Gene LeBell passes away at 89, WWE issues statement

By Sean Radican, PWTorch columnist

Former champion reportedly returning to WWE


Gene LeBell has passed away at the age of 89.

LeBell began training at the age of seven under Ed “Strangler” Lewis. He also learned under the tutalege of Lou Thesz and Karl Gotch while training.

His knowlege of combat sports was highly regarded in both wrestling and MMA. During the early stages of his career, Bryan Danielson called the Yes Lock the LeBell lock in tribute to LeBell.

LeBell was close to current WWE wrestler Ronda Rousey when he got older and trained with her. He would often accompany her to the octagon while she was still in UFC. He also trained actor Chuck Norris and Rowdy Roddy Piper.

LeBell was also involved in making movies. He appeared in more than 1,000 films as either a stuntman or an actor.

WWE issued the following statement about LeBell’s passing:

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.



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