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Where Are They Now? Rosey
Coming from one of the most legendary families in sports-entertainment, Matt Anoa’i had the drive and determination to find success in the ring. That same passion that once brought the Superstar known as Rosey to the World Tag Team Titles in WWE has carried over into his life outside the squared circle, as he prepares to open up a Samoan barbecue restaurant in Cincinnati. ( CLASSIC PHOTOS | CURRENT VIDEOS | VIDEO PLAYLIST)
Rosey is up for the challenges of running a restaurant, though it’s beyond anything he’s ever learned in the ring. It’s a new venture for the Anoa’i family that made its name in the squared circle through three generations of WWE Superstars.
The son of one half of the legendary Wild Samoans, WWE Hall of Famer Sika, Anoa’i has been around the ring since birth. That carried positives and negatives for the second-generation grappler.
“Growing up around the wrestling industry was kind of frustrating because I always had to move,” the former Rosey told WWE Classics. “It was hard to make friends, but it was exciting and fun because I got to be with my dad and get out to shows with him. It was a life experience versus something you just did. We traveled, and my dad was my hero.”
But the family bonds didn’t stop with Sika. Rosey’s father and his uncle, Afa, had a large family, which grew to include several second- and third-generation Superstars. Many of them grew up play-fighting around in the family’s squared circle with each other.
“I’d always get in the ring when I was a kid with my other cousins,” Anoa’i said, going through a list of his cousins, comprised of WWE Hall of Famer Yokozuna, Rikishi, Headshrinker Samu and The Tonga Kid (aka Tama of The Islanders).
Though he was surrounded by professional wrestling throughout his childhood, Anoa’i had another passion in his youth: football. Gifted with great size, the Samoan took his love of the gridiron as far as he could, earning a scholarship to the University of Hawaii. A professional career wasn’t in the cards for him, however, leaving him wondering what his next step in life would be.
“I didn’t want to stop doing something athletic or something that challenged my mind,” Anoa’i explained.
He found the answer while living in New Orleans’ French Quarter, working as a bouncer in a bar on Bourbon Street.
“I sat there one night and was looking at the bartender,” the second-generation Superstar said. “He was probably in his 60s. It just dawned on me that I needed to get out of this town and pursue a career. Wrestling became the glove that fit.”
Luckily, Matt didn’t have to search far to find an “in” to the wrestling business. It was as simple as picking up the phone.
“As soon as I made the decision [to become a wrestler], I called my dad, who was living in Pensacola, Fla., and said, ‘Come on over to New Orleans, let’s train me to wrestle,’ ” Anoa’i said.
Within two days, Sika had made the trek from Florida to Louisiana, with a wrestling ring in tow, prepared to train his son as only his family could.
“We set [the ring] up in the backyard and did what The Wild Samoans do,” he said of his father’s training approach. “We train in the backyard and get it done. That was my workout, every morning from six until eight or nine in the morning, getting in the ring with my dad and waking the neighbors up with all the bumping around.”
When he was ready for competition, the 24-year-old Anoa’i took to the squared circle in independent promotions around The Big Easy, coming across future Superstars like Viscera, who he quickly formed a friendship with.
After touring through Puerto Rico and the Northeastern United States, Matt soon joined forces with his cousin Samu, briefly joining the WWE roster before heading to The Land of Extreme. As The Samoan Gangsta Party, the second-generation Samoans engaged in wild brawls with the likes of New Jack and Mustafa Saed.
Shortly after The Samoan Gangsta Party was over, Anoa’i tagged up with another cousin, with whom he would find unparalleled success. Longtime members of the WWE Universe will remember the late Superstar as Jamal or Umaga, but to Matt Anoa’i, he’ll always be “Eki.”
“I always knew he was hungry,” Matt said of his cousin’s passion for wrestling. “We formed a tag team and went out, we were getting good responses to the way we moved in the ring and people liked it.”
The two massive cousins were adept at using their size to muscle opponents around the ring with ease. But the Samoan pair surprised many with their agility. Matt crushed opponents with a devastating leg drop, while Eki came off the top rope with a shocking splash that left opponents breathless.
Matt and his cousin quickly made waves in wrestling. The pair earned a spot on the roster of the FMW promotion in Japan. Their success around the country and overseas put them on WWE’s radar and earned the second-generation stars a tryout match. They impressed WWE officials and earned contracts with the company. Because of the heated nature of the business during the Monday Night War, then–talent relations head Jim Ross asked the Samoan cousins to give WWE the right to make the first offer.
For Matt and Eki, there were no other options.
“I let Jim know that my family’s been WWE since I was born. In my mind, there was no other company.”
The big Samoans spent time in WWE’s developmental territories in Memphis, Tenn., and Cincinnati, keeping themselves on the mind of WWE officials. They were surprised one day, while at a Raw taping in July 2002.
“We didn’t know we were going to start until Arn Anderson said, “You guys need to go see [the wardrobe staff]. We need to go find you guys some hip-hop clothes for tonight. You guys are starting.”
After an impromptu shopping trip, the cousins were ready for their WWE debut. That night on Raw, then–General Manager Eric Bischoff gave D’Lo Brown and Shawn Stasiak three minutes to entertain him. When the Superstars failed to impress Bischoff by the time his countdown reached zero, the massive Samoans had leaped the guardrail from the crowd and decimated the hapless grapplers. ( WATCH) Though the WWE Universe had no idea who the two were, they had certainly made an impact.
In reality, the cousins didn’t know much about who they were going to be, either. They didn’t have names until several weeks later. In fact, the manner in which they got their names is quite surprising.
