Off the Top Rope: AEW Star Sammy Guevara on the Night That Changed His Life
Last week, Sammy Guevara walked out to the ring with the legendary Chris Jericho, joining the All Elite Wrestling heavyweight champion in an effort to take the tag team straps from the recently crowned SCU.
While they fell short, it was rare air for a wrestler who made his first national splash just a couple of months ago with the promotion's launch.
He's quickly found himself a featured player on TNT.
How has life changed since becoming an overnight sensation? And what was it like to star in the very first television match in AEW history? We talk to the Inner Circle's "Spanish god" to find out.
We'll also make the case for comedy in wrestling, pick a match of the week and take a look ahead at AEW Dynamite. You can join Bleacher Report every Wednesday for in-depth interviews, analysis and a sneak peak at what the future has in store in the sport of kings.
The Inner Circle's Can't-Miss Future Star Sammy Guevara on the Match of His Life
All Elite Wrestling was only going to have once chance to make a first impression. The wrestling world, both the committed and curious, were watching the debut episode of Dynamite on Turner Network Television very carefully.
The first match on the network after a hiatus of two decades, simply put, had to deliver.
The choice of Cody Rhodes for that inaugural bout made perfect sense. He was the top good guy in the company, one of the stars of the brand's growing social media empire and soon to be the focal point of the the entire enterprise.
Across the ring, however, was a bit of a wild card. Sammy Guevara was a surprise to many—even, it turns out, to Guevara, who found out about his star turn on the internet with everyone else.
"I woke up and checked my phone. It was just kind of blowing up from everybody saying congrats and whatnot," the 26-year-old said. "And then I check, I see it. It's kind of that moment where you're like 'Is this like real? Is this really happening?'
"And then once I realized it was actually legit, this is actually going to happen, it's almost like I go into work mode. OK, now the pressure's on. This is going to be the first match in TV history for AEW. I'm the first match. Cody's very good, I know I'm very good. But now I've got to prove how good I am to the most people I've ever competed in front of."
Like most wrestlers, this was right where Guevara had always dreamed he'd be. Since the first time he saw Rey Mysterio in the ring, running circles around his larger opponents, Guevara had designs on wrestling stardom. Now a video team was flying from Atlanta to tell his story to the world before the match. For a wrestler used to making his own media on YouTube, it was a bit of a moment.
"It felt like a big deal because this was the first time a million people were going to see me," Guevara said. "And so, I wanted to tell the story of Sammy Guevara the best we could.
"It was definitely a cool feeling, but I never feel like I've made it. Even now, even though I had these big matches, I'm in this group the Inner Circle, I never feel like I made it. Because then you might slack off. I feel like it's definitely a step in the right direction, though. I'm on the right track."
The biggest match of his life was looming, but there was never a chance for Guevara to overthink things. Some wrestlers go over their matches in excruciating details before ever stepping into the ring, working through every contingency until the match feels so scripted that it's hard to suspend your disbelief as a fan.
That was never going to be an issue for the first AEW match. There simply wasn't the time.
"Cody's a busy guy," Guevara said. "I didn't see him a whole lot that whole day because he's got a lot of other stuff going on. But that's the thing—Cody's a pro. He's been doing this longer than I've been doing this. And I've been doing this awhile. I think his experience kind of helped with the flow of everything."
There's nothing in contemporary wrestling quite like an AEW crowd. It's an amazingly positive atmosphere, filled with fans who have both a strong product knowledge and very strong feelings about both the heroes and villains. And no AEW wrestler is more beloved than Cody Rhodes.
"They were very behind Cody. I was getting booed from the second I came out," Guevara said. "I came out just thinking to myself 'OK, all right, I see how this is. I'm going to turn everybody though.' Right now they may not be too familiar with me. They love Cody, but by the end of it, I was going to make everybody think 'All right, that Sammy kid, he's definitely something.' And I think by the end of it, I definitely accomplished that.
"The crowd was insane, man. They were just so excited for the first AEW Dynamite, the first match. It was just insane. It felt like everything that we were doing, they were just going crazy for."
It was an exciting 12-minute match, the best of a very good first show. Guevara, like many wrestlers his own worst critic, needed some convincing that he'd indeed knocked it out of the park.
"When we came to the back, everybody was saying how we did such a great job," he said. "And it's just a weird feeling for me, like 'All right is this a joke? Who's pranking me? Really, did we really do that awesome a job that everybody's saying that we did?' But everybody kept telling me they loved the match even the next week, so I knew it was more than just people happy in the moment."
By the end of the night, the shiny new babyface upstart was the part of the sport's hottest heel faction, joining Jericho, Jake Hager and the tag team Proud and Powerful to form the Inner Circle, getting one up on the man who had just conquered him earlier in the night.
"Chris Jericho, he's the OG," Guevara said. "He's been doing this longer than I've been alive. So anytime I can talk to him I'm learning so much. Just the other day I was asking him about jackets and looks. He just knows so much, and I feel like I've already learned a whole bunch just from being in the ring with him. And I wasn't even going against him. I was his tag partner.
"When you're an elite athlete, when you're with the other elites, they make you better. That's just the best way I can describe it. They're at an elite level and you have no choice but to either step up to get to that level, to be on the same page as them, or you're going to fall. I feel like I've been stepping up, getting right there on the same level or close to that level."
