Gene LeBell, a man who is widely credited for making grappling a popular discipline in combat sports, has died at age 89. He won the heavyweight and overall Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships in 1954 and 1955 before transitioning to professional wrestling.
Bas Rutten announced the news on Facebook:
“The great Gene LeBell, toughest man I know, has passed away and left us at the age of 89,” Rutten wrote.
“…We all heard the crazy stories, about Seagal, and that he was the first guy to fight MMA in a match against the Boxer Milo Savage in 1963 (I wasn't even born), still pulling wheelies on his motor cycle when he was like 84 years old and if you go online, you find thousand more stories. I have always loved Gene, every single person I know loves Gene, and I am proud to say that we always had fun when we met, always cracking jokes.”
His last pro wrestling match was against The Rock’s grandfather, Peter Maivia under the NWA Hollywood Wrestling banner in 1981.
WNS sends out our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the friends and family of LeBell.
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