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Justin Levens and Chris Benoit

Dave Meltzer lays out the similarities between Justin Levens and Chris Benoit:

Besides ominous nicknames – Levens was known as “The Executioner,” and Benoit as “The Crippler” – similarities included both men having documented domestic abuse issues. Levens plead guilty in 2003 to a misdemeanor charge in a domestic violence case in Orange County. Benoit had a restraining order from his wife in 2003. In both cases, the couples were soon back together.

Levens was said to have severe depression after the 2007 suicide of Jeremy Williams, who was both one of his best friends and his teammate on the IFL’s Southern California Condors, who also lived in Laguna Niguel. Williams died in a similar manner as Levens, from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

Benoit was battling depression over the deaths of three of his closest friends, all wrestlers, over the prior 20 months, Eddy Guerrero, his best friend, who died from a heart attack caused by long-term use of steroids and narcotics; Victor Mar, who died of a heart attack two months later; and Mike Durham (aka Johnny Grunge), who died of a heart attack after consuming massive amounts of muscle relaxers, a few weeks after.

Police found pain killers and antidepressants at the Levens home, but no steroids. Benoit was known to be using significant amounts of steroids, painkillers, antidepressants and anti-anxiety drugs at the time of his death.

Levens’ career as a fighter was fading, as he had lost five straight matches, three of them ending in the first round.

While Benoit’s career was not fading, close friends indicated he was under the impression it was and at 40, his career was likely in its twilight.

Benoit was believed to have suffered a number of concussions throughout his career, and had damage to the brain consistent with what would have exacerbated depression. Levens had also suffered concussions, with four knockout losses during his career.

When they cracked Benoit’s skull open and took a look inside they found a withered 85 year old dementia patient’s brain inside. This of course is due to the 20+ years Benoit ate metal chairs, steel barriers and concrete floors at wrestling events around the world. Justin Levens had been fighting since 2004, and only two of his losses were straight knock outs rather than just situations where the ref stepped in and stopped the fight.

I guess my point is this: what Chris Benoit did could very well have been caused by serious brain damage he sustained over years working for a company that doesn’t exactly put the health of it’s employees up as it’s top priority. Levens was on anti-depressants and addicted to painkillers. While I played up the issue of the pain meds a few days ago, it’s important to note that he was tested by a commission and suspended for them just a few months ago.

The horrible thing about all the pro wrestlers dying is that the wrestling scene seems to provide a toxic environment that sets up all sorts of tragedies. At the very least we can look at the Levens case and say that everything was on the level: he was licensed for his fights, he was medically suspended after his losses, and when he was caught with illegal substances he was suspended. That’s small consolation in a situation like this, but at least it doesn’t point towards a rotting MMA infrastructure that grinds people up and spits them out.