Like his youngest son Eddie, Gory Guerrero, too, had an exciting brush with world championship gold against a formidable opponent of his day: Lou Thesz!
The crowd was supposed to boo him, for he was the hated heel, yet Gory got resounding cheers from the fans on this night in 1954, stealing their hearts like his son would do years later.
Eddie Guerrero Shocks the World
In 2004, Eddie Guerrero defeated the seemingly invincible Brock Lesnar to become world champion at WWE’s No Way Out pay-per-view.
A lifetime of hard work and dedication to his craft led to this magic moment.
While surrounded by 11,000 screaming fans, including his dear mother and older brothers Chavo and Mando, Eddie recalled his life flashing before his eyes.
Images of the boys leaping around in father Gory Guerrero’s backyard ring in El Paso, Texas, were among those memories.
Indeed, the Guerrero wrestling dynasty patriarch immensely influenced Eddie’s stellar career.
And when hated heel Gory met Thesz, the crowd was on his side!
This is the fantastic tale of Gory Guerrero and how he nearly dethroned Lou Thesz for NWA gold.
Gory Guerrero: Early Difficult Life for the Patriarch of the Guerrero Wrestling Dynasty
Gory Guerrero was born Salvador Guerrero Quesada on January 11th, 1921, in Ray, Arizona, now a ghost town.
Ray got consumed by the nearby Kennecott open copper mine pit, and much later, in 1958, the city of Kearny was founded to accommodate the displaced populations of Ray, Barcelona, and Sonora.
From an early age, he endured life’s hardships. Like many migrant workers, his family picked fruits and vegetables under the scorching sun across the Southwest and state of California.
At age nine, his mother suddenly passed away from pneumonia. So his father decided to take the family back to Mexico.
There, tragedy afflicted the family once more when Salvador was sixteen when his father was struck and killed in a hit-and-run automobile accident. This left Salvador an orphan with the almost impossible task of raising his brother and four sisters alone.
Now in Guadalajara, a teenage Salvador struggled to find himself and survive. So he entered what he thought was a boxing gym to learn the art of pugilism. But this gym didn’t teach people boxeo; instead, it specialized in the instruction of a new sport called Lucha Libre. It was an exciting combination of traditional grappling and showmanship.
Escaping Poverty through Lucha Libre
Some form of wrestling had been on Mexican soil since the early twentieth century. The book Lucha Libre: Relatos Sin Limite de Tiempo No. 119 tells us that wrestling originated in the United States and Mexico almost simultaneously.
Around 1918, the Corona brothers, originally from the city of Juarez, Mexico, but living in El Paso, Texas, along with promoter John McIntosh, introduced Greco-Roman exhibitions to Mexico.
Later, theatrical companies and circuses hosted special wrestling exhibitions brought in by different European traveling troupes.
In 1922, the Arbeu theater announced a season of catch-as-catch-can but was soon called “luchas libres,” translated into English as free-for-all-wrestling. It’s possible that the name lucha libre stuck because the former was too hard to pronounce and indicated nothing of what the audience was about to witness.
But it wasn’t until 1933 that Salvador Lutteroth Gonzalez formalized the sport by establishing EMLL (Empresa Mexicana de Lucha Libre), now called CMLL (Consejo Mundial de Lucha Libre).
Salvador was getting in on lucha libre from the ground up and, over time, saw many changes.
Two local luchadors- including famed trainer Diablo Velasco- and El Indio Mejía started Salvador on his path to becoming a wrestler and offered him a chance to escape poverty. Another name mentioned in guiding him is Gilberto Martinez.
Salvador’s debut came on September 14th, 1937, but financial freedom was still a faraway dream. For 15 cents, he did the job for El Rojo in Arena Nilo in Guadalajara.
He began calling himself Joe Morgan, and the rising star developed a reputation for spilling the red in the ring.
Some sources claim he got the moniker “Gory” when wrestling in the USA after leaving his opponents swimming in a puddle of blood. The fans would begin chanting, “Gory! Gory!”
This made him switch his name to Gory (often spelled Gori) Guerrero, which was much catchier than Salvador or Joe and would hopefully lead to better opportunities.
A heel for the ages was born, and the start of the Guerrero wrestling dynasty had begun.
Gory loved bodybuilding and soon adopted a very aggressive and brutal style in the ring. Nicknamed “El Ave de las Tempestades” and translated as “The Storm Bird” in English, he loved to taunt the fans in the stands, and according to his son Eddie, his father was frequently attacked with knives and even guns.
A heel who knew how to take brawling to a fine art was surprisingly also a technical marvel inside the ring. He invented two submission holds, the “Gory Special,” a hanging backbreaker, and “La de a Caballo,” better known to most fans as the back stretching camel clutch.
In 1943, EMLL came calling and recruited Gory Guerrero. Even though he’d debuted six years prior, the promotion proclaimed him “Rookie of the Year.”
