Standing over the motionless body of Rey Mysterio Jr., a chair shot to the ribs having dropped him to the mat, the crowd's boos raining down on her, Vickie Guerrero knew she was home.
It seemed a strange fit at first back then in 2006. The great Eddie Guerrero's widow, a tragic victim of the wrestling business on the surface, Vickie had to work at the role of villain. People loved Eddie and wanted to love her too—her natural joie de vivre was hard to suppress.
But she made them hate. That was her job, and she did it well, eventually leaving no doubts that she was more than a legacy hire. She was a top performer. With her screeching "Excuse me" and devious plots, she was one of the sport's lead heels for nearly a decade.
As her wrestling career comes to an end and the rest of her life begins, Bleacher Report got the chance to sit down with the former SmackDown general manager to talk about life inside the squared circle.
Bleacher Report: That was quite a moment. Your final RAW. And, of course, it was no ordinary night. When did you know that it was going to involve a "mud" bath?
Vickie Guerrero: About an hour before doors (opened). (Laughs.) Of course everyone is deciding what kind of show we're going to have that night, and the writers are still finishing the show. We find out around five o'clock. I've been in worse. Having a pudding match, it turns out, wasn't that bad after all. (Laughs.)
B/R: You have to say this for the McMahon family—they aren't going to ask the wrestlers to do anything they aren't willing to do themselves. Stephanie was right in there with you!
Guerrero: Anything the McMahons had me do, they believed in me. I always gave them 100 percent. It meant a lot, and I was honored that Stephanie wanted to be involved in my last night.
For her to go into the pudding was an honor, and I'm happy she was involved in it. She's always been my mentor, and I got to learn so much from her throughout the years. It was just the perfect way to end my career.
B/R: At the end of the segment you paid tribute to Eddie Guerrero. I'll admit, it got a little misty in my house. Did you ever imagine, when you first married Eddie, that one day it would be you basking in the cheers and boos?
Guerrero: No. It was agreed between Eddie and I that I would stay home and take care of the kids while he was on the road. And I was OK with that. (Laughs.) But things progressed, and my girls are talented. For them to do some things with Eddie and to not be nervous, it was kind of scary. Eddie was like "Oh gosh, what have I started?"
I know he would have been proud for me to continue with WWE. Because when we did work together we always had a great time.
B/R: Being a wrestling wife, or a wrestling husband with all the WWE Divas making their mark on the business, can be hard. What did you think about the wrestling business before you became a part of it? Has that changed since you've had a chance to experience life on the road?
Guerrero: As a wrestling wife I got to know the people that Eddie worked with. Naturally they became really good friends of ours. It becomes a family. So when I did start to work with WWE, they weren't strangers to me. I've known some of these Superstars for 10 or 15 years.
For them to welcome me backstage, and for them to support me and give me such great advice whenever I needed it was something I always kept in my heart. I felt special because I was part of a team that put on a great show. For me to be a part of that was a highlight of my life.
B/R: You really brought that concept of the team to the forefront with a letter you wrote on WWE.com. The number of people you thanked was staggering. It just goes to show that the WWE family is much deeper than just the talent we see on TV, isn't it?
Guerrero: It is! And I still left people out. Once they put it on WWE.com I was like "I forgot this person and that person." I forgot the writing team! I just felt so horrible. When I walked in every day to go to work, there were so many people that became my friends.
From the stagehands, to the catering crew, to bus drivers, to our security team, I accepted everyone on the same level. I wasn't any better than them, and we all worked together to put on a show every night.
B/R: Is it hard to go?
Guerrero: To leave these people is sad because they're my friends and family. I'll miss the camaraderie. Laughing in catering. Being a friend to people who needed some compassion for something they were going through. I'm going to miss those times. But I know, when I see them again, we can pick up where we left off.
B/R: One of the things we all loved about Eddie—he was a guy who loved the sport. You could see his passion written on his face. Have the last nine years, and the chance to stand up in front of the crowd like that, helped you understand why this was so important to him?
Guerrero: Of course. What helped me standing in front of all those people at first was knowing Eddie was in my corner. To see how much he loved the fans...
Every match, he always believed he had the worst match. Even when it was the most incredible match, he always seemed to hold himself to a higher standard as each night went by. He always thought less of himself, but he always had so many people, including me and the girls, who thought he was the most amazing and talented performer out there.
B/R: I had always heard that he took things very seriously, especially once he was trusted with that top spot. Did he ever get a chance to really enjoy all he had done in wrestling?
Guerrero: He did. Especially if he got a chance to come home for three or four days and we could talk about it. Once you go home and you're kind of away from it, you can kind of reflect. In a quieter environment.
He would come home and watch the match and say, "Oh, it wasn't so bad after all." And I'd be like "Of course it wasn't! You're amazing!" (Laughs.) He was the hardest critic on himself...but all the pressure and adrenaline coming off the match, there's not much time to enjoy it because you're always thinking about the next show.
And it's because it meant so much to him to do his best. He had that love and devotion and wanted to manipulate the fans, hold them in his hands. It was incredible. He loved the cheers and the boos. He loved the appreciation. He loved the hate. He was geared to make his the most entertaining segment of the night.
B/R: You got to experience some of that love and especially some of that hate. (Laughs.)
B/R: When was the first time someone told you they wanted you to be physically involved in the matches? Were you ever hesitant about that stuff?
Guerrero: Of course I was hesitant. (Laughs.) I knew whenever there were rehearsals and Vince would come out and say, "I want to talk to you about something for tonight," I knew it couldn't be good.
