Carrying on the legacy of his uncles, Umaga exemplified the Wild Samoan spirit. Sporting black tribal face-paint and dreadlocks; accompanied by an impressive series of tattoos and savage expressions, this hard hitting yet agile beast Samoan Spiked his way to two Intercontinental title runs in the WWE. But behind the curtain he wasn’t always as successful. Eddie Fatu, or “Eki” as he was known by friends and family, battled a prescription pain-killer addiction, which ultimately led to his death in December, 2009. Yet another pro wrestler taken away far too soon, but who will never be forgotten.
Billed WWE height: 6ft 4in
Billed WWE weight: 350lb
Born “Edward Smith Fatu” on March 28, 1973, in San Francisco, California , the future Umaga was destined for the squared circle. Although he may not have known it at the time, the majority of his family were involved in the wrestling business to some degree; even if it was just holding down the fort like his mother Vera, while the men traveled the world wowing audiences with their Island aggression.
His uncles were the Wild Samoans Afa and Sika , who were tearing it up in Stu Hart’s Stampede Wrestling, and would go on to make money for Vince McMahon‘s World Wrestling Federation in the late 70s and early 80s . They trained Umaga’s two older brothers who became the Tonga Kid, and most notably Rikishi, who was a household name during the WWF’s boom period of the late 90s and early 2000s.
The extended Anoa’i family tree includes mega star The Rock and former WWF Champion Yokozuna. Umaga’s nephews Jimmy and Jay Uso, and his cousin Roman Reigns are all carrying the torch for the next generation.
Wrestling was most definitely in his blood.
Umaga’s Early Years
Eddie would train under the tutelage of his uncle Afa at the Wild Samoan wrestling school, and get his first live-crowd ring experience in 1995 at World Xtreme Wrestling, a promotion also owned by Afa .
During his early years he would wrestle under the name Ekmo and would form a tag-team with his cousin Matt (Sika’s son), then known as Kimo.
Umaga’s brother playing Fatu, a former gang member.
Perhaps a little early for their own good the pair were given a chance at the big time, when they were brought to the WWF in March 1996. They were placed in to a storyline where they would stalk Fatu (later Rikishi) before and after his matches. Fatu was playing a reformed gang member and the pair were gangsters from his past. However the angle never really had time to progress in to something meaningful, as it was quickly dropped. Fatu was repackaged and then Ekmo & Kimo were sent to the promotion’s Cincinatti, Ohio, developmental territory Heartland Wrestling Association to hone their skills, while also competing back at WXW and other promotions around the world. They were known as The Island Boys, Boyz sometimes with a Z, and were occasionally managed by Haku.
On June 21, 2000, they won the World Entertainment Wrestling Hardcore Tag Team Titles, in the Japanese FMW promotion, when they defeated Hideki Hosaka & Yoshinori Sasaki, at a show in Tokyo . They lost the titles back to the team on July 28th.
The Island Boys also had a run in Memphis Championship Wrestling, winning the Southern Tag Team Titles from the Haas Brothers, on February 21, 2011 , and then trading them back and forth one more time in to the summer. They captured the belts for a third time on June 14th, 2001, from The Acolytes, holding the belts until the promotion closed.
On November 14, 2001, the pair defeated Evan Karagias & Shannon Moore, to win the HWA tag titles , before losing them to Steve Bradley & Val Venis on December 8th.
Having proven themselves a solid team, they were once again called up to the big time.
World Wrestling Entertainment
Repackaged in hip-hop style clothing as 3-Minute Warning, Eddie became Jamal and Matt became Rosey. They were no-nonsense thugs hired by Eric Bischoff and would steamroll through their opponents.
They officially debuted on the July 22, 2002, episode of Raw. Bischoff had given D’Lo Brown and Shawn Stasiak three minutes to impress him, but he found them boring and sent out Rosey and Jamal to teach them a lesson:
The gimmick soon took off as they interrupted other stars who Bischoff deemed were only worth 3 minutes. They attacked the likes of legend Jimmy Snuka, ring announcer Lillian Garcia (after Howard Finkle sacrificed her to get away), Minidust, The Big Show and even elderly female stars Moolah & Mae Young.
Their most notable weekly television appearance came when they interrupted the long built-up Gay Marriage between Billy and Chuck. Eric Bischoff had been hiding as the minister under a Hollywood style rubber face mask. At the end of the segment just before the “I do’s” he rips it off and 3-Minute Warning hit the ring. Rosey proceeded to demolish Stephanie McMahon with a Samoan Drop!
