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Judo Gene LeBell passes away at 89 years old

Gene LeBell

Judo Gene LeBell, best known for his catch wrestling technique that later became an influence in both pro wrestling and mixed martial arts, has passed away at 89 years old.

Bas Rutten wrote on Facebook that LeBell had passed away.

“My deepest condolences to his lovely wife Midge, his kids and all his other family members and friends,” he wrote. “You will be greatly missed Gene, I love you my friend, till we meet again!”

LeBell started catch wrestling at the age of 7, training under Ed “Strangler” Lewis and later trained in judo. He was also trained by the likes of Karl Gotch and Lou Thesz. In 1963, he accepted a challenge to fight boxer Milo Savage in an early mixed martial arts bout that saw LeBell score the win with a rear naked choke.

In pro wrestling, he was part of NWA's Los Angeles territory, NWA Hollywood Wrestling, from 1968 through 1982. He worked as a TV announcer and sometimes wrestled. The territory was owned by Mike LeBell, Gene's brother. 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.

In recent years, he had accompanied Ronda Rousey to the ring during mixed martial arts matches. He also judged MMA fights through 2018.