A few weeks back, I talked about some of my favorite wrestlers. As you can easily assume, I left several of them out for various reasons, be it time constraints or simply not thinking to include them at the time. After all, when I'm asked this question of who my favorite wrestlers are, I'm being put on the spot, and generally just rattle off the names that first come to mind. While I do stand behind the five I listed as the names that most commonly come up these days when asked about my favorite wrestlers, I do have to admit there are at least two I likely should have included, as well.
One of these people is Chris Jericho, one of the regular cast of cruiserweights that would keep me glued to WCW television, despite the fact that the WWF would often have a more compelling show featuring the Hart Foundation, Mankind, and Steve Austin, all characters I loved equally as much at the time. Basically, if Jericho, Dean Malenko, Rey Mysterio, Ultimo Dragon, Juventud Guerrera, Psicosis, or any of the other cruiserweights were on, you couldn't get me to change the channel. As time would go on, and Jericho would develop his character more, he would soon become the best reason to watch Nitro, and later, Thunder. Despite the fact that Austin vs. McMahon was happening on the other show, I was quite content watching Jericho rattle off his list of a 1001 holds and whine about JoJo Dillion and the conspiracy to help Dean Mal-Urkel get the Cruiserweight Title back, despite the fact that Jericho had beaten Dean in a match that stipulated that once Dean lost, he would never again get a shot at the Cruiserweight Title so long as Jericho held it. I liked that whole "Ayatolla of Rock n Rolla" stuff. I was even happy to see Jericho make the jump to WWE and transform himself a few times over, eventually becoming the cold and calculating "Best in the World at What He Does" we saw near the end of his tenure. Jericho was not only an interesting and entertaining character, but he actually influenced me in ways even I'm surprised to have noticed as time has gone on. For instance, some may notice when talking to me in person, I'll often pronounce "again" as "a-gayne", even though I'm in no way, shape, or form Canadian. This is because of Chris Jericho.
The other man I should really have included among my favorites is Eddie Guerrero. While it was initially Rey Mysterio's amazing high-flying acrobatics that got me to sit down and watch wrestling again after years of having written it off as "something I used to watch as a kid", it was guys like Jericho, Guerrero, and Bret Hart that kept me coming back to one or the other show as time went on. Guerrero, though, is unique in the sense that I really don't have one, or even a series of favorite matches of his. With Jericho, I can name several - the ladder match with Shawn Michaels for the World Title, the series in WWF against Chris Benoit, pretty much anything against Ultimo Dragon, the title vs. mask match against Juventud Guerrera, as well as Juvi's revenge as the unmasked Guerrera won the title off of Jericho months later. I have to admit, I didn't even mind the matches Jericho had with Perry Saturn when Saturn lost and was forced to wear a dress. Given, at least half of these, I haven't seen in about a decade, and to be perfectly frank, continue to be really pissed off at WWE about for not including more of Jericho's WCW tenure (or anyone else's for that matter) on his DVD set, so God knows if they'd hold up, but the fact I remember them should say something. When it comes to Eddie Guerrero, though, even if I can rattle off a series of supposed "favorite" matches, I'd be lying, because, really, every match was great. Could Eddie Guerrero have a bad match? Sure, everyone does, but I'd be hard pressed to name one that I didn't enjoy... except possibly the Brock Lesnar one.
Okay, I need to explain something when it comes to Brock Lesnar - I don't like the guy. I never liked him. To me, he was always just this big ugly brute who came into pro wrestling as a means of getting famous and making money, not because of any love or respect for the art form itself. He may feign some passing respect for the genre now, finally realizing several years too late what his time in WWE did for his name recognition, and how he is only the name and draw in UFC that he is today because of the work WWE put into him a decade ago to make him a star, but we all know he doesn't love wrestling. Hell, he doesn't even really like wrestling. And, to be perfectly frank, I didn't think much of him as a performer, either. Sure, if you put Brock in there with the likes of a Kurt Angle, you'll get a decent match out of him, but tell me honestly if you can think of one good Brock Lesnar match that didn't involve Angle. Hell, I personally think the so-called "good" matches he had with Angle are horribly overrated! He damn near kills himself at WrestleMania XIX doing a shooting star press a man of his size and build has no business doing, and no, I don't care whether or not he did the spot successfully a million times in OVW - he shouldn't be doing it at all! He shouldn't have been doing it in OVW, he sure as sh*t shouldn't have done it at WrestleMania, and why on earth he was ever allowed to try it is beyond me. Actually, no... I do know why he'd do something like that - because he doesn't get the art of wrestling. He thinks this is just some stunt show, because only someone who thinks wrestling is a stunt show does a completely unnecessary highspot just for the sake of doing a highspot when cameras are flashing! "Oh, that'd be a cool picture," is NOT a reason to do ANYTHING in a wrestling ring!