3-Minute Warning had two matches on Pay-Per-View. The first defeating Billy & Chuck at the Sept 22, 2002, Unforgiven, and the second teaming with Rico in a losing effort against Jeff Hardy, Spike Dudley and Bubba Dudley, at Survivor Series in a tables match.
Unfortunately the team never got to wear tag gold, as they were prematurely disbanded after Eddie threatened a police officer in a night club and was perceived as having a bad attitude. He was released from his contract in June 2003 . In their final match together in WWE they jobbed to Maven and Tommy Dreamer on an episode of Heat.
TNA Wrestling & Japan
Going back to his old ring-name Ekmo, Eddie began wrestling for the Jarrett family NWA-TNA promotion. He made a shock debut on the September 17, 2003, Wednesday PPV, during the D’Lo Brown vs Sonny Siaki casket match. He hit a Samoan Drop, followed by the big Splash off the top rope on to Brown, allowing Siaki to easily place him in to the casket for the victory.
Following the match Ekmo partnered with Siaki, and the new team went on to hold victories over Shark Boy & Mad Mikey, Danny Doring & Roadkill and America’s Most Wanted.
This run ended prematurely however as the prospect of money and fame overseas beckoned and the big Samoan embarked on the wrestler’s pilgrimage to Japan. He would lose to Alex Shelley on the way out before making a name for himself in AJPW. Once again utilized for his tag team skill, he went back to his WWE name of Jamal and was paired with ECW original Justin Credible. The two made it to the finals of the 2003 All Japan Real World Tag League, losing to Satoshi Kojima and Kaz Hayashi .
In 2004 and 2005 he competed in the tournament with a new partner, Taiyo Kea, winning the 04 event . They also held the vacant All Japan World Tag Team titles by defeating Hiroshi Tanahashi and Yutaka Yoshie .
Return to WWE as Umaga
Originally it was believed that Jamal would return to team with former 3 Minute Warning partner Rosey, who in his absence had been repackaged as the super hero lackey to Hurricane Helms. They won a dark match prior to the January 9, 2006, episode of Raw involving Trent Acid , but Rosey was released before they could make it to TV, possibly because the company were not happy with his weight and fitness level .
This left the creative team with the burden of developing a new character for Jamal. They went with the time tested gimmick of the Wild Samoan, and although fans were skeptical at first when he hit the ring with a hokey kamala-esque manager Armando Estrada (who apparently plucked him from the jungle somewhere), the new beast known as Umaga soon out-savaged his elders and won over the fans with his agile but aggressive in-ring skills.
Umaga debuted with a bang on the April 3rd Raw, by taking out legend Ric Flair, who Estrada said had outstayed his welcome.
After running through some jobbers, two weeks later he met Shawn Michaels, but the match ended in a DQ when Estrada and Vince McMahon got involved. He did more damage to Ric Flair at Backlash and then over the next month he destroyed Viscera before he could propose to Lilian Garcia, sent old school stars Jim Duggan and Kamala back to retirement and defeated fan favorite Eugene at Vengeance.
By the Summer Umaga had moved up the card as one of the company’s top bag guys. He defeated John Cena with help from Edge & Lita and was then recruited by Vince & Shane McMahon to help take care of DX. He attacked Shawn Michaels on the July 24th Raw and then beat him in a match the following week with help from the McMahons. He gave Triple H the same treatment on August 7th.
At that year’s Summerslam Umaga was supposed to act as backup for Vince & Shane in their match against HBK & HHH, but before he could do any damage Kane jumped him at the entrance, beginning a feud between the two monsters that would see Umaga beat the Big Red Machine in a Loser Leaves Raw match, and then again at Cyber Sunday when fans voted Kane (who was now on Smackdown) as Umaga’s opponent.
By this point Umaga had racked up an impressive undefeated streak that saw him dominate 34 televised matches (having not lost clean to a pinfall or submission). This prompted his elevation to the main event level, as WWE Champion John Cena’s next adversary. Because he was over with the fans as an unstoppable heel he played an important company role, which although saw his streak come to an end, kept the babyface star looking strong and cemented his legacy as a top contender. The two month feud saw him suffer his first loss at the January 7, 2007, New Year’s Revolution PPV, when Cena got a roll-up out of nowhere for the win. He lost again to Cena later that month at the Royal Rumble in a Last Man Standing match.
Having done the job he was rewarded with every pro wrestler’s dream, a spot on Wrestlemania. In perhaps the most memorable angle of his career he was hired by Vince McMahon as his official representative for the 23rd mega event, in what was dubbed the Battle of the Billionaires. McMahon’s rival businessman was none other than Donald Trump, who selected the muscle-clad Bobby Lashley as Umaga’s opponent.
