Tabbs passed away after struggling with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia. He was the quintessential cut man both in and out of the ring. I know, because I had the pleasure of working with him for a substantial portion of my combat sports career.
As one of what fellow former UFC and current Bellator and boxing cut man Jacob "Stitch" Duran called The Buffalo Soldiers, I was a part of the early UFC Operations structure. Specifically, the fighters and cut men were under my purview so Tabbs is a standout person in my memory.
"Leon was a very special person. Not only did he work with some of boxing's best, he was also the original cutman for the UFC," said friend and longtime co-worker with Tabbs, Jacob "Stitch" Duran.
Leon Tabbs was the definition of solid, even in his old age, and I mean rock solid down to his hard handshakes and granite fist bumps.
"He was my friend who didn't say much but when he did, BOOMMM!," said fellow UFC cut man Rudy Hernandez, brother of former boxing champion and UFC Spanish Commentator Genaro Hernandez. "He really did it his way and on his terms."
Legendary cutman Leon Tabbs interviewed at UFC Fan Expo Boston.
Tabbs, a former EMT, who got his start in boxing, worked UFC 1 and served as the promotion’s cut man for almost 20 years. He retired from the fight industry in 2012 and in 2013, he received a lifetime achievement award at the Fighters Only World MMA Awards.
"No sh*t! My man! Those were two of Leon's favorite sayings," said fellow UFC cut man Don House, who is also the head trainer for former heavyweight champion Bermane Stiverne. "Leon was the first and the original. Well respected. He was 'my man' 'no sh*t'."
Sad to announce that my friend and "Godfather of Cutmen", Leon Tabbs has passed away. The original cutman from UFC 1, Leon set the stage for all cutmen to follow. We shared many great moments together and those memories will never be forgotten.
"Leon opened the door for cut men in MMA, " said current UFC cut man Rob Monroe. " I don't believe there is a single UFC that the current cut men work that his name doesn't come up. His humorous story of when he accepted the job for UFC 1 is legendary."
As Cut Room legend has it, Tabbs admittedly went into UFC 1 knowing nothing about the sport of MMA after seeing a couple of bouts. He thought he might actually go to jail for being involved in the early days of the sport.
"These guys are crazy," with an affable laugh after, was signature Leon Tabbs and so was sticking it through the tough times. Tabbs stayed with the organization while also maintaining his boxing career and working with legends like Bernard Hopkins. That chance he took led to a billion-dollar global sport that will forever share his imprint of giving fighters one more round to battle.
"Leon was a guy that knew how to do it all," said current UFC cut man Brad Tate. "When he told me he was a medic in the Army and me being a medic, he told me it would serve me well as a cut man and it has. Leon knew when to get in there and work and when to sit back and let things work."
So sad to hear that Leon Tabbs has passed on. Leon was an original. He was a cutman at UFC 1 and even had a role in the original Rocky. He stayed with the UFC for 20 years! It was an honor to know and work with you Leon.
Tabbs was quintessential Philadephia, with all its raw and tough exteriors. But like the soulful sounds of Philly International Records, he was all finesse and love through the enduring test that is combat sports.
"As a friend, we shared many great moments together as we travelled the world. If anyone needs to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame, it is Leon Tabbs," said Stitch.
Why an annual award show gave Tabbs a lifetime achievement award before he has even been mentioned for the UFC Hall of Fame is a bit ridiculous and this needs to be checked.
With cut men like Stitch now featured in hit movies like the Creed series and others like Don House and Rudy Hernandez still building boxing champions, there needs to be room made in the Hall for this integral section of combat sports culture.
It is only fitting that he becomes the first cut man in the UFC Hall of Fame for a legacy that will reverberate into perpetuity.