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A Tribute to Eduardo Guerrero Llanes - 1967-2005

     Former WWE Champion Eddie Guerrero was supposed to be one of the “happy endings” of professional wrestling. He was supposed to be the star who overcame his demons and started a new life for himself. He was supposed to be the smaller wrestler who overcame his critics and ended up World champion. He was supposed to be remembered as one of the greatest wrestlers who ever stepped inside a ring.

     Eddie Guerrero was found dead this morning in the bathroom of his Minneapolis hotel room, harking back to the frightful day when Brian Pillman was found in his St. Paul hotel room in October 1997. Although details are still coming in at this time, the entire wrestling industry as a whole is devastated as Guerrero was one of the most universally liked wrestlers in the entire business, having passed through every major company of the last decade at every position imaginable.

     There are no happy endings today, not for Eddie’s friends, his fans, or most importantly, his family. Not for a business that now has to bury another one of it’s own. Eddie Guerrero was supposed to be the happy ending, but instead he’s left behind a wife and three daughters, far too soon and far too young. There are no happy endings today, just unanswered questions, guilt, grief, and sadness for those closest to Guerrero. This is a sad day for the wrestling business, and PWInsider.com offers our deepest condolences to everyone who cared about Eddie Guerrero.

EDDIE: THE EARLY YEARS

     Eduardo Guerrero was born on 10/9/67 in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico into the famous Guerrero wrestling family. His father, Gory Guerrero, was a huge Lucha Libre star. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Guerrero grew up with a wrestling ring in his backyard where he and his father, brothers, and uncle . It was the family business. His brothers Hector, Chavo & Mando all wrestled, as did Guerrero’s nephew Chavo Jr.

     Guerrero made his official debut on 9/18/87, and was considered a good wrestler, although the knock on him was that he was too small. In a famous story, Terry Funk brought in Guerrero to a 1989 NWA TV taping to face with Guerrero working as an enhancement talent. Despite a great showing and a great match, he didn’t get a job offer.

EDDIE & ART: LOS GRINGOS LOCOS

     Guerrero finally caught on in Mexico, working . He and the late “Love Machine” Art Barr began teaming, soon becoming the top heel unit of AAA, which was a really hot company at the time with sellouts all over Mexico and some cities in the United States, alongside the late Louie Spicoli, and current TNA star Konnan. Machine and Guerrero, Los Gringos Locos, had a great feud with Octagon and El Hijo Del Santo, which culminated in a hair vs. masks tag match at the first and only AAA PPV, When World Collide, in Los Angeles on 11/6/94. The match was praised as being an awesome bout and the belief was Guerrero and Barr were going to become one of the great tag teams of the decade. There were plans for ECW to bring them in a month later and they had just completed their first New Japan Pro Wrestling tour prior to the AAA PPV. The sky was the limit.

     Art Barr never wrestled again. On 11/23/94, Barr was found dead in his Oregon home, sleeping next to his young son. The cause of death was never discovered, but the feeling among many in the business was that it was substance abuse related.

     Guerrero continued to work in New Japan, adopting the masked persona of Black Tiger, where he often worked against and with the likes of Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko, who became his best friends as the trio stuck together from that point on in their careers.

THE MALENKO-GUERRERO CLASSIC

     Several months after the passing of Art Barr, Guerrero was finally brought into Extreme Championship Wrestling by Paul Heyman. Malenko and Benoit were already main eventers in the company. Debuting at The Three-Way Dance in April 1995, Guerrero defeated 2 Cold Scorpio for the ECW World Television championship in his debut. His background story was that he had come to America to become a singles star, living out his late partner Art Barr’s dream. He was immediately accepted by the ECW fans and for the first time, was a star in the United States within an American company.

     Guerrero was scheduled to face Sabu a week later at Hostile City Showdown ’95, but when Sabu no showed the Three-Way Dance (at the time, ECW’s most important show) he was fired. Paul Heyman substituted Dean Malenko in Sabu’s spot, creating the legend of the Malenko-Guerrero Classic.

     Malenko and Guerrero fought to a 30 minute time limit. Although there were some hecklers, the same ECW Arena audience that craved blood and mayhem gave the two athletes a standing ovation. The two traded the ECW TV title back and forth from April until August, putting together excellent matches and at one point, wrestling a three match series through three cities in two days. The rivalry became the stuff of ECW legend and is still remembered by ECW fans as some of the greatest wrestling they had ever seen presented.

     In August 1995, Guerrero, Malenko, and Benoit all received and took offers to join World Championship Wrestling. In an era where stars were routinely buried on the way out, ECW did the exact opposite. Guerrero and Malenko had one last farewell match, a Best of Three Falls bout ending with a double pin draw. The crowd chanted and pleaded with each to “Please Don’t Go” and both wrestlers had to stop to regain their composure during the bout. When it was over, each man gave an emotional speech that ended.

     ”You can say I sold out, you can say whatever you want. You paid for your ticket and you got that right. For the rest of you, I can’t tell you what an honor it’s been to wrestle in this stadium and in front of each and every one of you, each and every week. I want you to know what I appreciate all of you, because without all of you people, this wouldn’t exist.”

