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    Thursday, November 12, 2015

    Thursday Night Tanders (11/12/15): Remembering Eddie Guerrero

    It was almost ten years ago today when I got home from a Sunday evening work shift to read the tragic news on the Internet—Eddie Guerrero, WWE Superstar, was dead at the age of 38. To say I was floored was an understatement, but to me, his death was more than just the premature passing of one of my favorite squared circle competitors. It was, at that point, the end of an era. But before we get to the tributes and memories, let me tell you a story. And no, I’m not talking one of “Eddie’s Bedtime Stories,” but one that happened just a few days ago.

    Earlier this week, the Throwback Tito shared a photo from veteran UFC announcer Joe Rogan’s Facebook page, complaining about how Rogan epitomized the stereotypical alpha male UFC fans who hate political correctness, but probably hate professional wrestling even more. In that Facebook rant of mine, I said that the main reason I liked Rogan’s Facebook page was because of his iconic catchphrase, “IT IS ALL OVER.”

    A few hours later, a friend of mine and diehard UFC fan corrected me on something I should have known in my 15 years as a mixed martial arts fan—it’s Mike Goldberg, not Joe Rogan, who screams “IT IS ALL OVER” after a knockout or submission win. And it was then that it really came to me. Maybe I’m not that big an MMA/UFC fan after all. I mean, I’ve appreciated so many UFC fights through the years. Shogun Rua vs Dan Henderson at UFC 139. Any UFC fight where Ronda Rousey submitted her opponent in less than a minute, or where Chris Weidman owned Anderson Silva. Before the fame got to his head and the coke went up his nose, Jon “Bones” Jones’ dominance of the light heavyweight division. But when it comes to the finer points of the sport, like which announcer has what catchphrase, I was, and still am, mostly oblivious. I can talk about the psychology in a Brock Lesnar versus Undertaker grudge match, but would be stumped if you asked me to elaborate on the stances, strategies, and intricacies of Lesnar vs Frank Mir, for instance.

    That wasn’t the end of my epiphany, though. Next, I realized how Rousey, Weidman, and Conor McGregor are the only UFC fighters I care to watch these days, mainly because I’ve been a prodigal son to sports entertainment since December 2012. And finally, I remembered the turning point for that seven-year period when most of the fighting action I watched was UFC or Manny Pacquiao fights. That turning point, unfortunately, was the death of Eddie Guerrero.

    This week, we shall once again deviate from my intended format of chronologically retelling the history of WWF/E from 1993 onwards, and this won’t be another lighthearted look at crappy/cheesy gimmicks or storylines. We shall be remembering a man who was, to a lot of us in the Smark Henry bullpen, an idol to us in our younger years.

    This one’s for you, Eddie.


    Starting the Century on a “Radical” Note

    Eddie Guerrero’s memorable five-year WWF/E run began in January 2000, but before that happened, he was one of many WCW midcarders who wanted to jump what was looking more and more like a sinking ship with each passing week. And it wasn’t just the increasingly crappy nature of WCW storylines. For years, these midcarders had been hitting the glass ceiling over and over again, being little more than entertaining curtain-jerkers for a company that stuck with what was tried and tested for way too long. And it didn’t help that these tried-and-tested individuals were among those keeping Eddie and company in the midcard. And as 1999 drew to a close, these midcarders had had it. They wanted out, and WCW did little to prevent them from leaving, adding to the number of suicidal mistakes Ted Turner’s wrestling promotion made in the last couple years of its existence.

    With the new century arriving and no Y2K bug or end-of-the-world prophecy come true to spoil our fun, four of those midcarders—The Radicalz—made their debut on the final RAW of January 2000. Allow this lifelong basketball fan to put things in context, for those who enjoy basketball too—this was, to me, an event similar in magnitude to blue-chip rookies Alvin Patrimonio, Jojo Lastimosa, Jerry Codiñera, and Glenn Capacio debuting for Purefoods in the 1988 season, making me a fan of the team for life. It was like future NBA stars Chris Webber, Jalen Rose, and Juwan Howard debuting for the U.S. NCAA’s Michigan Wolverines in 1991, as they led a highly-touted freshman class called the “Fab 5.” And going back to The Radicalz, I was definitely aware of what Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Eddie Guerrero, and Perry Saturn achieved in WCW. These were all talented mainstays of WCW’s midcard, and they were finally getting a chance to show what they could do in the WWF. And for those who weren’t in touch with the latest wrestling rumors, their debut came as a complete surprise—here were four guys known to work for the competition arriving in the WWF and getting a storyline chance at working for the company.

