Saturday, November 19, 2005

Eddie Guerrero: Viva La Raza: 1967- 2005

Eddie Guerrero was a professional wrestler, having a career that spanned over 17 years in the industry. He’d worked for the New Japan Pro Wrestling, ECW, WCW, WWE, and TNA promotions, as well as spending time in various Mexican promotions. He passed away this past Sunday, from heart failure- the repercussions of his past drug use, and him overworking his body. He was only 38 years old, and leaves behind a wife and three kids. Before I continue, I would like to send my condolences to the Guerrero family, the WWE, and all the people Eddie was friends with. He touched many, and will be remembered by many.

I can’t claim to have known him as a person, but I did know him as a wrestler, and his death hit me hard. Partially because I had watched him grow up in the ring, from the mid-1990’s to present day, into one of the best performers in the world. I remember seeing him in ECW, wrestling fantastic technical matches against the likes of Dean Malenko, and thinking about how good his future in the industry would be. To this day, one of my proudest wrestling moments (as a fan) was when Eddie won the WWE Title from Brock Lesnar, at the No Way Out 2004 PPV. And what sucks even more, is that Eddie was set to win his 2nd WWE title the day that he passed away.

Eddie was a fantastic in-ring worker, blessed with a blend of in technical and Mexican Lucha Libre high-flying styles. His time in Japan (where he wrestled for New Japan as Black Tiger II) also helped him refine his skills. Over time he would become a very good mike worker as well; he went from having a bland character to having one of the most charismatic heel characters in wrestling at the time. But Eddie never got the chance in WCW to refine those skills, because he developed a drug addiction and he would get into a drug-caused major car accident which left him hospitalized for months. Eddie would return to wrestling 6 months later, but his drug addiction did not stop, and he became more and more enmeshed in it.

Eventually Eddie would leave WCW and it’s political situation for the WWE, where there were "greener pastures" for talent like him. After fits and starts, Eddie got over as the "Latino Heat" and his character was well liked by the fans and the WWE. He became multi-time Intercontinental Champion. He, along with guys like Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho, were seen as the "go to guys" in the WWE (and unlike WCW, WWE management had every intention of pushing them at that time). But Eddie would hit rock bottom; he was fired from the WWE for his drug use (but Vince left the door open for his return, if he cleaned himself up). Eddie’s wife also divorced him. But Eddie picked himself up, became a born again Christian and got himself cleaned up. He proved to his ex-wife that he was clean and remarried her (and would have their 3rd child in their 2nd marriage), worked on the independent wrestling circuit until he could get a job working for a major promotion- and he went back to the WWE in 2002. He would remain clean for the rest of his life. And that’s where his career would take off.

In 2003, he started a heel tag team with his nephew, Chavo Guerrero, called Los Guerreros. They were natural as a tag team, and played up this whole "we’re lying, cheating, and stealing latinos" gimmick for all it was worth- and it was funny as hell. They ran promos where they cheated at golf against some preppies, pretended to be pool cleaners, and schmoozed the ladies with their Latino Heeeeeeeeat. Eddie was clearly the better wrestler of the two (although that’s not a knock on Chavo) and eventually he embarked on a solo career in late 2003, winning the US Heavyweight title, and establishing himself as a face (good guy) against Chavo (who remained a heel [bad guy]). And the fans loved his character- from his bouncing lowrider entrance, to him handing his opponent a steel chair when he ref wasn’t looking, and pretending to be hurt (and the opponent would get DQ’ed for it), and to him just putting on great technical efforts. Eddie had the total package- great in the ring, could work with darn near anyone, and he was fantastic on the mike. That’s why in 2004 he won the WWE title from Brock Lesnar, in Anaheim, California. The reaction the fans had- and Eddie had- was huge. Eddie was seen as not only a good wrestler, but a "people’s champion". He would defend the title in one of his best matches ever, against Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 20- and at the end of the show, Eddie’s best friend, Chris Benoit would win the World Heavyweight Championship. Both wrestlers celebrated in the ring at the end of Wrestlemania, proving that the "technical workhorses" of the company could indeed win titles.Eddie’s title reign would be short, though. He wasn’t comfortable at the time holding onto the belt while the ratings were not great, and his matches against JBL weren’t great. He felt the pressure getting to him, and rather than face his demons head-on, he gave the title up. He’d spend the rest of 2004 regaining his confidence, and in 2005 Eddie embarked on a nearly year long feud with Rey Misterio, one of his close personal friends (in real life) and former tag team partner. It’s probably the feud of the year, with a fantastic Ladder Match at Summerslam. Rey beat Eddie 7 straight times, until Eddie finally would win on the 8th shot. Eddie was clearly comfortable again, and ready for the title- which he was to win this past Sunday, since Dave Batista- the WWE champion- has a back injury which will keep him out of action for a while. But Eddie would never get to taste glory again.

In death as in life, Eddie Guerrero will always remain in my heart as a champion, one of the greatest wrestlers ever, and a genuinely funny guy who I had watch mature as the years go by. I remember watching him in WCW, thnking that he’s much better than they were letting him be. I remember how happy I was for him that he’d gone to the WWE- only to break his elbow in his first WWE match. And I enjoyed his storyline with Chyna, the on-screen relationship they had with each other and the exposure it gave Eddie. I agreed with the firing of him for his drug issues- and watched as Eddie put his life back together again. I remember him coming back to the WWE in 2002, and seeing him in a IC title ladder match against Rob Van Dam- and it was like a "welcome back, Eddie" match. His time in the Los Guerreros tag team and then as a solo wrestler again were among the best stuff I’ve seen, and it was great to see Eddie at his best- personally and professionally.

Him winning the WWE title was both a huge shock, and also very satisfying. Eddie deserved to be a main event star- and he had that potential to be a breakout star, crossing beyond just wrestling (like Austin and The Rock did). We’ll never get that, now. The "Eddie, Eddie, Eddie" chants will dim. Fans will move onto the "next big thing". And I’m sure his death won’t be the last wrestler’s death that will shock and move us to tears.

But Eddie’s place in wrestling is assured. Eddie Guerrero’s legacy will carry on- from the Guerrero Family, to his friends, to all the wrestling fans he’s touched. Whenever someone does a Five Star Frog Splash, I’ll think of Eddie. Whenever someone does a heelish smirk, I’ll think of Eddie. And whenever someone wins the World Title, I’ll see how they compare to Eddie.

And you know what? None will.

Rest in Peace, Latino Heat. Viva La Raza! ¡desea vivo el campeón!


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