I remember the moment I read the news vividly. I was coming to the end of my second year at University, a month or so out from exams. I’d gone for a walk down the beach to get some exercise and fresh air before studying. When I got back to the halls of residence, I went into the IT room; I needed to print out some stuff. While on the computer I logged into Twitter. I’m not sure why, just habit I guess. It was there I saw it. Under the trending tab the words leapt out at me
Former WWE superstar Matt Anoa’i, best known as Rosey, passes away aged 47.
Those few words hit me. Hard. Strangely, Rosey was my favourite wrestler as a child. To explain, I need to take you back to 2004 and 2005 and a challenging period in my youth.
I was first introduced to wrestling by my Granddad, as I’ve noted elsewhere on this website. He regaled a young Andrew with stories of World of Sport and being embarrassed at wrestling shows that he’d attended when my Grandmother would try to hit ‘the baddies’ with her handbag. He spoke of great men like Dusty Rhodes in tones of grandeur that I wouldn’t totally grasp until years later. However, it wasn’t until he passed away in September 2004 that I became a wrestling fan.
I knew before he died that he’d been ill for a while. I remember the word cancer spoken about in hushed tones and visiting him in the hospital. The last few visits, right at the end, were incredibly sad. Then he died. Aged seven (or 7-and-a-third as I was so keen to tell everyone), I didn’t really understand death. I knew that it meant that the person was gone and wasn’t coming back but I’d never experienced it before. I did, though, quickly glean what sadness looked and felt like.
My Grandma was almost mortally wounded by the loss of her husband of 60 years, her best friend and her rock. My Mum was deeply sad at the loss of her father. The copious friends and family at the funeral were all sad at the loss of a great man who’d always done right by others. I was deeply sad at losing the only male role model I’d ever known (and ultimately would ever know). I didn’t know it then but wrestling was to become one of the biggest comforts during the following months as I dealt with grief and proper sadness for the first time in my life.
Six weeks or so after Granddad’s passing, Grandma took a fall at home. While in hospital, she too was diagnosed with cancer. While Granddad had, it turned out, fought the cancer for two long years and had never visibly changed until the end, my Grandma almost immediately looked different. She looked ill.
Mum and I would visit her every weekend. We’d get the train down early Saturday morning and come back late Saturday evening. Mum would work hard all week then go there, do Grandma’s shopping for her, look after her, clean the house and cook enough meals for her for a whole week so she didn’t need to use the local meal support service. I don’t know how she did it, I really don’t. However, that workload and the fact my Mum brought me up on her own meant that during those times, I was often left to my own devices. I did the stuff that kids normally do; play with their toys and watch cartoons. But I also began watching wrestling. From the first Smackdown I saw, I was hooked.
In a strange way, I looked forward to those weekends. I got to see Grandma, spending time with her that I increasingly understood to be so precious. I got to play on their lawn, something we didn’t have at home. And I got to watch wrestling, because Grandma still had the Sky subscription Granddad had paid for and that was something we didn’t have. I’d watch the Raw highlights, Smackdown, Velocity and Heat every weekend. Heat was usually one of the last things I watched before we went home and it tended to stick with me for the whole week. Watching it, it was like someone was telling me a story but had stopped three pages from the end. I span all the different possibilities in my head until I had to come back again the next week to find out what happened.
Christmas 2004 was quite difficult. It was the first without my Granddad, which was hard for all of us, but Mum and I tried to make an effort for Grandma, who’d been released from hospital a few days beforehand. Problem was, she shouldn’t have been let out because she wasn’t well enough. As it turned out, after a couple of weeks or so at home, she had to go into a hospice. My Mum felt she’d failed her, which she hadn’t, and I felt overwhelmingly sad. Again I turned to wrestling.
Indeed, January was marked by my first ever experience of the Royal Rumble and the joint victories for Batista and John Cena. Grandma was home in time for Batista’s turn on Triple H, which made him an instant favourite of hers. I liked him and I thought John Cena was cool but when my Mum innocuously asked me who my favourite wrestler was, I said it was Rosey.
On one of the first Heat’s I saw, Rosey and The Hurricane defeated Eddie Craven and Jared Steele. For some reason, I’d immediately taken a shine to them. I couldn’t be sure why, though. Maybe it was the costumes or the fun theme music. Maybe it was the fact I was a little on the beefy side as a kid and related to big Rosey. In later years I think I’ve seen another element to it. They were two friends out there, having fun and doing something together. I found them relatable and every time I saw them felt like a treat and like I was having fun with them. Indeed, the fact they weren’t the best made them more relatable. They were just two good guys and that was all that mattered. You naturally lean towards one member of any duo, whatever industry they’re from, and for me that was Rosey. He was my guy, the one I’d pop for whenever I saw him.
