Eduardo Gory Guerrero
October 9, 1967 – November 13, 2005
Eddie Guerrero was one of the most loved and respected professional wrestlers in the industry. In addition to his distinguished career spanning nearly two decades in multiple promotions in the U.S., Mexico, and Japan, Eddie was a member of one of the most historically significant wrestling families in the world. His sudden, untimely death in 2005 sent shockwaves through the industry, and led to some immediate changes in the WWE's policies in regards to drug abuse, injuries, and schedules. The full repercussions of his passing will likely continue to unfold for some time.
Born to legendary wrestler Gory Guerrero, Eddie's career began at a very early age. He would often wrestle his nephew Chavo Guerrero, Jr. in his backyard wrestling ring in El Paso, Texas, or during intermission at his father's wrestling shows. Guerrero would begin his career in earnest wrestling for EMLL (now CMLL), where his father and brothers had worked for many years. Beginning in 1987 as part of a trio with brothers Mando and Chavo Sr., Eddie would eventually start his singles career under the name Mascara Magica.
In 1993, as his talent and fame grew, Guerrero began wrestling in the New Japan Pro-Wrestling promotion, first under his own name, and later as Black Tiger. It was there he would first face Chris Benoit, wrestling as the Pegasus Kid, and begin to form a personal and professional relationship that was without compare. He also worked with Dean Malenko and Chris Jericho, who would also become some of his closest friends, and known collectively as "The New Japan Four," as they moved from promotion to promotion together.
Guererro was also working in AAA at that time, alongside stars such as Konnan, Art Barr, and El Hijo de Santo, who is the son of El Santo, a tag team partner of Gory Guerrero's. Eddie and Barr's Hair vs. Mask tag match against Santo and Octagon is considered one of the greatest lucha libre matches of all time.
Eddie then moved to ECW, where he continued working with Benoit, Malenko, and Jericho. He and Malenko would have a long and legendary feud, which many consider to be the highpoint of ECW's technical wrestling. As ECW talent was being absorbed into WCW, many other wrestlers that would become part of Eddie's retinue began to coalesce, including Rey Mysterio, Psychosis, and his old friend Konnan.
It was in WCW that Eddie's modern character really began to shine. Through more stellar matches with Malenko, Jercho, and Mysterio, Eddie was able to further hone his technical ability and his natural in-ring charisma. Guerrero was also central to the formation of the Latino World Order, a parody of the nWo and a thumb to the eye of the WCW management of their luchador talent. Though his cagey and mischievous character was gaining momentum, WCW did not seem to be interested in pushing him any higher than the crusierweight circuit, and he subsequently quit.
Like many of the other transitions in his past, Eddie quit WCW and joined the then WWF with his friends Benoit and Malenko in January 2000. His first appearance on RAW was with those two, along with fellow ECW alum Perry Saturn, as the stable known as The Radicalz. Though he was injured very early in that group's run, Eddie returned to work a memorable program with Chyna and Jericho. This, too, would not last very long, as Eddie's problems with alcohol and pain medication were becoming apparent. Though he took time off in the summer of 2001 to try to rehabilitate himself, he was arrested for a DUI in November of that year and was summarily fired.
During this period, Eddie did manage to clean himself up, becoming a born-again christian in the process. The WWE welcomed him back in 2002, looking better than ever. With brilliant singles feuds with Rob Van Dam, Edge, Kurt Angle, and Benoit, as well as a high-profile tag-team championship run with his nephew Chavo, Eddie was finally rising to the top of the professional wrestling pecking order. As part of the "SmackDown Six," (an informal name fans had given the group of Brock Lesnar, Angle, Benoit, Edge, Mysterio, and Eddie, who were though to represent a positive change in direction for the WWE's flagging product) Eddie's character continued to vacillate between heel and face, but crowds refused to boo his exemplary wrestling ability.
Riding on the energy of the crowd and his "Latino Heat," Eddie was propelled further upward into a title feud with Lesnar. Eddie captured the WWE title for the first time in 2004, and became a popular champion for several months. His successful title defense at Wrestlemania, coupled with Benoit's capturing of the World Heavyweight Title, made for a historic show, ending with the two long-time friends and perpetual underdogs embracing in the ring with their championships.
