November 13, 2005. It is a Sunday, and the morning news is on. Breaking news. Eddie Guerrero was found dead in his hotel room. I spend the rest of my day as usual. Oh, I was shocked. I couldn’t process it yet.
Then, the November 14 episode of Monday Night Raw broadcast was taped the night before. As Kurt Angle and Shelton Benjamin tore the house down, and Shawn Michaels and Rey Mysterio did the same. Backstage, wrestlers delivered their testimonials. Grown men openly wept. I, too, wept. Twelve years old, not having known this celebrity I’d never met, I took the news as the loss of a friend or family member.
The heavy burden that lies in the fact we will never see the person we usually expect to be there is a crazy one. There were so many years ahead of what Eddie Guerrero could have given to wrestling and what he could have given to his children. Death, the cruel mistress of life, snuck in like a thief in the night and robbed the world of a great person.
Yet, he lives on. He’s referenced in storylines and on commentary every time someone does the Three Amigos. Just this year, Rey Mysterio entered WrestleMania 39, driven by Snoop Dogg in an El Camino, wearing a mask inspired by The Great Muta, while Eddie’s “Viva La Raza” theme played. That sentence makes me feel like an insane person, but it happened. Eddie was a part of that. Eddie Guerrero lives on.
November 13, 2023. Eddie Guerrero is still with us. The contributions and memory lived on because art enabled its makers to be immortal. When leaving behind a legacy and body of work so beautifully entombed in his memory, a part of the soul leaves the body and exists in this thing. The catalog of matches and the innovations made by him or inspired by him preserve his legacy and, therefore, him.
The lucha revolution seen across wrestling today was perpetuated by wrestlers like Eddie. Technical wrestling lives because of wrestlers like Eddie. Characters in wrestling were redefined through who Eddie Guerrero portrayed, regardless of their place on the morality scale.
What’s so intriguing about Eddie Guerrero is how he had the mechanics so early in his career, proving to be a unique talent that seemed lightyears beyond some. He had his contemporaries, sure, but the man was adaptive. He brought something special, whether it was AAA and CMLL in Mexico, New Japan Pro Wrestling, ECW, WCW, WWF/E, or the independent scene.
I, a child at the time, watched Eddy Guerrero in WCW and was impressed by what he did. I didn’t know jack-squat about holds, flips, or physics, let alone the further intricacies of the art. I just knew I was watching a superhero.
My earliest vivid memory of Guerrero was his rivalry in 1996 with Diamond Dallas Page, of which the former won the United States Championship at Starrcade 1996.
How did Guerrero follow this up? Winning the WCW Cruiserweight Championship. Eddy, around this time, became a more vicious competitor, especially over time for his iconic Halloween Havoc struggle against Rey Mysterio Jr. in a master class on working creatively under time constraints. Guerrero, in this match, wrestled as a heavyweight, as opposed to his usual style as a cruiserweight, the wrestling equivalent of when David Bowie singing in a low-pitch to contrast with Freddie Mercury’s refined highs during the recording of the Queen collaboration, “Under Pressure.”
Naturally, when genius is present, others are bound not to see it, bound to doubt it.
Frustration would boil over for Eddy in WCW, as he wanted to either have a spot in the main event picture or out of his contract. Looking at his performances for the company, it’s easy to see why Guerrero possessed a technique so flexible and sound that his matches would often be a highlight. Despite the groans and gripes, Eric Bischoff seemingly was averse to obliging.
Life imitated art, however. With speeches impassionately delivered from a real place, Guerrero would break the illusion of kayfabe, demanding Bischoff give him his just dues, or he would walk out. It wasn’t just about him, it was about the Latino wrestlers who would pour their souls out in the ring and were not given the time and pay for it that the “big boys” slotted in the top spots. As in real life, Bischoff did not oblige, and Guerrero was not seen for months.
Doubtless, fans today would recognize the LWO – The Latino World Order. This group features Rey Mysterio, Santos Escobar, Zelina Vega, Joaquin Wilde, Cruz Del Toro, and Carlito, alongside part-time members Bad Bunny and Savio Vega, with an alliance with Dragon Lee.
But in WCW, Guerrero debuted this stable as a poetic counter to the New World Order that ran roughshod in the company for years. Taking the name and style of a group stealing the spots that men like Eddy, Psychosis, La Parka, Hector Garza, and more coveted, these men and more would fight to claim their stake. This was a fight for a spot to prove anyone belonged, and initially, the idea was blazing hot.
Unfortunately, this idea did not last long, and the group was soon disbanded in 1999. Determined but losing faith, Guerrero began another stable alongside Rey Mysterio Jr and Konnan, known as the Filthy Animals. This, too, did pass like a whimpering breeze during a busy night.
Enough was enough, and Eddie Guerrero would join Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, and Chris Benoit on the World Wrestling Federation side of the fence.
Dubbed The Radicalz, the quartet was touted as the group to look out for as they debuted for the World Wrestling Federation in 2000. These were the men to pay attention to as they executed their craft. Amid the craziness of the Attitude Era, their presence sent the message that these men would be the workhorses that would thrive. While this group had more heat behind it than the LWO and Filthy Animals, it soon splintered, with members finding various degrees of success.
