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Police look into Levens' death

December 19, 2008|Lance Pugmire and Susannah Rosenblatt

Authorities said Thursday they are continuing their investigation into the deaths of mixed martial arts fighter Justin Levens and his wife as a possible murder-suicide, with Levens potentially the shooter.

An Orange County Sheriff's Department spokesman said Levens, 28, died of a gunshot to the head, and his wife, Sara McLean-Levens, 25, suffered a fatal single gunshot to the chest that penetrated her heart.

They were discovered in their Laguna Niguel condominium Wednesday afternoon by McLean-Levens' mother, who had not heard from her daughter in five days, said sheriff's spokesman Jim Amormino. The bodies had apparently been in the home for at least a couple of days.

A handgun was found near Justin Levens' body, and Amormino said if it's established to be a murder-suicide, the MMA fighter was "definitely the shooter."

Levens, who fought as a lightweight, was suspended by the California State Athletic Commission after testing positive for a banned pain-killing medication earlier this year before the "Affliction Banned" show at Honda Center. He would later fight and lose on an Indian reservation card in Lemoore, and was troubled by a career on the down slide, said his close friend, Tom Atencio, vice president of Seal Beach-based Affliction Clothing.

"He had suffered quite a few consecutive losses. Fighting was his life and it wasn't going well for him," Atencio said. "I wish I could answer what happened. I don't know."

The MMA community reacted with grief and confusion about what might have prompted the tragedy involving the former Ultimate Fighting Championship and World Extreme Cagefighting athlete. The fighter, raised in low-income housing projects in Philadelphia, had a rough childhood and was "on his own since 15," said Atencio, who shared holiday meals with Levens and called him "one of my best friends."

Levens was convicted in 2003 of spousal injury, according to Orange County Superior Court records. He fought under the instruction of Marco Ruas, a former bare-knuckle street-fighter in Brazil who won an early UFC event (UFC 7), and coached several MMA fighters at his South Orange County instruction facility. Levens went on to fight under Ruas in the defunct International Fight League before losing that final fight in Lemoore.

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lance.pugmire@latimes.com

susannah.rosenblatt@latimes.com

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