Breaking Holds: Episode Twenty-Two

Today’s Episode: Bulldozer

It feels silly to discuss the death of another human being and constantly refer to them as “Umaga,” a fictional and, if we’re all being honest, racist and stereotypical name for a Samoan wrestler who fell back on the tried and true “wild man” gimmicks of his predecessors. As a performer, I was shocked to find that I enjoyed the matches that Eki “Eddie” Fatu put on in this new character, my most favorite being the war he had with John Cena where the babyface champ had to strangle his vicious juggernaut of an opponent with a busted ring rope after the turnbuckle broke clean off. Good times.

To make matters more tragic, Mr. Fatu leaves behind not only his enormous extended family, but a wife and children who will have to go through the rest of their lives without father there. There will never be another wedding anniversary for the Fatus, and his children will never get to play-wrestle with their big, burly father ever again. There’s no real bright side to such a loss, and there’s certainly nothing funny about it.

That being said, Eddie Fatu was an idiot.

It’s not right to speak ill of the dead, and while I find solace in the knowledge that his family will likely never read anything I write, it still almost hurts to type out that phrase on my laptop. So then why do it, eh?

Because Mr. Fatu stands as an example of someone who was given an opportunity to avoid being yet another dead young wrestler and, out of ignorance, pride, or stubborness, he rejected it.

Nearly every wrestling fan with an internet connection knows how Mr. Fatu was released by the WWE when he tested positively for drugs, how he was asked to go to rehab, on the dime of the company, no less, and politely told them that they could shove it. As Scott Keith pointed out recently, it may have been rather heartless of WWE to mention how he refused treatment while simultaneously extending sympathies to his family, but its a shrewd enough move for a business where fans and critics have a major, major problem with the list of dead wrestlers under 50. I don’t really have a problem with it, but if Keith wants to send some hate toward their way, I suppose its his prerogative.

However, the greatest crime here is not how Fatu was taken from the wrestling world so early, but just how easily this could have been prevented, and how ultimately selfish he was in his decision to refuse treatment and thus be fired from the company that had turned him from a joke into a huge star. We internet wrestling fans are notoriously fickle, but I don’t know how much we can complain about his elevation and treatment in the earlier days of his career as Umaga. Brought in as an unstoppable monster, Fatu actually managed to take a fairly racist and idiotic gimmick and turn it into something that nearly all fans eventually gravitated to. His hits were hard, his speed as surprising for a man of his size, and he came off as legitimately dangerous to the point where, if he was used as a threat the way that Kane often is, people bought him as a serious punishment by whatever villain was tugging his line that week. Sure, we all shook our heads in confusion when he suddenly spoke perfect English in the latter days of the gimmick, but no one can ever say that he was never given a chance.

But I digress, when ultimately I wanted to speak about the selfishness of his decision. Fatu’s rejection of WWE-sanctioned rehab was not only a blow to his career, essentially telling the largest and most financially successful wrestling company on the planet where they could stick it, but also an incredibly short-sighted and horrific decision based on his role as a father and family man. He rejects financial security, as well as his own health, putting him on a path that ignores what is best for his family and instead what he wants for reasons that, to this day, I cannot comprehend.

I am unhappy that we’re talking about the death of Eddie Fatu today, but when a man has a heart attack at 36, it can be a fair assumption that there is something unnatural about one’s physiology. It’s horrifically regrettable, but the warnings were there, both literally and abstractly, and he chose to reject and ignore them for whatever reason.

His death, as have many others, leads to discussion about the lives of wrestlers, and what they go through for the purpose of entertaining us, and while I love a knockdown, dragout battle with crazy head-drops and blood as much as the next fan, I think I’m done with it.

A few months ago, weren’t we all up in arms that there was no blood in any of the Hell in the Cell matches? What a bunch of wusses they are, and how despicable of Vince to deny us this in the name of getting his wife elected to the senate! Boo, I say.

Ever get a paper cut? Hurts a bunch, right? Throw some Neosporin and a band-aid on that sucker, otherwise it could get infected. Bad stuff.

Getting cut hurts. A lot. Now go take a look at Devon Dudley’s head, or for a more insane experience, read about how Abdullah the Butcher could fit poker chips in between his insane forehead scars. As far as I’m concerned, if someone gets busted open hardway, that’s fine. It’s an improvisation, and adds to the drama, but blood is also a crutch. There are other ways to show hate or fury or damage, and I don’t need the next generation slicing themselves up for the purpose of the art. No other job on the planet requests that its employees cut themselves, and I’m okay with wrestling joining that particular club.

Of course, we also like those awesome, Foley-style hardcore matches, right? Well, too bad Foley can’t remember a bunch of them anymore due to the ton of chairshots he took over the course of his career. Last I heard, Chris Nowinski had something to say on the subject as well.

But don’t take away our awesome, Japanese wrestling moves, those fantastic puro-style moves that the Brisco Brothers bust out and receive while forgetting to sell anything more than a gunshot wound. The next time you complain about how a finisher doesn’t seem awesome or painful enough, I want you to think of Mitsuharu Misawa, and how he and Kenta Kobashi have given us a blessing and a curse in their outstanding, and potentially crippling, styles of offense. You should think of Misawa for plenty of other reasons, as well, and I’ll leave those to you to figure out.

So that’s my message to the wrestlers of the world: block those chairshots, pull those punches, and don’t take crazy bumps “for the glory.” A lot of this has toned down from the “hardcore” rush of the 90’s, thank God, but I’m really tired of reading about these guys killing themselves for my amusement and then dealing with the pain with pills and their sagging pectoral muscles with needles. In a country where health insurance costs actual money, and a wrestler pays four times the costs of an average citizen due to the dangerous nature of their job, I don’t need my pretend fighting to have such a high mortality rate, because frankly, if the wrestlers of the world don’t change their styles and mindsets about what is acceptable and what is worth risking, then “bulldozers” aren’t only the people we’ll be mourning and eulogizing, but what will be needed to move the stacks of the dead.

Enough.

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