Funny (well, not really “funny”) how one of the last times I sat down and actually wanted to post something on my blog, Chris Candito was dead.
Now it’s Eddy Guerrero.
Eddy died sometime Sunday morning/Saturday night of an apparent heart attack at the age of 38. According to his wife, Eddy’s heart showed signs of damage, with worn blood vessels and the heart was enlarged (thanks Wrestling Observer site).
I first remember seeing Eddy on the “When Worlds Collide” PPV, back when Eddy and Art Barr were tearing up the house in AAA as Los Gringos Locos in Mexico. It was their mask vs. hair match against El Hijo Del Santo and Octagon that caused people (including one Paul Heyman) to stand up and take notice of Eddy and Art. Art, unfortunately, would never see any of the aftereffects of the match, dying 17 days after the show.
Eddy ended up eventually making his way to ECW, where I got to really see what he could do. Eddy got directed into a feud with Dean Malenko over the ECW TV title, in a feud WWF/WCW promoters would have touched normally. Eddy and Dean, neither taller than 5’8″ and not exactly known for their promo skills (Art drew the heat in Mexico from his words, Eddy more drew heat from associating with Art and renouncing his Mexican heritage by making sure he was properly introduced as being from the United States of America) put together an incredible program, with Eddy adopting Art’s frog splash finisher.
Eventually, Eddy (and a lot of the ECW talent) were sucked in by WCW and signed to big money contracts. Eddy got a few decent pushes in WCW, holding the WCW Cruiserweight Title twice, and held the WCW US Title, which he won in a tournament. Eddy’s run in WCW turned sour though, as he (like many workers in WCW at the time, which would grow as time went along) grew tired of sitting in the midcard, and wanted to make his way up – something that was pretty much impossible with the politics within the company, and Guerrero found himself in a similar situation that kept him out of major American companies in the first place – his size was working against him. Unlike others, however, Eddy went public with his issues (since he did work for a company with a live television show), and demanded his release on live TV. He then formed the lWo (Latino World Order – a takeoff on the New World Order gimmick) which consisted of every single Mexican/Latino wrestler in the company, most of which weren’t getting any push at all and had no gimmick going for them. That ended up coming to an end when Eddie almost died in an car accident.
Soon after the accident, and a lot sooner than anyone expected, Eddy returned to WCW. He looked to be in incredible shape, especially for someone who had almost died and was returning some 6 or so months before anyone had expected him to. He was incredibly lean and cut, and I remember thinking he had to have been on steroids at the time. Steroids wouldn’t be the only thing he ran into as a result of the accident.
Eddy’s troubles with upper management continued upon his return, and an unexpected opportunity arose. When Vince Russo was demoted from his head booking position in WCW and replaced by Kevin Sullivan, numerous wrestlers spoke up against the move – specificly Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, Perry Saturn, Shane Douglas, Billy Kidman, and Konnan. Benoit’s beef was understandable – he was getting the largest push of the group, but due to his real-life relationship with Sullivan’s ex-wife Nancy, Benoit knew that no good could come of this. WCW VP at the time, Bill Busch (a man who knew a lot about business, but nothing about wrestling), had stated openly to the unhappy dressing room that anyone who wasn’t happy in WCW could ask for their release, and it would be granted. Benoit, Guerrero, Malenko, and Saturn would take up Busch on the offer and got their releases free and clear, and immedately jumped to the WWF.
The WWF jump was unthinkable at the time – earlier, Chris Jericho had made it known he wasn’t going to resign with WCW, and WCW kept him off television for an extended period of time until his contract ended. However, with the Radicalz (as the group would be called in WCW), they would go from being WCW stars one week to WWE stars the next, with Busch’s only condition being that the wrestlers couldn’t badmouth WCW or sue the company. Busch, not learning from past history (see Nash, Kevin & Hall, Scott), didn’t realize that the WWF could easily market the four, and immedately put them in seperate angles. Eddy (now “Eddie Guerrero”) was initially packaged with Chyna, which originated Eddy’s first catchphrase, “Latino Heat”.
