The main reason why wrestlers hate having their profession called “fake” is because the risks are real. One mistake can end a career. Such was the case for Droz. Yet he refused to have his life defined by one mistake.
Darren Drozdov was born in Hamilton Township in Atlantic County, New Jersey, in 1969. His friends called him “Droz” from a young age. He had an early growth spurt that gave him an advantage in sports. He would set state records for the shot put and track and field.
Darren Drozdov –
Growing Up and Throwing Up In Droz’ World
His main sport would be football. As a quarterback, Droz helped his school team achieve a perfect 10-0 season. His personal highlight was completing a 72-yard pass to his wide receiver, who used it to score a touchdown. He went on to play All-State.
His football career took a brief hiatus while he attended Folk Union Military Academy. He went on to study criminal justice at the University of Maryland. While he was there, he played for the college team, the Terrapins. Even at 6’ 3’’ and 280lbs, he no longer had the size advantage he enjoyed in his teens. Yet he continued to be effective as a defensive tackle.
Drosdov was drafted into the National Football League (NFL) after graduation. He played seasons with the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles. He gained media attention while playing for the Denver Broncos. One of his games was broadcast on Monday Night Football.
The camera caught him vomiting on the game ball just before the snatch. The incident earned him the nickname “Puke”. An article in Sports Illustrated pointed out that he had vomited on the field during most of his games that season.
The piece wrongly speculated that Drozdov would see a psychiatrist about his “chronic vomiting”. His friends and teammates knew that Drozdov had the ability to vomit on command.
In 1996, Drozdov decided to try his hand at pro wrestling. He attended a camp run by Dory Funk, Jr. and Tom Prichard. They had concerns about him because he was approaching thirty. But he impressed agents with his attitude, quick progress, and weight loss.
Even as a rookie, he was safe in the ring. The only time he went wrong in the ring was when he accidentally punched Jim Cornette too hard. Prichard, his brother Bruce, and Cornette introduced him to Vince McMahon. The WWF Chairman was initially enticed, but saw he was not ready yet.
“I’ve remarked that I was going to call him a ‘kid’. But then I realised he was nearly as old as I am. But he started late in wrestling because he had played pro football. I guess that made him about 30 years old by the time he started breaking in the business…
As we met Droz and got to know him, he started training. Everybody fell in love with the guy as far as a trainee, a student, somebody to have in the locker room. Everybody liked him.”
– Jim Cornette on Droz during training.
McMahon was a secret investor in Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW). He first became aware of the Philadelphia-based promotion when fans chanted for it throughout the King of the Ring event in 1995.
He used them as a developmental territory for new or fading stars to refine their skills. Drozdov debuted in 1997 as part of a stable of “WWF Invaders” led by Lance Wright, even though he had not competed in the WWF yet.
First Career Match
One of Drozdov’s first career matches was against Taz for the ECW World Television Championship. He and the other Invaders would attack established ECW stars during or after their matches.
This typically led to other ECW stars running out to drive them away. After the other members of his stable departed the company, he aligned himself with Danny Doring and Roadkill. His main feud would be against New Jack. He lost every single one of his matches in ECW.
“When I found out I was wrestling him in a hardcore match, I was just like, ‘It’s man-up time’, basically. It’s funny because we went out there, and we’ve wrestled before…
I was a little nervous too because I’d seen some things that had gone on with him. So anyway, I went out into this match, and I’m getting hit with literally everything and the kitchen sink and toasters.”
– Droz on working with New Jack.
He got called up to the WWF in early 1998. He had worked a series of untelevised dark matches prior to this. He had also shortened his ring name to Droz. The WWF had been cooperating with movie director Barry W. Blaustein at the time. McMahon proposed re-enacting Drozdov’s contract signing for Blaustein’s documentary.
Drozdov pitched phoning his parents for the scene. With the cameras rolling, McMahon talked about the “Puke” character. The scene with McMahon commentating while Drozdov failed to vomit into a trashcan became the most shared scene in ‘Beyond the Mat’.
Legion of Doom 2000
On an episode of Monday Night Raw in May 1998, Road Warrior Animal introduced Puke as the third member of the Legion of Doom. The gimmick was doomed from the start. The WWF’s creative team felt the Road Warriors were outdated and did not understand their appeal.
Vince Russo tried repackaging them as ‘L.O.D. 2000’, his own interpretation of their act. Animal felt The Legion of Doom were WWF’s own characters and was separate from the Road Warriors. Hawk was much more expressive when he was unhappy with something. He protested wearing customized motorcycle helmets by throwing his into the crowd.
It was never recovered. Management blamed Hawk’s behaviour on his addiction issues. They proposed adding Drozdov to the team for when Hawk was not in good health. Both Animal and Hawk agreed to this, but tensions still arose.
