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  • Iestyn Withers

Umaga: A Career Retrospective

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

Aptly nicknamed the Samoan Bulldozer, it is difficult to look back on Umaga's career without thinking: what if?

Intimidatingly aggressive and dominating - with an unlikely combination of agility and speed - the late Eddie Fatu achieved a great deal of success in his limited time as the Samoan Savage, Umaga. The Super Heavyweight became a formidable presence on WWE television, battling industry stalwarts in main event after main event. However, it was over as quick as it began.

Not without his own personal demons, Fatu tragically passed away in 2009 at the young age of 36. However, in the face of tragedy we must not fail to remember Umaga's impact and talent. To put it simply, Umaga could hang with anyone and everyone.

Introduced to the WWE universe under a different moniker, the July 22nd, 2002 episode of Raw saw Eric Bischoff debut Fatu and his cousin Matthew Anoa'i as the tag team 3 Minute Warning. Both aesthetically imposing due to their size, the real-life cousins would not only do Bischoff's dirty work, but also put an end to anything the General Manager deemed to be the opposite of entertaining.

This became evident during a deliberately lacklustre contest between Shawn Stasiak and D'Lo Brown, with Bischoff warning the duo that the match had gone 'three minutes too long'. Here entered the Samoan cousins, making quick work in laying waste to the less than entertaining Stasiak and Brown.

Performing the 'hired henchman' roles to great effect, the cousins were dubbed Jamal (Fatu) and Rosey (Anoa'i) and became a feared tandem on the Monday Night Raw roster. Attacking on cue whenever the Raw GM mentioned "three minutes", 3 Minute Warning were put into several high-profile spots.

Notably, the fearsome duo crashed Billy and Chuck's infamous 'commitment ceremony', in the process acquiring their manager Rico. Now a 3-piece, the villainous heels continued to play a role in WWE for the next 9 months, primarily in the mid and under-cards.

Unfortunately, shortly after this Fatu's aforementioned demons threatened to curtail his career, with June 2003 seeing Jamal's contract terminated after a reported bar fight. This proved to be the last straw following supposed recklessness in the ring and a bad attitude backstage.

Almost a blessing in disguise, Jamal's release led him to both TNA and All Japan Pro Wrestling, with his stint in the former seeing the now dubbed Ekmo Fatu teaming with Sonny Siaki.

Continuing in the same vein as his previous employments, after almost a year in Total Nonstop Action, Fatu joined All Japan Pro Wrestling's tag-team ranks. Partnering with Taiyō Kea, the duo won the World's Strongest Tag Determination League before capturing AJPW's World Tag Team Championship titles a month later. Leaving in December 2005, Fatu re-signed with WWE.

Returning to in-ring performance 4 months later, the Jamal character was cast aside with Fatu debuting the character of Umaga. Billed as a Samoan Savage, the seemingly offensively stereotyped character could only be controlled by manager Armando Alejandro Estrada.

Debuting with an attack on Ric Flair, it became clear that Umaga was designed to be in the upper-card and main event scene - leaving some fans to question the push for the previous Jamal - with momentum starting to pick up during an undefeated streak, with victories over the likes of John Cena, Triple H and Shawn Michaels coinciding with an improvement in in-ring work; the better level the opponent, the better Umaga was.

More high-profile victories continued, including in a Loser Leaves Raw match against Kane, with Umaga then declared the number-one contender for John Cena's WWE Championship at the start of 2007. Cena retained his belt at the New Year's Revolution pay-per-view by pinning Umaga with a surprise roll-up, officially ending his undefeated streak, which had lasted 34 televised matches. A rematch saw a second Cena win a Last Man Standing Match as Umaga failed to capture the 'big one'.

On the heels of his well-received showing against Cena, Umaga was catapulted into one of the biggest matches of the year when he represented Vince McMahon in the Battle of the Billionaires with Donald Trump at WrestleMania 23.

Upon being given this role by the Chairman of the Board, Umaga was granted an Intercontinental Championship match against Jeff Hardy which he duly won to cement his push.