In the build-up to the event Umaga was given the Intercontinental title, when he beat the champion Jeff Hardy cleanly in the ring, on the February 19, 2007 Raw. On that week’s Smackdown he reminded fans of why he is such a Savage, by attacking the injured knee of Rey Mysterio in front of his hometown fans. As the feud with Lashley developed, Vince McMahon put him in a cage match against Hardcore Holly on ECW. Lashley won the bout before bursting out of the cage and smashing it in to Umaga, who was waiting on the outside.
The Battle of the Billionaires had the stipulation that the losing Billionaire would have their head shaved. Although the angle won’t go down in history for wrestling purists, it did get Umaga and the other stars involved mainstream attention, as the press couldn’t resist the sensational prospect of Donald Trump’s infamous locks getting the chop.
To demonstrate the humiliation Vince wanted Trump to go through he ordered Umaga to take out Eugene on Raw. Vince then proceeded to barber off his hair.
Vince however had simply dug himself a hole, because at Wrestlemania Lashley defeated Umaga and Donald Trump got revenge for Eugene.
Following Wrestlemania Umaga and Lashley continued to feud, with the McMahons in the mix. Lashley cost Umaga the Intercontinental title, when Vince tried to give Umaga an easy ride against an Italian fan. That fan was the debuting Santino Marella.
The April Backlash PPV saw Umaga team with Vince and Shane McMahon to take on Bobby Lashley in a Handicap match for his ECW title. With help from Umaga Vince became the champion. The feud continued to Judgment Day where the four had a rematch. Because Lashley pinned Shane, Vince declared himself still the champion. The feud culminated at the June, 2007, One Night Stand PPV with Lashley defeating Vince in a street fight.
Shortly after Umaga recaptured the Intercontinental title from the inferior Santino, and made successful defenses against Jeff Hardy on Raw and Carltio & Mr Kennedy in a 3-Way-Dance at Summerslam.
Umaga’s Drug Use Surfaces
Umaga’s drug use first became public knowledge in late August-early-September when he and a number of other WWE stars were implicated in an illegal online steroid network, which was uncovered by Sports Illustrated . Edward Fatu was reported as having received the growth hormone Somatropin between July and December 2006, and was subsequently suspended by WWE for 30 days . To write him out of the storylines he lost the IC title to Jeff Hardy and then was attacked by Triple H with a sledgehammer.
The disclosure of WWE names was particularly controversial because the company claimed to have implemented an effective Wellness Policy that monitored for illegal and performance enhancing drugs, including those from online pharmacies. It was created in 2006 following the untimely death of Eddie Guerrero a few months earlier, which was ruled as being due to heart disease and complications with an enlarged heart, following years of steroid abuse. If the policy was as stringent as WWE claimed, why were 10 stars only suspended after their names had been shamed by the press?
Umaga returned to action in October to exact revenge on Triple H. The two would battle at No Mercy with Triple H coming out on top, and then again later that month in a Street Fight at Cyber Sunday, thanks to the sledgehammer. Both would do battle again at November’s Survivor Series, although Umaga’s team of himself, Big Daddy V, Fit Finlay, Mr. Kennedy & MVP, lost to Triple H, Kane, Rey Mysterio & Jeff Hardy.
Umaga entered the Royal Rumble in January and was eliminated by Batista, who he would later fight at Wrestlemania, but before the mega-event came No Way Out. Umaga was featured in the main event Elimination Chamber match alongside Triple H, Shawn Michaels, John Bradshaw Layfield, Chris Jericho and Jeff Hardy. Although the steel hell seemed to favor the wild beast, he was ganged up on by the other participants, who each hit their finisher on him before he was eliminated.
Umaga’s Wrestlemania feud with Batista lacked the build that most of the other matches had, as it was given only a few weeks to develop. The angle was that it was brand vs brand, Smackdown’s Batista vs Raw’s Umaga. The pair would interfere in each other’s matches on the shows prior to the event, with neither star getting a serious upper-hand, but on the night Batista came away with the win, in what was considered a poor quality match by hardcore fans.
Umaga’s next program was with Jeff Hardy, who had just come back from a Wellness suspension. The short feud culminated at the June 1, 2008, One Night Stand PPV, when Hardy pushed Umaga off a production truck and hit the Swanton Bomb, to win a Falls Count Anywhere match.
