TJR: Remembering Eddie Guerrero Five Years Later
Today, November 13, is the five year anniversary of the death of former WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero. I woke up this morning, just like I did on that Sunday morning five years ago, flooded with messages about Eddie. This time it was on my Twitter feed, seeing fans and wrestlers sharing their thoughts about this great man. Five years ago I remember it was a regular Sunday in November, I was sitting there checking out the NFL news to make my bets and adjust my fantasy football lineups. I remember talking to my buddy Sean when I went to one of the wrestling sites to see: “Eddie Guerrero passes away.” Huh? What? It sent a shiver down my spine. There he was week after week putting smiles on our faces and all of a sudden he was gone at age 38. A heart attack in a hotel room in Minneapolis, the night before he was supposed to win the World Title at a Smackdown taping. I don’t want to make this a sad piece, though. Let’s celebrate his life and his legacy. I’m not going to write a full biography, but I want to share some of the moments and images that made us love him.
I was one of those wrestling fans that was fortunate enough to grow up with the WWF vs. WCW “wars” (I hate calling it that, really) on Monday nights. One of the reasons why I watched WCW was because of Eddie Guerrero. He was on that list along with other great workers, but he was always somebody that stood out. I especially loved him as a heel because he felt more natural in that role. Of course he would have more success later in his career as a babyface, but I think he shined as a heel too. All the great ones did, though. To be one of the best ever you had to do it as a good guy and a bad guy. Eddie could.
EDDIE VERSUS REY AT HALLOWEEN HAVOC
My favorite WCW match of his was at WCW Halloween Havoc in 1997 versus Rey Mysterio. To me, one of the best pure wrestling matches ever. It was the perfect example of that lucha libre style that Eddie & Rey helped make famous in Mexico and being able to adapt to make it work in American wrestling. Again, that’s another example of his talent and his greatness. Do me a favor. If you haven’t watched this match before take 15 minutes out of your life to watch it. You will enjoy it if you are a fan of professional wrestling. And if you’re like me and you’ve seen it many times feel free to watch it again. It’s a true classic. I gave it five stars.
rey mysterio vs eddie guerrero halloween
SADNESS, NEAR DEATH & A RESURRECTION
The rest of his WCW was marred by sadness. He nearly died on New Year’s Day in 1999 in a car accident where he had a lot of drugs in his system, he crashed his car and the reports said that if he was wearing a seatbelt (he was not) he would have died. Amazingly he was able to wrestle again a few months later, but like a lot of people in WCW he wasn’t happy. In January of 2000 he left WCW with his friends Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn aka The Radicalz (WWE loved spelling everything with a Z during this period of time). I was as happy as anybody because as an Eddie fan I always wanted to see him in WWE where I hoped he could be used better than he was in WCW.
His WWE run could be divided into two chapters. He really took off when he started in WWE as they put the “Latino Heat” gimmick on him and they paired him up with Chyna. This was when she actually looked pretty decent. The relationship was one where Eddie was the sneaky guy who hid behind his girlfriend, which made him a coward, but it also made him a babyface because he was funny about it. After the angle ran its course he went back to being a heel where he reunited with the Radicalz as heels. Then sadness struck as Eddie got arrested for drunk driving in November of 2001 and he was released by WWE a few days after that.
I think it was at that point when Eddie realized that what he had could be taken away in an instant and he did all he could to lead a sober life. His time away from WWE didn’t last long, thankfully. After some work on the independent circuit (including a match with CM Punk & a maskless Rey Mysterio) he returned in April of 2002 and he would not look back. The next three years of his career was the best work he ever did both in terms of his in-ring performance as well as his character development.
MOVING UP THE LADDER IN WWE
The cool thing about Eddie’s rise in WWE was I don’t think he was somebody Vince McMahon pegged as a World Champion when he first signed with the company in 2000. He earned that belt. The fans absolutely adored him. They respected him as a worker (he is one of the best in-ring technicians ever) and they grew to love him as this hard working regular guy who they loved because of his passion for the business he was in. You could see it on his face during matches. You could hear it in his voice during promos. The guy LOVED putting on a show for us. It’s all he knew. It’s all he wanted to do since he was a child bouncing around in a ring in his dad’s backyard.
I remember when he came back in 2002 and he was absolutely on fire in every way. He had a really strong feud with RVD on Raw, then he moved to Smackdown where he became part of a group that online fans aptly named “The Smackdown Six.” It consisted of Eddie, Kurt Angle, Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio, Edge & Chavo Guerrero. They were all elite workers who had great matches with eachother in singles and tags week after week on free TV, as well as PPV. Paul Heyman was booking Smackdown at that point and the quality of wrestling during that period in late 2002 will probably never be matched. I can remember an Eddie vs. Edge No DQ match (a lot of people thought it was ladder, but it was no DQ with a ladder being pulled out) on Smackdown that really did an amazing job of elevating both guys to the next level.
The Eddie & Chavo duo were particularly entertaining both in terms of having great matches and also having entertaining characters. There were a number of funny sketches between them where they put over their “Lie, Cheat & Steal” personas. I particularly liked the golfing one as well as the one where they steal from a baby. So many funny memories from that. Here’s a video that summarizes those videos with both Eddie & Chavo talking about it.
