First off, Happy belated 55th birthday Eddie Guerrero. This was meant for Hispanic Heritage Month, but being busy at work delayed this article 2 weeks. Still, I worked hard on this so I’m still dropping it!
We saw ourselves in him because he was us.
In 1995, my dad finally got a CD player in his car. He was so happy. He had bought his first CD a week before,preparing for this. The CD, War’s Greatest Hit. The first track, “Lowrider.” Here we are, in an old beat-up car playing Lowrider as loud as we can. No, it was not a lowrider. But it didn’t matter. You see, we are Chicanos. What’s a Chicano? Well, Chicano is a Mexican who was born in the United States. It’s a very unique experience that many don’t understand. Selena’s dad (played by Edward James Olmos) explains it best…
Before writing this piece, I went all over the internet looking at different conversations between Latinos. My research isn’t wrestling past or in-ring work. My research is about how one person made a community feel. What made Eduardo Gory Guerrero Llanes an icon of Mexican American identity? Are my feelings shared by others? Did others feel the same I did? I know when I watched wrestling, it looked like the crowd connected to Eddie. But did they feel like I did? Well, after reading the comments of other Latinos, the answer was yes. Videos, Tik Tocs, Tweets, posts, and dozens of conversations all pointed to the same thing, Eddie Guerrero connected to Latinos, specifically the Mexican-American/Chicano population, in a way that no one on TV had before or since. To quote a random person, Eddie Guerrero acted like your tío at the family party, but if your uncle was buff.
TV Before Eddie Guerrero
Seeing someone who looked like you in the 1990s was rare as a Latino. Other than Ricky Ricardo in I Love Lucy, you didn’t see much Latino representation. There was Save By the Bell, which had one episode in the “College Years” that admitted AC Slater was Chicano and his dad changed his name from Sanchez to move up the military ranks. As George Lopez once said, you have cowboys selling salsa, which would be like men selling female hygiene products.
Other than that, Latino representation usually came through sports, or Spanish TV. You had boxers like Julio Cesar Chavez, Hector Camacho, and Oscar de la Hoya, or baseball players like Fernando Venezuela and Sammy Sosa. Southern California had a huge generational divide between Chavez and de la Hoya when they fought. The traditional older Mexican crowd wanted Chavez to kick that pretty boy’s ass. The younger, more American Chicano crowd wanted to see de la Hoya beat Chavez and get rid of the old ways. The little representation we had was not unifying us, it was dividing us.
Univision in Los Angeles showed AAA every Saturday afternoon. It was there that I was first exposed to Eddie Guerrero. AAA being a new promotion in Mexico, I can’t say I followed them up to 1994. But when I surfed the channels and saw Lucha Libre, my dad said, “Stop! Leave it there, that’s the REAL wrestling!” And to my dad, this is what he grew up watching in the LA territory. Now I can’t remember where in the card it was, but in that show, Los Gringos Locos came out. Eddy Guerrero and Art Barr, are covered from head to toe in the United States flag. And people booed the Gabacho and Chicano.
Importance of Art Barr’s Influence
Video evidence exists of the Guerrero brothers using the Frog Splash in EMLL before 1992. (Check out Mondo Guerrero at the 14:00 mark here) But it is often said Eddie used the Frog Splash as a tribute to Los Gringos Locos partner Art Barr. This is because Barr saw Eddie do it and thought it made a great finisher. Eddie used the Jackknife Splash as a high spot but didn’t finish matches with it. Barr thought it looked cool so a finisher was born.
Eddie also credited Barr with bringing out his personality. The Guerrero brothers were all well-rounded performers, able to be heel or face depending on the territory. In Los Angeles, Chavo Guerrero was the top babyface of the territory, but when the Guerreros traveled to Florida they were heels. Though the Guerreros were great performers, Eddie had admitted to only focusing on wrestling, not character. Working with Art Barr brought Eddie out of his shell.
It’s important to note in the Los Gringos Locos story, Eddie just didn’t turn heel, he turned heel against El Hijo del Santo. El Santo’s mask is the most important in Mexican history. In Mexico, Eddie’s turn was as big as the Mega Powers exploding in the ’80s. (Classic hair vs. mask match here) But at first, Eddie’s personality wasn’t ready to be the top heel in the company. It was Barr who helped Eddie embrace his personality and find who he is. This was Guerrero’s first stage, going from “Vanilla Midget” to full fledge legend.
When shifting through YouTube, Tik Toc, Reddit, and other places, I looked for what made Eddie relatable to Latinos. I saw many things. Some mentioned his struggles, being doubted or over looked, being short, being the underdog, having to scratch and claw for every victory. The journey of a Latino in the United States is not an easy one. One study showed that while many second generation Mexicans might have blue collar jobs, they measure as more successful than other immigrant groups based on where each group started. These are people who are underdogs.
