Judo Gene LeBell AEW
Image Credit: AEW

Legendary Wrestler Judo Gene LeBell Passes Away At 89, WWE Comments

Deemed as “The Godfather of Grappling”, LeBell lent his extensive knowledge to names like Roddy Piper and Ronda Rousey. LeBell even accompanied Rousey to several of her MMA fights prior to signing with WWE. Notably, Bryan Danielson‘s signature Yes Lock submission originated as The LeBell Lock, as a nod to LeBell. In 2011, Gene Lebell became inducted into the NWA Hall of Fame. Training under legendary names like Ed “Strangler” Lewis, Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz, “Judo” certainly learned from the best, as did anyone who worked with him over the years.
Sad news……
The great Gene Lebell, toughest man I know, has passed away and left us at the age of 89
This first picture is in October 1996 after I fought in Japan and came to the States to check things out here because I always loved America and was thinking about moving here.
I was teaching at the LAPD, many more fighters were there teaching as well.
Was teaching leg locks and I had this weird guy with red hair screaming after I put my partner in a leg lock “perfect, love it!!!”
I thought: “Who is that weird guy?”
He kept shouting compliments, so I felt really good and afterwards my buddy Frederico came to me and told me I HAD to meet the legend, that is Gene LeBell.
Oh man, I had heard stories about him and now I realized it was the guy with the red hair!?
So freaking awesome, what a man, what a men’s man, everybody loved/loves Gene!
We all heard the crazy stories, about Seagal, and that he was the first guy to fight MMA in a match against the Boxer Milo Savage in 1963 (I wasn’t even born), still pulling wheelies on his motor cycle when he was like 84 years old and if you go online, you find thousand more stories.
I have always loved Gene, every single person I know loves Gene, and I am proud to say that we always had fun when we met, always cracking jokes. (my wife would say: “Crazy meets crazy”.
Him and Gokor Chivichyan, man, Gene would choke out students, they would wait in line to get choked out by Gene?!
Then Gokor would have a glass of water with him and once the guy was out cold he would throw that water over his pants so it looked like he peed himself, hilarious!
He was always telling people a story that I gave him an El Guapo T-shirt and that he thought he could get every girl now because of the shirt. But after being sent away every single time, he couldn’t understand why? I mean, he was wearing and El Guapo Guapo T-shirt?
Until somebody told him that he was wearing it inside out.
“AAAAHHHH, he said, THAT was the reason”.
Of course this was all one big joke…..
I am still the proud owner of a very cool OTF blade (out-the-front knife). Or as they also call it, a sliding knife, telescoping knife, or angel blade. He gave that to me on my birthday once, will treasure that knife forever.
The second picture is at my friends Darin’s place and the last one was at an MMA event, and man, he seem to be at every single event, didn’t he?
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!
In a post on its official website, WWE commented on the news:

WWE is saddened to learn that Gene LeBell has passed away at the age of 89.

A towering figure in the world of martial arts, LeBell was nicknamed “The Godfather of Grappling.” Training under legends Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz, LeBell went on to earn a 10th degree red belt in Judo and a 9th degree black belt in Ju-jitsu. LeBell trained some of combat sports most notorious fighters such as Chuck Norris, WWE Hall of Famer “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and current WWE Superstar Ronda Rousey.

An icon of professional wrestling, LeBell wrestled and promoted the National Wrestling Alliance’s Los Angeles territory, NWA Hollywood Wrestling, from 1968 through 1982. LeBell squared off against WWE Hall of Famer “High Chief” Peter Maivia, The Rock’s grandfather, in his last in-ring match in 1981. He also served as the referee for the infamous fight between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki in 1976.

Throughout his lifetime, LeBell appeared in more than 1,000 films as either a stuntman or an actor and served as an inspiration for Brad Pitt’s Cliff Booth in the 2019 Quentin Tarantino film “Once Upon A Time in Hollywood.”

WWE extends its condolences to LeBell’s family, friends and countless fans.

WrestleZone extends our sincerest condolences to the family, friends, and fans of “Judo” Gene LeBell.