Class of 2018
Pro Wrestling is one of the few mediums on earth where one could become immortalized by the virtues of lying, cheating and stealing. In the case of Eddie Guerrero, his passion and something in his eyes broke through in a way that made it all seem okay. As much as Guerrero gave the world a gift through his expression in wrestling, he was using it to heal himself at the same time. Guerrero left us far too early, as he literally died in the process of wanting to be the main event star he always saw himself as. When he got that status, after making the trade with his body over the years that would be his demise, he nearly self-destructed under the pressure he put on himself, and ran from it. I don’t know if he would have done it any differently though.
I first became aware of the then “Eddy” Guerrero in the first pro wrestling show I ever watched, Starrcade 95. During the WCW vs New Japan World Cup of Wrestling, Guerrero was representing WCW as he faced a man named Shinjiro Otani, who was a stoic looking grappler dressed in plain black trunks. Guerrero was a long way from who he would eventually be, but he and Otani traded electric offense and athletics over what seemed to be around 20 minutes. Even in defeat he became one of my favorites, and like many I didn’t know exactly where it would lead to him but I was excited to watch.
Of course I later learned Guerrero had a storied career throughout the world, in addition to being part of the legendary Guerrero family. He was the best of the all by the way.
Eddy would continue excelling across WCW until his first heel turn which is my personal favorite version of Guerrero. Small things like oiling up and wetting his hair and switching from his classic singlet to the long pants made him leap off the screen as his viciousness and technical ability elevated him to “Best In The World” status for the first time. Much in the way I considered Booker T as unapologetically black in WCW (Booker T getting an arena full of folks that didn’t look like him to raise the roof should be in his 10 greatest feats), Guerrero was unapologetically Mexican, becoming a Latino Icon in Wrestling even being settled with crap like the LWO. Back to back efforts against Chris Jericho during Sept. 1997 at War Games, and what I consider the greatest WCW match ever against career rival Rey Mysterio, at Halloween Havoc 1997 solidified Guerrero as an all-time great before he ever became a main eventer. He was the epitome of smooth but explosive in the ring.
In WCW, Guerrero was on a constant path to get greater opportunities and ran into problems with management that coincided with real life issues as a car crash put him out of action and changed his body for the first time, and in the process he developed a pain killer addiction that would come back to manifest early into his run in WWE.
Guerrero was never going to rise above a certain point in WCW. That was more a reflection of WCW than Eddy, and his move to WWE set forth the period for which would see him reach levels that were unthinkable under Eric Bischoff.
It wasn’t easy though, Guerrero found himself in and out of WWE within his first 14 months due to out of the ring issues. However, Guerrero was carving out real estate in the hearts of fans as his partnership with Chyna would forever make her his Mamacita. That whole situation was kind of designed to make fun of Eddie from different stories I heard, but it wound up just being great. I encourage any fan to go back and check out some of the promos and backstage moments with Eddie and Chyna and try to see how long it is before you smile. He just had that effect on folks.
His rise to the top saw him pioneer tactics like slapping a steel chair on the mat and playing unconscious, so he could steal wins by disqualification. He had the unique gift of being able to make you love him or be absolutely despicable. He could be inspirational, or pro wrestling’s best performer on any given night.
He powered through personal demons that threatened to sidetrack him, to finally become the main eventer he had been denied to be for years by the time he defeated Brock Lesnar for the WWE Championship. I’ve heard terms like “The Latino Steve Austin” for the effect he had on the rating demographics of UPN, as Smackdown was on an over the air network at the time. He didn’t end up lasting as champion the first time around, reportedly cracking under the pressure of carrying his own show. Before he died he was said to be in line for another run with title, but unfortunately it would never happen.
His demise at age 38 came at a time where I wasn’t actively watching professional wrestling, and I was rocked with the news. Guerrero was a true great because there were different versions of Guerrero you could love. As much as one person could love 2004 Eddie Guerrero who finally became champion, the next could love Late 1997 Eddy for entirely different reasons. As I mentioned before, the pressure to look like a main eventer through dangerous methods ultimately caused Guerrero’s life to end early. However, the way Guerrero showed us what was inside of him as an American major league wrestling performer from 1995 to 2005 most of us saw him as one all along.
Rest in peace Papi, and welcome to the Lords Of Pain Hall Of Fame.