Preach to the Nation - By MJ

Eddie Guerrero: 1967-2005

It’s already been said. Over and over again in every forum post, website article and chatroom conversation, the same message has come through loud and clear. It can’t be made any clearer, but it needs to be repeated over and over again until it settles in our minds and we can finally justify the events of this past weekend. Eddie Guerrero should not have died. Not this way. Not now…

It’s already been said. Over and over again in every forum post, website article and chatroom conversation, the same message has come through loud and clear. It can’t be made any clearer, but it needs to be repeated over and over again until it settles in our minds and we can finally justify the events of this past weekend.

Eddie Guerrero should not have died. Not this way. Not now.

Anyone who has followed the business for even a year or two will know of Eddie Guerrero and his battle with the demons of life. Alcohol, prescription drugs, addiction, not necessarily in that order, were as much a part of Eddies life as anything else you could imagine. His family took a back seat and his wrestling was the last thing on his mind. Unbeknownst to him, he was ratted out to Jim Ross by Dean Malenko, Chris Benoit and Perry Saturn because he was one step closer to being found dead in his hotel room. Thank God they did, because it didn’t just save his life – it gave him a brand new one, and he made the best use possible of it. He sobered up for four whole years, an achievement he and his family were very proud of, and became a WWE institution. Beloved by all, Eddie became the most popular superstar on every show he graces us with his presence on. Not only was he charismatic, and having the time of his new life, but he was also putting in sterling performances inside the ring with the likes of Edge, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle. His gimmick of “lie, cheat and steal” struck a chord with the fans that made the decision to put the WWE title on him a lot easier to make. As he stood with best friend Chris Benoit with a world title belt around both waists, the fans gave a standing ovation as confetti fell from the ceiling. The lasting image of Wrestlemania XX was the sight of two hard-working small wrestlers finally living out their dreams. He had conquered everything, and was an inspiration to everyone.

Knowing all this is hard enough. Having seen it week in and week out is traumatic. We were there when he had outstanding matches in ECW and WCW. We were there when The Radicalz debuted in WWF in 2000. We were there when he charmed the pants off of Chyna as Latino Heat. We were there for his firing and rehiring, for his tag team spell with real-life nephew Chavo Guerrero as Los Guerreros, for his WWE title win over Brock Lesnar in February 2004 and for his feud with Rey Mysterio which took centre-stage for a number of months this year. We were there… and now he isn’t here anymore. That’s a bitter pill to swallow.

But rather than be a basket of negativity for the whole article, I thought it’d be far more appropriate to examine the legacy that Eddie left behind.

Eddie, born in 1967, began his professional career in Mexico, where his father Gory Guerrero had become a legendary figure in lucha libre, one of the founding fathers of a style that is still going strong to this day. As is common in most wrestling families, Eddie knew he was going to be a wrestler with his three older brothers. However, Eddie was actually raised in El Paso, Texas and attended the University of New Mexico on an athletic scholarship. After training in his own backyard, Guerrero made the move to professional wrestling and in 1987, he debuted for the EMLL promotion and regularly featured in six-man tag team matches. Often under the name of Mascara Magica, Eddie also worked as Black Tiger in New Japan and often found himself competing alongside The Pegasus Kid, or Chris Benoit to you and me. Back in Mexico, Eddie shot to fame in the AAA promotion as a member of Los Gringos Loco, a heel stable consisting of Konnan, Art Barr and Louie Spicolli. Sadly, only Konnan is still alive today as both Art and Louie died subsequently. It was here, however, where Eddie was noticed by an upstart promotion in the US by the name of ECW.

Brought in by Paul Heyman in 1995, Eddie was originally signed with Art Barr, but Barr died before he could join. As a tribute, Guerrero adopted his finisher to become his own – the frog splash. On his debut in the company on April 8th, Guerrero won the TV championship by defeating 2 Cold Scorpio. Eddie lost the belt to Dean Malenko on July 21st in Florida but regained it seven days later in New York. On August 25th, 2 Cold Scorpio regained the belt and both Eddie and Dean were signed by Eric Bischoff and World Championship Wrestling.

Bischoffs idea was to bring in the best wrestlers from around the world to boost the mid-card under the likes of Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair and Randy Savage. Guerrero and Malenko were perfect for the role and joined with other top talents such as Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio Jr and Chris Jericho.

The so-called “workhorses” of WCW tore the house down on numerous occasions but were constantly held down by Bischoff and his blind devotion to satisfying the needs of his main event stars. Despite winning the cruiserweight and US titles, Eddie felt underused and asked for a push, only to have coffee thrown on him by “Easy E” himself. Worked into an angle, Eddie threw coffee on himself in the middle of the ring on a live Nitro broadcast and asked for his contract release. Guerrero did return, however, and formed the Latino World Order with a number of other Mexican wrestlers under contract to WCW at the time.

