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Thursday, January 28, 2016

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The Rise of Eddie Guerrero

By @SpeedontheBeat 

The Ruthless Aggression Era saw the rise of one of the greatest wrestlers to ever lace up his boots. I'm talking about none other than Mr. Hustlellujah himself. I'm talking about Mr. John Felix Anthony Cena. Cue up "Word Life" and praise be to him.
Ok, still with me after that obvious troll? Good. Because, while Cena serves a purpose, I'm really talking about Eddie Guerrero. Yes, it's slightly unfair to say that "oh, Eddie rose to prominence during the Ruthless Aggression Era" when he put on classic matches throughout the 1990s. However, it was during the RA era that Guerrero was able to put those matches on for the world to see. He wasn't held down by a cruiserweight label, by weird-ass, possessive boyfriend angles with Chyna, or by just being part of a movement. He was able to become his own movement.

After returning to WWE in 2002 from a stint in the indies (by the way, go check out his matches with CM Punk for the IWA Championship), Eddie was immediately placed into a program with Rob Van Dam over the Intercontinental Championship. Putting on a match that, to me, was pretty classic at Backlash, Eddie held the championship for about a month before losing it to Van Dam again. Guerrero was then placed into a feud with Stone Cold Steve Austin which faltered before it really began (SCSA left WWE in 2002 during his proposed feud with Brock Lesnar). Thankfully, this botched feud led to one of the most entertaining team-ups during the early days of the RA Era: Los Guerreros.

Yeah, the vignettes were steeped in stereotypes (it's wrestling in the early 2000s. You'd be hard-pressed to not find a stereotyped character), but Eddie and Chavo Guerrero fully embraced it. And they managed to do so in a way that focused more on the in-ring awesomeness and less on the vignettes (while the "lie, cheat, and steal" mantra made its way into the ring as well). However, due to the "let's make someone a champion for a month, then play hot potato with the belt" philosophy that often went into RA feuds, the team didn't reach its full potential. However, during the team's infancy, we got some classic matches between Eddie and Edge (go watch those, especially the No DQ match; it's as great as hyped by WWE).

I think that the definitive point in Eddie's rise was during his feud with former tag partner Tajiri in 2003. See, Tajiri and Eddie teamed up because of an injury to Chavo. The team won, then lost the Tag Team Titles. And what does Eddie do? He throws Tajiri through a windshield. But, wait! He's obviously heeling out. How does the audience respond to him? They friggin' love him! They don't think he's in the wrong. At that moment, I feel that Eddie became a made man. From that moment on, there was pretty much nothing that Eddie could do that'd make the audience outright hate him. The WWE awarded Guerrero in setting him up in a US Championship match with Chris Benoit at Vengeance 2003 where another defining moment to his legacy occurred.

Not only did fans love his "IDGAF" demeanor towards his opposition, they wanted to see him lie, cheat, and steal. So...he did what they wanted. He capitalized on a run-in by Benoit's tag partner, Rhyno, along with some gut shots from the belt, and won the US Championship. From here, Eddie's upper-midcard-to-main-event transition began. I don't think I need to talk much about his championship run or his heel turn against Rey Mysterio (classic feud, even if you're not a Mysterio fan--and even though the Dominick inclusion was...odd). Those things've been talked about by many others. I want to, however, close this out with a look at what turned out to be Guerrero's last PPV match, versus Batista at No Mercy 2006.

For years, we'd seen Eddie lie, cheat, and steal. This match allowed Eddie one of his last shots to do the same. But, in some great storytelling, we saw Eddie play around with the idea of beating Batista with a steel chair. He was tempted by his demons. Ultimately, he chose to go about the match without dirty tactics. And while he lost, he was given redemption. At the time of Eddie's death, he was booked to win the WHC in a triple threat match. Sadly, we never got that classic-to-be.

But, for me, Eddie Guerrero will always be remembered as that guy who did what he needed to get what he desired--within reason. His classic matches combined that LC&S philosophy with some amazing in-ring work, great psychology, and more. Rest easy, Eddie.



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