And in the late 1940s, Gory teamed up with El Santo to form the supremely successful Pareja Atómica (The Atomic Pair). Some records even state that the heel tandem went undefeated during their run. Only a handful of wrestlers at the time wore masks, so the mysterious El Santo attracted crowds and is considered an innovator and true pioneer of the sport.
Gory’s partner became one of the most famous wrestlers in the world and a pop-cultural icon.
In his book, Cheating Death, Stealing Life, Eddie Guerrero says, “It’s hard to describe the level of fame El Santo had in Mexico. He was the man. In his heyday, he was more popular than Hulk Hogan and Stone Cold Steve Austin combined. But, Santo was more than a wrestler. He was a real live superhero.”
A Golden Opportunity for Gory
This meant that the well-traveled Lou Thesz was destined to lock horns with Gory Guerrero south of the border, and a possible title change had fans chomping at the bit.
In April of 1954, the Mexican press began announcing the imminent arrival of el campeón mundial, and a tournament would be organized to determine the challenger.
Sunday, April 25th, a battle royale took place, followed by the first day of the prestigious tournament pitting the top eight possible opponents “worthy enough” to challenge Thesz for the world title.
The outcome was as follows:
Gorila Macias II advanced by besting Ray Valdez. Then Enrique Llanes defeated Frenchman and future movie actor Jean Safont who was making his Mexican debut.
Carlos “El Naufrago” Moreno from Monterrey, Mexico, was next and eliminated the American George Ehling, who also wrestled as Cowboy Cassidy in Europe. He is perhaps most famous for tiling his whole home in Hollywood Hills, CA. USA, which took him an astonishing 40 years.
And lastly, in a quick match, Firpo Segura pinned Chico Cassola.
Day two of the semifinals saw Carlos Moreno overcoming Gorila Macias II in a tight affair. Enrique Llanes also proved his grit and advanced after prevailing over Chico Cassola. The final saw Carlos Moreno become the number one contender in Mexico for Lou Thesz’s title after Enrique Llanes could not secure the win.
Note: Enrique Llanes was one of three brothers of Gory’s wife, Herlinda Llanes. All were pro wrestlers. The other two were Mario and Sergio.
With the dust barely settling, to everyone’s surprise, Gory Guerrero returned to Mexico four days later after being primarily on a California, USA tour for over a year.
Carlos Moreno’s victory celebration was short-lived. Even though the tournament had concluded and Moreno was set to face Thesz, Gory didn’t rescind his claim to being the best candidate for the championship match.
So, two weeks later, and much to Moreno’s displeasure, EMLL decided to book him against Gory Guerrero.
The night of the match, Lou Thesz was already in Mexico and accompanied by his wife and Sam Muchnick. However, before the start of the impromptu contest, Thesz made his presence felt by stepping into the ring so the fans could get a glimpse of the NWA World Champion everyone was talking about.
He only stayed briefly once the match began and was perhaps scouting his possible rival. But he soon took off to beautiful Acapulco for a relaxing one-week vacation.
Like an angry bull, Gory took the match in two-straight falls and left little doubt that there was nobody more suited to challenge Thesz.
Rito Romero, who had faced Thesz in 1952 in California, was also a strong contender, but it was time for Gory to shine and maybe win championship gold. Would he be able to up his game against Thesz, or would he become only another footnote in the champ’s illustrious title reign?
Gory Guerrero nearly dethrones Lou Thesz for NWA gold: A thrilling tale!
On May 21st, 1954, Lou Thesz and Gory Guerrero faced off for the first of their two historic matches in Mexico.
The hype machine for the arrival of the NWA World Champion was in full gear. Mexico certainly had its share of stars, but there was only one Lou Thesz. The magazines were calling him the “Emperor of Wrestling” and highlighting that in the past seventeen years, he’d only been defeated ten times.
Though highly skilled, many fans believed the lighter Gory was overmatched against the larger-framed and more experienced Thesz. But hopefully, Gory’s determination, courage, and never-say-die attitude would see him through.
Then, in a rare instance, the whole arena was urging the heel to victory.
After thirteen arduous minutes, Thesz stunned Gory by delivering several vicious knee-blows to the challenger’s upper body. He then went for his signature Thesz Press to obtain the first fall.
Gory was slow getting up; he was down but certainly not out.
In contrast, Thesz, a renowned shooter, seemed confident that he could take the match in straight falls. He always exuded confidence but never arrogance. A consummate pro, he was proving why he was considered the best.
Gory needed to shake off the cobwebs and fast.
Like in a soccer match, when the opposition scores a quick goal, the disappointed crowd grew temporarily silent. But they soon recovered and seemed to will Gory into fighting back and wanted him to wrest the second fall from the champion.
Gory was a disdained heel known to get very personal with the fans, but on this evening, their nationalism kicked in, and they cheered for him wholeheartedly.
“Gory! Gory! Gory!”
Tonight he was a hero for the Mexican people.
After receiving several elbow smashes, a headlock, and “topes,” Thesz shockingly went down for the three-count.
The match was one fall apiece, and the fans were going crazy with delight and could taste victory.