“I didn’t know [Rosey] was my name until Eric Bischoff, I think the second episode after we started, mentioned it,” Matt explained. “We were in the ring, but you couldn’t really hear what he said. I looked at my cousin and said, ‘Did he just give us our names?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’ ”
The two, hoping for a little clarity, made their way back to the dressing room.
“As soon as we got to the locker room, a lot of the boys were like, ‘Alright, who’s Rosey and who’s Jamal?’ It just so happened that Eki walked through first, raised his hand and said, ‘I’m Jamal!’ ” Matt recalled.
“That was it. At that point, I was like, ‘I guess I’m Rosey.’ ”
The hulking cousins seemingly appeared out of nowhere whenever Bischoff said the words “three minutes,” so they earned the name 3 Minute Warning. Guided by the unique stylist Rico, the pair steamrolled over anyone in their path on Monday nights, from WWE Hall of Famers like “Superfly” Jimmy Snuka, to decorated tag teams like The Dudley Boyz, Billy & Chuck and Booker T & Goldust.
In June 2003, though, Jamal was released from his contract, which blindsided Matt.
“I was looking at reception buildings for my wedding,” he explained. “It threw me off.”
The two cousins talked for an hour and a half about what the future would hold for them. They both felt good coming out of the conversation.
“We just let each other know how we felt and what we thought would be the best for both of us,” Anoa’i said. “That’s when I opted to stay in WWE and he would go on and do what he wanted to do. I knew he would be just fine on his own.”
Matt had no idea the next step he’d be taking in WWE would be training for a new job, however. WWE’s resident superhero, The Hurricane, saw something in the big Samoan, and decided to take him under his wing, showing him how to uphold justice.
At first, Rosey wasn’t on board with the idea of becoming the Robin to Hurricane’s Batman.
“My reserves were that I’m not following the family tradition,” he explained. “But I felt that I could pull it off.”
Rosey went through intense superhero training with The Hurricane, doing good deeds like helping old ladies across the street and rescuing cats from trees. His training costume consisted of ratty gym clothes The Hurricane may have found at Goodwill and a purple domino mask that, according to Rosey, was more trouble than it was worth.
“I think it fell off every single time I wrestled,” he joked.
Despite his silly costume, Rosey made his superhero apprenticeship work. He knew he had made it by the response he received from younger members of the WWE Universe.
“God forbid, when you see a 380-pound Samoan walk out in an outfit that looks like a rodeo clown [you might get scared],” he said. “But they seemed to dig it. It made me feel good that little kids all over the world would want to come get my autograph because of what I was doing.”
Eventually, Rosey graduated from The Hurricane’s rigorous training program. Surprising The Hurricane and sidekick “Super Stacy” Keibler with his new, sleek gear, the Samoan hero saved his super friends from a beatdown at the hands of Tyson Tomko and Trish Stratus.
Rosey and The Hurricane soon rose to the top of WWE’s tag team ranks, capturing the World Tag Team Titles in a Tag Team Turmoil match at Backlash 2005. For the second-generation Superstar, the moment the referee counted three, declaring the superheroes champions, was very emotional. ( WATCH)
“I felt like I was part of my family tradition,” he explained. “As soon as they handed me the title, I was just hoping my dad was watching. It was pretty cool.”
Unfortunately for Anoa’i, all good things must come to an end. By fall 2005, his partnership with Hurricane, who he considers a great friend, ended. And in March of the following year, Rosey was released from his WWE contract. Having grown up in the industry, Anoa’i took the news in stride.
“I let them know that in no way, shape or form do I ever want you to think I’m mad,” he told WWE Classics. “I understand this game, that’s the way it is. I was looking forward to the next step.”
After his release. Rosey competed in Japan, along with former WWE Superstars like D’Lo Brown and Bull Buchanan. To this day, he still makes appearances at autograph signings, and occasionally gets back into the ring. The former Superstar has found a new calling, though, turning another passion of his into a profession.
Settling in Cincinnati, Anoa’i enjoys spending time with his children, Madison, Koa and Jordan, but his main focus right now is the upcoming launch of his restaurant, Island Boi BBQ. ( CURRENT PHOTOS) The idea for the restaurant came after he searched for a place in the area that served South Pacific style barbecue, only to come up empty. He told us there may have also been another factor.
“I got tired of giving food away in my backyard for free,” he joked. “Nobody seems to dislike it.”
Matt learned to cook when he was 13. There wasn’t much room for error, considering the guests he was serving.
“It was a very hard thing to learn,” he recalled. “If you’ve got Hulk Hogan, ‘Macho Man’ Randy Savage, my uncle, Greg Valentine and Iron Sheik in your backyard and you drop a steak or a burger in between the grill, you better watch out!
“I got a few smacks in the head about dropping meat through the grill. I learned real quick.”
Anoa’i moved on from burgers and steaks to learn more traditional Samoan barbecue dishes, which are on the menu at Island Boi BBQ.
“They’re family recipes that have been passed down over the last 27 years through my family,” he said. “It’s what I’ve learned to cook through the Anoa’i and Fatu families.”
Hoping to open the restaurant by the first week of December, Matt finds himself going through the same emotional rushes he did while competing in WWE.
“It’s exciting and scary,” Anoa’i said. “You get those butterflies when you’re in WWE, but they go away as soon as you get through that curtain and make your way down to the ring. Here, the butterflies stay, there’s no pyro or music, and 25,000 fans screaming.
Nerves aside, the former superhero is very eager to have the first customers walk through the doors of Island Boi BBQ.
“Bottom line, we’re serving great food and we’re going to serve it with a smile,” Anoa’i explained. “And every now and then, if you catch me out in the dining area, there’ll be somebody wanting me to tell a story. We’re going to have a lot of fun with it.”