WWE Pushed to Punished, Edition 44: The Samoan Spike of Umaga
In WWE Pushed to Punished, I analyze the controversial careers of past and present WWE Superstars who were once in the good graces of management but ultimately met their downfall for one reason or another. Umaga was a prime example of someone WWE never used to their full potential.
From the moment he arrived on the main roster in April of 2006, Umaga instilled fear in the hearts of fans and Superstars alike. He was booked like an unstoppable force for many months and had the impressive in-ring skills to back it up.
Umaga ran rampant on the entire Raw roster and was quickly ascending the ranks in WWE. With Armando Estrada by his side, there was no one who was going to put an end to The Samoan Bulldozer's reign of terror.
Until Umaga ran into the wall known as John Cena.
After seeing his undefeated streak snapped by Cena, Umaga was never pushed properly for the remainder of his WWE tenure. He feuded with top-tier talent such as Triple H, Jeff Hardy and CM Punk but was never able to win world championship gold.
Umaga was released from WWE in June of 2009. He unfortunately passed away from a heart attack later that year.
Here, I'll break down every peak and valley in the career of Umaga in an attempt to discover where exactly WWE went wrong with him.
Re-Signing with WWE and Feuding with Kane
In 2002, Eddie Fatu signed with WWE and immediately debuted on TV as part of the Three Minute Warning tag team. While their tenure was brief, they made such a lasting impact that they are still one of the most talked-about tandems to this day.
Fatu was released from his contract in 2003, but he later re-signed with the company in 2005. According to PWInsider, he was originally set to reform Three Minute Warning with Rosey, but Rosey was released before that could come to fruition.
Instead, Fatu was repackaged as Umaga, a dominant Samoan who let his actions inside the ring do the talking for him. Armando Estrada served as his manager to help with his promos.
Umaga made his re-debut on Raw one night removed from WrestleMania 22, dismantling Ric Flair. He also defeated Flair in a one-on-one match at the Backlash pay-per-view later that month.
Needless to say, WWE officials must have thought highly enough of Umaga to have him beat a 16-time world champion right out of the gate. He'd also enjoy major wins over Triple H, Shawn Michaels and even John Cena.
In the final months of 2006, Umaga engaged in his next big feud with Kane. He defeated The Big Red Monster on each occasion, sending him packing to SmackDown after winning a Loser Leaves Raw match in October.
With wins over various former world champions, Umaga was being built up like a monster the right way. He was earning credibility on a weekly basis and was gradually gaining momentum that would lead him straight to the main event scene.
Challenging for the WWE Championship and Feuding with John Cena
Umaga remained undefeated in singles competition through the end of the year. Instead of having him work his way up the roster, WWE had him bypass the Intercontinental Championship and immediately gun for the WWE Championship.
As we have seen with Superstars such as Sheamus, Alberto Del Rio and Jack Swagger in the past, this type of booking rarely ever works. Once an individual reaches main event status, they have nowhere to go but down if they haven't already established their identity and credibility.
Officials were smart in keeping him unbeaten for a lengthy period of time, but they never had any plans for him beyond a certain point. And that point came when he feuded with then-WWE Champion John Cena.
Umaga's impressive credentials in his eight months on the main roster earned him a shot at the WWE title at 2007's New Year's Revolution. The Samoan Bulldozer had gone so long without being pinned that it was going to be a big deal when someone eventually handed him his first loss.
However, the person to do that should not have been John Cena.
The two worked a great match at 2007's New Year's Revolution pay-per-view, but Umaga came up short in capturing the gold, losing his first match by pinfall since re-signing with WWE. Armando Estrada was convinced Cena's victory was a fluke, setting the stage for a Last Man Standing match at the Royal Rumble.
Despite being made to look strong, Umaga was once again unsuccessful in beating Cena for the belt. Given that it was the road to WrestleMania, there was no chance Umaga was winning the title, so WWE should have held off on their rivalry until later in the year.
Umaga was never again in WWE title contention following his feud with Cena. His momentum wasn't completely destroyed by the back-to-back losses, but he wasn't as big of a threat from that point forward.
Winning the Intercontinental Championship and Feuding with Bobby Lashley
Following the Royal Rumble, Umaga formed an alliance with Vince and Shane McMahon. In naming him their representative to take on Bobby Lashley (represented by Donald Trump) at WrestleMania 23, they helped him win the Intercontinental Championship from Jeff Hardy on the February 19 edition of Raw.
Although he was no longer undefeated and wasn't contending for the WWE Championship, Umaga was still being featured prominently on WWE TV. His match with Lashley was the third-biggest on the WrestleMania card behind the two world-title bouts.
Umaga failed the McMahons in losing to Lashley at 'Mania, but he remained loyal to the family in the months that followed. He helped Mr. McMahon win at any cost and retain his ECW Championship.
Once McMahon's feud with Lashley ran its course, Umaga broke off on his own again. He lost the Intercontinental title to a debuting Santino Marella in April but later regained the gold in a rematch on the July 2 Raw.
At one point over the summer, Umaga teased turning face for the first time in his career. It would've been an interesting way of experimenting with the character and testing out a face run, but it was so short-lived that nothing ever came of it.
Umaga dropped the Intercontinental Championship to Jeff Hardy on an episode of Raw that September.
