Justin Levens: Clear and Present Danger

Clear and Present Danger

By Mike Sloan Jan 11, 2006
Imagine a dreary neighborhood where crack is sold on virtually every street corner, hookers are trying to sell themselves for some quick cash, dead dogs litter the curbs and vermin infest almost every house.

Homeless people shacked up in rundown buildings with boards in place of windows and abandoned cars without tires are just an everyday circumstance. Try to imagine that but only worse and you might understand just exactly where light heavyweight contender Justin Levens (Pictures) used to call home.

It’s never easy being an outcast family growing up in a violent and dangerous Southeast Philadelphia neighborhood. Levens had no choice but to hone his fighting skills on the streets after being picked on repeatedly and jumped by other kids. The fights he participated in as a youth — and there were many — didn’t exactly pay him cash, but they did award him with something sometimes even money can’t buy: experience and natural toughness.

For years young Justin had to endure random fisticuffs either after harsh phrases were yelled to him, he was disrespected or simply teased. But it didn’t matter to Levens, as the only solution to the problems he saw was to duke it out with his instigators. It seemed like a daily routine to lock horns with a fellow kid from the block or during school. But Levens was undaunted.

“I was always fighting my way out of the projects,” Levens told Sherdog.com. “It was Southeast Philly, man. It was basically street fights and from in school (all the time). It was always in the projects. We were the only white family in the whole neighborhood.”

Levens’ family eventually moved out of the Philly ghetto and jettisoned across the country before nestling into a California neighborhood. Most figured the hardscrabble Levens had seen his last street fight, but as fate would have it his fighting career was just beginning. Levens couldn’t escape the constant struggle of scrapping in the streets or in schoolyards, which, as it would turn out, wound up being a perfect proving ground for a future professional fighter.

“We finally moved out here to California [to get away from it all] but then I used to fight all the time out here, too,” he elaborated. “I think I was like 13 when I moved out here. I first moved to Tustin. I don’t know why I was always fighting; maybe I was an angry kid or something. I don’t know why I was always getting into fights. People were always picking on me or saying rude things to me.”

Eventually the scrappy kid in the new neighborhood relaxed a bit, but it took some arduous life lessons before Levens knew that constant street fights weren’t the answer to his problems. Levens knew he needed to do something about his altercations, so he did what he thought was the next best thing: take up martial arts.

“I got into martial arts to deter myself from street fights,” he reflected. “My parents were getting pissed at me all the time. They threatened to throw me out of the house. All kinds of crap. I had to grow up pretty fast and figure out what I was going to do with my life. I pretty much stopped getting into fights when I took up martial arts and got off the streets. I mean, I still got into a few fights, but that was pretty much it after that.”

It wasn’t long before Levens began to truly find himself through martial arts, which eventually led to the Newport Beach resident’s career: professional fighting. Levens wound up joining Ruas Vale Tudo and his progress from tough street kid to a seasoned professional fighter was natural. Months of training flew by and before he knew it, he was cracking skulls in the Total Combat and then in Gladiator Challenge.

But the unsanctioned fights still crept up behind Levens. He says that even though he has turned professional and is a laid back guy, sometimes people just come looking for him without reason.

“I’ve been in one street fight (since turning pro),” he explained. “It’s not me picking on them; I’m a pretty quiet guy when I go out. I don’t say much and I really just talk to my friends. I don’t why, but people seem to pick on me. I’m pretty quiet, but sometimes it happens. This one guy: I was just standing there and he just threw water on me and pushed me. From there, it just kind of turned into a fight. A fast one, but it was a fight.”

And fast fights are what Levens has grown accustomed to thus far. Win after win ensued and Levens eventually found himself as one of the most promising contenders on the mixed martial arts circuit. Sporting a spiffy undefeated record, the knockout and submission machine is poised to fight for his first title.

Levens has actually yet to hear the bell ring to start the second round. He has either starched or submitted every single man that has been unlucky enough to face him in the first round.

“I don’t really expect [quick wins]. I always expect to go three rounds,” a modest Levens quipped. “But I have a problem where mentally, I think that person is trying to kill me. I don’t know if I snap or what happens to me, but I try to make sure that the person can’t get to me at all. I’m happy to be in there and I feel comfortable, but it’s like I think you are trying to kill me. I’m doing everything I possibly can to stop you from hurting me. I can’t really explain how I feel when I fight.”

Even though Levens sports that snazzy unblemished record, he is intent on not making the mistake that have felled many a young warrior: believing he is invincible. Levens understands that while a perfect professional record is great, the chances of keeping that intact in this sport will be almost impossible.

“Losing is definitely and always a possibility,” he realistically stated. “Look at Fedor, he’s one of the best fighters — if not the best — and even he lost. When [a loss] comes, it comes and then you go and fix what you need to improve upon and take it from there. It’s no big deal. Everyone loses and every fighter makes mistakes. It’s the best fighters who realize the mistakes.”

“I correct mistakes when I am sparring and I correct the mistakes that I make even when I win,” the confident Levens added. “I still make mistakes that I shouldn’t have made. I think people maybe don’t always look at it that way and think that just because they won that they did everything right. Just because you win doesn’t mean that your footwork is right, your hands are right or your positioning is right. You can always do things differently or better to finish the fight faster.”
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