Eki Fatu, a professional wrestler known around the world, due to his bizarre gimmick as “Umaga” and a handful of high impact moves, including the “Samoan Spike,” passed away on Friday after a pair of heart attacks. He was 36.
In spite of his age, Fatu carved himself an impressive list of accolades and was more than just a two-time intercontinental champion in the WWE. A professional wrestler that paid his dues in companies like TNA, AJPW and in countries all over the world, he was also a part of the legendary Anoa’i wrestling family that included the Wild Samoans, Rikishi Fatu, Matt Anoa’i and Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
Debuting in the WWE in 2002 with his cousin, Matt, the duo were brought in by then Raw General Manager Eric Bischoff and were dubbed “Three Minutes,” as Bischoff claimed they could destroy anyone in less than 180 seconds. Together for almost a year, the two did exactly that, but were never allowed to say much on the mic and after Fatu allegedly got in a bar fight, he was cut loose from his contract.
It took two years for Fatu to work his way back to the WWE, but during that time, he tagged with the likes of Justin Incredible, Sonny Siaki and the accomplished Taiyō Kea, who he would win a pair of tag team titles with. It was here during this time that he began adding even more high impact moves to his arsenal, making his repertoire even more dangerous and effectively earning himself another shot with the WWE.
This time around, Fatu was no longer a tag team wrestler and was packaged as the Samoan wrecking machine, Umaga. Many believed Fatu was the WWE’s answer to TNA’s Samoa Joe, but in spite of their heritage, they were and always will be two completely different wrestlers. While Joe is a technical wunderkind, Fatu was a huge mass that consistently moved forward. For the first time in his career, this angle allowed Fatu to have all eyes on him, an effective showcase of his natural talents. Ask anyone in professional wrestling how one achieves the highest level of success and they’ll say “Being yourself, with the volume turned way up.” While Fatu’s attire and persona didn’t exactly reflect his nature as a human being, they did allow him to showcase his in-ring ability much more than his previous stint in the company did, making him an excellent heel and a more than capable upper-mid-carder.
Going undefeated from April 2006 to January 2007, a revelation almost unheard of post Bill Goldberg, he was cemented as a top talent in the company. Over the next year and a half, Fatu was also involved in several feuds with the company’s brightest stars including John Cena, Jeff Hardy and HHH. He also had two intercontinental title runs under his belt and was continuing to be a part of many the companies higher level story-lines. However, he suffered a torn PCL in August 2008 that put him on the shelf or a few months. He came back a few months later in January 2009, but soon went on an unknown hiatus until May.
After returning, he feuded with CM Punk and later lost his final match with the company to the later WWE Champion. Soon after, in June, he was released from his WWE contract for violating the company’s wellness policy and refusing to seek rehabilitation. He then spent time in Australia, wrestling on Hulk Hogan’s tour and was found at home by his wife not breathing. He was soon rushed to the hospital [after having a heart attack] and was announced dead after suffering another. He was 36.
Larger than life in the ring, Fatu is living proof that big men, with equally big hearts, can not only succeed in professional wrestling, they can thrive as well.