By Jamiel Lynch, CNN
(CNN) — Former WWE wrestler and NFL player Darren Drozdov has died at age 54, according to the WWE.
The WWE announced Drozdov’s death and remembered the athlete as “an imposing force in the ring” in a news release on Friday.
Drozdov, known as both Puke and Droz in the ring, was a notable in-ring WWE competitor, the pro wrestling company said, adding that he was a “gifted athlete” well before wrestling. Drozdov played football at the University of Maryland before short stints in the NFL where he played for the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos.
Drozdov died of natural causes, according to a statement from his family shared by the WWE.
The wrestler became quadriplegic after a “tragic ring accident” while wrestling for the WWE in 1999, according to his family.
“Nevertheless, Droz maintained a championship mindset and lived every day to the fullest even though he was unable to move from the neck down for the past 24 years,” his family says in the statement.
Drozdov’s family quoted the athlete reflecting on his outlook on life: “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.”
The family also extended their thanks to Drozdov’s “fans, teammates, colleagues, and friends” over the years.
“You all gave him meaning, purpose and something to live for,” says the statement. “He loved each and every one of you and cherished the conversations, notes and letters he received. His faith in humanity never faltered, so know that for all the love you’ve shown him, he loved you back.”
In a tweet, actor and wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson remembered Drozdov as one of his “ring brothers.”
“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,” Johnson wrote.
Drozdov played football for the Denver Broncos between 1993 and 1994 before moving on to the wrestling ring. The team said in a tweet Friday that they were “saddened” by his death.
Drozdov “embodied the spirit of perseverance & determination through adversity, and our hearts go out to his family,” the Broncos wrote.
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CNN’s Kevin Dotson and Zoe Sottile contributed to this report.