Early Career (1996-1997)
On 18 February 1996 at the age of 29, Lee Hasdell made his Official Mixed martial arts debut at RINGS Holland-Kings of Martial Arts. His opponent was Dutch fighter Andre Mannaart. Although the fight ended in a draw, it brought Hasdell to the attention of Akira Maeda, the president of Fighting Network Rings, a major Japanese promotions company. Akira Maeda was impressed by Hasdell's performance and invited Hasdell to train at Akira Maeda's private Dojo in Yokohama, Japan.
On 26 October 1996, Hasdell fought Cees Bezems in a no holds barred match at IMA - Battle of Styles held in Amsterdam, Holland. Hasdell lost by Technical knockout due to a cut.
On 2 February 1997, Hasdell returned to RINGS Holland where he fought Dutch fighter, Hans Nijman at RINGS Holland-The Final Challenge. This bout ended up having a controversial finish. In the match Nijman had Hasdell in a guillotine choke, Hasdell grabbed the ropes for a rope escape although the referee did not see it, forcing Hasdell to tap out to break the hold at 51 seconds of round 2.
On 4 April 1997, Hasdell made his mixed martial arts debut in Japan at RINGS: Battle Genesis. He defeated American fighter, Sean McCully within four minutes by guillotine choke. In his second bout in Japan, on 21 June 1997, Hasdell was entered into the RINGS Light-Heavyweight Title Tournament, for fighters under 95 kg. In the first round of the tournament, Hasdell lost to Masayuki Naruse by submission. Naruse ended up winning the tournament to become Rings's first Light-Heavyweight champion.
Hasdell then went on to defeat Peter Dijkman by rear naked choke on 5 October 1997 at Total Fight Night. This bout was for the vacant Universal Total-Fight Forum RINGS rules superfight title. On 25 October 1997, he fought and lost by submission to Joop Kasteel in the first round of the RINGS: Mega Battle Tournament in Japan.