    The Radicalz (Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn, Dean Malenko, and Eddie Guerrero) in the ring with Mick Foley.
    In order to get hired by the WWF, all four Radicalz had to win separate matches against D-Generation X members—Benoit versus Triple H, Guerrero and Saturn versus The New Age Outlaws, and Malenko versus X-Pac. The Radicalz lost all those matches, but as was the style in those days, a swerve allowed them to work for the WWF after all. That swerve had Triple H asking The Radicalz to turn on Mick Foley, thus officially debuting them as heels.

    After that debut, The Radicalz would then push forward in separate storylines, occasionally turning on each other but mostly remaining as a loose alliance, and quietly disbanding around the time Eddie was battling alcohol abuse in mid-2001. This battle caused Eddie to be fired by the WWF later that year, though he was eventually rehired just a few months after, in March 2002. And it goes without saying that it was only Eddie and Benoit among The Radicalz who truly lived up to their potential, yet tragically passed less than ten years after that unforgettable RAW debut. Malenko, being significantly older than the others, retired a year after he debuted on WWF, while Saturn remained stuck in the midcard due to a combination of bad attitude, substance abuse, and horrendous storylines like this. As I had expected, it was Latino Heat and the Crippler who were bound for the WWF/E main event.

    Lying, Cheating, and Stealing His Way to the WWE Title

    With Eddie back in the WWE in the spring of 2002, he immediately returned to the top of the midcard scene, beating Rob Van Dam at that year’s Backlash for his second Intercontinental Title. And, after SummerSlam 2002, the lying, cheating, and stealing Eddie Guerrero we know and love had finally arrived. Eddie would team up with his nephew Chavo, as Los Guerreros began to live by the “we lie, we cheat, we steal” mantra. Vignettes aired showing the duo using their guile to get themselves into people’s good graces only to take advantage of them, but the fans loved them for it. Yes, they were doing otherwise dishonorable things, but as they claimed to be “honest about it,” you couldn’t hate them like the liars, cheaters, and thieves of the world, or in the Philippines’ case, the liars, cheaters, and thieves of our government. They were doing all that with a mischievous smile on their face, and as their popularity grew, so did their push. Los Guerreros would win their first WWE Tag Team Championship at Survivor Series 2002, and while the team would eventually break up, Eddie’s push would keep getting better and better as a mainstay of the SmackDown brand.

    The Beast Incarnate prepares to eat a Frog Splash from Eddie at No Way Out 2004.
    The pinnacle of that push came in the first few months of 2004, as Eddie got the chance of a lifetime to win one of the WWE’s main event belts, following Chris Benoit’s move from SmackDown to RAW post-2004 Royal Rumble victory. But to get his chance at erstwhile WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, Eddie first had to win a 15-man Royal Rumble-style battle royal for number one contender. What followed at No Way Out, on February 15, 2004, was a classic battle of brawler vs high-flyer, as Lesnar vs Guerrero for the WWE Championship was, by far, the highlight of that PPV. And it was won in memorable fashion indeed, as Eddie put his “lie, cheat, and steal” tactics to good use despite working as a face like he normally did. Eddie won by countering Brock’s F5 attempt into a DDT onto the WWE Championship belt and getting the three-count for the championship. It was a long-overdue moment for one of the WWE’s hardest-working and most talented Superstars, and watching him celebrate at WrestleMania XX with real-life best friend Chris Benoit made for a very touching moment for the former Radicalz.

    Eddie Guerrero had finally achieved true main event stardom in the WWE, four years after he had left the company that had misused or ignored him mainly because of his unorthodox cruiserweight style and lack of conventional size. And he deserved every bit of that stardom.

    Why, Eddie, Why?

