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Five Years

This is a strange weekend. On one hand, it’s my brother’s birthday, so it should be–and is a joyous occasion.

But on the other hand, today is the day one of our favorite performers left us, five years ago.

It’s been a long, sad trip without Eddie Guerrero.

Eddie Guerrero was one of the greatest professional wrestlers in the history of the sport, business, whatever you want to call it.

Born in El Paso, Texas to one of the most influential families in wrestling, Eddie started at an early age, wrestling with his nephew Chavo Guerrero Jr. during intermissions at events run by their father, Gory Guererro.

One of Eddie’s first major runs was as part of the tag team Los Gringos Locos, with “Love Machine” Art Barr. The pair wrestled for lucha libre promotion AAA, and were later expanded into a stable which most notably included Konnan and Louie Spicolli (wrestling as Madonna’s Boyfriend). Guerrero and Barr became very good friends, and after Barr’s passing in 1994, Eddie adopted Barr’s signature frog splash as tribute.

Like many modern legends of the ring, Eddie spent some time in Philly-based Extreme Championship Wrestling after further stints in Mexico and Japan. Guerrero, along with friends Chris Jericho, Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit, brought a technically sound yet fast-paced style to the promotion. Their matches brought a degree of class to a promotion that, to that point, had been about bloody, hardcore wrestling and no-holds-barred storytelling. His series of matches with Malenko, in particular, were deemed instant classics. Their final match in particular was a two-out-of-three falls contest memorable as much for deafening chants of “please don’t go” as much as for the amazing athleticism and sportsmanship on the mat.

Guerrero and Malenko joined Chris Benoit and Chris Jericho in World Championship Wrestling, but the company was a free for all at the time. Hulk Hogan, Kevin Nash and their contemporaries used their influence to run things backstage and hog the main event spotlight. Stuck on the midcard, Guerrero, along with Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera, formed the Latino World Order (lWo) as a spoof of the popular nWo. The lWo got over extremely well until a car accident nearly killed Eddie on New Year’s Day 1999.

Eddie recovered, and became a founding member of Konnan’s Filthy Animals stable, along with many of the lWo members. The group feuded with the Insane Clown Posse’s “Dead Pool” group (keep in mind, the ICP were actually trained as wrestlers before they turned to rap). Behind the scenes, however, Eddie became addicted to painkillers during his recovery, and struggled with drugs and alcohol for years before finally cleaning himself up for good a few years later.

Dissatisfied with their treatment in WCW, Guerrero, Benoit, Malenko, and Perry Saturn left for WWF in 2000, forming the heel stable the Radicalz. In his very first match in WWF against the New Age Outlaws, Eddie injured his elbow, and missed out on months of action. He returned just in time for the Radicalz to split over petty rivalries.

Eddie and Chris Benoit would find the most success outside of the group, both as heels and faces. A teaming with Chyna helped Eddie get over like gangbusters when he started calling himself “Latino Heat.” For the most part, Eddie was comfortable working as a comedy heel, although he could turn on the creepy, as with his final heel angle, against Rey Mysterio. He and his nephew Chavo Jr. became a spectacularly popular team as Los Guerreros, using heel tactics to get over with fans.

But Eddie could get the fans’ sympathy just as well as he could make them laugh. WWE finally gave him a main event solo push, culminating in a WWE Championship win over Brock Lesnar, and a title defense a couple of months later at Wrestlemania XX. ‘Mania XX provided what may be the single most indelible moment of Eddie Guerrero’s career: as Chris Benoit stood in the middle of the ring as World Heavyweight Champion after defeating Triple H and Shawn Michaels, Eddie emerged with his WWE Championship belt, and the two real-life best friends embraced, having finally reached the top of the business together. It is the image I’ll most remember of both of them.

Many speculate that Eddie was to win the championship again at a Raw/SmackDown Supershow taping on November 14, 2005. We’ll never know. He died suddenly on the morning of November 13.

Lex Luger called himself “the total package,” but that term really applied to Eddie Guerrero. His physicality and wrestling skill made him popular, but his charisma and wit made him beloved. Eddie’s loss changed the industry, and its repercussions are being felt even today. But it’s important to focus on the man, not the aftermath. By all accounts, in and out of the ring, Eddie Guerrero was the best of the best, and we will always miss him.

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