Unfortunately, in 1999, Eddie encountered a life-threatening experience when he was involved in a severe car accident being launched out of his car. He not only managed to live through it, but was back wrestling within months. It is here that problems can be traced back to, because Eddie started using painkillers to speed his recovery and then came back too early and used the painkillers to simply ease the pain he was putting himself through.

Despite the formation of the Filthy Animals with Billy Kidman, Mysterio and Konnan, Guerrero still wanted out of his contract and finally obtained his release along with Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko and Perry Saturn.

All four men took a contract with the WWE and joined in early 2000, just months after another WCW wrestler, Chris Jericho has jumped ship to Connecticut. Immediately dubbed The Radicalz, the four made an immediate impression and it was only an injury for Eddie whilst hitting a frog splash that dented the momentum slightly. Once fit to return, Eddie started a program where he charmed Chyna into a relationship and dubbed himself “Latino Heat”, winning the European championship from Chris Jericho along the way.

After the Chyna/Eddie relationship broke down (Eddie proposed to her, and was then caught in the shower with two of The Godfathers “hoes”), Eddie went on to win a number of European and Intercontinental championships but his painkiller addiction started catching up to him. After his friends went behind his back to ask for help, Eddie was sent to rehab in May 2001 and released in November of that year after being arrested for drunk driving.

Latino Heat briefly worked on the independent circuit and worked hard to rebuild his life and change things for the better. Most notably, Guerrero worked on a number of Ring Of Honor cards and helped push the company into a prominent position of becoming the Internets new favourite promotion with its philosophy of sportsmanship, respect, and great wrestling.

Eddie was so impressive in all aspects of business that the WWE brought him back in May 2002 and had him win the Intercontinental championship at Backlash from Rob Van Dam. Hand-picked by Stone Cold Steve Austin to be his next opponent, Guerrero was about to receive a big push but was jolted by the sudden departure of Austin from the WWE (his reasons unrelated to Guerrero). This left Guerrero to briefly feud with Ric Flair and The Rock respectively.

In August, both Guerrero and Benoit were drafted to SmackDown and Eddie formed a tag team with nephew Chavo as “Los Guerreros”. Here, Eddie perfected his new “lie, cheat and steal” character although he was originally against the idea. With Paul Heyman booking the show, the Guerreros embarked upon a series of amazing matches with Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle, and Edge and Rey Mysterio respectively (and often together) that were highly acclaimed by the online community. The nephew/uncle combo won the tag titles at Survivor Series by beating Edge and Mysterio, but eventually lost them to Team Angle (Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin). When Chavo tore his bicep in 2003, Eddie chose Tajiri to be his tag team partner and won the titles at Judgment Day, only to lose them to Team Angle again in July. Eddie turned on Tajiri soon after and was entered into a tournament for the US championship. Guerrero made it to the final and defeated Chris Benoit at Vengeance, becoming more and more popular with the fans in the process as he began to use more of his cheating tactics. Thanks to a gore from Rhyno, Eddie picked up the win and defeated all challengers soon after, including John Cena in a street fight, until he was finally beaten by the 7ft Big Show.

With the US title reign over, Eddie started going after the WWE championship but briefly engaged in a feud with jealous nephew Chavo first. With Chavo bringing his father Chavo Sr. in as a manager to add fuel to the fire, and Eddie becoming more and more popular with his low-rider entrance and the truth of his addiction problems being made public, the seeds were sewn for Eddie to challenge Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2005 for the title. After a gripping contest that went back and forth for nearly half-an-hour, Guerrero won the match and the title to a thunderous reaction from the fans in attendance. Backstage, once the PPV was over, Eddie hugged Vince McMahon, and sank to the floor in happiness at the culmination of a hard few years.

One month later in New York City at Wrestlemania XX, Guerrero defeated Kurt Angle in a strong match and joined new World champion and real life best friend Chris Benoit in the ring to celebrate their title wins and soak in the adulation from the Madison Square Garden fans.

Sadly, Eddie started buckling under the pressure. With Brock Lesnar gone and Kurt Angle injured, SmackDown was low on main event talent and Guerrero was left to carry the load. Blaming himself for sagging ratings and pushing himself despite emotional and physical issues, Eddie was finally relieved of the belt at Great American Bash by John Bradshaw Leyfield.