     At the time Eddie had left us, just about a month after his 38th birthday, I was largely tuning out on WWE. For me, RAW had become the Triple H show, and I was sick of the entire show revolving around the Game. Newer, younger stars such as Carlito and Chris Masters (and yes, John Cena too) had grown old on me pretty quickly. Storylines were getting stale on both RAW and SmackDown. Add to the fact that it was hard for me to catch up on those mostly meh storylines due to my nightshift job in the BPO industry, and I was this close to giving up on the product completely. However, one thing that kept me hanging on in 2005 was the epic feud between Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio, and the heel turn that came before it.

    Now this heel turn didn’t come out of the blue, as Eddie and Rey had seen their friendship getting strained after what seemed to be a friendly babyface match at WrestleMania 21. The erstwhile WWE Tag Team champions would then lose their belts to young upstarts MNM a few weeks after ‘Mania, but despite Eddie’s growing frustration with Rey, the tag team pushed forward. One would think that Eddie would have finally turned heel towards the end of April, when the Eddie/Rey tag team lost a title rematch to MNM due to Eddie walking out. But the worst, or should we say best, was yet to come.

    Up to this day I remember watching that heel turn on SmackDown, marveling at how brilliantly Eddie was pulling off the turn. May 5, 2005. MNM’s Joey Mercury and Johnny Nitro had ran in to attack Mysterio as he was in the middle of a brutal Street Fight with Chavo Guerrero, then working as a heel. As Mercury, Nitro, and Chavo gave Rey a 3-on-1 beatdown, who else would run in for the save but a man who was close enough to Rey to be called family? Yes, it was Eddie Guerrero saving Rey Mysterio despite the tense situation between the two. Seeing his uncle running to Rey’s rescue, Chavo ducked out of the ring, leaving Eddie to clean house on both MNM men and help Rey to his feet once he’d disposed of Nitro and Mercury. It was a touching moment as Eddie hugged Rey, seemingly sorry for acting like a jerk in the weeks that followed WrestleMania 21.

    The Throwback Tito's favorite heel turn of all time - unmatched in its brutality.
    And just when you thought you were ready to grab some tissue and soak in the feels, down went Mysterio as Eddie dropped him with a surprise clothesline! What followed was four minutes of Eddie Guerrero at his most psychopathic, showing no mercy as he rammed Rey against the steel post. Punched him and kicked him in and out of the ring, sadistically taunting Mysterio as he lay helpless. And, for the coup de grace, a huge suplex onto the steel steps, as the announcers talked about how jealous and cold-hearted this Eddie Guerrero character was. Writing about it still brings chills up my spine.

    I wasn’t as much of a WWE fan in 2005 as I was a WWF fan in 1995, but I had never seen a heel turn so well-executed. Forget Paul Orndorff turning on Hulk Hogan in the middle of their match against King Kong Bundy and Big John Studd. Forget Shawn Michaels superkicking Marty Jannetty and throwing him through Brutus Beefcake’s glass window on his Barbershop talk show segment. Forget a similarly jealous Owen Hart assaulting his brother Bret after they lost a Tag Team title match to The Quebecers at Royal Rumble 1994. No wrestler had turned heel on somebody else like Eddie Guerrero did to Rey Mysterio on the May 5, 2005 SmackDown. And I haven’t seen anything like it since. No, not even Seth Rollins turning on his Shield brothers could top Eddie turning on Rey.

    And how did this new Eddie vs Rey feud play out? A week later, Eddie cut a classic heel promo on Rey, as fans held up banners reading “WHY, EDDIE, WHY?” and chanted “EDDIE SUCKS!” at the once-beloved Latino Heat. This made for another chills-up-my-spine moment. I won’t talk you through the promo like I talked you through the heel turn/beatdown—you just have to listen to Eddie ranting and raving like a deranged lunatic, and even going as far as making threats on Mysterio’s life if he showed up at the upcoming Judgment Day PPV, where they were scheduled to meet. So far, so good. And psychopathic heel Eddie was very, very good, as far as I was concerned.

