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.
Gene LeBell remained a towering figure in the history and expansion of mixed martial arts and sports entertainment. A teacher to many of the sport’s greats, his influence is felt throughout @WWE to this day. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time.
— Triple H (@TripleH) August 10, 2022
“I won every R-E-A-L fight I ever had & was penniless. I LOST every R-E-E-L fight I ever had and made millions” — Judo Gene trying to convince me to quit fighting and go into Hollywood stunt work.
I’m still calling it a double wrist lock, just so you know. 💔💔 pic.twitter.com/VEwNpAxJb8
— Shayna Baszler (@QoSBaszler) August 10, 2022
Godspeed, “Judo” Gene LeBell. Grateful for your innumerable contributions and for the equally innumerable laughs over the years. None of us are as ugly as you told us… every time you saw us! Rest well, sir. 🙏
— Adam Pearce (@ScrapDaddyAP) August 10, 2022