Wrestlemania was ordered that year and I thoroughly enjoyed it, overwhelmed by the sheer spectacle of it. Rosey and The Hurricane weren’t there though, but they were on the card for Backlash. I don’t really remember how they got there but they were in the elimination match for the Raw Tag Team titles, then held by the dastardly William Regal and Tajiri. Even though I didn’t think that Rosey and The Hurricane could win, not really, I had to see it. Backlash was only two days after my eighth birthday so getting the PPV bought was a gift was a fairly easy sell…
The backdrop to Backlash was quite stark. Grandma had been in and out of the hospice, and the prospect of her dying seemed incredibly real. I understood it then and I couldn’t bear it. The fear of losing her was profound. In turn, however, that fear and sadness led to such huge personal investment on my part in things. It didn’t seem to matter what it was, but I cared about it more, I listened more, I watched more, I engaged more, I collected more. It was almost as if that I thought if I cared about something enough, it wouldn’t go away or it could change in a positive way. In my head, if I wanted Grandma to get well enough, she’d get better. Rosey and The Hurricane winning the tag team titles had to happen. It just had to. I was willing it to with every fibre of my being.
Tajiri and Regal came out first and rattled off two quick eliminations, accounting for The Heart Throbs and Maven & Simon Dean, before they fell to La Resistance. Number five were my guys, the superheroes of Sunday Night Heat. Them coming out last made me think they might win but as La Resistance controlled The Hurricane and worked him over, I was convinced that my hopes would be dashed.
Then came the hot tag to Rosey. He threw shoulder tackles, punches and kicks with wild, albeit quite ungainly, abandon. He put Rob Conway down with a big slam. He wasn’t particularly refined in the ring, not some great worker, but he was a wrecking machine and to he was, in that moment, unstoppable. He had to win because I cared enough. More than enough probably. La Resistance attempted to take him down but he fought them off, pushing Sylvain Grenier into Conway and out of the ring. He scoop slammed Conway to the floor and then tagged in The Hurricane. He hopped up onto the second rope for the Super Splash. At that point the panic set in. Every time someone had gone to the top rope before in matches, Mum or Grandma had said: “Rookie error, they’ll move, just watch”. But Conway didn’t move. Hurricane flew from Rosey’s shoulders and pinned him. It didn’t matter that The Hurricane had pinned Conway, it was Rosey’s work that had got them there. My guy was a champion.
I leapt from my incredibly nervous vantage point on my knees and jumped for joy. I screamed. I ran around the house, desperate to tell Mum and Grandma that they’d done it. Rosey and The Hurricane had won. I had to tell them it was true, that if you believed in something enough and wanted something enough, it’d happen. They were, in truth, probably both quite non-plussed about it all but they seemed pleased. I think I then shed a few tears.
As it happened, I soon learned that all the hoping and caring in the world can’t change some things. Grandma died in late June that year, Rosey and The Hurricane split after they lost the tag titles and Rosey was gone from the company by March of the following year. That hope is so important in a child though.
I fell out of love with wresting a bit in the following years. I think we all do, it’s part of growing up. When I did return I was much savvier, I understood ‘the business’ and wrestling history. I read about Rosey’s partnership with Jamal in 3-Minute Warning, something I had no knowledge of as a child.
Yet, that match at Backlash and those memories have always stayed with me. My support of Rosey and The Hurricane, and their title win, developed a love in me for tag team wrestling that still exists today. I’ve tried over the years to get the action figures of the two that were released, with Rosey sporting the trademark orange and blue design on the black background, but to no avail. They’re currently the wallpaper on my laptop. They were my team and, more specifically, Rosey was my guy in a challenging time.
You see now why the news of Rosey’s passing four years ago struck me so hard. After reading it and digesting it, I collected myself, logged off and went upstairs to my room. I fired up my laptop, logged into the WWE Network, found the match from Backlash and watched it. Pretty sure I shed a tear or two then as well. Watching that match, my all-time favourite, is my go-to any time I feel low.
Rosey was never the best wrestler or the biggest star. To me though, he stood out in a time when wrestling meant an awful lot to me. Cheering him and The Hurricane on helped get me through a tough time, warmed my heart and renewed my hope. On Saturday I’ll raise a glass or two to you, Matt Anoa’i. Rest in power, big man. You mean, and meant, more to me than you’ll ever know.
Matt Anoa’i, 4/7/1970 – 4/17/2017