Darren Drozdov, Pro Wrestler Whose Career Was Cut Short, Dies at 54

Darren Drozdov, a former professional football player whose later career in pro wrestling was cut short after an accident in the ring that paralyzed him, died on Friday in Pomona, N.J. He was 54.

His death, at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center, was confirmed by his sister, Rommi Drozdov, and by his agent and longtime friend, Cliff Stein. No cause was given.

Before Drozdov made his mark in the wrestling world, Mr. Stein said, he came to the public’s attention as an N.FL. player after he vomited on a football at a Monday night game. (Some reports indicate that he vomited on more than one occasion, which may explain why, in addition to being known as Droz, he had the nickname Puke.)

Drozdov grew up in Mays Landing, N.J., and spent most of his adult life there. He played football at the University of Maryland, where he graduated in 1992 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.

After graduation, he was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Denver Broncos. Drozdov, who was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed 280 pounds when he played football, also had stints with the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles.

While he was playing for the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, Mr. Stein said, he started to think about a career in pro wrestling — something that had always been in the back of his mind.

“His personality was so colorful, and the mohawks and the tattoos and the way he talked, everyone would say, ‘You are a wrestler,’” Mr. Stein recalled. “He would call you ‘brother.’ He’d pick you up. His presence was so big.”

Drozdov was eventually accepted to a WWE training program. He then became a member of the Road Warriors, a popular tag team. The WWE said he was known for his “Droz’s World” vignettes.

His fellow wrestlers in the training program included Matt Bloom, known as Prince Albert, and Dwayne Johnson, the actor known as the Rock, who mourned Drozdov’s death on Twitter:

“We wrestled on a lot of cards together. Such an awesome dude. Great personality and great wrestling talent. We always talked about football and fishing. Sending love, strength, mana and light to his family. RIP brother.”

Drozdov’s wrestling career came to an end in October 1999 during a match at the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, N.Y., when he sustained an injury that rendered him quadriplegic,

He fractured two disks in his neck in a stunt gone wrong after he was thrown to the mat by his opponent, D’Lo Brown, and landed on his head instead of his back.

Darren Drozdov was born in Wilmington, Del., on April 7, 1969, the son of Olaf and Cyndi Drozdov. His mother worked in real estate and owned three laundromats, and his father was a professor at Atlantic Cape Community College in New Jersey.

In addition to his sister, his survivors include his parents. A marriage in 1999 ended in divorce in 2001.

Drozdov’s sister helped care for him after he was injured. She said he spent much of his time cheering on her four children.

“He loved watching them grow up,” Rommi Drozdov said. “He would go to all the soccer games, football, tennis, everything. You could always find him on a sideline that my kids are on.”

He also continued to hunt, one of many outdoor sports he enjoyed.

His friend Kevin Plank, the founder of the sportswear company Under Armour, facilitated the design of a wheelchair that was essentially a “tank with wheels,” allowing him to move through the woods, Mr. Stein said.

Family members described Drozdov as relentlessly positive in the aftermath of his wrestling accident. In a statement, they cited his own words:

“There is always another day. Just because I’m paralyzed and stuck in a wheelchair doesn’t mean my life is over. I’ve learned to live again, and my life is far from over.”

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