Gene LeBell Passes Away At 89

Gene LeBell hugs Ronda Rousey

Judo Gene LeBell, who influenced both the world of professional wrestling and mixed martial arts with his catch wrestling style has passed away aged 89.

LeBell’s life in catch wrestling began in his early childhood and throughout his career, he was trained by early wrestling luminaries such as Ed ‘Strangler’ Lewis, Lou Thesz, and Karl Gotch. In the 50s LeBell won two National Judo Championships and in 1963 he fought boxer Milo Savage in a pioneering MMA bout that saw Gene LeBell win via a rear naked choke.

In later life, Gene LeBell ran NWA Hollywood Wrestling and he was the referee in the infamous bout between Muhammad Ali and Japanese wrestling icon Antonio Inoki.

MMA star Bas Rutten shared the news of LeBell’s passing on his Facebook page, writing:

“Sad news……The great Gene Lebell, toughest man I know, has passed away and left us at the age of 89. […] 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 more recent years Gene LeBell’s influence in both MMA and pro wrestling was shared by the likes of ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey and Bryan Danielson. LeBell was seen in the corner of Rousey during many of her MMA matches and victories prior to her beginning her pro wrestling career in WWE. Bryan Danielson’s LeBell Lock was named after ‘Judo Gene,’ the move – which was previously known as the Yes Lock – was the move which won Danielson the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at WrestleMania 30.

Everyone at sends their condolences to the family, friends, and fans of Gene LeBell.