On October 5th, 1999, Droz suffered a severe neck injury in a match against D’Lo Brown during a WWF SmackDown taping. In one quick instant, the 6-foot-3, 280-pounder became a quadriplegic with virtually no movement below the neck. Here, Droz and D’Lo Brown open up about this disastrous moment and how forgiveness, strength, and resilience brought them close in the years that followed.
When a professional wrestler goes into the squared circle, he or she puts their body on the line risking a wrestling injury. There is absolutely no way around it. Even with an almost unfathomable commitment to the craft and years of their life training, unfortunately, that doesn’t stop terrible accidents from occurring from time to time.
How The Injury Took Place
Darren Drozdov, also known as Droz or Puke (for his ability to vomit on command), is currently a quadriplegic due to a disastrous wrestling injury that took place during a SmackDown taping on October 5th, 1999, at the Nassau Coliseum in Long Island, New York. His opponent was D’Lo Brown.
As the best theory goes, Droz didn’t get the proper jump to aid in D’Lo’s running powerbomb, while Brown himself couldn’t get a good grip because of Drozdov’s loose shirt. This resulted in Droz crashing to the mat in a gruesome manner, leaving him paralyzed. It was a true accident.
The match, while being taped in its entirety, was edited by the time it aired on television. WWF SmackDown at the time was taped days before its airing, which gave WWF time to edit out inconsistencies. Because of this, WWF technicians have withheld the footage of the match, deciding not to release it in any format. However, the footage of Droz being taken out on a stretcher has been seen in “WWE’s Don’t Try This at Home” public service announcements, as can be seen from the 13-second mark below.
Footage of this injury currently sits inside the WWE vault, alongside the tape of Owen Hart’s fall at Over The Edge 1999. Instructions on both read: Never view, copy, or destroy.
These are the only two pieces of WWE footage with this guidance.
As Mick Foley tells it in his book “Foley Is Good: And the Real World Is Faker than Wrestling,” while on a stretcher, Droz made it a point to tell D’Lo Brown not to blame himself.
That must’ve been a tall order.
D’Lo, for his part, had this to say in 2014:
“Do you feel comfortable talking about Darren Drozdov’s wrestling injury?”
“Yeah, I do. Um, not one of my (pauses, a clear change happening as his mood turns blue) definitely not one of my brighter days. Probably the worst day of my life. Talking in terms of wrestling and real life. Um (pauses) just, uh, that’s an instant downer for me.”
“When was the last time you spoke to him?”
“Probably about, um, six months ago. He and I, we were never close before the accident and, um, I don’t know how an accident can draw two people closer. And then, there’s heat with his wife and me for some reason; I don’t know. You know, she puts a lot of blame on things. Droz and I have talked about it on several occasions. We don’t know what went wrong.
Out of respect, we don’t watch the tape. I can clear up a few [misconceptions]. It wasn’t a fan throwing ice in the ring, throwing garbage in the ring, and I didn’t slip. It was just, and it could’ve been anybody in the ring with him that night. It just happened to be me. It happened to be my sad misfortune to be in the ring, and because of that, you know, a man’s paralyzed.
People ask me all the time, does that affect me? Hell yeah. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be human. For probably about a year, I wrestled differently. I second-guessed everything I did and that, that-that was probably- I should’ve just taken- I mean, I should’ve taken time off. And if it hadn’t been for Jim Ross really talking to me, I was gonna quit the business. I was done.
I was this close to saying, “The hell with it.” I couldn’t- ’cause no one ever got hurt on my watch. No one has since, you know? And someone is trusting me to give me their body. I want them to walk out of the ring in the same condition they came in, and that’s one thing I prided myself on. Really, I was really close to quitting. As I said, Jim Ross sat down with me.
We had a long, long, probably three-hour conversation full of football references, and how we all know the risks going into the game, how it could’ve been anybody. He eventually turned me around and made me want to continue wrestling. But that accident not only affected me professionally but personally. I mean, I was a whole different person.
You know, I almost separated from my fiancé during that time. I’m not a party guy, but all of a sudden, I was just living life like there was no tomorrow, ass wide open. Just gone. Because I didn’t know what to do and that was my way of- I was depressed, and I didn’t know it. So my way of trying to get rid of my depression was to party.
That took about a year, where I didn’t know really what was going on.”
In an interview with Jim Ross for Fox Sports, Darren Drozdov spoke about the accident and his thoughts regarding Brown, “I have no hard feelings toward D’Lo because shit happens and everyone who gets involved in athletics, including WWE, knows the risks that exist. It was an accident.”
While there have been instances in the past that shows us the importance of proper training to prevent a wrestling injury, Droz and D’Lo’s stirs a much scarier thought: even the most technically sound wrestlers can suffer horrible misfortune. On any given night, a performer can get injured due to an accident.
What Droz is Up To Today
In the years since the injury, Darren Drozdov has regained most of the use of his upper body and arms. Following his accident in the ring, Droz continued to work for the WWE as a writer and columnist, where he wrote articles and essays for the WWE website and magazine. He also had a recurring role on the WWE Byte This! internet show, which ran from 2003-2006, where he gave his opinions regarding current talent and upcoming matches. For many years, he additionally wrote articles with his predictions for WWE pay-per-views.
Droz currently lives in South Jersey with his sister and her family. He requires 24-hour in-home care and is required to take multiple medications daily in addition to needing to lie flat for long periods of time. With the assistance of his medical staff and continued support from the WWE, he is able to sustain a degree of independence.
Days after his accident in 1999, Droz married WWE seamstress Julie Youngberg in 1999. He later stated that the one thing he wished he was able to do was be to walk Julie down the aisle. The two divorced in late 2005.
Droz uses a customized, tank-like wheelchair that was designed and financed by his college friend, Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.
On Saturday, August 25th, 2018, Stand Alone Wrestling presented an event called Boardwalk Beatdown in Atlantic City, New Jersey. At the event, Droz and D’Lo Brown appeared together for the very first time since 1999.
We’ll end this piece with an inspiring quote from Droz, which he shared with Jim Ross, “No matter what puts you down, in my eyes and in my mind, 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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