“Yeah we lie, we cheat, we steal, but at least we’re honest about it!” – Eddie Guerrero
Eddie’s rise continued through 2003. He ended up becoming a full fledged babyface who the fans loved because they really showcased his personality. The work in the ring was always there and the promos were above average, but once they mixed in his comedic side it really worked to the point where he was seriously considered to be a World Champion. The thinking was always that a guy that 5’8″ and 225 pounds was too small for Vince McMahon to put a belt on. Thankfully Vince listened to the fans who were clamoring for it and we got to see that magical victory in early 2004.
THE WWE TITLE WIN VERSUS BROCK LESNAR
No Way Out 2004. Eddie challenging Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title. I wrote about this match at length in a column I did five years ago about the top 50 WWE matches from 2000-2004 and I had this at number ten. Rather than write about it again, I thought I should just share what I wrote then since it is obviously relevant today. Following the writeup I’ll post a clip of the tail end of the match. I’d recommend watching the whole thing if you want.
The Story: Guerrero had won a Smackdown only 15 man Royal Rumble type match on the first SD after the Rumble to determine who would face Lesnar for the title here at No Way Out. This was built as the typical favorite versus underdog type match. Even though Guerrero had about fifteen years of more experience than Lesnar, he was the underdog due to his size. Lesnar is considerably larger, so obviously Guerrero had an uphill battle to climb. The other thing to note is that Steve Austin over on Raw bought Bill Goldberg a “ticket” for No Way Out to watch Lesnar, which was a continuation of the Goldberg/Lesnar feud that became hotter at the Royal Rumble. Earlier in the show, Goldberg attacked Lesnar in ring and was arrested for his actions by then GM Paul Heyman. Also of note was that pretty much everybody online knew at the time of this match that Guerrero was winning. For me, it didn’t hurt the match, but for some people it might have. Lesnar’s leaving wasn’t known at this point either. That came about a week or two after this.
The Match: Lesnar overpowered Guerrero from the start, working over Guerrero’s ribs and countering a hurricanrana into a stiff powerbomb as well as a couple of overhead belly to belly suplexes. Then Lesnar did a super belly to belly throw that sent Guerrero all the way down to the floor. Guerrero slowed him down by ramming the knee into the post, but Lesnar countered by sending Eddie shoulder first into it. Brock continues with a Fisherman’s Buster and a hard German Suplex as well while continuing to work on the ribs. Lesnar went for the high knee he connected on earlier, but Guerrero moved and Brock went over the top to the floor clutching the knee. Guerrero puts him into the STF while the crowd thought that was it, but Lesnar fought out. Guerrero continued to work on the knee, slapping on the figure four for about a minute until Lesnar made it to the ropes. He followed that up with a Texas Cloverleaf, another STF and that was it because Lesnar busted out another German Suplex as well as a spinebuster for two. Guerrero misses a missile dropkick, so Lesnar busts out the one legged suplex because he’s awesome at selling the leg, then he works on the ribs some more. He grabs him in a reverse bearhug, Eddie counters with headbutts and finally gets a headscissors. Guerrero hits his patented Three Amigo suplexes, then a frog splash attempt missed because Lesnar moved out of the way. Lesnar hit the F5 right into the referee, knocking both Guerrero and ref Brian Hebner out. Lesnar grabs the belt, Goldberg comes in, hits Brock with a spear and leaves. Crowd chants for Eddie, he crawls on top for the cover that only gets two. Thought that was it. The ref was still groggy, so they fought over the belt, F5 attempt by Lesnar countered into a DDT by Guerrero on the belt. Then he chucks the belt out, climbs the top and hits the perfect frog splash for the pinfall victory after 30 minutes.
The Analysis: Wow, I really loved this match. I remember when Eddie won, in my write-up I was so genuinely excited for Guerrero. Watching it again, I’m still excited about this match. I liked the psychology of the match with Guerrero working on the knee as a way to slow Lesnar down while Brock targeted Eddie’s shoulder area because it was an easy part of the body for him to work on. The pacing of the match was perfect too. It was slow at the right times and fast at the right times too. The best thing was it wasn’t too long. Sometimes a match will go thirty and you’ll groan because it would have been better at twenty. This one was the right amount of time because of all the work both guys did in trying to slow the other one down. The only things that kept it from being higher rated is the ref bump and the interference. Other than that, this was outstanding wrestling. My favorite story in any wrestling match is always the big man vs. little man dynamic. I loved it in past matches like Michaels vs. Undertaker in the first Hell in a Cell match, Flair vs. Vader at WCW’s Starrcade ’93 and Michaels vs. Diesel back in April of ’96. I think big man vs. little man prevents the easiest storyline for a wrestling booker to tell. All you have to do is look at the size of the guys and you have your story right there. It’s that easy. Anything you can put on top of that is just gravy, which is what this match had due to Guerrero never being at the top of the mountain before while Lesnar played the bully role so well. It’s a shame Lesnar walked out because this was their first match on PPV and I think it’s safe to assume that if they had more they would be just as good as this one.