    After Eddie lost via DQ in that match, it was downhill all the way. The feud degenerated into a custody battle over Rey’s real-life son Dominick, with Eddie claiming to be the real father due to Mysterio’s purported impotence, and both men facing off in a ladder match at SummerSlam 2005 where the prize was custody over Dominick. Yes, this was the kind of bullshit Creative was churning out at a time when I was losing interest in the WWE, and it was such a shame that what started as a scorching-hot feud was so quickly transformed into a weak rehash of Attitude Era-esque storytelling.

    In the end, Rey won the custody ladder match, and after winning the blow-off match in the feud, Eddie went on to feud with Batista for the World Heavyweight Championship. Eddie lost the title match to the Animal, and in what turned out to be a bittersweet, maybe prescient note, expressed remorse for the way he acted against Rey, turned face, and defeated Mr. Kennedy on the November 11, 2005 SmackDown.

    Little did we know that would be his last match ever.

    Eddie’s Death, Eddiesploitation, and My Seven-Year “Breakup” with the WWE

    On November 13, 2005, wrestling fans around the world were shocked to hear the terrible news about one of WWE’s brightest stars of the 21st century. Eddie Guerrero was found unconscious in his Minneapolis hotel room, and eventually pronounced dead due to acute heart failure. Both RAW and SmackDown episodes that immediately followed Eddie’s death were turned into tribute shows, and inasmuch as I wanted to watch them, I had work on the evenings they aired.

    Take note that this banner ad started appearing in December 2005, about a month after Eddie's death.
    The following months saw a bothersome trend the Internet Wrestling Community (IWC) loosely refers to as “Eddiesploitation.” It started out innocently, with the “Eddie Guerrero Memorial Lowrider” on the SmackDown stage two Thursdays after Eddie’s passing. Then the WWE website launched “Viva la Savings” banner ads around the same time. Then, in February 2006, Randy Orton, who was in a feud with Royal Rumble winner Rey Mysterio, interrupted the latter’s promo, saying that “Eddie ain’t in heaven,” but was rather “down there in hell.” Eddiesploitation was still a thing in June 2006, as Chavo Guerrero was told by our spirit animal Mark Henry that he “spit(s) on the Guerrero name” and would spit on Eddie too if he was alive. And a year after Eddie’s death, he was still a major part of WWE storylines, with his widow Vickie Guerrero frequently mentioning him as she and Chavo feuded with Mysterio.

    Did I see all of this go down on WWE television? Oh, hell no. But I got caught up on it eventually, like most everything else that happened between November 2005 and December 2012. As I said above, Eddie’s passing was the turning point as I finally gave up on WWE as I know it. His storylines were the only ones worth following for me, Dominick Gutierrez custody battle notwithstanding. And what about everything and everyone else?

    One of the most poignant images from the Eddie Guerrero tribute shows - Chris Benoit mourning the death of his real-life best friend.
    To be fair, there were so many wrestlers who were worth watching. Rey Mysterio, Edge, Christian, Chris Jericho, Chris Benoit, JBL, Kurt Angle, I could go on with more, but as you can see, these Superstars mostly worked for the SmackDown brand during the Ruthless Aggression/brand split era. I said earlier that I was mainly bored with RAW because of all that Evolution saturation, so that should remind you which brand I preferred at the time I stopped watching. But for a guy whose wilder teenage and young-adult years had coincided with the Attitude Era, storyline writing was, during the Ruthless Aggression era, a watered-down Attitude rehash. I’d seen too much crap like the Kane/Lita vs Gene Snitsky feud, Mohammed Hassan, Chavo's tasteless Kerwin White gimmick, and anything Heidenreich. I’d been disappointed by DDP, Goldberg, and Scott Steiner’s WWE runs when they were brought in (or, in Steiner’s case, brought back) after the fall of WCW. Steve Austin, Mick Foley, and The Rock, three of my favorite stars of the Attitude Era, were no longer actively wrestling. After Mr. McMahon had such great success as a heel authority figure, everyone wanted to be a dick of a boss like onscreen Vince was. And speaking of Mr. McMahon, there was just too much McMahon family on TV. Vince, Shane, Stephanie, even Linda—they were all playing major roles on TV even if some of them (actually one of them—go figure) had no business playing a character in WWE storylines. All this contributed to my seeing WWE product as tedious and trite circa 2005, and when Eddie Guerrero died, I felt I had no more reason to regularly watch professional wrestling, though I’d still watch the occasional PPV. Wala palang forever, ‘no?