Feuding with Triple H and Batista
Shortly after dropping the Intercontinental Championship, Umaga engaged in a mini-feud with Triple H. It was Umaga's final chance to prove he could hang with the main event players.
The two feuded over the course of September after Triple H injured Umaga with his signature sledgehammer. The program wasn't anything too noteworthy, but it was at least something substantial for Umaga to do in the meantime.
Their match at No Mercy turned into a WWE Championship match after Triple H won the strap from Randy Orton earlier in the evening. Umaga wasn't given nearly as much offense as he was against John Cena back in January.
He was beaten within six minutes.
They met in a rematch later that month at Cyber Sunday in a Street Fight as voted on by the WWE Universe. Once again, Umaga was unsuccessful in defeating The Game.
Their rivalry culminated at Survivor Series when Triple H's team emerged victorious over Umaga's team in a traditional five-on-five elimination tag team match.
Umaga was losing more matches than he should have been at this point. He was quickly becoming just another guy on the roster with countless losses to Triple H, John Cena, Bobby Lashley and Jeff Hardy.
The Samoan Bulldozer wasn't involved in anything of note for the next several months. He was handpicked by then-Raw general manager William Regal to do battle with SmackDown's Batista in a Brand Supremacy match at WrestleMania 24, but he fell short of victory.
Batista and Umaga didn't have the in-ring chemistry that many thought they did. Their match was mediocre at best and was overshadowed by almost every other match on the show.
Feuding with Jeff Hardy and Moving to SmackDown
Umaga was once again directionless coming out of WrestleMania 24. He floundered on the roster before being removed from WWE TV altogether by mid-April.
With no fresh faces left to feud with, Umaga had no choice but to renew a rivalry with an old flame: Jeff Hardy.
Hardy, who had been suspended in March of 2008, was set to make his return to Raw on the May 12 episode. His comeback, however, was thwarted by Umaga at the order of then-Raw general manager William Regal.
The former foes traded victories in the weeks that followed, clashing in a Falls Count Anywhere match at June's One Night Stand pay-per-view. Hardy scored the victory following a Swanton Bomb off a production truck outside.
Sure, it was nothing more than a filler feud for both men, but Hardy and Umaga always worked so well together that the rekindling of their rivalry made for great matches.
At the 2008 WWE Draft several weeks later, Umaga was sent packing to the SmackDown brand. The blue brand would supply Umaga with a change in scenery and a fresh batch of opponents.
Umaga had became so stagnant on Raw after a while that a move to SmackDown was the only thing that could help rejuvenate his career.
Feuding with CM Punk and Departure
Even after switching over to SmackDown, officials still had nothing for Umaga. He was left off the Night of Champions and Great American Bash pay-per-views in June and July, respectively.
A feud with Big Show was teased going into SummerSlam, but a torn PCL suffered in early August put Umaga on the shelf indefinitely. It's possible Big Show's abrupt heel turn and feud with The Undertaker that fall was a role slated for Umaga before he got hurt.
Umaga was out of action for a whopping five months before returning to the ring on the January 30, 2009 edition of SmackDown. He squashed Jimmy Wang Yang in relatively quick fashion.
Upon his return to WWE TV, Umaga was given new entrance music and looked to be more dominant than he had been in years. It was a fresh start for Umaga going into the new year, and it appeared WWE's Creative Team was finally going to do something with him.
However, after a few weeks of decimating jobbers, Umaga was once again taken off TV. It wasn't because he suffered another injury. WWE simply didn't have any plans for him at WrestleMania 25, so any momentum he built up since his return had essentially gone to waste.
It wasn't until May when Umaga resurfaced on SmackDown, jump starting a feud with CM Punk. He soundly defeated Punk in his first pay-per-view victory in nearly two years at Judgement Day but lost to him in a Samoan Strap rematch at Extreme Rules in early June.
It was announced the following day on WWE.com that Umaga had been terminated from his contract. The Samoan Bulldozer was never able to make a return to the company as he abruptly passed away from a heart attack at the age of 36 that December.
Umaga was one of those Superstars that WWE brought in with the sole purpose of being fed to John Cena. As dominant as his persona was, he differed from all other giants before him because he could actually work a great match.
In fact, Umaga may be one of the more underrated workers in recent years. He reigned as Intercontinental champion on two different occasions, but in retrospect, he deserved a lot more during his WWE tenure.
While Umaga was never WWE Championship material, he could have easily contended for or even won the World Heavyweight Championship over on SmackDown. It was a show that wouldn't have seen him get overshadowed by the likes of John Cena, Shawn Michaels, Randy Orton and others.
He was involved in some noteworthy feuds and angles once his undefeated streak was broken by John Cena, but he unfortunately never had the same aurora about him after that. WWE never utilized him to his full potential in his three years there and it's a shame he couldn't have had a run in TNA or elsewhere due to his untimely passing.
Be sure to drop a comment below with your thoughts on how Umaga was utilized over the course of his WWE career. Also, include any potential Superstars or Divas you would like to see featured in upcoming editions of Pushed to Punished.
Read every archived edition of Pushed to Punished here.
Graham Mirmina, aka Graham "GSM" Matthews, is a journalism major at Endicott College. Visit his website at Next Era Wrestling and like his official Facebook page to continue the conversation on all things wrestling.