Life has changed for most of the young wrestlers making their marks in AEW. For Guevara, the first and obvious place he's seen a difference is on social media, especially his YouTube channel
"That's going up every day," he said. "It's gone up more than I've ever seen before. And I'm getting tagged a lot more. Inner Circle has definitely elevated me. A lot more people know who I am just from being in this group and being with AEW.
"When I first signed with AEW earlier this year, my social media was growing just from that. And now that I'm a part of the Inner Circle, it really just skyrocketed and it's only going to go up from here.
"I'm just the best ever, that's what it is. I can do it all, man. I can fly with the best of them. I mean, if you want to go and put it down, I'm definitely the flyer in the group. I can do all sorts of crazy stuff like nobody's ever seen, but I can definitely do on-the-mat wrestler. I could do it off. I can go be a powerhouse if I want to. Just the best ever, to put it simple."
Match of the Week: Mia Yim vs. Io Shirai (NXT, 11/13/19)
Io Shirai is not just one of the best wrestlers in NXT's women's division, she is also one of the best wrestlers in the world—period.
Shirai not only delivers all of the requisite high spots required to stand out in contemporary wrestling, but she's also the master of all the little things that turn a garden variety match into something more.
Full confession: Mia Yim has not wowed me during her NXT tenure. But credit where it's due. She took all the big bumps a ladder match needs to succeed and gutted out a blow to the nose that left her covered in her own blood. It was the best performance of her young wrestling career and a promising sign of things to come.
If you're a purist, elements of this bout will drive you batty. There is copious interference, including an appearance by NXT UK champion Kay Lee Ray that leads directly to the finish. If you can overlook the shenanigans, though, this is worth your time to seek out.
Runner Up: Adam Page vs. Pac (AEW Dynamite, 11/13/19)
The Illegal Double Team Hot Take: Comedy Wrestling Is Just Fine
Orange Cassidy is cool. He just is.
His hair is always perfectly coiffed and his sunglasses are seemingly glued to his handsome poker face. His hands never leave his pockets, jeans carefully and artfully ripped for effect.
These are things he clearly cares a lot about. But that concludes the list.
You'll notice winning wrestling matches isn't on it.
That makes Cassidy one of the most polarizing figures in modern wrestling. He's met with a hero's welcome everywhere AEW goes, with crowds enjoying his stylized lethargy and extremely light touch in the ring.
But not everyone appreciates his gentle humor and shenanigans. There is a pocket of resistance online, led by former Midnight Express manager Jim Cornette, that isn't ready for this kind of overt comedy in a sport they take very, very seriously.
Here's the thing though: Wrestling has always had elements of comedy. At its core, it's two people pretending to fight in little more than their underwear.
That's absurd on its face.
All the classic wrestlers Cornette and other traditionalists venerate all understood this on some level. Think here of Ric Flair's exaggerated faceplant; his insistence on mooning the crowd; the way he dropped to his knees and pleaded with his foe; his decision to go to the top rope in every match, getting caught each time and begging his opponent not to toss him to the mat (he always did).
These are all comedy spots. Delivered by a master, yes, but comedy nonetheless.
If you step back, almost every classic wrestling angle is funny if you look at it from a slightly different angle. The wild overacting of Hulk Hogan and Randy Savage drew big money. It was also objectively hilarious.
"Stone Cold" Steve Austin, the biggest star of the 1990s, is emblazoned in fans' memories, not for any particular classic in the ring but for hitting his boss with a bedpan in the hospital and making him pee his pants in the middle of the ring.
Low brow? No doubt. Funny? Indeed.
Cassidy, of course, isn't Stone Cold or Flair. But what he does isn't as far removed from these supposedly serious wrestlers as his detractors would have you believe.
Wrestling is meant to be fun and it comes in many forms, from Japanese strong style to the aerial artistry of Lucha Libre. Comedy creeps into each form in various ways.
There is room for the straight-faced and the absurd, even on the same card. But you have to let it work its magic to be swept away.
Comedy bouts are a niche like any other. And that's OK.
Three-Count: A Look Ahead
- Jon Moxley vs. Darby Allin: When Moxley put out an open challenge to the locker room, one name made perfect sense to tempt fate against the unsanctionable hardcore icon. Darby Allin, in just a handful of matches, has established himself as the kind of man who would relish that opportunity, a man never far from the razor's edge.
It's part of what I love so much about AEW. Thus far, it is doing a great job of delivering on early promise and giving the fans both what they want and makes sense.
Prediction: Kenny Omega emerges from the back to lay Moxley out and help Allin score the biggest win of his career.
- Rey Fenix vs. Nick Jackson: With Matt Jackson out of action following a wild brawl with Santana and Ortiz last week, AEW fans get a rare opportunity to see one of the Young Bucks in singles action. His opponent, Rey Fenix, may be the only man in wrestling capable of equally amazing high spots at a pace that leaves even the audience short on breath.
Prediction: This one is going to steal the show.
- Private Party vs. Santana and Ortiz: This match was set up last week after the brawl to end them all. But it's become something bigger in the face of tragedy. Matt Travis, an independent wrestler Private Party was close with, died after a hit-and-run collision and the match will be devoted to his memory.
Prediction: Emotion can be a double-edged sword. Private Party will do their friend proud. But Ortiz and Santana are primed to rise to the top of the division.
AEW Dynamite (TNT, 11/20)
Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.