Despite a memorable storyline with Chyna, there seemed to be a limit for Guerrero. Of course, it did not help that addiction grabbed hold of him, ultimately cutting his WWF tenure short in 2001.
Unfortunately, I did not see what he did during his exile until I was much older. When I found it, what I saw was such a treat. Eddie wrestled for independent promotions such as the fledgling Ring of Honor and IWA Mid-South. A match from this time I recommend everyone to watch who hasn’t seen it yet is his March 1, 2002 defense of the IWA Mid-South Heavyweight Championship against Rey Mysterio and future star CM Punk. I adore this match, as everyone brought their signature best without compromise.
Man, no matter what the style, Eddie Guerrero was a master. By no exaggeration, I confidently think he’s one of the best professional wrestlers who ever lived. To me, I hold his name up there with Kenny Omega, Bret Hart, Tomohiro Ishii, and Bryan Danielson.
In 2002, with his body, health, and image rehabilitated, Eddie Guerrero stepped back into Titan Towers, and the years resulting yielded magic.
As part of the fantastic SmackDown Six, Latino Heat enjoyed stardom with an enthralling feud with Edge between 2002’s Summerslam and the SmackDown that followed the previous weekend’s Unforgiven pay-per-view.
From 2003 to 2004, Eddie teamed with nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. in tag team competition, with the uncle soon winning the United States Championship before a feud with Chris Benoit. The hits did not stop coming, for the champion would face John Cena in a Parking Lot Brawl that all Parking Lot matches should look to for inspiration – the Best Friends versus Santana & Ortiz match in All Elite Wrestling sticks out in my mind.
Already, Eddie Guerrero laid out the blueprint for what was to become in professional wrestling. A fixture of his time while simultaneously being ahead of the curve will forever stamp just how important he was to the wrestling industry.
It was time for the main event. The place he was denied in WCW, he had earned in kind after working his ass off. After triumphing in a 15-man Royal Rumble Match on a January episode of SmackDown, Guerrero entered a short yet impactful feud with the monstrous sophomore of Brock Lesnar. Slaying the behemoth in a jaw-dropping upset, Eddie won the WWE Championship.
What made this feud so emotional for me was the symbolic poetry hanging in the backdrop, like instruments to a lyric that told a story of a man conquering his demons. Eddie fought for years to be on top and to battle the addictions that he left behind. But wrestling was to be his new addiction, as he once exclaimed in a heartfelt promo. Defeating a monster like Lesnar was to be no easy task, but Eddie did it. He represented hope, he represented that we can defeat life itself by battling with every muscle in our bones. Every fire that burns within the human soul can scorch obstacles if you blaze bright enough and spread fast enough.
So, what was Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX? Who was he in Madison Square Garden to stand in the way? He can throw barbs all he wants and transition Frog Splashes into Ankle Locks until the bones snap, but he cannot account for the human tenacity to persevere.
Returning to the talk of character, a key component of Eddie Guerrero was not sacrificing who he was, regardless of his position on the morality scale. The core of Eddie was that he was willing to lie, cheat, and steal. Whether being deathly serious or gut-bustlingly hilarious, Eddie’s grasp on wrestling, aside from the moves and physicality, was paramount. Psychologically, Eddie understood the assignment.
2005 saw a rivalry with friend Rey Mysterio that would be one of his last major contributions to the business, as both men fought for the custody of Dominik Mysterio. Culminating in a Ladder Match at SummerSlam, the lucha soap opera told in Washington D.C., the right for one man to call himself the father of Dominik was told. Merchandise continues to be sold out to this day because of this drama – all one needs to do is purchase the “I’m Your Papi!” shirt on WWE’s official online store. What pleases me about this is how the story is still not finished, long after Eddie’s passing. The saga of Rey Mysterio and The Judgement Day renewed this plot in 2022, with the purple-clad heathens taunting Rey just as Eddie once did.
Tragically, we won’t see what Eddie would have brought to this run. Ahead of his promising Survivor Series spot, ahead of the Shawn Michaels dream match at WrestleMania 22, Eddie’s life was cut short. But his contributions are eternal.
Sure, I’d love to see what Eddie Guerrero would have brought to the current-day Latino World Order. I wish I could see him managing someone in All Elite Wrestling or dealing with Los Faccion Ingobernables. Hell, I imagine he’d have been an honorary member of NJPW’s Los Ingobernables de Japon. I know he would have had a match for the ages against Tetsuya Naito, RUSH, and Dragon Lee, as well as Chad Gable, Gunther, Eddie Kingston, and Bryan Danielson.
Regardless, he left us with enough. The lucha renaissance, the way MJF is still a douchebag as a beloved babyface, and with AEW epics told in fifteen minutes or less, Eddie Guerrero has left an indelible mark on professional wrestling as a whole, almost 20 years after his departure.
Eddie Guerrero may be gone, but the eternal flame of Latino Heat will never be extinguished.
We miss you, Eddie. Viva la Raza!