There have been countless deaths in the world of professional wrestling in the last decade or so, but few have ever left me as dismayed as the passing of Eddy Guerrero on November the 13th in Minneapolis. At only 38 years of age Guerrero suffered a heart attack while brushing his teeth, his body found by cousin Chavo Guerrero the next morning. It bought an untimely end to the life of a man who had led a turbulent life, filled with addictions and havoc, but a man who had seemingly overcome these obstacles to become the most loved wrestler in North America at the present time. He joins a never ending list of those who have passed away too young, the likes of Rick Rude, Curt Hennig, Brian Pillman, Hawk, Big Bossman, Davey Boy Smith, Elizabeth, Chris Candido, Hercules, Owen Hart, Crash Holly to name a few who passed before him. Unlike this group, Guerrero was actually at the top when he died, scheduled perhaps to regain the WWE World Championship the next night from the injured Batista. Instead the wrestling world has been plunged into unwelcome tragedy yet again.
The speculation about the cause of Guerrreo's death wil run rampant. Was he clean or still on drugs? Over the last five years the man had been involved in car crashes, overdosed, almost dying on one occasion. He was let go by the WWE because of his state several years ago, only to come back clean and better in ring than ever. Guerrero was one of the best wrestlers of his generation, a high flying Mexican cruiserweight who could adapt to any style of wrestling. In the current, stale WWE scene he was one of the few redeeming stars, a natural heel who the fans loved anyway. I first started watching Guerrero during WCW's huge run in the mid to late 90's and always felt he was being wasted, despite some classic matches with Rey Mysterio Jr. Prior to this he had wrestled extensively in Mexico and ECW, lighting each territory up. It was his move to the WWE in early 2000 when his career really took off, for better and worse.
Guerrero's death, attributed to an enlarged heart from years of abuse, was as shocking as it was sudden. When the WWE released him in 2001 due to his erratic state and drug addictions few ever thought he would ever make it back. This was after his move from WCW to the WWE, where he had been experiencing more success in just a year than his whole five year tenure in WCW. Armed with a strong marriage and immense self belief, Guerrero battled back and found his way back to the WWE, where from 2002 to his passing he was the corner stone of the Smackdown! brand of the WWE. In 2004 he achieved the pinnacle when he pinned Brock Lesnar to win the WWE title, which he held for nearly four months, dropping the title to John Bradshaw Layfield in a controversial move, as JBL had zero heat and for all purposes none of Guerreo's charisma and wrestling ability.
Guerrero could at least lay claim to defeating Kurt Angle at WrestleMania 20, where he celebrated in ring with best friend Chris Benoit at the shows end, both men reaching the top of the ladder after years of struggle. This past Monday on RAW and Smackdown! the shows were devoted to Guerrero, with al the roster shown, most in tears, only having heard the news themselves. Seeing the raw emotion of Benoit, Mysterio, Chavo Guerrero and Batista to name a few was difficult, as the WWE rightfully set aside their usual programming to pay tribute to a legend.
The death does leave a huge question mark about wrestling. How many more? It incenses me to see this high death rate amongst such a sport where the fatigue, burnout and constant travel are admittedly more constant than any other form of entertainment or sport. Attempting to live on the road for three quarters of the year, keep in shape and stay mentally adept cause many wrestlers to succumb to drug and alcohol problems which have surfaced all to commonly in the last decade. It is to the point where a new death is almost expected and not news. But Guerrero's was not expected. He was at his peak. His life was on track. Most of the previously fallen were out of the sport or suffering from years of abuse. Not all but many.
I sense the fallout from this tragedy will last for some time. For a man loved by millions it will not soon be forgotten. Guerrero was a hero to so many, an icon for Hispanic Americans and a figurehead for wrestling in general. WWE owner Vince McMahon must be shaking his head wondering when this madness will ever end. There isn't much he can do about it and I do not have enough inside knowledge of the business to speculate as to how and why it is conclusively occurring, but all it is succeeding in doing is driving people away from a once great industry, one that is in dire need of repair.
ŠThe Zephyr November 28, 2005