Returning to a feud with Angle, Eddie allied himself with Big Show against Angle and his cronies, Mark Jindrak and Luther Reigns. At Survivor Series, Team Eddie defeated Team Kurt in a traditional elimination match when Eddie hit the frog splash on the Olympic gold medallist. In 2005, Latino Heat won the tag team titles again, this time with Rey Mysterio, another Mexican sensation whose father was also a wrestler in their native land. The two champions faced off in a series of matches based around respect and who was the better man, but Guerrero grew increasingly upset at his failure to beat his partner. After losing the titles to MNM (Mercury and Nitro, with Melina), Eddie turned his back on Mysterio. Within a matter of weeks, Mysterio defeated Guerrero yet again, this time by disqualification at Judgment Day. Eddie, irate, threatened to reveal a secret about Rey and his son Dominick. After losing a match where he would have been able to reveal the secret if he had won, Guerrero revealed it anyway. According to the story, Dominick was actually Eddies son (not true, obviously) and was adopted to Rey and his wife because they couldn’t conceive together (again, not true). At Summerslam, the two former partners faced off in a ladder match for custody of Dominick, and Mysterio came out on top. On the first episode of Friday Night SmackDown, Eddie finally ended the feud by defeating Rey in a cage match.

Immediately following, Eddie became #1 contender to Batista and his world championship. The two embarked on a strange relationship where Eddie and Batista acted cordially and almost like best friends with each other. Eddie became his old cheating self and Batista felt it hard to trust him, but Eddie tried to calm the fears by helping Batista defeat his own tag team partners at the time, JBL and Christian. At No Mercy, Batista retained the title, and the two showed mutual respect afterwards, despite Eddie being visibly upset at losing the match after deciding against using a steel chair. Guerrero turned face afterwards, regretting his feud with Rey and joining forces with the champion for matches with “Cowboy” Bob Orton, Randy Orton and Ken Kennedy. Guerreros final televised match was on Friday Night SmackDown against Kennedy. Guerrero made up that Kennedy had used a chair on him and won by disqualification to earn a place in the SmackDown Survivor Series team to face RAWs team later in the month. Kennedy then hit Guerrero with the chair and walked off.

Whilst preparing for the double RAW and SmackDown taping on the Sunday night (due to an upcoming European tour), Eddie went to his room and didn’t answer his alarm call in the morning. Benoit, Chavo and Malenko found him in his bathroom and despite attempts at resuscitation, Eddie was pronounced dead. The cause of death is a supposed heart attack. Many have suggested an overdose of pills but most are favouring the heart attack suggestion, a seemingly common way to die for a wrestler as of late. He leaves behind his wife and three children. A funeral will be held on November 16th at “Superstar” Billy Grahams church, to be conducted by the former superstar himself, a close friend and hero to Guerrero.

Comparisons have already been drawn to the death of Owen Hart. Both are high profile deaths and have had a huge impact on the business. However, it is unfair to both men to compare their deaths when it was their lives that they will be remembered for. Both were incredible workers (some say the best of the modern generation) and came from wrestling families (Owens father Stu Hart was a well-respected wrestler in the mid 20th century and brother Bret went on to become WWF and WCW champion on numerous occasions). But to compare deaths is to put both men in a position against each other when the underlying fact remains: neither should have died.

A more accurate comparison is that of Eddie and Brian Pillman. Injured by a car crash, Pillman pushed himself back into the ring too early and became addicted to painkillers before being found in his hotel room the day before Badd Blood 1997 on pay-per-view. As similar as they are though, Pillman was given no second chance. Guerrero was, and took it. He changed his life around and became a modern day success story. Were it four years ago, the death of Guerrero would have been expected. In 2005, after the last three years of watching Eddie grow before our very eyes, to say it’s an unfair loss is an understatement. He had beaten his demons, resurrected his career, fixed his life, and become an inspiration to millions. Is he hall of fame worthy? Questionable, but certainly worthy of debate. Will he be missed? Without a shadow of a doubt. Will the wrestling business be the same? No. Deaths occur a lot in wrestling, but not to a main event star in a prominent position, not unexpectedly, not with the ramifications of this.

On a happy note, if there could possibly be one in this, Eddie has left a legacy that will be retold for decades to come. Aged 38, Eddie achieved more in his life than most could ever dream of. He gave his life to Jesus and became a religious man, developing a close bond with many a wrestler all over the world. Despite his problems, he was a dedicated man who lived longer than most ever thought he would, what with a serious car crash and his addictions. A lesser man would not have been here back then, let alone today. Eddie would have been here today. He should have been here today.

The fact that he was here in 2005 with a smile on his face and a title on his shoulder shows the courage and determination of a man whose past simply finally caught up to him. Sometimes, it happens like that. But he made it and can be proud, because he ended his life on a high. He died in the midst of being an entertainer adored by fans all over the world, a wrestler admired by fans all over the world, and a person respected by everyone around him. He didn’t die a wreck. His life was back and better than it probably had any right to be. Maybe that makes it more tragic, but reflecting on a death does that to people. Sometimes it’s best to look at death from lifes point of view, rather than from deaths point of view. It may not be an incredibly soothing gesture, but many are grieving right now when, as tragic as it is, Eddie left a memory in all of us that we should concentrate more on.

Eddie, you were liked by many, hated by few, and loved by all. You’re an inspiration and a hero. Rest in peace, amigo.

Mitchell Jones