Anyway... back to Eddie's match with Lesnar. The whole thing annoys me, really. Part of it is the story behind it, where Lesnar didn't really want to do the job because he didn't think fans would buy a guy of Eddie's size beating him, even though Eddie Guerrero was the hottest thing going in WWE since Stone Cold Steve Austin. Another part of it is just how obvious it is that Brock isn't on board with the gameplan in the match itself. Brock beats on Eddie and beats on Eddie and beats on him some more, to the point where it really does start to look like Eddie's just being squashed. Eddie's comeback is muted, and it really isn't until Goldberg interferes when Eddie looks like he has any prayer of actually winning. The other part of it is the fact that Eddie winning the match was practically guaranteed going into the show, anyway, as WWE was building the Lesnar/Goldberg match for WrestleMania XX and made it apparent that they wanted to have Goldberg cost Lesnar the WWE Title the same way Lesnar cost Goldberg the Royal Rumble the month before. So, you basically have a match designed to give fans something they've been begging for (an Eddie Guerrero title run), while pushing a dream match at WrestleMania (Lesnar/Goldberg), and virtually everyone BUT Eddie Guerrero is sandbagging the efforts for their own selfish reasons. Goldberg doesn't want to job to Lesnar. Lesnar doesn't want to job to Eddie. Neither Lesnar nor Goldberg would even be with the company in a month, and Eddie's just trying to give the people what they paid for. Essentially, the biggest moment of Eddie's career is being overshadowed by all the bullsh*t going on around it, and it disappoints the hell out of me.
The thing about Eddie Guerrero, for me, is that wrestling shows were just better when he was on them. It didn't matter if he was wrestling, cutting a promo, doing commentary, or whatever. If Eddie was on the show, the show went from one level to another. An intolerable show became tolerable, a bad show became okay, an okay show became good, and a good show became great. Maybe what Eddie was doing wasn't always for everyone, but for me, simply having Eddie on the show made it better.
For example, the Latino World Order. Many of you who actually remember this will think it was a stupid waste of time, and, admittedly, it was. It was WCW more or less allowing the Mexican wrestlers on its roster to do something, and because we already had two New World Orders running around, hell, let's have a third of no-carders we're not pushing anyway, and let them have their own little story. The thing is, I actually enjoyed elements of it. Eddie Guerrero was more or less the leader of the faction, and he was trying to get Rey Mysterio to join their ranks. Mysterio kept refusing, though, so Eddie forced Mysterio into a match where, if he lost, he'd have to join the LWO. Obviously, Mysterio lost, and was forced to join, but he continued to fight it, refusing to wear the shirt, not taking Eddie's orders and whatnot, and they built a feud around that. Eventually, when the LWO was disbanded, the only member who refused to take off the colors was Rey Mysterio, and I always thought that was kind of interesting how the one guy who had every reason to hate the organization was the only one really willing to defend it when corporate powers forced it to dissolve. I kind of wish WCW would have taken stuff like this and put more time into them, instead of forcing the NWO down our throats every week, because there was some really cool stuff going on in the undercards at the time.
Eddie had a way of taking some of the stupidest and most ridiculous things, and being able to find ways to make them better. Many of you may remember in 2005 how Rey Mysterio and Eddie Guerrero were feuding over Rey's son, Dominick. According to the story, Eddie was, in fact, Dominick's father, conceived during Eddie's separation from his wife, Vicki, and that Rey adopted the boy and raised him as his own. When their issues boiled over in 2005, however, Eddie went public with this information and attempted to take Dominick back, just to hurt Rey. This angle concluded with a ladder match for custody of Dominick. Yes, that's right - a ladder match for custody of a child.
At this point, right now, most of you are thinking this took place in TNA. You'd also be sorely wrong.
Now, was this feud entirely and wholly ridiculous? Yes. Was the story stupid beyond repair, with plot holes the size of Mack trucks, featuring insane logic and things that couldn't possibly even begin to happen in the real world? Absolutely. Is this the very sort of thing I rant about every single week in my Impact reviews? You bet your ass, it is! But even here, Eddie Guerrero made it better. The matches were watchable. Hell, the matches were great, in most cases! Even the promos were interesting. In fact, let's just look at the moment when Eddie told the world that Dominick was his son -
Not bad, huh? Now, yes, this story is irrevocably stupid. This is the very sort of insanity that prevents wrestling from tapping into a mainstream audience, and these men deserved a lot better for their efforts. But you have to give credit where credit is due. A lesser performer wouldn't have made this half as interesting.
