Reflecting on Eddie Guerrero's WWE Hall of Fame Career 14 Years After Death

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistNovember 13, 2019

Credit: WWE.com

There are certain events over the course of a lifetime in which you can pinpoint exactly where you were when you first found out about them. For some, it was the assassination of John F. Kennedy. For others, the moon landing.

For wrestling fans, the untimely passing of Eddie Guerrero on November 13, 2005 is one such event.

A larger-than-life character whose mantra of lying, cheating and stealing had made him an unlikely fan-favorite, Guerrero was in the midst of a run that had taken him to the very top of the industry when he was suddenly and unexpectedly taken from the world at the age of 38.

On this, the 14th anniversary of his passing, we reflect on one of the most charismatic and gifted professional wrestlers of all time.

     

A Radical Debut and 'Latino Heat'

One of the most talented wrestlers on the planet without much of a push to back it up, Guerrero left WCW along with Chris Benoit, Perry Saturn and Dean Malenko, and arrived in WWE on January 31, 2000. That night, the foursome made an immediate impact, attacking the New Age Outlaws and catapulting themselves to a higher profile than they ever achieved in the other company.

As the four went their separate ways and carved out roles for themselves as individuals, Guerrero began an on-screen relationship with Chyna, claiming his "Latino Heat" was too much for her to deny. Together, they made creative magic, taking part in some of the most over-the-top, yet hugely entertaining vignettes and television segments.

Like all good things, the partnership ran its course and Guerrero turned heel out of jealousy of Chyna's appearance on the cover of Playboy

Unfortunately, personal demons would haunt the second-generation star and by the summer of 2001, he was a wrestler without a job, released from his WWE contract. 

       

Cheating Death, Stealing Life

The WWE Draft of 2002 brought with it opportunities for Superstars to excel beyond levels they had ever been allowed before. It also offered Guerrero a second chance at success in Vince McMahon's combat circus. On the April 1 episode, he attacked Rob Van Dam and jumpstarted a run with the company that would have previously been unheard of. 

Recovering from the addictions that plagued him, Guerrero was somehow better between the ropes than he had been before. Quick, crisp and with timing and storytelling unmatched by anyone else on the roster, he wowed fans with stellar matches against the likes of Rob Van Dam, Edge, Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle and Chris Benoit.

Despite his show-stealing bouts against those men and his contributions as one of the post-Draft SmackDown Six, it was Guerrero's charisma and personality that would be key to his ascension.

Late 2002 brought with it his team up with nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. The following year, vignettes featuring the newly dubbed Los Guerreros lying, cheating and stealing everyday people reintroduced fans to Eddie's comedic side.

Together, the team built a legion of fans based on their unabashed, underhanded tactics. Together, the heels developed into mega babyfaces. Unfortunately, an injury suffered by Chavo forced his uncle on his own. For Eddie, it would be an unexpected opportunity at stardom.

     

Viva La Champion

Guerrero made the most of the opportunity presented to him, despite an ill-advised heel turn, and became one of the most popular Superstars on the roster. His ability to creatively concoct ways in which to lie, cheat and steal drew in the audience at a time of great turnover in WWE.

Steve Austin and The Rock were gone. Hulk Hogan was too. Edge was out with a neck injury and young John Cena was not yet ready to make the leap to the top of the card. Guerrero's organic popularity gave him a chance to rise to the top and he did just that.

After an emotional rivalry with his brother Chavo Sr. and Chavo Jr., who had betrayed him upon his return from injury, Guerrero received a WWE Championship match against Brock Lesnar at No Way Out in February 2004.

The match, one of the most emotional in the long and illustrious history of WWE, saw Guerrero upset The Beast and capture his first (and only) world title. The post-match celebration with Eddie's family at ringside, his posing with the Mexican flag and the raw emotion that painted his face as he celebrated with a title once thought unachievable for him made the moment that much more special.

Two days later, he returned to SmackDown a conquering hero and was greeted in a fitting fashion. Pyro and confetti exploded and fans erupted for his arrival. For the first time in his career, Guerrero had seen his hard work and dedication to his craft repaid by his superiors.

