Not an easy column to start this one. I didn’t know Eddie Guerrero, I never met him and I can’t tell you anything about him you don’t already know. There’s no point in me saying how much wrestling fans are going to miss him because you guys have done that far better than I ever could. I guess the only thing I can do is add my voice to the wave of sentiment coming from the wrestling community and try to take something positive from the experience.
Last Sunday was an odd day. I spent most of the afternoon converting some old AJPW videos onto dvd, including several matches of Eddie’s when he was under the mask of Black Tiger. Most of them I started recording and went off to do other things but I couldn’t resist watching Guerrero against Chris Benoit (Pegasus Kid) and, as you’d expect, they didn’t disappoint. Even more so than recent years, Eddie had a very compact style back then. He wrestled in short steps but at an unbelievable speed and the impact that both he and Benoit generated during the course of the contest was astonishing. But the thing that struck me most about the match was that, even though we all know how close Benoit and Guerrero became and probably were at the time, there wasn’t a hint of their friendship in the performance. I’m not saying that if there was it would have been a bad thing but most wrestlers have told tales of selling silly moves or undoing eachother’s shoelaces during a match. I assume it’s one of the ways in which they enliven the monotony of wrestling virtually the same matches on house shows night after night. But this was all business. No nods or connective moments, no smiles or handshakes. The respect they had for one another as wrestlers seemed to be based on an appreciation of the other’s abilities and an acceptance that wherever one of them went with the performance, the other would be right there making sure it looked as good as possible. As for how Benoit and Guerrero were as friends, this week’s Raw and Smackdown says it all. The recording done I was just about to sit down and watch Smackdown, which I had taped the night before, when I thought I’d check my emails and it was then that I saw what had happened. Just for a second you hope this is some different meaning of the word “passing”. Maybe Eddie’s thrown a ball to someone or overtaken someone in his car? Even while clicking on the page link I was hoping that maybe it was a similarly named, distant member of his family and maybe he’d have to miss a few weeks of action to attend a funeral or console his relatives. But you kinda know that’s not going to be the case. All of a sudden, whether Snitsky can sell a suplex or Candice Michelle’s questionable acting doesn’t seem quite so important anymore.
Watching the tributes on Raw and Smackdown this week rang uncomfortable similarities to the Owen Hart tribute episode of Raw back in 1999. Seeing the WWE wrestlers, especially the ones like Batista and Big Show that you would normally associate with strength and imperviousness, reduced to tears made for difficult viewing. But then as any real man would tell you, it’s only boys that try to hide the fact that they’re hurt. For me, there was one major difference between the shows for Eddie and Owen. With Owen, it was a revelation to hear from the wrestlers that he was the joker in the pack because his on-screen persona was so straight and completely different from the man they described. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that Eddie would be the one to lighten the mood backstage with a joke seeing as the comedic aspects of his performances seemed to come so naturally to him. One of the great shames about comedy being the best source of tragedy is that Eddie’s funniest moments are now the most difficult to watch. Seeing the clips of him lie, cheat and steal his way to victory and the promos he did with Chavo were some of the toughest bits to watch on Raw because the laughter it induces is now tinged with sadness. But time has a way of correcting ambivalence and his humour will be there when we’re ready.
It’s such a shame that it takes something as horrible as this to remind us that there is a sense of family within the WWE, seeing as we’re so used to hearing about ‘how much they all hate eachother’ and the politics that goes on backstage. But then the other side of the coin where they all get along and are there for eachother doesn’t sell magazines or get hits to your website. The media, and especially the Internet, relies on sensationalising stories and focusing on the negatives when the truth is more likely that very few relationships are completely smooth and that doubly applies to ones in business. The tales of camaraderie and friendship that you hear recanted on these tribute shows aren’t convenient words to fill a moment, they are being lived right now, even as we speak while the WWE is touring Europe. Sure, morale gets low and people get frustrated with their position in the company but that’s understandable when business is down and I’m certain it’s mirrored in work places of all types all over the world. It’s as much as statement about people as it is about the WWE that we don’t appreciate the friends and family that we have around us until they’re gone. As for this idea I’ve seen posted in a few places that Eddie “got what he deserved” because of his history of substance abuse, whilst not worded in-keeping with the spirit of remembrance, it is unfortunately an issue. Speaking as an ex-smoker, ex-junkie, ex-alcoholic I can see the imbalance between viewing someone’s problems with anger when they are an addict as opposed to sympathy when it ultimately leads to their death, but if you judge a person’s worth solely by their failings then you’re missing the whole point. Life has a shitty was of collecting on its IOU’s and, like many others, Eddie wrote an awful lot of them in his time. The idea that life is a competition to see who can stave off death the longest by living clean and never doing the wrong thing only leads to a lifetime spent worrying that everything will kill you, when your body is doing a good enough job of that by itself.
So what of Eddie’s legacy? More than most, he exemplified the commonly held idea that pro-wrestling, and especially the WWE, should be as entertaining as possible and not shy away from emotive storylines, but equally should never forget that good, solid wrestling is the key to the product. You look down the list of his achievements and the countries all over the world in which he wrestled and it shows that, more than just paying your dues, there is a level of experience and craft that you don’t learn wrestling in just one place or in one style. It’s a shame that the training for WWE rookies and prospects doesn’t involve a stint in ECW or a stiff tour of Japan or a few appearances in the cauldrons of Mexico. As for a life lesson, it’s not my place to turn Eddie’s life into a warning for those of us who choose to abuse our systems. All I can say is dammit life is so short, just try to stay ahead of the game.
Lastly, my prevailing memory of Eddie. As much as I will always think of him and smile, for me Eddie will always be arms raised with Benoit as the ticker-tape falls at the end of Wrestlemania 20. Two champions. Two friends.