In August of 1995, along came two luchadores who introduced ECW to a style of wrestling that made the fans almost forget the recent departures of cruiserweights Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Chris Benoit. When Rey Mysterio Jr. (then going by the spelling of Misterio) explained to Paul Heyman what the finish would be, Heyman replied, "Now that we know it, I don’t want to tell you anything else! My ring is your canvas. Paint me a Picasso. This is me giving you a chance to have the most famous match of your lives. Go for it!" With that, Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis stole the show.
ECW Going Against "The Big Two," WCW and the WWF
To survive against the "Big Two," ECW had to be different, innovative, uncompromising, and unrelenting in how they presented their product. When they started to feature cruiserweights such as 2 Cold Scorpio, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero instead of big burly musclemen that had been the wrestling trend for years, people took notice, including WCW’s Eric Bischoff.
In August of 1995, Benoit, Malenko, and Guerrero left ECW for WCW. Depending on who you ask, you’ll likely be told that they were "blatantly stolen" from ECW ("raid" is the term generously used), or that the talent simply made a business decision to better themselves.
In the book The Rise and Fall of ECW by Thom Loverro, Eric Bischoff, who served as Executive Producer and later President of WCW, offered his point of view. "Did some talent leave ECW and come to WCW? Of course, they did, because A, they probably weren’t getting paid and had to in order to pay their bills and feed their families, and B, they recognized that WCW was a much stronger, much more secure, a larger international platform for them to ply their trade." Bischoff continued, "This is not a raid, despite what Paul Heyman and others would have you think."
Paul Heyman countered, "It was a smart move by Eric Bischoff to do it because he was in competition with Vince and had to have the talent. He found them in ECW before anyone else had a chance to sign them. I just don’t like the fact that he never said, ‘Yeah, I stole that from ECW.’"
ECW: Not Just Blood and Gore
Paul Heyman became the owner and creative force behind ECW in ’94 when it transitioned from Eastern Championship Wrestling with ties to the remnants of the NWA to "Extreme" Championship Wrestling. Around this time, "The Franchise" Shane Douglas embarrassed promoter and former president and board member of the National Wrestling Alliance Dennis Coralluzzo by trashing the NWA World Title, proclaiming the NWA had died seven years before. Douglas, in a memorable speech, went on to mention almost a dozen former NWA World Champions before inviting them all to kiss his ass, thus ushering in the new era of ECW.
Heyman had a clear vision of what he wanted the promotion to become. He envisioned a kind of wrestling that could only be seen at his shows. Even though ECW would become known for its violence, gore, and beautiful woman, some of their best matches were centered heavily on wrestling with the TV title becoming the focal point. Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero represented what the ECW TV title would be about, helping to position the company as not only a place for blood and gore but also wrestling.
When the ECW World Television Championship was first unveiled, Mickey Whipwreck (who had been an undersized ring boy before becoming a wrestler) won the title by accident. He was pushed as a fan-favorite underdog and remained champion for awhile by taking beatings and barely living to tell about it. He became a "miracle kid."
Heyman would later want the TV title to become akin to "a pure wrestling championship," and 2 Cold Scorpio became the torchbearer. In usually either the third or fourth match on the show, Scorpio would have fifteen minutes of chain wrestling with his opponent, which was a welcome change of pace from all the high spots, brutality, and babes.
Eddie Guerrero entered the picture and defeated 2 Cold for the TV title on April 8th, 1995. He would then wrestle Dean Malenko to a draw at the April 15th, 1995 Hostile City Showdown pay-per-view. They had another draw at the May 13th arena show called Enter The Sandman as well.
In all this, Chris Benoit was part of the Triple Threat stable, along with Shane Douglas and Dean Malenko. Benoit and Malenko were ECW Tag Team Champions earlier in the year, and Malenko held the ECW TV title on two occasions. Benoit became known as "The Crippler" when he accidentally broke Sabu’s neck (for real, not in kayfabe). In the storyline, Heyman (of course) ran with it and slapped the nickname on him amid rumors swirling that Benoit was in line for a world championship run. This never came to pass, and instead, the idea was to switch the ECW TV Championship between Benoit, Guerrero, and Malenko.