As 'Mania 23 approached, Umaga found himself against another burgeoning star for the showdown. ECW Champion Bobby Lashley, a young star like Umaga who had enjoyed a tremendous push to begin the year, would represent Trump. On the biggest stage either of them would compete on (thus far in the context of Lashley), they battled to preserve the ego and hair of their billionaire with Lashley ultimately picking up the win over McMahon's 'hired gun'.

Lashley continued to be a thorn in the Samoan's side, helping a planted fan (Santino Marella) to defeat Umaga for the Intercontinental title in Milan mere weeks after Wrestlemania. Infuriated by Lashley's antics, Umaga partnered Vince McMahon to gain retribution against the ECW title holder. At Backlash 2007, a vengeful Umaga helped McMahon to controversially become the ECW World Champion.

Following this, Umaga re-entered a feud with the 'fluke' who took his Intercontinental Title, Santino Marella, regaining his title in a typically malicious and brutal manner. Strangely, Umaga then seemingly turned face to tag with Cena against the heel duo of Carlito and Randy Orton, before going on to get a 'face' victory in a title defence against the aforementioned Carlito and uber-heel Mr Kennedy at that year's Summerslam. This somewhat half-hearted babyface run ended when Umaga targeted Jeff Hardy, leaving the Charismatic Engima beaten and bruised after interrupting a match between the high-flyer and Mr Kennedy. Turning heel in the process, Umaga appeared back to his brutish, bulldozing self, and ultimately his series with Jeff Hardy for the intercontinental championship restored credibility to that title. The super heavyweight destroyer versus the much smaller counterpart, Umaga pummeling Hardy as he refused to quit ignited the WWE audience. Come September 3rd, Hardy pulled-off the underdog victory over the Samoan Savage, winning the IC Title.

Moving on from Hardy, that same night Umaga partnered with Carlito to face 'The Game' Triple H is a handicap match. On the receiving end of numerous sledgehammer shots from the latter, Umaga entered a feud with Triple H leading to a match at No Mercy. With Triple H winning the WWE Championship earlier in the night, this bout became a title-match with Umaga once again coming up short in his pursuit of 'the big one'. Moving on from Triple H, Umaga started a feud with Batista, losing to 'The Animal' at Wrestlemania 24 in Orlando.

A change of scenery in the 2008 WWE Draft seemed a smart move for Umaga, switching the red of Raw for the blue of Smackdown. An untimely PCL tear led to a 4 month lay-off, with Umaga returning in January 2009 with a new entrance theme to squash Jimmy Wang Yang. Another two-month hiatus was followed by a short-lived feud with CM Punk, repeatedly interrupting Punk's attempts to cash in his Money in the Bank briefcase. Umaga defeated Punk at Judgment Day, before 50/50 booking saw Punk defeat Umaga in a Samon Strap Match at the 2009 Extreme Rules pay-per-view. Unfortunately, soon after Extreme Rules Umaga was suspended for his second violation of the WWE Wellness Policy. Refusing to go to rehabilitation, WWE released Eddie Fatu with the former Jamal passing away before the end of 2009. Prior to his death in December, Fatu appeared in Puerto Rico's World Wrestling Council as well as Hulk Hogan's Hulkamania Tour of Australia, wrestling his final match against Mr Kennedy (now Mr Anderson) in late-November 2009.

Eight days after his loss to the former Mr Kennedy, Fatu was found unresponsive and with blood coming from his nose following a heart attack. Discovered by his wife, Fatu was rushed to hospital before being pronounced dead later that day. Toxicology reports found numerous drugs in his system - hydrocodone, carisoprodol and diazepam - with Houston medical examiners stating that Fatu also had both heart and liver disease. A combination of drug use and the aforementioned diseases led to a potential superstar of the industry being gone before his 37th birthday.

With all that said, it is almost inevitable that we look back on the career of Eddie Fatu thinking: what if? A rare breed of superstar, under his Umaga moniker Fatu combined his unique abilities with a unique character and gimmick. This should have brought a unique success for the Samoan, but unfortunately personal demons proved too hard to overcome. With a pedigree and talent that would seemingly still thrive in the work-rate, spot-heavy world of modern wrestling, Umaga was a main-event talent with a bonafide wrestling heritage. Rest in peace Eddie Fatu.

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