“The Godfather of Grappling” Gene LeBelle has sadly passed away aged 89.
In a short statement posted on Facebook, Bas Rutten confirmed that the combat sports legend had passed away.
The great Gene Lebell, toughest man I know, has passed away and left us at the age of 89…. My deepest condolences to his lovely wife Midge, his kids and all his other family members and friends. You will be greatly missed Gene, I love you my friend, till we meet again!
Gene LeBelle was born on October 9th 1932 in Los Angeles, California. His grappling career began when he was just seven years old, training in catch wrestling under the guidance of Ed “Strangler” Lewis, before also taking up Judo.
He also trained under other wrestling legends such as Lou Thez and Karl Gotch.
After finding success in Judo in his early twenties, LeBelle transitioned into the world of professional wrestling. In 1963, he defeated boxer Milo Savage via a Rear Naked Choke in one of the earliest Mixed Martial Arts contests.
In wrestling, LeBelle headed up NWA’s Los Angeles territory, NWA Hollywood Wrestling, from 1968 until 1982. During this period, he also refereed the famous boxer vs. wrestler clash between Muhammed Ali and Antonio Inoki. He wrestled his final match against Peter Maivia (The Rock’s grandfather) in 1981.
LeBelle later served as a mentor to Ronda Rousey, while Bryan Danielson’s LeBelle Lock is also named after the fighting legend.
Outside of combat sports, LeBelle worked on numerous film and television projects, while also penning 12 books.
Everyone at Inside The Ropes would like to send their condolences to the friends and family of “Judo” Gene LeBelle.