Earlier this year, 44 year old ECW veterans Axl Rotten and Balls Mahoney both died within months of one another. Sadly, though perhaps not surprisingly for a duo once known as the “Hardcore Chair Swingin' Freaks”, examinations of their brains have revealed both suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
The diagnoses, revealed today in a Boston Globe report primarily focused on similar findings in the case of mixed martial artist Jordan Parsons, who died after being struck by a car while bicycling at around the same time as Mahoney’s passing, came from autopsies conducted by Dr. Julia K. Kofler, a neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh Presbyterian Medical Center. Pitt is affiliated with a non-profit founded by Dr. Bennett Omalu, the forensic pathologist who first discovered CTE in a professional football player in 2003 and was the subject of the 2015 Will Smith film Concussion.
Rotten (Brian Knighton) and Mahoney (Jon Rechner) are the first professional wrestlers to be diagnosed with CTE since Andrew “Test” Martin in 2009. The condition can only be identified postmortem.
These findings will undoubtedly be used by lawyer Konstantine Kyros in his suit on behalf of 50 ex-wrestlers claiming WWE misrepresented the risk of issues like brain trauma to their independent contractors. WWE declined to comment to the Globe, saying they would need to research the diagnoses before doing so.
While WWE has made strides to address brain trauma by banning the kind of chair shots ECW was famous for and partnering with Chris Nowinski’s Concussion Legacy Institute, the most damning thing for pro wrestling, as well as other sports and leagues who are facing or have faced CTE lawsuits like the NFL, NHL and now MMA promotions, is what additional findings will do to public opinion. Rotten’s father, Sonny Knighton, told the paper:
My message to anyone who is interested in going into professional wrestling is to stay away from it. Unless you’re one of the top performers, no good comes of it.