Gene LeBell is a legend in the world of MMA and Martial Arts. He has trained several notable students including Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, and Ronda Rousey. Many modern-day MMA fans recognize LeBell as the one who is present in many of Rousey’s early games, coaching her on.

LeBell is also a writer and has penned a dozen books on martial arts. Nicknamed, “The Godfather of Grappling”, LeBell is also an actor and a consultant in movies and TV shows.

Height / weight 1.78 m /
Born 9 Oct 1932
Nationality United States United States
Nickname Godfather of Grappling
Official Site

Personal Life and Profile

LeBell was born Ivan Gene LeBell on October 9, 1932. He stands 5 feet and 10 inches tall. His mother was Aileen Eaton, better known as “Red Head”. She was a promoter and she owned the Olympic Auditorium. As a result, started showing interest in boxing and wrestling as a child.

At age 7, LeBell would be trained by another legend, Ed “Strangler” Lewis. He would teach LeBell catch wrestling. Another one of his teachers was Larry Coughran. LeBell is also trained in Judo and he went to Japan to train at the Kodokan.

Fighting Career

When he was just 22, LeBell began competing as a heavyweight in boxing in the United States. In 1954 and 1955, he won the Amateur Athletic Union National Judo Championships. He would later transition into wrestling.

As a professional wrestler, LeBell became known for his background in Martial Arts. He also wrestled with a black mask and under the moniker – The Hangman.

Notable fighters he has gone up against include Jim Beck and Milo Savage. His match with Savage is often touted as the first MMA fight in the United States.

He also played the role of referee in the fight between Antonio Inoki and Muhammad Ali.

Teaching Martial Arts

After he retired from professional fighting, LeBell opened a couple of martial arts schools. He would also run the National Wrestling Alliance Los Angeles with his brother Mike LeBell.

Some of his notable training partners include the Machado Brothers and Benny Urquidez.

Hollywood Work

In addition to teaching Martial Arts, LeBell has also appeared more than 1000 films and TV shows and commercials either as himself or as a stuntman. This included three Elvis Presley movies.

He also worked closely with Bruce Lee, whom he met on the set of the Green Hornet TV show.

For his work on the film, LeBell was awarded the Honorary Reel Membership. This is an award given by the Ring of Friendship of the Cauliflower Alley Club.

Partial Bibliography

  • Judo and Self-defense for the YoungAdult by Gene LeBell
  • Pro-Wrestling Finishing Holds by“Judo” Gene LeBell
  • Grappling Master: Combat for StreetDefense and Competition by GeneLeBell
  • Gene LeBell’s Handbook ofSelf-Defense by Gene LeBell
  • Gene LeBell - The Grappling ClubMaster by Gene LeBell, Ben Springer,and Steve Kim
  • Grappling and Self-Defense for theYoung Adult by Gene LeBell and BobRyder
  • Finishing Holds by Gene LeBell.1998, 2000(2nd expanded edition),2005(3rd edition).
  • The Godfather of Grappling(authorized biography of LeBell)

Career Highlights and Awards

  • 1954, 1955 - AAU National JudoChampionship
  • 1981 - Wrestling Observer Newsletter
    • Most Obnoxious
  • 1995 - Iron Mike Mazurki Award
  • 2005 - Frank Gotch Award
  • 2011 - NWA Hall of Fame

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