Wrestling is a place for everyone. Tune in to any wrestling promotion, and you will likely see people of different ethnicities, shapes and sizes, and genders. Now, wrestling is broader and more welcoming than it ever has been.
However, there was a time when this was not the case. You only have to rewind a few decades to see that wrestling was a white man’s game. If there were a wrestler from a different ethnicity, you slotted into two categories. The first was some offensive stereotype, the second a marketing tool to appeal to a specific demographic. Of course, there were exceptions to the rule. The Rock is the first that springs to mind. But for a long time, minorities were sorely neglected.
Straddling the line for both these roles was Eddie Guerrero. As one of the only Latinos on the WWE roster in the 00s and the first Latin American to become WWE Champion, Eddie captured the adoration of a generation of wrestling fans. It didn’t matter if you were a boy or a girl, a work rate diehard or a character lover. Odds are, if you were a wrestling fan in the early to mid-00s, you loved Eddie Guerrero.
I was one of those people. Still, I was drawn to Eddie’s magnetism and in-ring work. I was not the only one. Over 15 years since his passing and Eddie’s influence on the wrestling landscape continues. Yesterday’s fans are today’s wrestlers Bayley, Peyton Royce, Athena/Ember Moon, Raquel Gonzales and Sasha Banks have all referenced Eddie as a significant influence. So, what about Eddie makes him so different, and why is he such an inspiration?
For new wrestling fans, it is hard to explain just how popular Eddie was. I could offer some comparisons, but it feels moot. Eddie was a generational talent, one of a kind. Few wrestlers have managed to replicate what made him so special.
Eddie’s journey in WWE began in 2000. Jumping ship from WCW, he debuted alongside Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn and Chris Benoit on the January 31st episode of RAW. Upon his arrival, Eddie quickly stood out from his Radicalz teammates. Eddie had one thing his friends did not, charisma. Partnered with Chyna, his ‘Mamacita’, Eddie became Latino Heat, a dirty scoundrel with a fiery temper. Eddie seized the opportunity to show off his skills despite being a stereotype. He and Chyna formed an on-screen romance and feuded over the Intercontinental championship.
As a goofy yet very intense heel, Eddie had range. He could have you keeled over from laughter as he storms the Playboy mansion or have you booing as he beats down your favorite babyface.
Lying Cheating Stealing
While the Latino Heat gimmick won many people over, it wasn’t until his return to the WWE and title run in 2004-2005 that Eddie really captured fans’ attention. As one half of the Los Guerreros, Eddie developed all of the traits that set him up for his singles run.
As a lying, cheating and stealing babyface, Eddie was unique. The too-cool-for-school cheating babyface existed before, but Eddie was more than that. Eddie had a way of making cheating fun. Any broken rules were fobbed off with a simple shrug and a smile. What sprung from this gimmick was pure genius, a laundry list of creative finishes that are now the subject of various YouTube complications. It is this playfulness and over-the-topness that has bled into women’s wrestling.
This “goofy out of the ring, serious in the ring” style is something that a few women have tried to recapture. Look no further than Bayley. Ding Dong, hello. That loud energy is straight from Eddie Guerrero’s playbook. Guerrero clearly left a mark on Bayley. She saw Eddie at the height of his career, live at The Cow Palace for Now Way Out 2004, where Eddie won his first and only WWE Championship.
Wrestlers have talked about attending events that were pivotal in their journey as a wrestler. For Mike Foley, it was witnessing Superfly leap off a cage. Edge saw Warrior vs Hogan at WrestleMania VI. Undoubtedly witnessing the culmination of Eddie’s climb to the top would have left a profound mark on Bayley.
In 2004 I witnessed Eddie Guerrero beat Lesnar for the WWE title at the Cow Palace. The feeling in that building was magical. #ThankYouEddie
— Bayley (@itsBayleyWWE) November 13, 2015
My Empire of Dirt
Sometimes your greatest strength can be your greatest weakness. If you are kind and generous, you can be viewed as easily manipulated. You can be considered a pessimist and close-minded if you are highly rational and logical. For Eddie Guerrero, his biggest strength was his intensity. Not just in the way he wrestled but his delivery of storylines. It didn’t matter if he was fighting for the WWE Championship or custody of a child; Eddie delivered everything with the same intensity. He had a fire in him that earned him the moniker of Latino Heat.