Puke had not made it down the ramp before commentator Jim Ross clarified he was Darren Drozdov. Ross would put over Drozdov’s ability and athletic background, but he refused to acknowledge him as Puke.
Drozdov was supposed to instigate the match by vomiting on the seat of Chainz’ motorcycle, but he was unable. With only one year of experience and having never worked with the LOD before, he had no chemistry with the team. Also, fans immediately sensed he was there to replace Hawk.
Brawl for All
Soon after Droz’ debut, the WWF announced the ‘Brawl for All’ tournament. It was a legitimate mixed martial arts tournament created by Russo. His main aim was to humble Bradshaw. The Texan was seen as a bully backstage.
He often told co-workers he could beat them all “if this was for real”. Russo hoped to set up a situation where another wrestler could knock him out on live television. However, he pitched the idea to McMahon as an attempt to exploit the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
All sixteen participants signed up voluntarily. Those involved with organizing the tournament maintain the brackets were determined randomly. The reason so few believe this is because two tag teams faced each other in opening-round matches.
Droz and Hawk – Real-Life Tension
The clash between Droz and Hawk ended in a winnerless draw. Hawk was visibly frustrated that he could not knock down his younger opponent. Droz advanced to the quarter-finals because Hawk was injured during the fight.
This escalated real-life tensions between the pair. Due to the nature of the ongoing storyline, fans and insiders were unsure if Hawk’s injury was legitimate or a cover story.
Droz would meet Bradshaw in the semi-finals. He was denied victory due to poor judging. He had landed more punches than Bradshaw had thrown in the first two rounds. Yet Bradshaw was awarded the points bonuses because his punches seemed to be harder.
This put Droz at a disadvantage going into the third and final round. He tried a bolder strategy to try and overcome the point deficit. This only made it easier for Bradshaw to legitimately win the third round, and the overall fight on points.
Bradshaw would be knocked out during the finals by eventual winner Bart Gunn. Russo later admitted this moment did not bring him any satisfaction. This idea was never tried again.
While Hawk recovered from injury, his addiction was worked into storylines. He began acting inebriated on television. Animal and commentary would berate him for being intoxicated, and Droz would replace him in matches more often.
At one point, Hawk climbed unto the Titantron screen and implied he was going to end his life. Droz tried to talk him down but appeared to push Hawk off the rigging. All of this was done to shame Hawk into going to rehabilitation.
Hawk returned from his “injuries” and accused Droz of being an enabler. He alleged that Droz had done all this to take his spot in LOD. Droz attacked Hawk, and Animal came to his friend’s rescue. Droz and Animal had one more shot at the World Tag Team Championship.
When they lost, Animal formally kicked Droz out of the team. Despite this, Droz still represented LOD in the Royal Rumble. The Road Warriors described this as the lowest point in their careers. They held no animosity towards Drosdov.
Droz was repackaged with a new character that was closer to his own personality. They ran a series of skits called ‘Droz’ World’. They were based on MTV reality shows. They depicted his hobbies, home life, and friends.
It also emphasized his ability to vomit on command. Some of the skits featured him telling brief real-life anecdotes about other WWF stars. The idea was to provoke onscreen feuds.
Droz became more eccentric on television. He also expressed himself through his outlandish entrance gear. Some of it was from his own wardrobe. The rest of it was created and designed by his girlfriend, WWF seamstress Julie Youngberg.
He was initially booked as a tweener. He was a babyface when he faced heels and a heel when he battled babyfaces. They were using crowd reactions to determine his future direction. Fans were not warming to him, so the decision was made to keep him heel.
Prince Albert and Droz
After WrestleMania XV, Droz formed a tag team with Prince Albert. Matt Bloom was also a college football player who was drafted into the NFL. He was cut by the San Diego Chargers before playing his first game.
Bloom spent some time working as a teacher before becoming a wrestler. He was also scouted by Tom Prichard. He debuted as Droz’ body artist. His ring name was based on a male genital piercing. Albert saved Droz from an attack from the Big Boss Man backstage. The WWF invented a fictional backstory that they had been rivals in the NFL.
They alleged that Droz vomited on Albert the first time they met on the gridiron. In truth, they did not meet until they were paired together in the WWF. Albert would carry a case with his tattoo and piercing supplies to the ring. He and Droz had a regular gimmick where they would forcibly give a tattoo or piercing to beaten opponents.
Key was also added to the group to complete the unnamed stable. Vic Grimes had been recommended to McMahon by Cornette. He was initially part of a tag team with Erin O’Grady.
Both men were given new characters before being paired with someone else on the main roster. O’Grady was repackaged as ‘Crash Holly’ and enjoyed moderate success. Grimes became Key, Droz’ drug dealer.