Now Eddie’s father was born in the US, so Eddie is not the son of an immigrate, and his father was a wrestler, so Eddie did have certain advantages. BUT, Eddie not only saw discrimination based off his ethnicity, but also his size. Eddie was a smallest of the Guerrero brothers. On top of that, while Chavo found success in the Los Angeles territory, having a blood feud with Roddy Piper in the 70’s, Eddie came during the era of giants.
It seemed unfair at first, as Mondo, Hector, and Chavo were able to travel the territories and find local markets to work. So in a Mexican dominated territory like Los Angeles, Chavo became the top babyface battling the foreign menaces that came through. Some of those foreign menaces being White Americans. When it was Eddie’s turn, there were no local territories with a Mexican American dominated population. Eddie faced a challenge that his brothers did not, how do you appeal to the larger American audience?
During his Los Gringos Locos era, Eddie would start to tour Japan and learn Japanese style. Eddie would make friends who he would tour and wrestle matches around the world. This group would come to be known as the Vanilla Midgets by larger wrestlers back stage. At first, having wrestlers like Eddie Guerrero, Chris Benoit, Dean Malenko, and Chris Jericho made WCW feel fresh and new compared to WWF’s bigger wrestlers.
It would become clear that these wrestlers were not allowed to move up the card no matter how over they got themselves. Jericho was the most obvious, as he had charisma for days. Once he turned heel, it began clear he was a breakout star. Benoit, then later Malenko, joined the 4 Horsemen. This fit them well, as the Horsemen always had the best workers in that group. I’d argue their team was as good as Arn Anderson and Tully Blanchard. But what about Eddie?
It took Eddie time to break out in WCW, but once he did, he was magic. First turning heel and being a mean, nasty heel. His rivalries with his nephew Chavo Jr. and Rey Mysterio were turning points with how people saw him. His charisma shined through. Eventually he’d join the Filthy Animals, and really turn up the creativity. It was here that he started the fake chair shot. You started to see shades of what would be the Latino Heat character. Eddie was never a vanilla personality, but it was in this era you saw huge growth. By the time Eddie joined WWF in 2000 as part of the Radicalz, he was getting the biggest cheers from the audience; even though it was Benoit who was coming in as former WCW champion.
Almost right away Eddie Guerrero showed his range of being an entertainer. From the Latino Heat angle with Chyna, to introducing lowriders to his character, Eddie was starting to connect to the WWF audience. Due to the difference is audiences, Eddie knew he needed to show more sides of himself. With that said, the WWF audience prefers to see more of a character’s personality. WCW fans were much more into work and match quality. Even during the nWo years, the cruiserweight wrestlers made the product much more acceptable for WCW fans. Eddie knew he’d need to show out. And show out he did. But in 2001 the WWF fired Eddie Guerrero for continued drug and alcohol issues. Though he felt low, this was the turning point in Eddie’s career and life.
In 2002, Eddie was able to comeback after getting clean. With his new outlook on life, Eddie showed how good he was by debuting in a classic match against the Rock. After spending time on Raw, Eddie’s true break would come by moving to the Smackdown brand. Being on UPN brought an audience which WWF didn’t have even 5 years earlier. The UPN channel as a whole was more diverse with shows featuring people of color. So it should have came as no surprise that many Black and Latino wrestlers were becoming huge stars on Smackdown.
WWE saw that Eddie Guerrero being on TV led to larger Latino audiences for his segments. Eddie would then start to get a push. Going from he Smackdown Six era, to winning the US title, Eddie rise up the card was becoming clear. From 2002-2004 Eddie would get cheers in many towns, no matter if he was a heel or face. The audience was choosing Eddie, most obviously with a predominately Latin audience. No matter how bad Eddie was, the audience ate it up.
Around this time George Lopez is also a rising star which many in the Chicano community are gravitating to because of his unapologetic commentary of the Mexican American community. His comedy isn’t understood by all, but to those in the community, it hits close to home. Listen to this and you can see similarities with Guerrero and Lopez.
Why He Connected Now
When 2002 came around, the world had changed. We were in a post-9/11 world, people were looking for authenticity. The Ruthless Aggression Era dove deeper into reality than the Attitude Era would dream of. Many point to the Class of 2002 as one of the greatest groups entering WWE, the top 6 prospects that year debuted using their real names, with Dave Bautista slightly changing his spelling. For the first time, Eddie himself was being himself.