To give Umaga some new opponents and to freshen up his character in the eyes of the fans, WWE drafted him to the Smackdown brand. His first major angle was with Mr. Kennedy, who the Samoan Bulldozer got a PPV victory over at the Great American Bash. Unfortunately this push was short lived because of an injury sustained at an August house show . Umaga attempted to rehab the PCL tear so he could return in a month or so, but healing was difficult and WWE doctors eventually sent him in for surgery. Fans didn’t get to see him on television until January 2009.
The break was perhaps a blessing in disguise, upon his return Umaga was back with a vengeance. He was rebuilt as a monster, taking out Jimmy Yang, Funaki and Scotty Goldman, before main eventing against WWE Champion Triple H. His first major feud was with the rising CM Punk, who he decided to prevent from cashing in his Money In The Bank briefcase, by constantly interfering and attacking him. Punk suffered a loss at Judgment Day, and then to everyone’s surpise, the following week Umaga spoke on the microphone for the first time and challenged Punk to a Samoan Strap match at Extreme Rules.
It’s believed that at some point before the PPV Umaga failed the Wellness Policy for abuse of pain killers, without a valid prescription. This explains why CM Punk defeated him clean 2 days before the PPV, and then won the strap match itself, taking all of the wind out of Umaga’s push. The following day Umaga was fired from the company.
In a statement released via their website WWE announced :
“…it should be noted that Umaga’s termination was due to his second violation of the WWE Wellness Program and his subsequent refusal to attend a rehabilitation facility.”
Going by the Edward Fatu name, in November Umaga joined Hulk Hogan‘s Hulkamania Tour of Australia. On the first night in Melbourne he teamed with Orlando Jordan to face his brother Solofa Fatu (Rikishi) and Brian Christopher. On subsequent shows he defeated Brutus Beefcake and Mr Anderson in singles matches .
These would be his last wrestling appearances.
Umaga Passes Away
Having not heeded the warnings of WWE, Umaga succumbed to his pain pill addiction on December 4, 2009, and was found in the early hours of the morning by his wife in their Houston, Texas home . He had been watching TV the previous evening and was passed out in the same position with blood coming from his nose. He was rushed to hospital and diagnosed with a heart attack. Doctors did all they could, but a second massive attack proved too much for his enlarged heart to take and he passed away at 6pm .
Umaga’s autopsy revealed that he died from acute toxicity due to combined effects of the painkillers hydrocodone, carisoprodol, and diazepam . His 400 plus pound weight, and enlarged heart from years of steroid use were contributing factors .
Following his death Mr. Anderson posted the following on Twitter:
“I’m very thankful to have had a private closed-door conversation with Ecki prior to our match a few days ago in Sydney. He insisted that we go out and tear the house down. We both had something to prove that night and in my opinion: Mission Accomplished! Our thoughts and prayers are with the entire Fatu family. Ecki absolutely adored his wife and was extremely proud of his children. I have so many amazing, funny, and heartwarming (sometimes gut wrenching belly-laughing) memories.”
Later his brother Rikishi was asked about his death in an interview :
“It’s a great loss, not just for our personal lives, but also for professional wrestling as well, as the fans … You never expect to get a call like that. I’m having goose bumps right here sitting talking to you about it. My dealing with my brother’s loss was through the fans and the family. You would not believe how much heart, calls and emails, condolences from fans throughout the whole world. I was very proud of that. It’s something that’s out of our hands. You never want it to happen to you personally. I’m very grateful that I had the last part of his life to spend with him in Australia. We had a heart to heart talk. We hadn’t seen each other in a while. With that note, everything was fantastic. So my heart is full, my heart is full. But I can only say this, I’m very sorry for the loss of professional wrestling, such a good wrestler.”
He was only 36 years old.
All Japan Pro Wrestling
- AJPW Unified World Tag Team Championship (1 time) with Taiyō Kea.
- World’s Strongest Tag Team League (2004) with Taiyō Kea.
- January 2 Korakuen Hall Heavyweight Battle Royal Winner (2004).
Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling
- FMW/WEW Hardcore Tag Team Championship (1 time)with Matt Anoa’i
Hawai’i Championship Wrestling
- HCW Kekaulike Heritage Tag Team Championship (1 time) with Taiyō Kea
Heartland Wrestling Association
- HWA Tag Team Championship (1 time) with Kimo
Memphis Championship Wrestling
- MCW Southern Tag Team Championship (3 times) with Kimo
World Wrestling Entertainment
- WWE Intercontinental Championship (2 times)
Category: Features, Wrestling Deaths & Obituaries |