The trio attempted to initiate a feud with The Godfather. The latter was sidelined with an injury, and Grimes was released thereafter. The alliance’s biggest success was being eliminated quickly in a gauntlet match at SummerSlam.
GTV and the program with D’Lo Brown
On the first Raw of October 1999, a GTV segment showed Droz vomiting into D’Lo Brown’s travel bag. This was supposed to set up their match later on the show, but it was postponed. Little did fans know that they had just seen Droz at a WWF event for the last time.
The match against Brown was filmed for SmackDown. Droz occasionally wore a see-through vest when he wrestled. He made a last-second decision to wear it on this night. During the match, Brown attempted a running powerbomb.
The move required great strength, careful technique, and great care. He had executed it hundreds of times perfectly. Droz himself had taken the move several times without incident.
On this evening, Brown lost grip on Droz’ loose-fitting shirt. Droz tried to advise Brown that he was not in properly in position. It was already too late. He landed on his head and fractured two vertebrae in his neck. He had been paralyzed.
The match was immediately stopped so Drozdov could get medical attention. The footage has never been viewed by the public. A few fan photographs have surfaced online over the years.
Images of Drozdov being escorted out on a stretcher were used on the WWF’s ‘Don’t Try This At Home’ disclaimers for some time after. He was taken to the local medical center and endured an hours-long surgery to reduce the pressure on his neck. After much intense treatment and therapy, he regained the use of his arms.
“He was going to give me a running powerbomb, which he had done before. We had wrestled a bunch of matches before. And then, with that, he went and picked me up. I remember going up, and I knew something wasn’t right.
It just felt weird. I didn’t go all the way up. I just remember him moving. I just remember going down. I still remember hitting, and I heard two cracks. And I went… basically said, ‘Oh f**k, I just broke my neck’.”
– Droz on the moment his injury happened.
‘Beyond The Mat’ was released the same month as Drozdov’s incident. A late edit noted that Drozdov had suffered a career-ending injury. It was unable to give any information on his condition or recovery until updated releases years later.
Droz would admit several years later that the scene where he met with McMahon had been staged. He also noted that McMahon hated the documentary because he had no idea it would be so negative.
Only two people ever blamed Brown for the incident; Youngberg and Brown himself. The couple was so grateful Drozdov was still alive that they married just two days after the incident.
Life after the incident for Droz and D’Lo Brown
Brown fell into a deep depression that required intervention from multiple people, including Drozdov himself. He became slower in the ring and stopped performing some his regular moves. He was placed into a tag team with the Godfather so that the veteran could mentor him.
Drozdov was given a copy of the footage. It took Brown and himself a few years to find the courage to watch the tape. They both share the conclusion that it was a freak accident and nobody was to blame.
Droz was left wheelchair-bound after the incident. The WWF kept him on as a writer and a columnist. He wrote pieces for their magazines and websites. He also had a recurring role on their ‘WWF Byte This’ webcast.
He would also appear on WWE-produced documentaries about the Road Warriors. After leaving the WWF, Drozdov has done numerous shoot interviews and talked extensively on his accident, the Road Warriors, and the Brawl for All tournament.
“I talked to Droz, and I was like, ‘How can you forgive? I’m walking and I’m going to get better. I feel like a jerk for even bringing this up to you’. And he was like, ‘No, no. Let’s talk about it’.
You know, he was fined, and we’re friends. After talking to him about it, I was like, ‘Alright, if he can do this, I can too’.
– Lita talks about how Droz helped her mentally overcome her own broken neck.
In 2005, Drozdov and Youngberg filed for divorce after she left him for another wrestler. He moved in with his sister so that she could give him the care he needed. Kevin Plank, the founder of Under Armor, designed and funded a specially-made wheelchair for him.
Over a decade of treatment and physical therapy allowed him to walk limited distances. However, it still took him twenty minutes to walk fifteen feet with support before he needed to stop for a long rest. He was only able to stand for a few minutes at a time and needed to lie flat for several hours a day. His daily treatment required several different medications.
Remembering Darren Drozdov
On June 30, 2023, Drozdov passed away in AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Pomona, New Jersey. He was 54. Drozdov was known for keeping a positive outlook throughout his lifetime.
His family have since announced the creation of the ‘Darren Drozdov Oakcrest High School Athletic Scholarship’. The fund seeks to support student-athletes at his former school to continue their education.
Droz’ life did not change because of one moment. It changed because of how he reacted to that moment. He had set State records, was one of the most talked about players in the NFL, and was part of a legendary tag team.
He had achieved too much with his life to let his injury beat him. He spent every day fighting to get better. He refused to be negative because he had too much to be positive about.