     After Malenko spoke (the first and only time he spoke on the mic in ECW, adding to the emotion of the evening), Guerrero took the mic and told his rival, “I just want you to know you are one of the best wrestlers I’ve ever encountered in the world. God bless you and your family.” The two hugged and several ECW wrestlers and officials came to the ring to embrace the pair. Guerrero gave a final salute to his old partner Art Barr before exiting the building with a circle of hugs and well wishes from the Philadelphia fans, many of whom were openly crying from the moment.

WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP WRESTLING

     Guerrero, Malenko, and Benoit were all brought in to add to the fledgling Cruiserweight division in World Championship Wrestling. Under Eric Bischoff, WCW was about to begin its Monday Nitro run on TNT, going opposite Raw on the USA Network. The Monday Night Wars had begun and Bischoff began assembling the best soldiers he could find to flesh out the undercard and provide fans with excellent wrestling underneath the star power of Hulk Hogan, Sting, Lex Luger, Randy Savage, and other prime names.

     Guerrero worked and feuded with Rey Misterio Jr. for the Cruiserweight championship including an excellent bout at Halloween Havoc ’96 that is still considered to be one of the best matches in either man’s career. Guerrero got to work with other top flight workers including Chris Jericho, Ultimo Dragon, Rick Martel, his own nephew Chavo, Juventud Guerrera, Ric Flair and others. Guerrero and Malenko reprised their ECW feud as well, although it was never given a major focus from the company. During his run, Guerrero would hold the Cruiserweight and United States championship belts.

     At the same time, Guerrero began having problems with substance abuse, leading to a New Year’s Eve car wreck in 1999 that saw him expelled from the car. While his family and friends hoped the situation would make Guerrero realize his problems, Eddie would later comment on a UPN show dedicated to his career that “it didn’t make a dent.” Lucky to be alive, Guerrero came back too soon from the accident and began taking pain pills to compensate. Six months later, Guerrero overdosed.

     Despite having some of the best matches in the company and connecting with the fans, the WCW Cruisers were often overlooked for their importance in the WCW mix. Far too much credit went to the main eventers and no thought was given to shaking things up by moving the next generation of stars into the top to keep things fresh. Although many of those responsible would today blame the AOL/Time Warner merger for the death of WCW, the truth is that the company had been rotting away from the inside due to mismanagement and an abuse by its stars for a long time.

     At the time, WCW tried to halt the bleeding by bringing in former WWF writers Vince Russo and Ed Ferrara. Their attempt to turn WCW into a clone of WWE’s sports-entertainment flopped. Under the Russo regime, Guerrero would later become part of a unit called “The Filthy Animals” alongside Misterio, Konnan, and Billy Kidman. His personal issues continued.

     The WCW management scene was an absolute mess and the product wasn’t much better, with PPV buyrates, ratings, and attendance all crashing. Every few weeks there was a new booker in charge. When Kevin Sullivan had his turn during a period where Russo was ousted, Guerrero, Benoit, and Malenko, among others were furious. There had been a long-time issue between Benoit and Sullivan after Sullivan booked the end of his own marriage when an on-camera pairing between Benoit and Nancy “Woman” Sullivan turned into real life with the Sullivans splitting and Nancy later marrying Benoit.

     The feeling among Benoit and the others was that they’d never be able to trust Sullivan with their careers. Sullivan tried to prove them wrong by putting the WCW title on Benoit, but it was to no avail. Guerrero, Benoit, Malenko, Perry Saturn, Konnan, and Shane Douglas all requested and received released, although in the end, only four ended up jumping to the World Wrestling Federation. WCW would never recover. The heart and backbone of the company was gone in one fell swoop.

THE RADICALZ

     On January 31, 2000, The Radicalz arrived in the World Wrestling Federation. Guerrero, Malenko, Benoit, and Saturn showed up expectedly sitting in the front row of a live episode of Raw. The buzz was huge as the heart of WCW had walked out of the company. They immediately ended up in a brawl with DX where it was revealed that their “old friend” Mick Foley had invited them to the show.

     Unfortunately for Guerrero, he would suffer a dislocated elbow hitting a frog splash in his first WWF match, teaming with Saturn against the New Age Outlaws, throwing all plans out the window. Guerrero returned to the ring in March, and made his Wrestlemania debut in a loss to Too Cool and Rikishi while teaming alongside Malenko and Saturn.

     Guerrero would eventually be paired up with DX’s Chyna, with the idea that she had fallen for him due to his “Latino Heat”, a moniker that would remain with him until the end of his career. Guerrero defeated Chris Jericho to win the WWF European championship in April 2000, the first WWF title of his career.

ROCK BOTTOM

     Although Guerrero was wrestling against the likes of Steve Austin, The Rock, Kurt Angle, Edge, Christian, and others, he was also dealing with his substance abuse problems. His wife had left him and taken their daughters and his professional life was about to join his personal life in a tailspin.