Was the champ off his game and underestimating his opponent? Or was everything under control, cold, and calculated? Could the championship possibly switch hands and stay in Mexico?
The third and decisive fall saw both men go toe to toe, leaving everything in the ring.
Gory redoubled his efforts and seemed to be on the brink of victory. Thesz was reeling, looking for a way to stem Gory’s onslaught. He needed to avoid being placed in the painful Gory Special.
In the intense melee between the two, Gory wrapped his powerful, tanned arms around Thesz and applied a tight headlock.
To try and break the hold, Thesz maneuvered and brought Gory down with him to the mat. Both men hit their heads hard, and a disoriented Gory involuntarily relaxed his grip. The champion recovered first. Thesz seized the opportunity and covered the barely lucid Gory Guerrero.
The referee was in position. One… two… and three.
It was over. Thesz had survived his first match against Gory in Mexico. The fans were heartbroken.
But he would have one more opportunity. However, he had given all he had against Thesz and failed. What did he need to do to win?
On May 23rd, 1954, Gory had his rematch in Guadalajara two days later. Touted to be Thesz’s first and only appearance in the area, the crowd pleaded for a Gory victory. And although this time Gory was closer than ever, Thesz held on again.
The crowd gave both a standing ovation and was in awe of the wrestlers’ sportsmanship. They had witnessed the greatness of Thesz, and Gory had nothing to be ashamed of by his performance. He took him to the limit and, on those nights, was cheered as his son Eddie would be when winning the WWE World Championship decades later.
Lou Thesz held his death grip on the NWA belt for two more years until dropping it to “Whipper” Billy Watson on March 15th, 1956, in front of a record crowd in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Former boxing champion Jack Dempsey was the special referee.
Gory Guerrero continued his heelish ways and got involved in a bloody feud against the unruly Cavernario (Caveman) Galindo in September 1954. It was heel vs. heel, and their encounters were not for the squeamish. Bloodshed and violence were commonplace between them.
Another notable rival in Mexico was Tarzan Lopez, from whom Gory won the NWA Light Heavyweight Championship (Mexico version).
The elder Guerrero continued making tours in the USA with much success.
In 1961, Gory moved his family to the south side of the city of El Paso, Texas. Sons Chavo, Mando, Hector, and later Eddie became wrestlers.
In 1966, Gory cut ties with EMLL. He disagreed on how to drop the light heavyweight championship belt to Ray Mendoza, the father of the infamous Villanos faction and who later in the mid-’70s became one of Mexico’s Universal Wrestling Association founders.
Gory then went fully independent, and southern California, the Carolinas, and Texas frequently had the privilege of seeing him wrestle. Even Vince McMahon Senior hired him for a short period in his WWWF.
Fun fact: In an interview with Benny McGuire (McCrary’s real last name) in Scott Teal’s The Wrestling Archive Project: Volume 1 from Crowbar Press, for approximately two months in 1969, Gory Guerrero trained the humongous McGuire Twins in Juarez, Mexico. Between the two, their max weight ballooned up to 1,598 lbs.
Gory had torn all the seats out of a theater and made a gym out of it with a ring set up on the stage. The twins couldn’t take bumps like ordinary wrestlers, so Gory worked out a routine for them. He booked them for a couple of years until Nick Gulas took over their dates.
Gory and his family quickly established roots in El Paso and lived in a close-knit community. They began promoting wrestling as a family under the International Wrestling Enterprises banner and calling the El Paso County Coliseum their home base. His promotion worked alongside the Funks from Amarillo, Texas, until ceasing operations in 1981.
Gory continued promoting shows, mainly in Juarez, Mexico, until his untimely death on April 18th, 1990, at age 69. Two weeks before his death, Guerrero’s liver failed, and he developed cirrhosis due to hepatitis.
In his book, Eddie reminds fans how important his father Gory Guerrero’s match against Lou Thesz was:
“In 1954, my dad was given a shot at the NWA World Heavyweight Champion, the legendary Lou Thesz. He didn’t win the title, but it was a huge deal. Mexican wrestlers rarely got the opportunity to wrestle for the biggest championship in the business, so just getting the match showed how well respected he was by the NWA commission.
Gory Guerrero is enshrined in the PWHF (Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame), Wrestling Observer Newsletter, and El Paso Athletic Hall of Fames and is a Cauliflower Alley Club honoree along with the whole Guerrero family.
In addition, his son Eddie was posthumously inducted into the WWE’s hallowed Hall in 2006.
In short, Gory Guerrero was a respected, tireless, and dedicated worker, the patriarch of the Guerrero wrestling dynasty, and a renowned promoter.
Most importantly, he was an exemplary family man who didn’t see life as being filled with obstacles but instead full of opportunities waiting to be taken.
And take them he did.
These stories may also interest you:
- Eddie Guerrero – His Influential Life and Tragic End
- Gobbledy Gooker – WWE’s Memorable Thanksgiving Fail
- Eddie Guerrero and Brock Lesnar – An Unlikely Hero Conquers
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