It’s a quality that all wrestlers look to have, that ability to have the crowd hanging on your every word, for them to feel every move. To make a ‘fake’ sport real. Eddie was crisp, his moves snappy and clean. Men and women have tried to replicate his patented three amigos and frog splash, but few have come close to matching Eddie.
This passion was more apparent on Eddie’s return to WWE in 2002. After being released from the company due to substance issues, Eddie came back determined to prove to himself and everyone else that he deserved a second chance.
It was this time in WWE that most fans will remember. Eddie’s WWE Championship victory at Now Way Out 2004 sparked a string of iconic moments ingrained into wrestling fans and wrestlers’ memories. Him hugging his best friend Chris Benoit at WrestleMania XX, his brutal Judgement Day 2004 match against JBL, his iconic Latino Heat t-shirt, the low-riders, him effortlessly laying back on the top turnbuckle. These snapshots pop up again and again in wrestling.
But this fire and intensity was ultimately Eddie’s downfall. Determined to keep up this same intensity, and the subsequent pressure that came from it took its toll. Eddie would pass away unexpectedly at the age of 38. An autopsy confirmed that Eddie died due to acute heart failure. Eddie was a star that shined bright and burnt out quickly.
In a moment of collective grief, WWE decided to dedicate that week’s episode of RAW to honoring Eddie. Wrestlers spoke candidly, shared their stories with a camera, and poured their hearts out. After the bell tools in memory of Eddie comes a touching tribute. Johnny Cash’s cover of Hurt, an already harrowing song, given an even more profound sadness as Eddie’s life flashes before your eyes in a series of black and white stills and videos.
Whether you agree with the ethics of televising something as raw and intimate as people grieving the death of a friend, that episode of RAW impacted everyone. One person, in particular, was Sasha Banks who was in attendance that night. She was utterly unaware of Eddie’s passing until she arrived. Already one of her favorite wrestlers, the death had a profound effect on her.
“I was and it’s kind of crazy how the universe works and how that happened to be in Minneapolis where I lived at the time. I was so excited to go to that show. All I wanted to do was to show Eddie Guerrero my sign. All I was thinking about was, ‘Oh my God, I hope Eddie sees my sign.’ I won second-row tickets that night from doing this autograph signing with Ashley Massaro, and I remember going into the arena and I saw all these signs that said, ‘Rest in Peace, Eddie Guerrero.’
I was so confused. ‘Well, maybe Minneapolis doesn’t like Eddie because it was advertised as Eddie Guerrero vs. Undertaker, which I just assumed everybody loved The Undertaker, versus Batista. A fan came up to me and he told me that Eddie Guerrero passed away that night and everything inside of me just broke. I couldn’t believe that my hero passed away.”
Banks continued by sharing the impact Eddie had on her wrestling career.
“I always do. I walked upstairs and I see my accolades; my trophies, my statues, my figures, and I see my figures of Eddie Guerrero and I wouldn’t be in the main event of WrestleMania, I wouldn’t be in The Mandalorian, I wouldn’t be in all these first-time evers if it wasn’t for Eddie Guerrero. It’s so crazy that he had such an impact on my life that he made me fight for my dreams. I am so thankful for him, and I definitely had a shot for him that night,”
Eddie’s legacy is alive and well. Not just carried on through his immediate family but by the countless fans who grew into wrestlers. The women’s wrestling landscape is littered with stories of Guerrero. Whether it is a kind word to an aspiring wrestler, or a young girl watching in the crowd, Eddie has had a long-reaching effect on women’s wrestling that has the potential to continue to grow. His name will not be forgotten, and as today’s women transition out of wrestling, they will share all the traits that Eddie passed on to them, meaning there will forever be the fire of Latino Heat burning in women’s wrestling.