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Axl Rotten, former Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW) and World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) star, was found dead in Baltimore at the age of 44. Rotten’s cause of death has not been released yet.

The news was confirmed by the WWE on their website. Axl Rotten, whose real name was Brian Knighton, left high school in the eleventh grade to pursue professional wrestling. Soon, he made his debut on the independent circuit under his stage name, which was a combination of the names of rock stars Axl Rose and Johnny Rotten. He won his first championship in the tag team with Ricky Lawless in Frank Cain's Star Cavalcade Wrestling event during the summer of 1988.

In the early 1990s Axl Rotten trained another wrestler, who would take up the name Ian Rotten so that the pair could pose as brothers for tag team events under the name The Bad Breed. The duo spent two years, from 1991 through 1993, with the Global Wrestling Federation in Texas, and were featured on the federation’s daily ESPN show. In ’91, Rotten also had a brief stint with World Championship Wrestling, where he met the future owner of ECW.

The Bad Breed worked with ECW until they lost a tag team match to The Pit Bulls in the November to Remember contest of 1994. A stipulation of the contest was that the losing team had to split up, so they did. Each blamed the other for the loss and a rivalry developed that saw them battle each other in the ring during a variety of extreme matches for the next 17 months. These included “hair versus hair” and “barbed wire baseball bat, barbed wire chair” matches. Axl beat Ian at Hardcore Heaven in 1995 in a match that saw each wrestler cover their taped fists in shards of broken glass. That match ended their feud (and they even reunited once in 1996), but it’s now known as one of the bloodiest in US history.

Axl Rotten competed in the ECW as a solo wrestler for the remainder of 1996, but teamed up again the next year with Balls Mahoney, in a duo known as The Hardcore Chair Swingin' Freaks. They were teamed until 1999, and even occasionally battled each other. Rotten was back on the independent circuit from the end of his teaming with Mahoney through 2016. During that time, he made a few appearances for WWE, ECW and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling. Rotten won 18 championships during his career.

During a segment of Chris Jericho’s Talk Is Jericho podcast, Axl Rotten talked about the drug use that had plagued his career, and admitted to once missing a WWE appearance because he was trying to find heroin for himself. He also spoke about how working in the hardcore wrestling format had taken a serious toll on his health. A crowdfunding page had been set up to pay for a much needed back surgery.

Our thoughts are with Axl Rotten’s family, friends and fans.