As with any fan of forms of entertainment, long time pro wrestling aficionados will quickly tell a fellow fan about “the good old days.” For some, it was during the extensive WWWF title reign of Bruno Sammartino, while others will talk about the classics featuring Ric Flair and Ricky Steamboat. Fans will say the days of Hulkamania were the perfect mix of well throughout storylines with child-friendly characters. Those who grew up during the Attitude era featuring the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin, The Rock, Bill Goldberg, the New World Order, Taz, Sabu, and a host of relatable grapplers proclaim the quality of wrestling hasn’t been matched since.
On the flipside, those same fans have the ability to remember when those days of yore concluded – The Ultimate Warrior defeating Hulk Hogan; the end of the Attitude era thanks to the purchases of World Championship Wrestling and Extreme Championship Wrestling by the World Wrestling Federation; Triple H’s “reign of terror” from 2002 until 2005; World Wrestling Entertainment changing from TV-14 to TV-PG just to name a few. In truth, the best days and the follow up letdowns are all subjective. For me, the day wrestling changed forever and the “good old days” entered my rearview mirror occurred on November 13, 2005.
The thirteenth of November was a trying day for my family and me. Less than twenty-four hours earlier we laid to rest the body of my aunt who had passed after her battle with colon cancer. The hours that followed were like a blur until the next afternoon when I simply checked the Internet for some wrestling news. To my shock was the headline flashing before me, “Eddie Guerrero found dead.”
It seemed year after year, the death toll of professional wrestlers was growing more profound and stunning; and Guerrero was no exception. “Latino Heat”, as he called himself, became a beloved star in the world of wrestling with his ability to have great matches with anyone while creating a character that had true depth. Guerrero wasn’t wrestling stereotypical Latino. In truth, those stereotypes were used by Guerrero to make us more receptive of him before he turned a corner and made us look beyond the superficiality and see a true human being who loved to give everything he had in the ring for our entertainment.
By embracing one of the aspects of his personality and amplifying it, Eddie Guerrero the character matched the high quality of Eddie Guerrero the wrestler. The journey to WWE’s elite “main event status” was perilous for Guerrero who suffered with a near fatal drug and alcohol addiction before returning to the company reenergized and ready to make history. In February 2004, Eddie Guerrero trumped wrestling’s “Next Big Thing” Brock Lesnar to become the WWE champion – the first Latino WWE champion in over thirty years. A month later at “Wrestlemania XX”, WWE champion Guerrero joined his best friend and then-new World champion Chris Benoit. The emotional embrace between the two signaled a day unlike any before it as fans of both men never truly believed they’d make it to main event/Heavyweight champion status in WWE. They were truly a testament to hard word, perseverance, and a willingness to break the mold of being international and WCW stars finding themselves always one step behind WWE’s homegrown wrestlers.
Just like trying to accept the fact you’re never going to see a loved one again in this realm, watching WWE television and knowing that the Eddie Guerrero I would get a kick out of seeing would never return took something out of me when it came to enjoying this form of entertainment that helped comfort me during times of heartbreak, emotional insecurity, physical anxiety.
Though my love for pro wrestling has found a reason to not only live on, but to thrive thanks to the ability of independent wrestling companies to share their brand of action through a variety of avenues, my level of enjoyment for wrestling truly changed on November 13, 2005. But even with that said, I can look back on the days when warriors like Eddie Guerrero roamed the land, producing great matches and moments. For some, the good old days are rather depressing. For others, those times are precious. I’ll remember Eddie Guerrero and those experiences of watching him in the latter category.