I think the thing that bothers me the most when it comes to Eddie's career is the fact that I constantly find myself praising how he was able to save things that would have otherwise come off as terrible. The LWO and Dominick are just examples. Another is JBL, and his initial push into the Main Event about a year and a half too soon. Most of us will look back at JBL as a great character, a rich, loudmouth conservative who proclaimed himself an American Hero and a Wrestling God. Unfortunately, many of us seem to have some rather selective memory of this character, praising his work from 2006 on, outright forgetting how poor his first Main Event run really was. In 2004, JBL wasn't the golden tongued promo machine. In 2004, JBL was a George W. Bush knock-off character, riding a wave of anti-Bush sentiment in popular media, a man better known for doing a Nazi salute at a German House Show (which cost him his side-job with CNBC, where he appeared regularly as a financial expert at the time) and posting rants online about Internet Fans than for anything he was doing on TV. His sole reason for feuding with Eddie Guerrero was the fact that he mistakenly believed that Eddie was an illegal alien. There was even an angle WWE shot at a house show in El Paso where Eddie's mom supposedly had a heart attack when JBL accosted her -
Note to Wrestling Promoters: Heart Attack Angles never go over well. EVER! It didn't work for WCW when Ric Flair supposedly had one in the ring leading into a World Title Match in 2000. It sure as hell didn't do anyone in WCCW any good when Fritz Von Erich staged a heart attack at Christmas Star Wars 1987 -
Yet, in 2004, WWE tried it with Eddie Guerrero's mom. Needless to say, this did not go over very well, and while JBL and Eddie Guerrero certainly had good matches, people weren't all too particularly interested in seeing Guerrero vs. JBL, especially since there was quite a bit of fan interest at the time in a Guerrero/Booker T feud, as Book had recently been drafted to SmackDown and turned heel, angry over being dumped on to the "B-Show". Eventually, JBL defeats Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Title, and Eddie inexplicably feuds with Kurt Angle instead of trying to get his title back, while JBL eats the Undertaker, Booker T (who was quickly turned back babyface once JBL won the title), the Big Show, and every other possible babyface WWE could scrounge up in a futile attempt to get JBL over, while fan interest and ratings for SmackDown declined. It would get to a point where, as champion, JBL vs. Big Show in a cage on PPV struggled to draw 8000 people to No Way Out 2005 in Pittsburgh. How do I know this? Because a friend of mine and I got tickets dirt cheap the day of the show, easily had the best seats we've ever had for a WWE show, and saw the half-empty arena for ourselves before going home and seeing the attendance figures online the next day and laughing. Why? Because, at the time, there was talk that WWE wanted to hold off on John Cena's upcoming WWE Title Push (defeating JBL for the title) until SummerSlam.
And what became of Eddie Guerrero, the most popular character in WWE since Stone Cold Steve Austin? He ended up going into a feud with Rey Mysterio over custody of a kid.
The reason why I wanted to talk about Eddie is that I finally watched the
Cheating Death, Stealing Life documentary WWE produced for UPN in 2004 for the first time this past weekend. Yeah, they released it on DVD, as well, but it was originally produced for TV, and it's pretty obvious in not only it's run-time of approximately 45 minutes, but in the way it's edited, as well as the sh*t-ton of licensed music from bands like Creed, Seether, and Finger Eleven being featured. The timeline of the documentary is odd, too, as it talks about instances of Eddie's life out of order, resolving individual stories of his life, rather than presenting a chronological timeline of events as they took place. The complaints I'd have about the special are minor, centering mostly around the rather rushed pace of the program, but that's because it was originally produced to run an hour on network TV. The other minor complaint centers around the omissions, the things that are generally glossed over or even outright not mentioned in Eddie's life or career that, as a fan, you'd have expected to see covered in this special. The big one, for me, is Art Barr.
