The wrestling and martial arts world has lost a legend as Gene Lebell has passed away. PWInsider reports that Lebell passed away on Tuesday at the age of 89.
Lebell was best known for his martial arts work and as a stunt performer, and is famour for his grappling, which he popularized in professional fighting. Lebell was the son of Aileen Eaton, who ran the Olympic Autorium in Los Angeles where professional wrestling was hosted. He trained in catch wrestling and boxing from early on, training under Ed “Strangler” Lewis at the early age of seven and also training in judo. He competed in judo and won the heavyweight and overall Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships in 1954 and 1955 before transitioning over to professional wrestling. He would compete in NWA Los Angeles (which his brother Mike promoted) as well as Don Owens in the Pacific Northwest and the Funks in Amarillo, sometimes under a mask as The Hangman.
After he retired from the ring, he joined Mike in promoting NWA Los Angeles and famously refereed the boxing vs. wrestling match between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki in 1976. He also worked on over 1,000 films and shows as a stuntman, and served as the inspiration for Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood. He developed a friendship with Bruce Lee and Lee learned some grappling techniques from him.
Lebell famously served as the stunt coordinator on Steven Seagal’s Out for Justice, where he heard Seagal’s claim that due to his training in aikido he was “immune” from being choked unconscious. Lebell allegedly gave him the chance to prove it and when Segeal allowed Lebell to put him in a chokehold and said “go,” Lebell choked him out. Seagal has always denied that the incident happened, though others have confirmed that a confrontation did happen.
Among Lebell’s trainees in grappling were Ronda Rousey, Chuck Norris, Roddy Piper, and Manny Gamburyan. He also appeared in Rousey’s corner for several of her MMA bouts. Bryan Danielson’s Labell Lock is named for him.
On behalf of 411, our condolences to the family, friends, and fans of Mr. Lebell.