Gene LeBell Death – Natural Causes
1932-2022 (Age 89)
“Judo” Gene LeBell’s wrestling nickname was no manufactured hype. Instead, LeBell was a martial arts master who broke into wrestling due to its comparatively lucrative paydays for his time. LeBell became known as a pioneer in the world of mixed-martial-arts (MMA) and went on to train many wrestlers and mixed-martial-artists while also working as a stuntman and actor.
A Pugilistic Prodigy
Gene LeBell was born on October 9, 1932, and didn’t wait long to learn his way in the ring. Wrestling lore has it that veteran wrestler “Strangler” Ed Lewis began teaching LeBell in catch wrestling when Gene was only seven. LeBell studied boxing and in addition to the sweet science, he trained in judo. LeBell’s judo skills led to him winning back-to-back Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) National Judo Championships in 1954 and 1955.
Entering the World of Professional Wrestling
While Gene continued his martial arts training, he discovered that he could make a comfortable living as a professional wrestler. While he worked in several territories, he’s best known for wrestling in NWA Hollywood Wrestling, a territory he eventually helped manage with his brother Mike LeBell.
In addition to wrestling, LeBell worked as a stuntman and actor, appearing in film, television, and commercials. He worked alongside martial arts legend Bruce Lee when Lee played Kato on the short-lived 60s series, The Green Hornet.
Gene’s Historic MMA Match
In 1963, LeBell answered the challenge of Jim Beck, a boxer and writer who believed boxing was superior to any other martial art. Beck offered $1000 to any martial artist who could defeat a boxer and LeBell eventually accepted. LeBell later talked of how the original stipulations for the bout were changed including the substitution of skilled boxer Milo Savage for Beck and rule changes stipulating LeBell could not perform certain judo maneuvers. Nevertheless, LeBell prevailed, choking Savage out.
Following his retirement, Gene continued working as an actor and stuntman. He also returned to martial arts and MMA, serving as a mentor to aspiring martial artists and as a judge for different MMA events.
His obituary in The U.S. Sun detailed his contributions to MMA and of course, wrestling.
LeBell opened MMA schools in his later years and according to inaugural UFC champion Royce Gracie, he was asked to fight in the promotion. He has taught the likes of Chuck Norris, Roddy Piper, and Manny Gamburyan and Ronda Rousey, even cornering her in the UFC.
Many people familiar with LeBell paid tribute to him following the announcement of his passing including UFC star Cris Cyborg:
🙏🏽 Judo Gene Lebell impacted so many lives through his kind, caring, and loving soul. It is through those memories his legacy will become legendary and forever remembered. ❤️ RIP and prayers to all who loved him pic.twitter.com/uEJaJG5e2k
— Grand Slam Champ CrisCyborg.com (@criscyborg) August 10, 2022
WWE executive and former wrestler Triple H tweeted:
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
Just two examples of LeBell’s lasting legacy in sports and entertainment.
A Respected Figure
Dubbed “The Toughest Man Alive” by his peers, Gene LeBell’s many accomplishments and contributes to wrestling and MMA earned him numerous accolades including induction into the National Wrestling Alliance Hall of Fame.
The Steven Seagal Incident
No mention of LeBell’s amazing life is complete without discussing his legendary choke-out of actor and self-professed martial arts master Steven Seagal. LeBell was working on Seagal’s project Out for Justice when he reportedly became aware of Seagal’s boast that his Akido training rendered him immune to being choked out. After Seagal agreed to let LeBell try to choke him out, “Judo” Gene promptly did so and according to some reports, Seagal crapped his pants.
LeBell would take the high road when asked about the incident and while the question of whether Seagal crapped his pants remains uncertain, there are those willing to tweet about it:
R.I.P. Judo Gene LeBell, who refused to confirm or deny that he made Steven Seagal shit himself on the set of Out For Justice, which he absolutely, 100% did. pic.twitter.com/m0Bzfu2b19
— William Friedkin Truths (@LazlosGhost) August 10, 2022
Seagal denied the incident, reportedly calling LeBell “a pathological, scumbag liar.” “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey responded to this during an interview with MMA Interviews “If he says anything bad about Gene to my face, I’d have to make him crap his pants a second time. Obviously, the guy’s a liar.”
On August 9, 2022, Gene LeBell died in his sleep at age 89.
Have you seen “Judo” Gene LeBell in wrestling, MMA, or Hollywood productions? Let us know your favorite memories in the comments below.