The world of wrestling and martial arts lost a legend with the passing of Gene Lebell. PWInsider reports that Lebell died Tuesday at the age of 89.
Lebell was best known for his martial arts work and as a stuntman, and is famous for his grappling, which he popularized in professional combat. Lebell was the son of Aileen Eaton, who ran the Olympic Autorium in Los Angeles where professional wrestling was held. He trained early in wrestling and boxing, training under Ed “Strangler” Lewis at the age of seven and also training in judo. He competed in judo and won the National Heavyweight and All-Amateur Athletic Union Judo Championships in 1954 and 1955 before moving into 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 retiring from the ring, he joined Mike in the NWA Los Angeles promotion and refereed the boxing versus wrestling match between Muhammad Ali and Antonio Inoki in 1976. He also worked on over 1,000 films and shows in as a stuntman, and was the inspiration for Brad Pitt’s character Cliff Booth in Quentin Tarantino Once upon a time in Hollywood. He developed a friendship with Bruce Lee and Lee learned some grappling techniques from him.
Lebell was Steven Seagal’s stunt coordinator come out for justice, where he heard Seagal’s claim that, due to his aikido training, he was “immune” to unconscious choking. Lebell would have given 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 the incident happened, although others have confirmed a confrontation did occur.
Among Lebell’s wrestling trainees were Ronda Rousey, Chuck Norris, Roddy Piper and Manny Gamburyan. He also appeared in Rousey’s corner for several of his MMA fights. Bryan Danielson’s Label Lock is named after him.
On behalf of 411, our condolences to Mr. Lebell’s family, friends and fans.