Ever the selfless worker, though, Guerrero's reign as champion is as memorable for making John Bradshaw Layfield a legitimate main event star as anything else.

Over three months and two high-profile pay-per-view matches, Guerrero would help elevate the perennial undercard tag specialist into a genuine top-level heel, the likes of whom could carry the SmackDown brand until the aforementioned Cena was ready to run with the ball.

Guerrero's willingness to share the spotlight, to teach on the fly and to ensure Layfield had everything he needed to make a run of it at the top of the card is one of the traits that made him a Hall of Famer. At a time when he easily could have thrown a fit or chosen not to risk his own reputation by putting the double-tough Texan over, he proved to be the ultimate team player.

      

The End

By 2005, Guerrero was still as popular as ever and in the midst of a tag team title run with longtime friend Rey Mysterio. SmackDown was in need of a quality heel, though, and the popular Latino Heat again shifted to the dark side, betraying the masked luchador and embarking on a rivalry that would be equal parts thrilling and ludicrous.

By the time the two began fighting for custody of Mysterio's son Dominic, who was revealed to be Guerrero's child, things became a bit ridiculous. Still, the in-ring content made up for some of the questionable storyline choices. Their ladder match at the 2005 SummerSlam pay-per-view was an intense, brutal affair that wrapped the storyline up in fitting fashion and allowed Guerrero to move onto bigger things.

The fall of 2005 brought with it a return to the world title picture for Guerrero, who befriended a hesitant heavyweight champion, Batista.

The Animal warned Guerrero that betraying him would be a poor career decision. Together, they battled SmackDown's top heels before arriving at No Mercy on October 9, where they competed for the brand's top prize in a high-profile singles main event.

Guerrero resisted the urge to cheat, appearing to have supported his claims of change, before succumbing to a big spinebuster by Batista. 

It would be his final pay-per-view appearance.

On November 13, Guerrero passed away from heart failure in a hotel in Minneapolis.

His fellow Superstars and WWE family would mourn him later that night in a major Raw/SmackDown Supershow television taping with matches, promos and pre-taped remembrances.

      

Legacy

In the wake of Guerrero's passing, WWE implemented a stringent Wellness Policy that not only policed drug use within the company but also looked out for the overall health of its employees. Generations of Superstars after him would be better monitored by management and health professionals, including current top star Roman Reigns, whose second diagnosis of leukemia was the result of blood testing done as part of the policy.

On the eve of WrestleMania 22 in 2006, a show he was likely scheduled to play a huge part, Guerrero was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame by best friends Mysterio, Benoit and nephew Chavo. As a result, his memory would live on in the annals of wrestling history, his greatest matches and moments available for fans to watch for generations to come.

Perhaps more important, though, is the impact Guerrero's success had on similarly sized Superstars. While Shawn Michaels really broke the mold of how big a wrestler had to be in order to be the top star in the company, he was often looked at as the exception to the rule rather than the standard-bearer.

Guerrero's reign, though, made it possible for charismatic Superstars of smaller stature to succeed as world champion.

Mysterio's friendship with Guerrero made it possible for him to win the first of his world titles at the aforementioned WrestleMania. CM Punk, Daniel Bryan and Dolph Ziggler all channeled strong in-ring work into world title reigns. Ditto Seth Rollins.

Guerrero proved that a talented wrestler, whose in-ring work was unmatched by his peers and whose charisma was undeniable, could leapfrog Superstars gifted with height or girth, and become the top star in sports entertainment. 

Beyond that, Guerrero was a cultural hero. He was a Superstar of Mexican descent who made it a realistic dream for other Latino wrestlers with dreams of succeeding at the highest level of sports-entertainment to make a go of it.

Finally, his untimely passing introduced the wrestling world to his wife, Vickie.

At first, a bashful spouse who initially appeared uncomfortable in front of the camera, she eventually became the most over heel on WWE television and a virtuoso performer whose ability to generate heat with the simple utterance of the phrase "excuse me" was awe-inspiring.

She carried on his legacy, ensured the Guerrero name remained a vital part of WWE programming and made her husband proud. 

Guerrero's legacy lives on today in Mysterio and Sasha Banks, both of whom regularly pay homage to the iconic competitor with their in-ring performances.

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