UFC president Dana White once described Bruce Lee as the Godfather of MMA because of his highly evolved way of exploring various combat sports.
Lee trained in grappling with famous stuntman and Judo legend Gene LeBell. He also grappled in many movies.
Gene LeBell is truly a Judo legend. In 2000, the United States Ju-Jitsu Federation (USJJF) promoted him to 9th Dan in jujitsu and taihojutsu. On August 7, 2004, the World Martial Arts Masters Association promoted LeBell to 10th Degree and in February 2005, he was promoted to 9th Dan in Traditional Judo by the USJJF
LeBell has worked on over 1,000 films, TV shows and commercials as a stuntman or as an actor (including multiple appearances as himself.) LeBell appeared in three Elvis Presley movies as a minor character who starts a fight with the character played by Presley. In addition he also worked on the set of the Green Hornet TV show, in which he claims to have developed a friendship with Bruce Lee. According to Lebell’s claim, Lee was especially interested in exploring grappling with help from him and exchanged ideas on various fighting techniques.
Gene LeBell on Bruce Lee from Black Belt Mag:
I met Bruce Lee for the first time during the filming of the TV show The Green Hornet, on which he played a butler. He was a nice fellow. The stunt coordinator hired me, and I worked on quite a few episodes. During that time, I was able to get to know Bruce a little bit, and we even worked out together. He was the best martial artist of his time.
Bruce and I had a bond with the martial arts, and we would get together frequently. We worked out about 10 to 12 times at his place in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and at my place.
When I went to his place, he showed me what he did, and I showed him what I did. Although he seemed to love the finishing holds of grappling, it just wasn’t commercially attractive at the time. Actually, it was because of my grappling and tumbling background that I was hired to do the television show — because I could take falls for Bruce.
Bruce Lee was an entertaining fellow who was very knowledgeable and very good at what he did. People may wonder just how good a martial artist he was. Well, as I said earlier, he was the best of his time. Also, many of his former students are doing very well today. That’s a sign that he was a good martial artist and that he was able to make his students into good martial artists.
Bruce developed and performed his own style of kung fu, and a lot of the traditional guys didn’t like it because it broke from Chinese tradition. I know what that is like because I had the same trouble when I tried to improve different martial arts by changing things for the better. I believe that anytime you can have an open mind and learn something new, then add it to your repertoire, it’s a good thing. It will only make you and your students more knowledgeable.
Bruce Lee famously even grappled with LeBell in the little know TV series Ironside.