The legendary “Judo” Gene LeBell has passed away at the age of 89.
Bas Rutten announced the passing via Facebook overnight with a lengthy message.
“My deepest condolences to his lovely wife Midge, his kids and all his other family members and friends. You will be greatly missed Gene, I love you my friend, till we meet again!,” Rutten wrote.
LeBell began catch wrestling at the age of 7, training under Ed “The Stranger” Lewis. He was also trained by the legendary Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz, and later trained judo. LeBell also ran NWA Hollywood Wrestling, the NWA’s Los Angeles territory, from 1968-1982. His final pro wrestling match came on August 29, 1981, which was a DQ win over WWE Hall of Famer Peter Maivia for NWA Hollywood Wrestling. LeBell is credited with popularizing grappling in pro fighting circles, serving as the precursor to modern day MMA.
LeBell accompanied Ronda Rousey to the cage for some of her MMA matches in recent years, and served as a MMA judge through 2018. He worked on over 1,000 movies and wrote a dozen books. His notable students include Rousey, WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper, and Chuck Norris, among others.
Bryan Danielson’s LeBell Lock was named after the legendary grappler.
“I learned the [LeBell Lock] from a guy named Neil Melanson,” Danielson told the WWE website in 2010. “He’s my grappling coach and he trained with Gene for a long time.”
LeBell was inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame in 2011. He received the Iron Mike Mazurki Award from the Cauliflower Alley Club in 1995, and the Frank Gotch Award from the George Tragos/Lou Thesz Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame in 2005.