I have seen exactly one Art Barr match, and it's on the DVD I'm talking about now. I originally got the
Cheating Death, Stealing Life DVD as part of a box set, along with the
Viva La Raza three-disc set of Eddie's career, and
No Way Out 2004 where Eddie defeated Brock Lesnar for the WWE Title, a match that would ironically be featured on every single one of these DVDs in the boxed set. As soon as I got the set home and opened, the first thing I did was watch the
When World's Collide match with Eddie and Art Barr against Octagon and El Hijo Del Santo. I had heard a lot about Art Barr, including Harry Simon's recollection of the man in his review of the
Cheating Death, Stealing Life DVD, which I would post a link to now if I could find the thing online these days, which sadly, I cannot. I wanted to see what all the hype was about. I had heard Art's frog splash was amazing, and, believe me, it is. It's something I hate to admit about Eddie, but his frog splash is nothing compared to Art Barr's. It's a thing of absolute beauty. Hell, the entire match is just a work of art. Los Gringos Locos vs. El Hijo Del Santo and Octagon is among my favorite matches of all time, hands down. In fact, one of these days, when I get the time to make the animated .gifs, I'll do another "favorite matches" column and talk about this one in more detail. It's just that awesome. So much so, I wanted to see more of Art Barr afterwards. Unfortunately, this match here was one of if not Barr's last, as he'd die soon afterwards. Had he lived, he and Eddie were set to debut in ECW together as a team, and... God knows what could have happened. Maybe Eddie might not have had the career he did, even though, to be fairly honest, he's the stronger half of the team. At the same time, I'd love to see more of Art Barr, especially in AAA as part of Los Gringos Locos with Eddie Guerrero. So, when all I saw of Art was a passing mention when they talked about the frog splash, it hurt. I mean, they didn't even really say that the reason Eddie started doing the frog splash was because, after Art died, AAA was pressuring Eddie to do angles exploiting Art's death, and Eddie refused to so, only agreeing that he'd do the frog splash as a tribute to his former partner. I just wanted to see WWE acknowledge the guy, even if it was only a slight mention before Eddie went to ECW and WCW, because at that time in his career, Guerrero's greatest success as a wrestler was in AAA as part of Los Gringos Locos with Art Barr.
I guess I'd have also like to have seen more on Eddie's unmasking in Mexico, as it was a major controversy at the time. For some reason, promoters in Mexico wanted Eddie, the son of Mexican Wrestling Legend Gory Guerrero, to wear a mask and conceal his wrestling heritage. You know, because why on earth would the Guerrero name, one of the most famous names in all of Lucha Libre, draw in Mexico? Eddie, before defecting to Antonio Pena's AAA, was the first, and as far as I know, only luchador in history to voluntary unmask, essentially pissing on an entire culture of masked wrestling, before announcing himself as Eddie Guerrero, son of Gory Guerrero. I know I'm asking a lot of WWE to want to educate their fans on Lucha Libre and Mexican Wrestling culture, but this is the sort of thing that helps build more of a respect and a reverence for the Art of Wrestling and for different cultures around the world. Perhaps, if WWE were more interested in educating it's audience about the Art of Wrestling and the various cultures of wrestling, Sin Cara wouldn't have flopped as bad as he has because WWE fans would have a better understanding of what "the Biggest Star in Lucha Libre" actually means, and why things like his and Rey Mysterio's masks are extremely important, they'd have connected to it more. Plus, it helps when Sin Cara's matches aren't all shot in the freaking dark with a gold sepia tone...
I think the reason it took me almost three years to actually watch the
Cheating Death, Stealing Life documentary, despite owning the DVD, is that it's hard to look back on Eddie's life and career and not want more. Not only wanting more of him, but more for him, and for a lot of the guys Eddie worked with, as well. My love of Art Barr, based solely on one match, and the disappointment I feel every time I'm faced with the reality that he's become mostly a footnote in wrestling history, is a big part of that. I think it also reinforces a lot of my disappointments in the fact that WWE, for better or worse, owns a majority share of the Professional Wrestling Legacy, and does virtually nothing with it. Every DVD set release they put out, you'll get maybe a quarter of the total run time dedicated to anything a performer did outside of WWE, while the rest of it is every last second of their WWE run, up to and including the most stupid, lame, and ridiculous things you could imagine. And I get that it's hard to make every fan happy. There's tons of classic TV matches that fans will probably never get to see more than once, unless WWE decides to dedicate more of their proposed network to the wrestling library than to the reality TV shows they've commissioned. I also don't get how a company can think dedicating a ton of time to a stupid angle like two men fighting over custody of a child in a ladder match, or spending five minutes of a 45-minute documentary talking about low-riders takes precedent over featuring a superior match in WCW or spending more than half a sentence talking about Art Barr.
It's the little things that bother me. I admit this. I'm also a fan of the little things, which, at the end of the day, is something guys like Chris Jericho and Eddie Guerrero were very good at. They may not have always been given the A-Material to work with, and some their best work may still be collecting dust somewhere in the WWE Video Archives, but they certainly made the most of what they had, and I just wanted to take some time with you guys today to let the world know I appreciated them and everything they've done to make Professional Wrestling more interesting, and a lot more fun.
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