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December 8, 2009

Saying goodbye to Umaga: Edward Fatu’s top five WWE matches

Eddie "Umaga" Fatu (March 28, 1973 - December 4, 2009)

Saying goodbye to Umaga: Eddie Fatu’s top five WWE matches

Eddie "Umaga" Fatu  (March 28, 1973 - December 4, 2009)

On December 4th, wrestling fans learned  of the passing of yet another talented individual: Eddie Fatu, also known as former two-time WWE Intercontinental Champion Umaga. Umaga suffered two heart attacks and not many more details are available at this time and it is uncofirmed if they were related to steroids or drugs.

Umaga performed for various professional wrestling promotions since his true debut to the mainstream in 2002, including Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, All Japan Pro Wrestling, and most notably, World Wrestling Entertainment, where he gained his fame as “Umaga,” based on a painful Samoan tattooing process. His gimmick was that of a ‘savage,’ and alongside ‘handler’ (manager) Armando Alejandro Estrada, he went undefeated from April 2006 to January 2007, culminating with a loss to WWE Champion John Cena, in arguably Umaga’s best match.

While it’s easy to recognize talent after a performer is deceased, I became a fan of Umaga’s work when I saw his match against John Cena. It also marked the first time I respected and enjoyed a John Cena match, because I realized that the two could really put on a great show. Fatu took an 80’s style gimmick reminiscent of the Ugandan giant, Kamala, and made it work in the modern era. Sure, no one believed he was truly a ‘savage,’ but his character made for compelling television. He was a modern-day Vader or Bam Bam Bigelow—a ‘big man’ category wrestler, but with the rare combination of agility, able to jump high to sell moves from opponents, like ‘choke-slams.’

“Umaga” was released from WWE in June of 2009 after refusing to receive rehabilitation after a ‘wellness policy’ violation. Fatu resurfaced on Hulk Hogan’s successful “Hulkamania” wrestling tour, a four night string of events that featured Fatu billed as “RUmaga,” facing fellow former WWE star Ken Kennedy in the undercard.

Fatu was a member of the Anoa’i wrestling family, related to 7-time WWE Champion Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, “Soulman” Rocky Johnson, the Wild Samoans Afa and Sika, the late Rodney “Yokozuna” Anoa’i, also a former WWE Champion (two times), and Matt “Rosey” Anoa’i, with whom he debuted in 2002. He was the brother of Solafa Fatu, the former Intercontinental Champion known as “Rikishi.” Edward himself was a two-time Intercontinental Champion in WWE and was 36 years old.

1. John Cena vs Umaga – WWE Royal Rumble 2007 main event for the WWE Championship.

For me as a fan, this match was a turning point for the careers of both men. While the undefeated push of the Umaga character had already ended at WWE New Year’s Revolution 2007, Fatu seemingly cemented his position on the roster as a main eventer, with key moments like running across the announce tables and needing to be choked out by the ring ropes in order to lose the match. A bloodied Cena did just that at WWE’s 2007 Royal Rumble to beat Umaga, but WWE didn’t seem to know where to take his character next.

2. Umaga vs Triple H – WWE No Mercy 2007 match for WWE Championship.

I was not a fan of how this event was booked, at all. In an effort to mix things up and try to deliver a fresh product, WWE gave its fans an event with not one, not two, but three matches for the WWE Championship. At WWE No Mercy 2007, Randy Orton was awarded the vacant title at the start of the show, and immediately defended it (and lost) against Triple H. Why they didn’t have the match be for the vacant title is beyond me. In the middle of the card, Triple H defended it in a quick match against Umaga. This wasn’t the greatest match for Fatu’s career at this point as the former Samoan bulldozer got dismantled in less than seven minutes. However, his skill at putting over his opponent was his true talent, as Triple H looked like a powerhouse, being able to topple Umaga in his second match of the night. Triple H then went on to lose the WWE Championship to Randy Orton in the main event of the evening.

3. Umaga vs Jeff Hardy – January 7, 2008 steel cage match on WWE RAW

I was pretty critical of WWE’s booking tactics around this time, as the Umaga character seemed to have lost all direction and purpose and had basically become Jeff Hardy’s personal ‘jobber.’ However, that didn’t mean they didn’t deliver excellent matches, and I think Fatu was a key player in building up the hype for Jeff Hardy’s 2008-2009 main event run. This pay-per-view-caliber match on free television was won by Jeff Hardy after a high-risk spot from the top of the cage and helped elevate Hardy in his feud with WWE Champion Randy Orton, who was at ringside for most of the match.

4. Umaga vs John Cena – WWE New Year’s Revolution 2007 match for the WWE Championship.

New Year’s Revolution 2007 marked the end of the undefeated streak for the Umaga character with a surprise finish: a pinfall via a roll-up. After numerous failed finisher attempts by Cena, he stole the win with speed instead of power. A good example of wrestling psychology worthy of appreciation.

5. 3-Minute Warning (Umaga, as Jamal, and Rosey) and Rico vs Jeff Hardy, Bubba Ray Dudley, and Spike Dudley – WWE Survivor Series 2002 elimination-style tables match.

Long before the Umaga character, Fatu debuted as Jamal, as one half of ‘Three Minute Warning.’ Three Minute Warning lost a very enjoyable match to open WWE Survivor Series 2002, and help build up the return of D-Von Dudley and a “Dudley Boyz” reunion. You can’t expect a technical classic from a tables match, but this hard hitting match was a personal favorite of mine from the short run of 3MW.

Honorable mention: WWE WrestleMania 23′s Battle of the Billionaires: Umaga (representing Mr McMahon) vs Bobby Lashley (representing Donald Trump).

This was one of my least favorite angles of all-time, but it got a lot of mainstream media coverage due to involvement by Donald Trump. It got so much coverage that I was sick of hearing about it after a while and was glad when it was over. In an effort to try to build Bobby Lashley into a modern-day Hulk Hogan, they needed a monster ‘heel’ character (a bad guy). That heel was Umaga. The match was the main attraction of the event and helped WWE WrestleMania 23 become the biggest selling pay-per-view wrestling event in history. From a business standpoint in the wrestling world, you can’t get any more successful than that.

What was your favorite Umaga match in WWE?

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