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Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Updated: December 28, 10:37 AM ET
Isak Rain, 1985-2007

By Jeff Pearlman
Special to Page 2

When 22-year-old athletes die -- be they Cy Young candidates or fifth-string Division III punters -- we take notice. There's simply something irreconcilable about a physical specimen suddenly ceasing to exist. One day, he is enthralling the masses, the next … nothingness.

That said, the indifference which greeted the passing of Isak Bjerknes, one of the world's rising professional wrestlers, was downright heartbreaking.

A native Norwegian who wrestled in the England-based WAW (World Association of Wrestling) under the moniker "Isak Rain," Bjerknes died on the morning of Oct. 10 when, while driving to his construction job outside of Darbu, Norway, he lost control of his car and crashed into a tree.

Beginning four years ago, when he first attended a tryout for the Norwegian Wrestling Federation's training school, Bjerknes earned a reputation as one of his sport's true success stories. As a young teenager, he battled depression and paranoia, as well as drug addictions, and attempted suicide on multiple occasions. If one thing saved his life, it was the mat. Reads his biography on the Web site, isakrain.net: "Since the age of 6, pro wrestling was one of Rain's few passions, so whenever things got rough, Rain would find peace with the wrestling, and the dream was there to once achieve the opportunity to become a pro wrestler himself."

Though neither especially large (he was 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds) nor a Jordan-esque athlete (the NBA legend was, however, his hero -- along with Eminem, Superman and Jesus), Bjerknes opened eyes in the WAW with an unparalleled work ethic and dashing good looks that reminded some of a young Matt Dillon. "His charisma was great," says Erik Isaksen, Bjerknes' tutor at the Norwegian Wrestling Foundation. "He simply had the 'it' factor which is so important in wrestling. If his life was not taken away from him far too soon, he could have become an international star."

Bjerknes also possessed a sly sense of humor. Once, while he and Isaksen were flying to a wrestling event, Isaksen rose to use the bathroom. Upon returning, he struggled for 10 minutes to put his seat belt on. "To my surprise they could not lock," Isaksen says. "He had swapped the seat belts so they did not match."

In the years before his death, the once-troubled Bjerknes seemed to have straightened himself out. He appeared in a handful of Dutch Christian youth movies and became increasingly involved in his church.

The demons that had dominated his existence were gone.

"As the time goes by," he wrote recently on his MySpace page, "I hope to wrestle as much as I can in as many countries as I can."

Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer. You can reach him at anngold22@gmail.com.