"One man’s raid is another man’s acquisition." – Eric Bischoff
ECW took a low blow in August of ’95 when Benoit, Guerrero, and Malenko left ECW to work for Eric Bischoff in WCW. Paul Heyman declared that they were "stolen" just like Chris Jericho would be in late-’96. The cruiserweights had become a crucial element in the shows, and the fans loved and appreciated their athleticism and heart.
Traditionally, when a wrestler would leave a territory or promotion, they’d be buried by losing to someone that they wanted to give a push to. In the not too distant past, previous deserters of ECW were berated by the passionate fans who were rarely shy about showing their genuine emotions. They’d be called sellouts or yelled at with chants of "Fuck you!" or "We hope you die!" according to Paul Heyman. Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero bunked this trend and wrestled to chants of "Please don’t go" instead, and were moved to tears during their August 26th match by the respect shown to them. This Two-Out-of-Three Falls bout also ended without a declared winner as the time expired, but the fans were not at all disappointed with the result. They had just witnessed a clinic of professional wrestling at its finest.
Commentator Joey Styles tried to convey the emotion that was in the arena but seemed at a loss of words. "If you are not here tonight to see this live, I don’t know that the camera or anything else can convey and capture the feeling in this arena tonight, the overwhelming emotion that is overtaking everyone in this building."
Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis al Rescate (to the rescue)!
Even with the impressive farewell of Dean Malenko and Eddie Guerrero, there seemed to be a sense of foreboding within the organization that they wouldn’t recover from the loss of their three highly revered cruiserweights. Two young upstarts that were causing havoc in Mexico were about to save ECW’s skin.
Óscar Gutiérrez, better known to fans as Rey Mysterio Jr., was born December 11th, 1974, in San Diego, California. He was trained at a young age by his uncle, Rey Mysterio Sr. He was so talented that he would make his professional debut at the young age of 15 (Joey Styles claims 14) in Tijuana, Mexico – not the United States because he was too young to be licensed as a professional wrestler.
He perfected an acrobatic crowd-pleasing style that suited his small 5’3" and 140 lbs frame. He would eventually find an opponent who could complement and work well with him: Psicosis. Both Psicosis and Mysterio Jr. had been pleasing the Mexican fans in promotions such as AAA for several years, but mostly as part of two-out-of-three falls six-man tag matches, which are common south of the border. In ECW, they would go on to face each other four times, three of those being one-on-one contests.
Paul Heyman was confident that Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis could replace the loss of his three cruiserweights. Hence, he spoke with Konnan, the booker in Mexico at the time, asking, "If you were me, and you had the golden pass to take anyone from Mexico [excluding yourself] and use them when it is convenient and doesn’t interfere with your business, who would you pick?"
"Mysterio and Psicosis," answered Konnan with conviction.
"Nobody can follow them," Konnan continued. "I am learning it now. It is the hottest thing you have ever seen."
Extreme Wrestling Becomes Art
ECW’s Gangstas Paradise show on September 19th, 1995, saw the debut of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis. Unbeknownst to the fans, the match of the night was being planned backstage. The wrestling presented would become known as Extreme Lucha Libre.
"Oh, Dios mio! Chair right between the eyes!" – Joey Styles, calling the first Mysterio Jr. vs. Psicosis match in ECW.
Heyman asked for the two luchadores to put their match together and that he’d come back to see what they had planned. When he returned, Mysterio Jr., unsure of what route they should take, wanted to know what the parameters were for the match. Heyman simply replied, "You have none. If you both went to heaven and God said, ‘Put on the most entertaining match to simply blow me away, and I’m giving you one chance to do it, or you both go to hell, but if you do it, you and your families will be up here in heaven with me,’ what match would that be?"
Heyman walked away once again to allow the luchadores to continue planning. When he returned before the commencing of the show, Mysterio Jr. once again pleaded for some direction in the match. Heyman answered, "Steal the show. I am giving you the platform. You can go into the rails, and you can use tables and chairs. Be smart, though, just because you can do it, doesn’t mean you should." Heyman added, "Do it any way you have to. Wrestle, brawl, bleed, fly, anything you want. Show these people you are the best in the world!"
Heyman wanted Rey to conclude the match with a finish that nobody had seen in ECW before. Once Rey described the elaborate move he planned, Heyman stopped him and said, "Okay, that’s your finish. Now that we know it, I don’t want to tell you anything else. My ring is your canvas. Paint me a Picasso. If you are over, then you are invited back for all my shows. If you’re not, then you tried. This is me giving you a chance to have the most famous match of your lives. Go for it!"