Guerrero: But I had my nephew, Chavo Guerrero Jr. He was there a lot when I got physical with Edge. Chavo was always there for me. All the guys kind of teamed up. They helped me learn how to fall. We'd use a crash pad and they'd walk me through it step by step.
Because I hadn't been part of this at all, to be able to follow through and do a good job—I was hesitant, but I gave it to God. The adrenaline. The crowd. It was miraculous. And I had a blast out there. It was something that I'll always miss.
B/R: I was thinking about it today and you've had so many great moments over the years. But the memories that are still vivid for me, after all these years, is that run with Edge. What was that like for you? It was one thing to come in and do an angle with your husband and Rey Mysterio. That was great stuff.
But suddenly, you're a newcomer and you're a part of some major storylines. Did you feel the pressure stepping into that main event level?
Guerrero: It was a lot of pressure. (Laughs.) With Edge, there was a lot more stress on me. I was by myself. I didn't have Rey Mysterio or one of the other guys I was comfortable with already. But Edge, or Adam, was always such a great person with me. He always sat down with me and explained to me the psychology of what we were trying to do.
He always took care of me. When he speared me or I got to spear him, there was a special care. He always made sure I was doing things right and doing them well. I will always respect him as a person and as a Superstar because he took me in as a newcomer, and he had patience and helped me understand how he wanted his matches to go.
I appreciate that. If it wasn't for him, I don't think I'd be as successful as I am today. He just kind of threw me in there and said "Let's do this." I was like "What?"
B/R: (Laughs.) It wasn't always easy huh?
Guerrero: I'd have these page or two-page promos. I just wanted to do my best for him, which led to a great run. When he got injured we were still working a storyline. For me to be one of the last people to work with him, I was honored.
B/R: He was great. But no matter what we talk about, it all boils down to two words. Was "excuse me" born as a catchphrase? Or was it something that happened organically? How did that become your signature phrase?
Guerrero: Excuse me was not planned at all. It was a night I was in the wheelchair, and I had this page-and-a-half promo that was written about an hour before I was supposed to go out there. And I wasn't prepared at all and I felt overwhelmed.
Sure enough, in the middle of the promo I forgot what I was supposed to say. I kind of stood there like a deer in the headlights and the fans knew that something was wrong. I didn't know what to do. I just started saying "Excuse me" to regroup and figure out where I was mentally in the promo.
When I did that, they just lashed out even louder at me. So I said it again. The hate that came, and just watching the facials of the people in the front row, I thought "At least that bought me some time."
B/R: Someone else noticed it worked too?
Guerrero: The next night the writers were like "Let's use that 'excuse me' again." I said "You've got to be kidding me." I thought it was just a fluke. But every night that we used it, it just got better and better. I'm grateful that it was such a hit. I never thought such a common phrase would still be so popular today.
B/R: People are going to be saying that to you in 10 years' time,—for the rest of your life.
Guerrero: (Laughs.) And I'll respond to them. But in a nicer way now.
B/R: You don't have to play it up anymore. That's cool. You know, as we've talked Eddie's name has come up quite a bit. And I'm sure it always will. But there are kids today, fans who have been with the WWE for some time, who never got to see Eddie wrestle. They know you as your own entity.
How does it feel to have carved out your own place and a personal legacy in this industry?
Guerrero: Thank you. That's a sweet compliment...the reason I'm able to do this is because my late husband was here before me, and he made a road wide enough to walk on. Not on that same level, because Eddie was just amazing and incredible. If it wasn't for Eddie I wouldn't be able to be where I am today.
I was able to do my best, and I think it's because I watched Eddie for so many years in the living room. He would do promos in the middle of the night. Or he'd be in the bathroom looking at himself in the mirror.
I was just watching how he was putting all these emotions into the mirror. I remembered how he would practice, how it meant something to him. I was able to use that in my career, and it's been a blessing. Because I never had any practice in theatre arts. I was a cheerleader and a dancer in high school, and that was it as far as performing in front of people.
To be able to make a name for myself—I was happy about that.
B/R: I don't know exactly what to expect from your WWE Network special, but it's been quite an amazing run. Some of my personal highlights were you arguing with Miss Piggy, getting Tombstoned by The Undertaker, LayCool, your NXT segments with Kaitlyn and your infamous "excuse me" panties. So many memories. What stands out for you?
Guerrero: I'm so blessed with all the fun things I've gotten to do. Just to have WWE have the confidence to send me out there—at first I was like "you've got to be kidding me?" But to sit back and look at everything that I've done, it's been an amazing ride.
I thank God. This was a big plan he had for me, one we never expected. I'm blessed. Some of the things I got to do, with The Rock singing to me. He always manipulated me, bringing me out to the stage. And of course my character wants to flirt back with him because he's gorgeous. For him to turn that switch and sing this horrible song.
Guerrero: That was a great time. And getting 619'ed, the West Coast Pop, from Rey in a wheelchair on Valentine's Day. That was another great moment.
Dolph Ziggler is another one I had a great run with. He was so much fun out there. Even if the match was serious, and there was a lot on the line, he'd be making jokes to me on the side. And to still be the person he was backstage—I appreciated that. I always worked really well with him.
These are things I'm going to be blessed with for the rest of my life. For me to go on to the next chapter of my life—these things are going to be my heart. I'll always be willing to stop and talk with the fans and talk about their favorite moments. Or, if they want to boo me, I'll take it and smile and walk away. (Laughs.)
The WWE Network (subscription required) special Excuse Me! A Cougar Countdown debuts Tuesday night at 9 p.m ET and will be available after its launch on demand. Jonathan Snowden, Bleacher Report's lead combat sports writer, is the author of Shooters: The Toughest Men in Professional Wrestling and is a lifelong wrestling fan.