Remembering Droz

Former NFL football player and WWE grappler, Darren Drozdov passed away last week at the age of just 54. Originally, I wasn’t going to write this column to cover his death, simply because his story is so tragic, and I thought it’d be better to allow his peers to share their much happier personal memories of him.

But, as I listened to a clip of the Jim Cornette podcast of the Louisville slugger’s thoughts on Drozdov, I realized that not discussing him, and more specifically, the key life lessons that can be taken from his tale of perseverance, it would be a disservice to him.

Ironically, the man known as “Droz” was prehaps most remembered, at least within the sports entertainment world, for the infamous clip in the Beyond The Mat documentary where WWF kingpin, Vince McMahon provided a mock commentary call of “he’s gonna puke! he’s gonna puke! he’s gonna puke!” in reference to Droz’s ability to vomit at will. The 2000 film release was after the injury that not only altered Drozdov’s career, but also the rest of his life.

Before he was spewing into a trash can in Vince’s office on film, Droz played defensive tackle for the University of Maryland before he competed for three seasons in the National Football League, with stints on the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos in the early-90s. When he accidentally vomited on the football on live television during a Monday night game, that eventually gave McMahon the concept for a possible wrestling character.

All things considered, Drozdov made progress rather quickly in the pro wrestling business because of his athlete background. In total,his wrestling career from start to finish was just two years. After he learned the ropes under legendary trainer, Dr. Tom Prichard, Droz had a brief stint in Extreme Championship Wrestling as a part of the working agreement between the Philadelphia-based organization and the WWF.

After his debut in late-1997 for ECW, working preliminary matches on house shows, Droz made his WWF television debut in mid-1998. With the wild hair cut, piercings, and tattoos, Droz appeared to be tailor-made for the Attitude era. In six months, Droz went from his first pro bout to working on one of the highest-rated shows on cable television during the boom period of the late-90s.

Initially booked as the third member of LOD 2000, Drozdov was put in a rather tough spot to start his WWF career. Regardless of who it was or how much talent they might have, the audience just wasn’t going to accept a “replacement Road Warrior” in any situation. The same thing could be said for when the WWE tried to shoehorn John Heidenreich into a similar role in the mid-2000s. The Vince Russo writing didn’t do Droz any favors when he was involved in the terrible titan tron incident with Hawk for an angle that was booked to exploit Hawk’s real-life substance problems.

Thankfully, by 1999 Droz was paired with Prince Albert, who works as the head coach at the WWE Performance Center, Matt Bloom. Albert had similar piercings so he and Droz were a solid mid-card tag team. Unfortunately, how far Droz could’ve went in the WWF was cut short. On October 10,1999 during a match with D’Lo Brown at a Smackdown taping, a botched power bomb left Darren Drozdov paralyzed at the age of 30.

It would’ve been very easy for Darren Drozdov to give up on life and accept the perceived limitations that were placed on him. Instead, Droz showed admirable and remarkable courage throughout the rest of his life. He regained the use of his arms through countless hours of therapy and stayed as active as possible. In the years that followed the injury, Droz wrote columns for the WWF website and magazine, as well as was a guest of the WWF’s Byte This audio show. An outdoor enthusiast, Drozdov even had a custom-made wheelchair that resembled a small tank so that he could continue to hunt and fish.

Most importantly, in the face of overwhelmingly gloomy odds, Droz was determined to continue to live a productive life. That’s an amount of remarkable toughness that very few would have given the circumstances. Droz also said several times over the years that the injury was an accident and that he doesn’t blame anyone for it.

The WWE covered the costs for his extensive medical care so he was able to have very good treatment, as well as nurses to help him. In a 2007 shoot interview, Drozdov remained positive and had the determination to continue to live his life. He even appeared in an episode of Dark Side of The Ring about the Brawl For All, and the previously mentioned custom wheelchair showed him being able to get around his property.

There’s no way to know how far up the ladder Droz would’ve went as a sports entertainer because his career was cut so short, but the story of the toughness and courage of Darren Drozdov had an impact on many people. He passed away at just 54 so Droz didn’t get the chance to live a full life, but he certainly lived life to the fullest.

My sincere condolences to Darren Drozdov’s friends and family at this difficult time.

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Until next week
-Jim LaMotta

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