    So does that mean UFC and MMA was my “rebound” following my “breakup” with WWE and sports entertainment in general? Following this week’s epiphany, it most probably was. After being “friends” with mixed martial arts for about five years prior, I “jumped” into this “new relationship” with open arms. Friends would ask me about WWE storylines, and I’d tell them I no longer had time for that scripted shit, though deep inside I was pining for a return to the wrestling I loved so much in the Attitude Era, and even the Hulkamania and New Generation Eras. Austin, Rock, Foley, Taker/Kane, the Hart brothers, Edge, Christian, Jericho, Mysterio, and everybody else—they were replaced by BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, Chuck Liddell, Mirko Cro Cop, and other “legitimate” fighters. Heck, I even rooted for Brock Lesnar’s opponents when the Beast made his way to the world of ultimate fighting. Why? Because he was a “sports entertainment guy.” But eventually, and with no fanfare at all, as I realized, we had to “break up” as I jumped back into sports entertainment’s “bed” towards the end of 2012, sending UFC right back to the “friendzone” in the process, with less and less benefits. And it was largely because of all the old-school WWF/E I was watching around that time, including the Bret Hart/Shawn Michaels feud I told you about last week, Austin vs McMahon, Hogan vs Orndorff, the Hart Brothers feud, and the aforementioned Eddie Guerrero heel turn.

    At the end of the day, I liked, and still like UFC, but just couldn’t connect with it in the same way I connected with WWE. I could tell you what a Pedigree is and I could recognize an RKO even if it came out of nowhere, but I couldn’t tell an omoplata from a gogoplata unless you tell me the former is a Yes Lock and the latter a Hell's Gate, and couldn’t tell one armbar from the other. Once in a while, I’d see guys like Chael Sonnen (a known pro wrestling fan) entertain the hell out of me with wrestling-style promos, but mostly it was testosterone-fueled, yet generic braggadocio in pre-fight press conferences, with both men hugging it out after the match ended. And while I could recognize Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg by face, I had mistakenly thought, all along, that it was Rogan who’d yell “IT IS ALL OVER.” Even if you sent me to a desert island for a decade, I’d still be able to associate “BAH GAWD, KING” with Jim Ross, and “Vintage _____” with Michael Cole.

    This all brings us back to the man whose tenth death anniversary we shall be remembering tomorrow. Yes, I was wrong to give up so easily on WWE after Eddie Guerrero died—he wouldn’t have wanted it that way. Eddie was proving to us all that there was life after those so-called personal demons of drugs and alcohol. He loved being in the ring, regardless of whether he was working as a face or as a heel. He gave it his all for the fans, gamely played along with what Creative wanted for him, and was always entertaining even when working with substandard material. He could turn basura into oro like that—that’s how talented Eddie was, and it’s still a pity he had to leave us so soon.

    While I know many may be ending their Eddie tributes with these three words, I’m going to do it just the same.

    Viva la Raza!


    What are your favorite memories of Eddie Guerrero? Any matches, storylines, or angles that stick out for you in his storied pro wrestling career? How did his death change things for you as a wrestling fan, if they did at all? Let us know below in the comments section!

    The Throwback Tito is Enzo Tanos, a freelance writer and the drummer/manager for garage rock band The Myopics, where he hopes to debut his masked lucha drummer persona “Sin Verguenza” in future gigs. A wrestling fan since childhood, he’s old enough to remember watching Outback Jack’s pointless vignettes, and One Man Gang’s transformation to Akeem.

    PHOTO CREDITS - The Radicalz c/o Daily Knockout, No Way Out 2004 c/o Pro Wrestling Countdown, Eddie heel turn c/o IGN, Viva la Savings and Chavo/Benoit/Triple H mourning c/o Bleacher Report, Eddie Guerrero 1967-2005 c/o Flickriver
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    Item Reviewed: Thursday Night Tanders (11/12/15): Remembering Eddie Guerrero Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Enzo Tanos
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