The Journal Gazette
Sunday, September 26, 2021 1:00 am

Born to be a wrestler

Samoan heritage, love of sport get city man into ring

JOSH PATTERSON | For The Journal Gazette

Long hailed as a staple within the world of professional wrestling, the Samoan Islands continue to produce athletes that excel in the squared circle. That lineage even extends to the Heroes and Legends dual champion Anthony Toatele, a Fort Wayne resident who will put both the heavyweight and Legends titles on the line Saturday at Heroes and Legends XV at the Memorial Coliseum against Elijah Burke, the longest-reigning NWA TV champion of the modern era.

Toatele, along with former WWE superstars Rikishi and Samu and the Sons Of Samoa tag team, share Samoan heritage and will join the roster of over 40 wrestlers slated to appear. The dual champion credits his Samoan background with playing at least a part in his prowess inside the ring and views Burke as a nod to the beginnings of his experience with live wrestling.

Born Anthony Duckett, his mother hails from Samoa originally while his father grew up in Fort Wayne before joining the military. They met while he was stationed in Salt Lake City. The family eventually moved back to northern Indiana, settling in Columbia City, where Toatele says he had a fairly typical childhood – watching wrestling on TV with his father and playing sports in school, focusing on wrestling and football.

“Kurt Angle was a big thing, The Rock was a big thing,” Toatele said. “I said, 'If I want to do what they do, you have to do those two things.'”

Despite seeing plenty of wrestling shows on television, Toatele didn't attend a live event until he was 18, opting to buy tickets to a show at the Coliseum. The main event that night included none other than Burke, who wowed Toatele with his in-ring ability, then surprised Toatele after the show, when he went out to eat and saw Burke at the same restaurant.

“I'm about to main event a show with that same guy,” Toatele said. “That's a very cool personal feeling. If that is where my career ended, I'd be cool with that. My first show I saw him wrestle, and then my last time out would be at the same place wrestling in front of a large crowd. It's just been one of those things I've been keeping to myself, but it's a super cool story. He doesn't know me from the guy next door, but I definitely remember him.”

Not that Toatele plans to retire anytime soon. At 32, he said his body doesn't handle the rigors of professional wrestling quite as well as when he started training in 2011. Toatele still incorporates technical, high-flying maneuvers in the ring, but his style has evolved to include more of the storytelling elements that continue to draw wrestling fans to the sport.

“You want to see your favorite person overcome obstacles, battling through things, so those feel-good moments mean something,” Toatele said. “People will always turn back to wrestling if you're giving people that. For me, I try to find that middle ground where people see I can do really athletic things, but I want people to remember the story behind it, how the match made them feel. If (fans) can remember a lot of those other details, that's the stuff that's super important.”

If you go

What: Heroes & Legends XV professional wrestling show

When: The weekend-long event starts Friday with a meet and greet and comedy show from 5 to 11 p.m. at the Sonesta Select Fort Wayne (111 W. Washington Center Road). On Saturday at Memorial Coliseum, the FanFest begins at noon, with the first match slated for a 7 p.m. start. Several wrestlers will then attend The Pointe on Sunday morning to worship.

Who: Rikishi, Samu, the Headbangers, Gangrel, Kongo Kong, Greg “The Hammer” Valentine, Scott Steiner, D-Von Dudley, Glacier,the Brooklyn Brawler, Scott Norton, Al Snow, Juventud Guerrera, Super Crazy and many others

Cost: Tickets start at $25 for the fan fest and wrestling show, available at the Memorial Coliseum box office or through Ticketmaster

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