Though Eddie would soon loose the belt to John Bradshaw Layfield, it was this feud that established JBL's new Texan tycoon character, and allowed him to move from the bottom of the mid-card and into the upper echelon of working wrestlers. As of this writing, JBL remains one of the WWE's top heels, and has acknowledged he owes a majority of this stature to Eddie Guerrero.
Eddie feuded with Angle again, and later turned heel to feud with Mysterio. This latter feud gave Guerrero the opportunity to explore some new, darker dimensions of his usual "lie, cheat and steal" character. After giving some rub to Mysterio in a series of matches, Guerrero was awarded another title shot, this time against World Heavyweight Champ, Dave Batista. Though he would not be sucessful, the ensuing story-line would be one of the more complex and nuanced in recent WWE history.
After his loss, Guerrero began slowly turning face again. Eddie professed regrets about the way he was conducting his life, bringing up his troubled past, and thanked Batista for helping him see the error of his ways. Though his attempts to ingratiate himself towards the champ were initially viewed with understandable skepticism, the story-line progressed slowly and deliberately, thus heightening the ambiguity of Eddie's intentions. Through some particularly well-worked matches, it really did seem that Eddie was not lying about his epiphany, and he and Batista has become legitimate friends. It is here, unfortunately, that Eddie's story ends.
Eddie Guerrero was found dead in his Minneapolis, Minnesota hotel room the morning of Sunday, November 13. Though SmackDown!, the WWE show he appeared on, is usually taped on Tuesdays, the entire cast and crew were preparing for a short international tour, and so both RAW and SmackDown! were to be taped that afternoon.
Due to a serious back injury suffered earlier in the week, it was speculated that Batista would have to be written out of the championship (if not the show) while he recovered from surgery. It was further speculated that the trigger of the uncommonly slow-boiled story-line between he and Guerrero would be pulled at the Sunday tapping, leading Guerrero to recapture the title.
Instead, both RAW and SmackDown! were converted into two-hour tributes to Eddie, much in the vein of the tribute to Owen Hart that aired after his accidental death in 1999. In addition to a ten-bell salute, "guerrero-style matches," and various clip packages of the highlights of his career, several candid, out-of-character interviews were filmed, featuring some of Eddie's closest friends and colleagues.
After coroner's reports indicated that Eddie's death was the result of undiagnosed heart disease, exacerbated by his history of drug and alcohol abuse, as well as the toll taken on his body by the near constant training and performing required of a top name in the WWE, public outcry began to mount, calling for a change in the industry. In the following weeks, and amid a small amount of mainstream media coverage of Eddie's death, Vince McMahon announced that the WWE would be implementing a new drug policy designed to ensure that similar fates would not befall anyone else.
While random drug testing and tighter control given to road agents may be a bulwark against future tragedies, there are several factors working against such efforts, many of which are ingrained into the nature of the business. The only real competition in professional wrestling is for popularity. The more over a wrestler is with his or her audience, the more likely it is that he or she will be booked in big matches or events, be given merchandising opportunities, or other financially lucrative benefits. Since wrestling, particularly with the WWE, is not known for its job security, wrestlers must make the most out of every match and appearance if they are to claw their way to the top.
Not only does this motivate certain wrestlers to take bigger risks in the ring, it is a disincentive to deal with the injuries and health problems that go hand-in-hand with such behavior. Someone with obvious talent and forward momentum, like Guerrero, would rather work through an injury than risk losing his spot, or perhaps even his job. Such situations continue to occur; Nick Dinsmore, who plays the character Eugene, was suspended in November 2005 after he overdosed on a pain medication and was hospitalized. Since Guerrero's death, many fans have pleaded with stars known for working through injury, specifically Kurt Angle and Ric Flair, to stop wrestling altogether.
As is the story with many celebrities who attain success through sheer willpower, talent and passion, Eddie's star burned out rather than faded away. His death was particularly surreal and shocking, considering the amount of attention paid to the fact that he had overcome so many of the hurdles that seem destined to end his life. He was a true student of the craft, and an accomplished artist. He was one of the greatest of all time, and he will be missed.