Since 1999 you saw glimpses of who Eddie was, but after all the trials and tribulations, you truly felt him. Eddie was authentic, he was having fun, he was interacting the way he wanted to interact. He shouted out to Latino people unapologetically, which might have been the most enduring thing to us. Usually when a Black or Latino person shouts out their people, they try to also be inclusive to White people. Eddie though, straight up said, “¡Órale mi raza!” Raza was never explained (until much later when he said it was the WWE Universe), he left mi raza to be what it is, my race.
Growing up, my mom and a few cousins had drug addictions. Let me tell you something about recovered addicts, once they are clean, they are also very real. They bare their souls to the world for all to see. When coming back in 2002, Eddie was that, real. He seemed to embrace his second chance with WWE, getting one more opportunity. And he took full advantage, deciding to be himself and sinking or swimming on that. Latinos, we have seen our cousin, our mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, best friend, all try to kick addiction. Many times we leave disappointed. Eddie gave us hope that maybe, if he can kick his demons, our loved ones can too. Maybe beyond addiction, a person could thrive.
Lessons for Future Stars
I hear all the time, they think this guy will be the next Eddie Guerrero, or that guy will attract Latino audiences like Eddie Guerrero. Then eventually you’ll see it. Either a slight shimmy, or maybe they’ll use a frog splash, and I think, “they’re done.” You see, you can’t replicate Eddie Guerrero. It took a whole career journey, but once Eddie found himself, the audience was drawn to him. I see Dominick do a shimmy and frog splash, or I see Angel Garza borrowing from the Latino Heat character. In all honesty, these guys need to learn to be authentic to themselves. What made Eddie specially, especially from 2002 to 2004, was his authenticity. When you saw Eddie Guerrero, you knew you were getting him.
So many people talked about how Eddie reminded them of people they know. How he touched them by showing them someone like them can make it. What Alberto Del Rio, Andrade, Carlito, or any number of next big thing Latino stars don’t get is to just be themselves. Eddie’s smile was genuine, you can see the joy through his eyes as he came out with a lowrider. When Eddie was a villain, he looked mischievous, which completely fit his lie, cheat, and steal character. You always felt like you were watching who Eddie was, not a character he was trying to be.
The People’s Champion
When Eddie Guerrero appeared on the cover of Lowrider magazine, that would have been like Ron Killings on the cover of the Source or Brock Lesnar on Field and Stream magazine. Lowrider magazine was once a cultural cornerstone in the Chicano community. Seriously think of any gimmick, then put that character on the cover of the most popular magazine to match that gimmick. It was so perfect. Every Chicano garage I ever been to had stacks of Lowrider magazines, pictures of cars (usually with girls) taped all around.
Eddie was not just a wrestling character, by 2003 Eddie was ingrained in the culture. Even his promos were basically him telling a story like your Tio on a Sunday night here. He took negative stereotypes and spun twisted them to his will. Eddie was real because he didn’t know how to be fake anymore, and that more than anything else is why the Latino audiences connected to him.
Listen, the danger of trying to be Eddie is that if you are not Eddie, audiences can sniff it out. In comedy, George Lopez has a very specific way of talking about the Chicano community which we can laugh, but if anyone else said it then they’d be blackballed. Lopez and Guerrero both walk that line of negative stereotype, and representing the culture. But while Eddie represents one area of Latino culture, Rey Mysterio represents the other. A luchador who’s a superhero for children, Rey represents the ideal image compared to Eddie’s flawed personality. Both are champions of the people, but in different ways.
Will there ever be a Latino star better than Eddie Guerrero? Sure. Latinos represent the fast growing population in the United States today. Over time I can see many Latino stars, depending on the time and the character, that relationship will be different than Eddie and his connection. What I want all young Latinos to note is please, find yourself. Eddie Guerrero is not the greatest Latino wrestler in WWE history because he followed a formula, or created a gimmick. Eddie become the greatest when he embraced fully who he is. For there to be another great Latino star, that person must find themself and find their own connection to the fans.
To end this column, I want to leave you with this video. Very rarely can I watch this and not tear up. Everything about it is perfect.
Eddie Guerrero, fresh off beating Brock Lesnar celebrating in Fresno, CA. Fresno, a heavily Latino city, deep in Central California. A sold out arena, celebrating Eddie’s win. But it wasn’t how loud the cheers were, what’s important to notice is Eddie’s connection with the audience. Coming down, he shook hands, he talked to individual people, he was authentic. The fans believed in him, so when he beat Lesnar, he was their Superman. I watch this and I cry because for one night, Eddie and his fans had this moment. Even if it was just 4 minutes, it was 4 minutes of Eddie genuinely thanking his fans for their support, and his fans thanking Eddie for giving them something to believe in. On this night, wrestling was not scripted; on this night wrestling was in deed real. RIP Eddie Guerrero, you are missed Carnal.