The wrestling and entertainment fraternity is saddened with the passing away of Gene LeBell, as announced by AEW on Twitter. He was 89 years old at the time of passing. Bas Rutten broke the news on Facebook that LeBell, who had an influence on pro wrestling and MMA, had passed away.
“My deepest condolences to his lovely wife Midge, his kids and all his other family members and friends,” he wrote. “You will be greatly missed Gene, I love you my friend, till we meet again!”
Gene Lebell passes away
LeBell was a larger-than-life character who started catching wrestling when he was 7 years old and trained under Ed “Strangler” Lewis. He later trained in judo and was also trained by Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz.
AEW joins the wrestling world in mourning the passing of “Judo” Gene Lebell. Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and his fans. pic.twitter.com/epDTGpY16q
— All Elite Wrestling (@AEW) August 10, 2022
He eventually crossed back over to martial arts when he challenged professional boxer Milo Savage in a mixed-rules bout in 1963. LeBell won the fight with a rear-naked choke in the fourth round. LeBell ended up as a pro wrestling promoter for many years running the NWA territory for 14 years. He also famously served as the referee in the mixed-rules bout between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki that took place in 1976.
His last wrestling bout came against The Rock’s grandfather, Peter Maivia, in 1981 under the NWA Hollywood Wrestling banner. Ronda Rousey became close with him in recent years as he would walk out with Rousey during her MMA career.
In addition to his martial arts and pro wrestling work, LeBell also started appearing in a number of television and film projects as a stuntman and actor. He befriended Bruce Lee on the set of his series The Green Hornet and LeBell’s initial interactions with him served as part of the inspiration for a character in Quentin Tarantino’s 2019 film Once Upon a Time … In Hollywood.