousey, if you’re an avid viewer of any US drama of the 1970s or 1980s, you’ve probably seen him before and never realised. A former pro wrestler and stuntman, he was a regular in Hollywood and as a result virtually every show which did a wrestling themed episode would film at the Olympic Auditorium and use LeBell as both the stunt arranger and an on-screen referee.

The book is filled with stories from all elements of LeBell’s life, both as a performer and a competitor who was among those who explored the relative merits of martial arts in a real combat situation long before the initials UFC or MMA were ever heard.

Exactly how honest the book is is difficult to tell. There’s plenty that sounds outlandish but is verifiable, but at the same time the suggestion that Andre the Giant fought Joe Bugner (rather than Chuck Wepner) at Shea Stadium is a signal that at the least LeBell’s memories shouldn’t be taken as gospel.  The book comes with an intriguing backstory. It was written with LeBell’s cooperation but through ghostwriter Bob Calhoun. However, the text was reportedly stolen and printed without permission, with neither man receiving royalties. LeBell and Calhoun then used their source material to produce a fresh book the following year titled The Godfather of Grappling.

With that in mind, if you’re determined to buy a new copy of a LeBell book, you should  track down The Godfather of Grappling. If you’re happy to shop for a used copy (with no resulting royalty issues), The Toughest Man Alive is certainly a viable option.

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