Gene LeBell, Legendary Martial Artist, Dies at Age 89

Paul KasabianFeatured Columnist IIAugust 10, 2022

Brian To/FilmMagic

Legendary martial artist and stuntman Gene LeBell has died at the age of 89.

Former UFC heavyweight champion Bas Rutten announced LeBell's death on Facebook amid a lengthy tribute to the titan, who also made his indelible mark in sports entertainment and Hollywood as well.

"You will be greatly missed Gene, I love you my friend, till we meet again!" Rutten closed.

Ex-UFC champion Ronda Rousey also posted a tribute picture with her and LeBell following news of his death. Many others offered their condolences and remembrances as well.

Triple H @TripleH

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 <a href="https://twitter.com/WWE?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@WWE</a> to this day. Our thoughts are with his family and loved ones at this time.

The Iron Sheik @the_ironsheik


RJ City @RJCity1

Gene LeBell’s acting &amp; stunt credits were unmatched. From 1961-2012. If there was a wrestling episode, he was almost always the ref. From The Beverly Hillbillies &amp; The Munsters to Taxi and Rush Hour, an insane side-legacy. <a href="https://t.co/93GL6QP0fw">pic.twitter.com/93GL6QP0fw</a>

Grand Slam Champ CrisCyborg.com @criscyborg

🙏🏽 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 <a href="https://t.co/uEJaJG5e2k">pic.twitter.com/uEJaJG5e2k</a>

TheRealSnowden @JESnowden

There was only one Gene LeBell. <a href="https://t.co/qbtDp1RuQ1">pic.twitter.com/qbtDp1RuQ1</a>

Shayna Baszler @QoSBaszler

“I won every R-E-A-L fight I ever had &amp; 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.<br> <br>I’m still calling it a double wrist lock, just so you know. 💔💔 <a href="https://t.co/VEwNpAxJb8">pic.twitter.com/VEwNpAxJb8</a>

Frankie Kazarian @FrankieKazarian

RIP Gene Lebell. I’m not sure his contributions to combat sports can be overstated enough. A man’s man, a gentleman and an absolute legend. I enjoyed the times I got to chat and laugh with him over the years. Godspeed sir.

Paul Lazenby @MaulerMMA

My hero.<br>My teacher.<br>My inspiration.<br>My unfailing reminder that I am ugly and nobody likes me.<br>My friend.<br>RIP to the world's toughest man, Judo Gene Lebell.<br>I'm going to miss the hell out of you. <a href="https://t.co/1f3jlB0s55">pic.twitter.com/1f3jlB0s55</a>

Hans Gutknecht @HansGutknecht

Such a sad day, my hero Gene LeBell passed away this morning. Heartbreaking, he was a friend and one of the best people I have ever known. His family is mourning and will release more details in the coming days. Please be respectful of their privacy. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/RipGeneLebell?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#RipGeneLebell</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/GeneLebell?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#GeneLebell</a> <a href="https://t.co/LpKMBj8uwT">pic.twitter.com/LpKMBj8uwT</a>

Ariel Helwani @arielhelwani

So sad to hear about the passing of Gene LeBell. What a larger than life legend. It was such an honor to see him at the Rousey fights over the years. God bless, Judo Gene.

All Elite Wrestling @AEW

AEW joins the wrestling world in mourning the passing of “Judo” Gene Lebell. Our thoughts are with his family, his friends and his fans. <a href="https://t.co/epDTGpY16q">pic.twitter.com/epDTGpY16q</a>

IMDB.com lists him as having 252 stunt credits and 156 acting credits. He reportedly served as a partial inspiration for the character Cliff Booth in the Academy Award-nominated film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.

Per Phil Jones of Jits Magazine, LeBell "earned a 10th-degree red belt in Judo, a 10th-degree black belt in Kyokushin Budokai, and a ninth-degree black belt in Ju Jitsu."

Byran Rose of FW4Online also noted the influence of LeBell, who was known as the "Godfather of Grappling," in wrestling:

"In pro wrestling, he ran NWA's Los Angeles territory, NWA Hollywood Wrestling, from 1968 through 1982. He also served as the referee for the Muhammad Ali/Antonio Inoki match that took place in 1976. He wrestled his final pro wrestling match in 1981, against Peter Maivia in NWA Hollywood Wrestling."

LeBell was truly one of one and an iconic figure who was well-liked and made a tremendous, long-lasting impact everywhere he went.


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