     After arriving at a show, which as sad irony would have it, was in Minneapolis, in no condition to wrestle, Guerrero was sent home. He learned later that it was his own friends, Malenko and Benoit, that had stooged off his condition to WWF management in an attempt to help him. Malenko commented on the UPN Guerrero special that he did it because he “didn't want to be one of those wrestlers that gets to an arena and finds out that one of his best friends was found dead in his hotel room.”

     Guerrero was sent to rehab to clean up, and spent time in then-WWF developmental territory HWA preparing for his return. He made his return to WWF’s house show circuit but was quickly released after being arrested for DUI on November 9, 2001. Guerrero later claimed he was trying to prove that he wasn’t an alcoholic by going to a bar for one drink, but by the time he was aware of where he was again, he was incarcerated.

     After being released, Guerrero cleaned himself up and hit the independent scene. He returned to both Mexico and New Japan Pro Wrestling. Guerrero also worked for a number of high profile indy groups including IWA Mid-South, ICW, and the first several Ring of Honor events, working against such names as Low Ki, Crowbar, CM Punk, Rey Misterio Jr., and The SAT. His second and final ROH appearance was billed as a “Tribute to Guerrero” where he openly thanked all the indy promoters and wrestlers for accepting him and giving him a chance to rebuild his life.

RETURN TO WWE

     Guerrero was promised by WWE management that if he cleaned himself up, he’d be brought back and they stayed good to his word. He was brought back and immediately given the Intercontinental championship with a win over Rob Van Dam. Guerrero was back in the thick of things, working with and against Chris Benoit, Steve Austin, Ric Flair, The Dudleys and other top names.

     With the WWE brand extension, Guerrero and Benoit were moved to Smackdown. Guerrero and his nephew Chavo were put into a team, titled, “Los Guerreros” given the tag line and theme song “We Lie, We Cheat, We Steal.” A series of vignettes getting the characters over were big hits with the duo feuding with Team Angle, Chris Benoit & Rhyno among others. An injury to Chavo saw Yoshihiro Tajiri put together with Eddie, with that duo capturing the WWE Tag Team championships. When WWE decided to bring back the dormant United States championship, Guerrero won the tournament with a final victory over Chris Benoit at the 2003 Vengeance PPV. Guerrero defended the belt at that year’s Summerslam against Benoit, Rhyno, and Tajiri at Summerslam 2003.

     Chavo was turned heel on Guerrero, with the storyline being that he didn’t believe that his uncle had been there for him. Chavo Guerrero Sr. was brought in for some time to manage his son and feud with Eddie as well.

     In a surprising move, the decision was made to put the WWE championship on Guerrero leading into Wrestlemania XX, defeating Brock Lesnar in San Francisco, California. Guerrero faced Kurt Angle in a successful title defense at Mania XX in Madison Square Garden, although the most memorable Guerrero appearance at the show was Guerrero coming to the ring to congratulate his best friend Chris Benoit, who had just defeated Shawn Michaels and Triple H for the WWE World title to close the show. With confetti falling, both men, now champions on top of the company, cried and embraced. All that was missing was Dean Malenko, now an agent with WWE, who watched with pride from backstage.

     The marketing machine got behind Guerrero, producing an excellent UPN special titled “Cheating Death, Stealing Life” which highlighted not just Guerrero’s career but his battle with substance abuse and his attempts to overcome it. Guerrero had reconciled with his wife and she discussed their marital problems on the special, which was later released on DVD.

     The pressure of being champion got to Guerrero, who commented to those close to him that carrying the belt was harder then anything he had dealt with previously in the business, because everything falls on your shoulders, from the ratings, to the schedule, to the buyrates. After a several month reign, the belt was moved to John Bradshaw Layfield. Guerrero would later comment that JBL did a better job carrying the pressure then he did.

     Guerrero continued his feud with Kurt Angle after losing the title, although a heel turn and last major feud was against Rey Mysterio with the storyline being that Mysterio had secretly adopted Guerrero’s son Dominick years ago since he couldn’t have children. In reality, Dominick was really Rey’s son. Since the two had a major falling out, Guerrero wanted custody back as a way to wage psychological warfare on his old friend and partner. In the end, it was, Mysterio winning the feud, although Guerrero was marketed with a new T-shirt with “I’m Your Papi” emblazoned across the front.

     In recent months, Guerrero had been involved in a storyline where he and WWE World champion Batista had been uneasy friends while competing for the title. Guerrero had tried to play his mind games with Batista only to be “one upped” by the champion, leading to what was supposed to be an unlikely partnership.

     In Guerrero’s final PPV appearance, he lost to Batista at No Mercy with the storyline being that when he had a chance to cheat, he didn’t. In his final match, Guerrero defeated Ken Kennedy in a Smackdown bout that was aired just this past Friday night. Guerrero was scheduled to challenge Batista for the World title in a Three-Way with Randy Orton at tonight’s Smackdown taping.

     As irony would have it, WWE was scheduled to release a Guerrero autobiography on 12/20. Eddie Guerrero was only 38 years old.

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