The WWF booked Eddy well, as the company smartly packaged their smaller wrestlers in programs together to make their differences less noticable, something ECW had done with great success (due to the fact that 95% of their roster was small) and WCW had failed to do. Eddy was booked in programs with Chris Jericho and Essa Rios, then eventually won the Intercontinental Title from Chyna to tease an eventual breakup, using the Eddie Gilbert psychology of siding with faces and seeming genuine while using heel tactics and looking out for himself over all others. It’s a style Eddy would use often in WW(E).
Eddy’s demons would creep back to him, and he developed an addiction to painkillers that could be traced back to the car accident that almost killed him back when he was in WCW. The turn to painkillers wasn’t unthinkable – so many wrestlers, whether it be because of their backbreaking schedules or fear of being out of the public eye for too long nursing an injury (or especially in more recent years concern for their jobs, with the lack of competing organizations to go to) turn to painkillers and alcohol in order to keep their routine. The results can turn up deadly. Eddy’s problem was not unnoticed by management, and in May of 2001, Guerrero was order to go to rehab for his addiction. Eddy emerged from rehab seemingly changed, but some six months later, Eddy’s problems were made public when he was arrested for drunk driving. Three days later, Eddy was fired by the WWF. Whether it was a public message to the boys, a message to Eddy, or to save face in the public eye that constantly criticized professional wrestling (and Vince McMahon specificly) for turning a blind eye to this behavior, it served as a wakeup call to Eddy (later, William Regal would go through a similar process, and credits it for “saving his life”).
When Eddy came back to the WWE after a brief layoff, he was a “new man”. He became a born again Christian and went back to work. With WWE Champion (Smackdown brand) Brock Lesnar asking to be released from his WWE contract to persue a pro football career, WWE bookers, noticing both a good story (Guerrero’s comeback from drugs and alcohol) and Eddy’s huge popularity swings in areas with strong Latino populations (Eddy was working as a heel and still enjoyed Ric Flair-like heel popularity due to his heel tactics and interviews) saw an opportunity to put the WWE Championship on Eddy. He would win the title from Lesnar in February of 2004’s Smackdown branded Pay Per View “No Way Out”, notable because of Lesnar’s huge size and strength advantage over the much smaller Guerrero. Guerrero would later be booked against larger opponents and play the Ricky Morton “face in peril” often, facing huge odds but still managing to pull out the win. Guerrero’s title run would be shortlived, however, dropping the title to John “Bradshaw” Layfield after four months. This title drop, paired with Benoit’s 5 month long title reign and eventual drop to Randy Orton annoyed many hardcore fans, who respected the hard work of Guerrero and Benoit and didn’t feel that Layfield or Orton were deserving of titles at the time (WWE at the time was attempting to develop “new stars”, and one of the easier ways to do so is to put a major belt on them – sometimes this works, sometimes not.)
Eddy’s WWF/E career was littered with “questionable” gimmicks – while I loved his Gilbertesque faceheel style, I hated the low rider/”mamacita”/lie-cheat-steal image he was generally paired with. I felt it painted him as a huge stereotype, and while it was generally done for comic reasons (because it was so over-the-top), it would still make me a little uncomfortable to see him with these gimmicks, when I felt that he could easily pull off his heel mannerisms without having to simplify his gimmick. Eddy had a natural ability to pull off a heel role, and when put in the face role, he pulled it off well too, whether it be in the underdog role he was in as WWE Champion or as the “cheat to win” ally who you couldn’t trust but you needed by your side to beat the heels. Eddie Gilbert and Ric Flair are the only two that come to mind immedately that could do that as well as Eddy.
Eddy’s enlarged heart doesn’t necessarily shed light onto his cause of death, and we likely won’t know that information for a while, if ever. While steroid use can lead to heart weakness and an enlarged heart, recent studies have shown that painkillers such as Vioxx can also lead to hypertension and enlarged hearts. To think that a wrestler or athlete could completely kick painkillers completely (including things such as Advil or Tylenol) doesn’t seem possible, due to the extent of injuries that take place in the normal wear and tear of an athlete. Eddy’s condition doesn’t even assume that it was a result of something happening currently – damage could have already taken place from the past, and was just waiting to turn back up again.
It doesn’t make it any less sad, though. Eddy, you’ll be greatly missed.