Heyman had captured lightning in a bottle. The risk he took with the two luchadores paid off in spades, making him look like a genius in the process for booking it.
In 1995, few fans in the United States had experienced the Lucha Libre style of wrestling, and these two at the time were arguably the best wrestlers to introduce them to it. Mysterio finished Psicosis with a Frankensteiner while his opponent was perched on the top rope. The spectacular match had lasted a little over ten minutes, but the crowd was enthralled and left wanting more. Fans that night also witnessed the debut of Steve Austin in ECW, who had recently been released from WCW. He would cut one of the most amazing promos of all time, showing shades of the "Stone Cold" character to come.
Recommended reading: The Night STEVE AUSTIN Composed One of the Greatest Promos of All Time
Did you know?: Early in his career in Mexico, Rey Mysterio Jr. went by the name El Colibrí (Hummingbird), and Psicosis was called El Salvaje (The Wild or Savage one). In 1993, Alejandro Peña of AAA brought Rey in, and this is where they started using the name Rey Misterio Jr. Peña enjoyed the "no limits action" both he and Psicosis displayed in their bouts. Much later, when Psicosis did not wear a mask, he was known as Nicho El Millonario. These two eternal rivals faced each other as recent as 2018 at the Expo Lucha main event in a six-man tag team match hosted in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The success of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis led to an unforgettable two-out-of-three falls match one month later, which many consider as one of the best-ever ECW matches. Before their first encounter, there was curiosity about who these two masked wrestlers were (especially Psicosis with his unique attire, which resembles a demon with horns from Mexico’s Day of the Dead celebration). Still, expectations were lukewarm because they were two unknowns in the U.S.
For their second match, though, expectations were elevated, and there was a buzz in the air. As the anticipation was building, their rematch had a big fight feel, and the excitement in the air was palpable. Announcer Joel Gertner introduced the luchadores in both English and a very well-delivered and enunciated Spanish. The fans hoped Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis could have a match at least comparable to the first. Lightning had indeed struck twice at the ECW Arena! Other than the match becoming an instant classic, it is also notable because Psicosis won cleanly. He was simply better than Mysterio Jr. that evening.
Watch the spectacular two-out-of-three falls match between Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis:
For their third match, Konnan and Rey Mysterio Jr. teamed up to defeat Psicosis and La Parka (L.A. Park). The last match between these eternal rivals in ECW was a befitting farewell that saw them collide in a Mexican Deathmatch at November to Remember. The stipulations stated that if a wrestler were pinned or forced to submit, he would have a ten count to answer the bell. If not, his opponent is declared the winner. Both wowed the crowd from the opening bell. Their Lucha Libre style of wrestling was on full display, but it was infused with plenty of weapons and violence, too. Tables, chairs, and even the concrete floor were used against the two combatants. Lightning struck thrice at the ECW Arena!
Watch: Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis Mexican Deathmatch at ECW November to Remember ’95
The success of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis in ECW opened the doors for a new kind of talent in ECW. Super Crazy, Juventud Guerrera (who had several matches with Mysterio Jr. in ECW once Psicosis left), Pablo Marquez, La Parka (LA Park), Mosco de la Merced (Loco Valentino), Konnan, and Tajiri were just a few of the names that soon joined the company. Earlier that year, ECW was able to overcome the temporary departure of Sabu, and this time surpass the obstacle of losing Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero.
Unfortunately, history repeated itself. Psicosis joined WCW in January of ’96, and Rey Mysterio Jr. followed later in the year. Ironically, they’d battle against the three cruiserweights ECW had lost to WCW. By launching a cruiserweight division of their own, WCW was able to provide these skilled athletes a more global platform for the world to see where we saw a melding of styles from many countries.
The "eternal rivalry" (as many fans refer to it) between Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis extended itself to promotions such as AAA, Wrestle Association-R (Japan), WCW, and briefly the WWE. Nevertheless, it was their first encounter at the ECW Arena that is held most memorable. Their matches are the kind that you show a non-wrestling fan as their "dance" holds the magic to convert them for life. Strictly from a fan’s perspective, you can’t go wrong watching any of their matches. It was Extreme Lucha Libre at its finest.
Watch the full match and ECW debut of Rey Mysterio Jr. and Psicosis at Gangstas Paradise:
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