With the anniversary of the death of Eddie Guerrero (at the time of writing), I keep thinking about how he would have been 50 years old.
Twelve years ago today, Chavo Guerrero found his uncle unresponsive in his hotel room in Minneapolis. Chavo performed CPR until paramedics arrived, but it was too late. Eddie was dead. He’d just turned 38 the month prior. And then he was gone.
It’s still hard to believe. Eddie’s personality, antics, and wrestling ability lit up any wrestling program he was part of. That irrepressible rascal can’t be gone. Not for good. He’s just … not here right now. Maybe he slipped around the corner for a cup of coffee, or maybe he’s chatting up someone down the hall. He’ll be back soon.
Twelve years since the death of Eddie Guerrero.
It feels like yesterday. I remember hearing the news of the death of Eddie Guerrero. It hit me like a punch in the gut. I had to sit down. Like a lot of American fans, I had first become aware of Eddie through his battles against Dean Malenko for the ECW TV title in the mid-90s. In otherwise blood-soaked cards, they put on wrestling clinics for Paul Heyman’s company before they took the money deals that would send them to WCW.
It wasn’t until years later, thanks to the magic of YouTube, that I saw Eddie teaming with Art Barr as La Pareja del Terror, a part of the AAA stable of American wrestlers known as Los Gringos Locos that included Louie Spicolli and Konnan. Guerrero and Barr were heat magnets–I mean they were thermonuclear–in a feud with El Hijo del Santo and Octagon. At the 1994 When Worlds Collide pay-per-view, Barr and Guerrero lost a double hair-vs.-mask best 2-of-3 falls match in front of a sold-out crowd of 13,000 screaming fans.
The match is a masterpiece. Dave Meltzer rated it at five stars in the Wrestling Observer, and it holds up. The crazy-good charisma of both Barr and Eddie is off the charts here, and you see why he began making forays into ECW and then signing with WCW. Eddie Guerrero was already a master of his craft, and he was about to take to a much larger stage.
As part of the Monday Night Wars, Eddie was a solid mid-card performer. He had great matches again with Malenko, with Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio Jr., Ric Flair, and a host of others. But his size was a problem in WCW. Generously listed as 5-feet, 8-inches tall, Guerrero wasn’t the imposing figure WCW was looking for at the time. The company, at least on TV, was a home for giants. Hulk Hogan, Paul Wight, Kevin Nash, Goldberg, and Scott Hall were all part of the main-event scene in WCW. It didn’t matter how talented Eddie was–he wasn’t getting near the main event for any extended period of time.
He held the WCW cruiserweight title and the US championship. But that was it. Eddie and his compatriots–Malenko, Benoit, and Perry Saturn–were banging their heads against the glass ceiling. They were also watching their friend Chris Jericho make a splash in WWE, and when they had the chance to jump ship from WCW in 2000, they never looked back.
Guerrero and company debuted as The Radicalz (see, they’re edgy because they spelled their faction name with a ‘Z’), but Eddie broke out when he teamed up with Chyna, and the WWE creative team allowed Eddie to just sort of be Eddie on TV. He showed flashes of the brilliance of his later “Lie. Cheat. Steal.” gimmick, and he was still brilliant in the ring against the brand-new competition. He was the unlikely breakout star from the Radicalz, but in WWE there was no glass ceiling for him. The sky was the limit.
Past substance abuse plays a part in the death of Eddie Guerrero:
But Guerrero’s substance abuse problems would come into play. He was released from WWE after being arrested for DUI in late 2001. He worked independent dates and stayed out of trouble, and was back in the WWE on April 1, 2002. He teamed with Chavo, and his work on the microphone and in the ring was the highlight of the Smackdown! programming. He was so over that WWE brass couldn’t deny him the biggest prize in the sport, and Guerrero was booked to defeat Brock Lesnar for the WWE Undisputed title at No Way Out in 2004.
I haven’t even touched on his Latino World Order faction that stole the show consistently in WCW, his win in the 1996 Best of the Super Juniors tournament in New Japan, when he was wrestling as the second incarnation of the Black Cat, nor the legend of how Terry Funk introduced Eddie to NWA/WCW audiences in 1989 … there’s so much to touch on when it comes to Eddie Guerrero.
He overcame a serious addiction to alcohol and painkillers, but they’d already done their damage. What we couldn’t see–because Eddie wouldn’t let us–is that he was in constant pain. He was hurting, and the stress of wrestling (along with the constant grind of being on the road) was taking its toll on him. Multiple wrestlers have commented that they would see Eddie limping in the back, barely able to get dressed, and then when he went through the curtain–there he was, miraculously whole. The autopsy report on the death of Eddie Guerrero revealed that it was a result of acute heart failure due to underlying atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
Put it simply: His heart gave out.
That’s the part that hurts the most, I think. Eddie put his heart out there in the ring night after night to entertain millions of fans. He left everything he had in the ring. I wish he’d saved a little more of that heart. I’d trade the priceless memories in a heartbeat if we could have Eddie Guerrero back again.
Friend and competitor Kurt Angle posted on the death of Eddie Guerrero today on Instagram, and his words resonate:
Rest in peace, Eddie. Thank you for everything you gave.