Eddie Fatu, best known as Umaga from his days in WWE, died this evening in a Houston hospital following a heart attack. He was 36.
Fatu was a part of the famed wrestling Samoans, whose lineage includes brothers Sam (better known as Tama of The Islanders) and Solofa Jr. (Rikishi Fatu), cousin Matt Anoa’i, whom Fatu tagged with in WWE as “Three Minute Warning” (Fatu was known as Jamal at the time). His uncles were the Wild Samoans — Afa and Sika, who trained him in the sport.
Fatu got his start in the then WWF in a briefly-run angle involving Rikishi (then known solely as Fatu) along with Matt, but the two soon were sent to the company’s developmental system. The two also took time to hone their skills in Japan’s FMW promotion.
In the early 2000s, the duo, perhaps known best as The Island Boyz during their developmental time, were brought into WWE as Three Minute Warning. Acting as enforcers for Eric Bischoff along with Rico (Rico Constantino), Fatu and Anoa’i were presented as fearsome individuals who would attack superstars when “three minutes” were referenced in promos. The duo lasted approximately one year in WWE before Fatu was released amid rumours of a bar fight.
After being dismissed from WWE, Fatu soon resurfaced under the name Ekmo. He would spend time in the upstart TNA Wrestling and overseas with All-Japan Pro Wrestling. It wouldn’t be long, however, before he would be brought back to WWE, this time as the Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga.
Managed by Armando Alejandro Estrada, Umaga climbed the ladder in WWE extremely quickly after re-debuting in April 2006. On his first night, Umaga attacked Ric Flair and would soon find himself in the ring with the likes of Shawn Michaels and Triple H. Bedecked in warrior-like facepaint and covered in tattoos, Umaga was a fierce and unpredictable competitor in the ring. His path of destruction in WWE led him to multiple WWE Championship matches against John Cena in late 2006 and early 2007.
“The Samoan Bulldozer, Umaga, has pretty well run roughshod through the company,” Estrada told SLAM! Wrestling in January 2007. “He’s taken out everybody he’s been in the ring with — with the exception of the champ, who’s next on the list — nobody’s been able to score any kind of a victory over him.”
Eventually, Umaga would gain control of the Intercontinental title and had his most publicized match at WrestleMania 23. In this bout, Umaga represented Vince McMahon in a match against Bobby Lashley , seconded by Donald Trump. The man who each wrestler stood in the ring for put his hair on the line, and after Umaga’s defeat, it would be McMahon who was shaved bald.
Following this peak, Umaga continued to be a top-flight superstar, mixing in a series of bouts that pitted McMahon against Lashley. Eventually, Estrada was dropped from the mini-group and Umaga ventured out on his own.
Throughout this time, the Intercontinental title traded hands between Umaga and Santino Marella, and Jeff Hardy would also frequently face off against the Samoan in a series of highlight bouts.
Though Umaga’s push in WWE was overall consistent, his outside-the-ring activities cost him time from the ring, and ultimately his job with WWE. Fatu was one of the WWE superstars named in the infamous Sports Illustrated article as purchasing online pharmaceuticals, a violation of the WWE’s Wellness Policy. He was suspended once for this, and then released after he was failed testing a second time and refused treatment in a rehabilitation facility.
WWE posted a statement about Fatu’s death on its website: “WWE would like to express its deepest condolences to Mr. Fatu’s family, friends and fans on his tragic passing. Mr. Fatu was under contract with WWE at various time periods and most recently performed under the name ‘Umaga.’ Mr. Fatu’s contract was terminated on June 11, 2009.”
Umaga had most recently been a part of the Hulkamania tour in Australia, and had been rumoured at one point to be returning to WWE.