Young Gene LeBell Smiling

Gene LeBell, a pioneer in the world of mixed martial arts and pro wrestling, has passed away at the age of 89. Stuntman and actor Paul Lazenby broke the news on social media.

"My hero. My teacher. My inspiration. My unfailing reminder that I am ugly and nobody likes me. My friend. RIP to the world’s toughest man, Judo Gene LeBell. I’m going to miss the hell out of you," Lazenby tweeted.

"Judo" Gene LeBell fought in the first known true MMA bout in America, as he choked out boxer Milo Savage in the fourth round on December 2, 1963. The contest happened to be the only MMA fight he participated in, as he turned his focus to pro wrestling in the mid-1950s, and it was there that LeBell created a legacy that still has an impact on the "one true sport" today.

The modern fan may recognize LeBell’s name in association with Bryan Danielson’s submission finisher, the LeBell Lock, but the mixed martial arts legend casts a much broader umbrella of influence over pro wrestling. LeBell trained both WWE Hall of Famer Roddy Piper and Ronda Rousey for her UFC career. He was one of the true early outside ambassadors for wrestling, featured in countless motion pictures, both as a stuntman and as an actor. If there was a pro wrestling scene in a movie or on television, LeBell was most likely the referee or ring announcer. LeBell’s was also the inspiration for Clint Booth, Brad Pitt’s brash stuntman character in Quentin Tarantino’s "Once Upon A Time In Hollywood."

The wrestling and MMA worlds pay tribute

Gene LaBell and Roddy Piper

Many wrestling stars and MMA fighters flocked to social media to pay their respects to LeBell after word got out of his passing.

"RIP Gene LeBell," wrote AEW’s Frankie Kazarian, who trained under the legendary Killer Kowalski. "I’m not sure his contributions to combat sports can be overstated enough. A man’s man, a gentleman, and an absolute legend. I enjoyed the times I got to chat and laugh with him over the years. Godspeed sir."

"Judo Gene trying to convince me to quit fighting and go into Hollywood stunt work," wrote former "NXT" Women’s Champion Shayna Baszler, who cultivated a friendship with LeBell during her MMA career. "I’m still calling it a double wrist lock, just so you know."

"Unfortunately we never met, but I’ve read and heard lots of stories and eyewitness account,s and we shared a lot of mutual friends," AEW performer William Regal shared. "Rest well, ‘Judo’ Gene LeBell."

Wrestling Inc. would like to extend its condolences to the family, friends, and fans of Gene LeBell.