Former Bellator fighter Jordan Parsons, who died earlier this year at the age of 25, is the first mixed martial arts fighter to be publicly diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
Dr. Bennet Omalu, a forensic pathologist who first discovered the degenerative disease in the brain of Pro Football Hall of Famer Mike Webster after his 2002 death, disclosed his findings on Parsons to The Boston Globe, which published a report on the diagnosis earlier Friday.
Parsons (11-2), a featherweight who was three fights into his Bellator career, died on May 4, three days after being struck in a hit-and-run while crossing an intersection as a pedestrian in Delray Beach, Florida.
Omalu told The Globe that it is "impossible" that Parsons' CTE was caused by the accident "because it is a chronic disease that develops over time."
Parsons, who began competing in MMA at age 17 and turned pro three years later, was forced to take a full year off from competing after suffering his first loss in 2012 -- a first-round knockout loss in his eighth pro bout against Lazar Stojadinovic under the Championship Fighting Alliance banner.
In his final bout, a split-decision loss to Bubba Jenkins in November 2015 at Bellator 146, Parsons was sent wobbling to the canvas after a kick to the head.
The disease can be diagnosed only through postmortem brain autopsies.
Omalu also discovered CTE in former pro wrestler Jon Rechner, who performed as Balls Mahoney, as well as early stages of the disease in Brian Knighton, aka Axl Rotten. Both wrestlers died within months of each other in early 2016 at the age of 44. The former tag team, named "The Hardcore Chair Swingin' Freaks," was best known for its run in Extreme Championship Wrestling, along with a brief stint in WWE.
The diagnoses of Rechner and Knighton come at the same time that WWE faces a lawsuit filed by more than 50 former pro wrestlers who say the company is responsible for repeated head trauma that led to long-term neurological damage.
Rechner, who was said to have experienced memory problems before he died of a heart attack in April, is the third professional wrestler who has been publicly identified with CTE and the first since 2009. Knighton was found dead in suburban Baltimore in February after a heroin overdose.
Dr. Julia K. Kofler, a neuropathologist at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Presbyterian, conducted the autopsies on Parsons, Rechner and Knighton. The university is affiliated with Omalu's charitable foundation, which he created in 2015 before the release of the movie "Concussion," a dramatization of the NFL's resistance to his CTE research.
"As a scientist, a physical, and a person of faith, I bet everybody involved with these sports to come together and identify the problems and find solutions," said Omalu, who told The Globe he reviewed Kofler's studies and endorsed her findings.