I still smile when I see that. What a moment. What a memory. I’m so glad he got to experience that and that the world was able to share it with him.
THE END OF HIS RUN
Eddie’s title reign didn’t last as long as we hoped because in his words it put a lot of stress on him. He had a tough time dealing with demons and being WWE Champion gave him additional pressure that he wasn’t ready for. After a very good match with Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX (the infamous taking off the boot finish) they ended up putting the belt on the new repackaged John Bradshaw Layfield at the 2004 Great American Bash. Eddie went on to feud with Kurt Angle later on in 2004. I always loved those two working together. Never a dull moment or a bad match there.
In 2005, Eddie’s main feud was against his good friend Rey Mysterio. I was all for it because of their awesome work together in WCW. The feud took a bizarre turn after their WrestleMania match. Eddie went heel and claimed that Rey’s son Dominick was actually his. The storyline resulted in some really long promos and a series of PPV matches that were generally pretty good, but it wasn’t amazing. I guess when you have high expectations for something it doesn’t always deliver.
I remember his last match against Ken Kennedy (now Ken Anderson in TNA). This is what I wrote about it in my piece the day Eddie passed away:
“The Guerrero/Kennedy match on Smackdown was great because it was a sign of things to come for them. It was a great veteran in Eddie taking a young future star like Kennedy to a higher level. That’s the thing Eddie could do with anybody. That’s what made him so great. He was phenomenal on Smackdown last week. From the way he fooled Kennedy, then won the match with the ref seeing the chair in Kennedy’s hand and then that killer chair shot that he took after the match as his way of helping Kennedy get over. He always did the right thing in wrestling. He did his part. He made you proud to be a fan.”
It was later revealed after his death that Eddie was supposed to win the World Title at a Smackdown taping due to Batista’s injury. It was going to be a triple threat match with Batista & Randy Orton. His death happened in a hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 13, 2005. His nephew (and best friend) Chavo Guerrero found him in the bathroom. That week WWE dedicated Raw & Smackdown to Eddie. They were very touching tributes to a great man. At the 2006 Hall of Fame he was inducted by his friends and family. His memory lives on.
WHAT’S HIS LEGACY?
When Eddie died it was due to a heart attack. He had performance enhancing drugs in his system and due to his drug abuse years prior it weakened his heart. In the months that followed, WWE developed their “Wellness Policy,” which is a fancy way of saying they now have a respectable drug testing policy. Sure, there might be some loopholes in terms of using performance enhancing drugs, but at least they are testing their performers regularly. I remember reading about how Roddy Piper was booked to work a tag match with Ric Flair at Taboo Tuesday one year and when Roddy did the drug test they found something. If it wasn’t for the Wellness Policy he could have passed away. I also remember MVP, who is in his 30s, discovering he needed to get treatment for his heart after a test as well. I’m sure there are other instances that we don’t know about. Because of Eddie’s passing, WWE’s drug testing policy is saving lives of their employees. Is it perfect? No, but at least it exists. It’s a shame it didn’t exist prior to November 13, 2005, but at least it’s there now.
The cool thing about WWE today is that Eddie’s wife Vickie has developed into one of the top heels in the company. Who knew? Maybe Eddie did. I remember when he got inducted into WWE’s Hall of Fame in 2006. There was Vickie with their three daughters talking about her husband. It was touching. A few years later there she was as an on screen character. A great on screen heel, no less. Then, about a month ago, we found out that Eddie’s 20 year old daughter Shaul Guerrero had signed a developmental contract with WWE. Considering how good her father and mother are as performers I look forward to seeing her in the bright lights soon.
What’s his legacy? Simply the fact that he was somebody we’re going to remember five years after his death like we are today, ten years from now, twenty years from now and so on. He had that kind of impact on people because he was a regular guy living out his dream for the world to see. We don’t all get to do that, so we were able to do it through him. When he smiled we smiled. When he did something funny we laughed along with him. When he cried we cried too. We felt his emotions. Sure, he had his demons, but a lot of us do too. He confronted them, he renewed his wedding vows with his wife, he became clean and he conquered a business that isn’t easy to conquer.
I never met Eddie Guerrero. I saw him perform live 5 or 6 times at least and he always put on a show. I remember seeing him work just as hard at a WCW house show in 1998 as he did when he was wrestling in a TV main event six years later. That’s why I loved the guy. He busted his ass for us, the wrestling fans. He cared about us and we knew that, so we cared about him. Sure, I didn’t know him personally, but in watching him over the years and learning his story he let us get to know him. We learned to appreciate and love what he did for us. That’s why we’re sitting here five years later remembering a man who mattered so damn much.
A lot of people always ask me what my dream match was. I’ll go with Eddie Guerrero vs. Shawn Michaels. It’s a shame it didn’t happen. Five stars. No doubt.
We love you Eddie. We will always miss you, but we will never forget you.
May you continue to rest in peace, Champion. God bless you.
Viva La Raza!
Your fan forever,
Here’s a piece about Eddie that I wrote five years ago on the day that he died.