Leon Tabbs, 86, formerly of Germantown, a renowned cut man in boxing and mixed martial arts, died Friday, June 15, of congestive heart failure at an assisted living community in Atlanta.
Mr. Tabbs was born and grew up in Atlantic City. He graduated from Atlantic City High School and served for eight years as an Air Force staff sergeant during the Korean War. While in the military, he trained as a medic, and those skills would prove useful years later when he tended the cuts of fighters.
Initially, Mr. Tabbs hoped to become a professional boxer. He started training at age 13, entering the amateur ring in New Jersey and winning the 1948 Silver Gloves title as a featherweight. Before his career in boxing, Mr. Tabbs sold products for DuBois Chemicals, now in Bristol. He also served briefly as a Philadelphia police officer, his family said, and drove a Bond Bread delivery truck.
“My dad was a hard worker, and sometimes he did multiple jobs to take care of us,” said his daughter, Julene Williams.
Gradually though, his focus shifted to training and managing boxers, including light heavyweight Jerry “the Bull” Martin. But he had his biggest success as a cut man – one who handles swelling of the face, nosebleeds, and lacerations in the fighter’s corner during the breaks between rounds.
Philadelphia’s Bernard “the Executioner” Hopkins, a middleweight and light heavyweight boxing champion, engaged his services frequently.
Mr. Tabbs spent the bulk of his career as cut man for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a mixed martial arts promotional organization based in Las Vegas. Mixed martial arts is a competitive sport that includes elements of wrestling, boxing, jiu-jitsu, and kickboxing.
Mr. Tabbs was the cut man to work UFC 1, the first event staged by the organization, on Nov. 12, 1993. The show was held at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver before a crowd of 7,800, while 86,000 watched on pay-per-view.
His final show on June 22, 2012, was UFC on FX 4 at Revel Casino in Atlantic City. A crowd of 4,652 attended, and 1.3 million viewers purchased pay-per-view.
After retiring in 2012, Mr. Tabbs received the Mixed Martial Arts Lifetime Achievement award in January 2013 and was inducted into the Pennsylvania Boxing Hall of Fame as a cut man in May 2014.
When word of Mr. Tabbs’ death circulated, Jacob “Stitch” Duran, another noted cut man, responded by praising Mr. Tabbs as the “Godfather of cut men” on Twitter. “The original cut man from UFC 1, Leon set the stage for all cut men to follow,” Duran tweeted on June 15.
“Our father is our hero,” his son, Bruce, said on https://mmajunkie.com, a website catering to mixed martial arts fans. “He lived a simple life, enjoying it to the fullest, and deserved all he earned and earned all he received. Family, boxing, and friends and laughter were his life.”
In 1956, Mr. Tabbs married Mary Maddox of Kansas City, Mo. They were married for 20 years and lived in Philadelphia, where they raised their three children. They divorced, she survives. In 1993, he married Esther Shannon-Tabbs, who also survives.
Julene Williams, Mr. Tabbs’ daughter, said her father never sought the limelight. “Dad was an unassuming, humble man who enjoyed seafood, and loved to dance, listen to jazz, and go to the movies,” she said.
He had moved to Atlanta four years ago to be near Williams and his grandchildren.
In addition to his son, daughter, wife and former wife, Mr. Tabbs is survived by daughter Lisa Madison; five grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.
A life celebration will be held from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, July 7, at Temptations Restaurant & Banquet Hall, 218 W. Chelten Ave.