Half Empty, Since 1998

Sports biography charts the violent death of bowling, starring performers Greg Lebelle and Dragan Momchilo.

Excerpt from Bowlbrawl

Nathaniel G. Moore, Simon Chan. September 8th, 2005

Greg Lebelle and Dragan Momchilo, January 2005; Photography by Simon Chan

Greg Lebelle and Dragan Momchilo, January 2005; Photography by Simon Chan

Image: Greg Lebelle and Dragan Momchilo, January 2005

Somewhere between lanes 15 and 17 a kinship was struck between the sports fan and the legendary macabre theatre of the brute. Somewhere, within those inches of space, Greg Lebelle lost the urge to fight.

One explosive night out, letting off steam with World Championship Bowling owner Robert Towell at a local bar, he wandered through the thinly veiled yarn of myth and reality. The much-mythed trial was real.

There was more on the line than a simple assault charge. It was Lebelle’s entire life, assumed violent, and because of his size, his muscle, his appearance, and nothing else, he was typecast as a bully.

As Towell said famously at the trial, “Why you think that because Lebelle works for my company that I am, or bowling is, in any way, liable or relevant to this case is embarrassing. The fact that this man, who came charging at both Lebelle and I with a piece of wood from his truck, can barely form a sentence in his defense, but is the fan-favourite this afternoon, disgusts me.”

It was said that Lebelle’s statement alluded to World Championship Bowling, and within his drunken state, Greg Lebelle began to assume his character, and believed that the man with whom he was arguing was in fact his opponent, “Hollywood” Dragan Momchilo.

Momchilo failed to spook him, even by biting or scratching, during their numerous battles. As a man, to deal with, he was usually helpful, easy to look up to. He emanated physical courage. He was a street fighting man who had learned how to deal with intimidation during his tough early days on the east coast and out west as a teenager.

“His own story,” says Black Ninja Six, who fought Lebelle at dozens of house shows “wasn’t made up, he was living it 24 hours a day. He wasn’t an athlete, but he was stronger than any of us combined.”

Lebelle worked as a harm reduction consultant for street health in Toronto. This, combined with the stress of continued live appearances on television, controlled fighting, and living as what he called “an artificial cog” rather than as a part of “something connected to the human concern,” propelled Lebelle to leave his bowling dynasty behind.

“Things were already over by the time the trial drew near,” says WCB’s Robert Towell, who took the stand as key witness to the assault. “It was a strain, of the six testimonies, five were character witnesses, mine was about the event itself.”

“I’m a genuine fighter, because I know what it is to lose,” Lebelle says, taking a long harsh, drag of his cigarette as one of his clients approaches. “I have a job to do now, these are my people.”

Saturday, on one of his only days off in weeks, he is at home when Robert Towell delivers his speech at the PBA tournament, the last we’ll ever see from the famed World Championship Bowling legacy.

“I think it’s fitting,” Lebelle surmises. “He started it, and it will be great to see if he can get on in the mainstream of bowling, not that he ever needed them, but I’ll be watching from the comfort of my couch, rather than locking up with photographers.”

When asked about his long-time rival Dragan Momchilo, Lebelle shrugged, “I thought he was okay, I thought he was confused about a lot of things. He was missing something, something that other people have on a basic level that make them consistent.”

Lebelle says he enjoyed his time with WCB but in the end was convinced that it was not where he wanted to end up. “I just thought that I could help people.”

It could be argued that Momchilo fought with his heart, Godfrey fought with spirited enthusiasm, but Lebelle fought and moved in the business with his brain. While he beat everyone into a shadow, the truest memory sports fans have of Lebelle is him taking on the local league champions during WCB’s first season. People like David Tua, James Coburg, he ripped their plaid shirts in two, got two strikes in a row, threw them into the next lane, and none of them had the power to knock him out!

After his humiliation at the cleats of Momchilo’s soccer squad, Lebelle lived in fear of the sucker punch, and would take a sterile win on point-spread rather than get into a high-risk slugfest or no-disqualification contest.

Whether a house show, pay-per-view or toy store appearance, Greg Lebelle was always consistent, always genuine, and always there to do the job.

Dragan Momchilo has not seen the former WCB champion since their infamous cage match at WCB Damnation, though he did speak to him on the phone just before the trial. “He wished me luck, and I think it was genuine,” says Lebelle.

Text by Nathaniel G. Moore, Photos by Simon Chan. Bowlbrawl, ISBN 1-894994-10-8. Published by Conundrum Press

(This piece included in Half Empty #3.)