For years, Eddie Guerrero has marvelled fans with his Lucha-influenced style of wrestling, his penchant for pushing the envelope during a match with his aerial wizardry and for always adding another innovative move to his ever-expanding vast repertoire of moves.

How ironic is it then that a simple monkey flip during a match last October on RAW against Chris Jericho, an opponent he’s wrestled dozens of times, would be the source of a major injury that would sideline him for nearly two months?

Eddie Guerrero

Guerrero understands injuries are part of the game. It was instilled into him at an early age. He is the son of the legendary Gory Guerrero, after all, the patriarch of Lucha Libre and arguably the best shooter in the history of Mexican wrestling. Pain simply comes with the territory. But from that pain comes a natural desire to overcome and get back into the ring.

“It feels great to be back. It feels real good,” Guerrero told SLAM! Wrestling last Tuesday via phone while backstage at the WWF’s Smackdown! taping in Tucson, AZ. “I was out about a month and a half to two months… doing something you love to do like I love to wrestle, of course it felt good to be back in the ring. Thank God, praise the Lord I haven’t had any problems. Nothing’s hurt.”

A minor miracle, to be sure. During the match with Jericho, Guerrero’s legs hit the ropes following a routine monkey flip, changing the direction of his fall and causing him to land on the back of his neck and head. Despite being in pain, Guerrero didn’t take any time off.

“It was the match with Jericho that started things and then I worked injured for about two months and it just progressively got worse,” admitted Guerrero. “I had pulled my hamstring and then I pulled my groin. And then when I went to rehab I also found out I had a little bit of torn cartilage in my knee. It was nothing serious where I had to have surgery; it was just a matter of rehabbing it, strengthening up the leg muscles around it.”

Guerrero returned to the ring last month in an angle where he attacked Chris Jericho on RAW, setting up the four-corners match that took place at the WWF’s No Way Out pay-per-view last Sunday. While critics and fans lauded the match, Guerrero had mixed feelings about it.

“It was kind of nerve-racking at first because four-ways are hard. We really didn’t know how people were going to react or what direction we were going to go in. It was a ‘play-it-by-ear’ type of deal. Thank God it went good… I feel we’ve had a lot of good response from it. The main thing is the fans enjoyed it. Working with wrestlers of that calibre, it felt great. Working with an X-Pac, a Chris Benoit, a Chris Jericho, you’re working with top-line workers there. How can you not be thankful and excited about matches like that?”

Out of that match came an angle that’s been playing out on RAW and Smackdown! where the Radicals appear to be splitting up, possibly leading to a Guerrero-Benoit match at WrestleMania. The prospect of such a match excites Guerrero.

“If they do that, that would be great. I love working with him. I’ve worked with him in Mexico and Japan. We’ve got good chemistry and we give the fans a real good show.”

It’s been over a year since Guerrero and the Radicals left WCW for the greener pastures of the WWF. Looking back, Guerrero has no second thoughts about his decision to leave.

“I’m very happy. It’s been an adjustment physically to get used to the regiment as far as the work rate here. Here, everybody expects themselves to do the best that they can produce. And if you don’t do the best that you can produce, they don’t get hot at you or nothing… you get mad at yourself because that’s the kind of effort you have here and that’s the kind of crew that’s here right now. We expect nothing but the best out of ourselves and if we don’t produce it then we’re not happy. Everybody helps each other out here. You go to a person and ask them for an opinion, they’re there for you and give you their input.

“Eric Bischoff, when I was with him, took care of me. Took care of me when I had my car wreck and I was thankful to him for that,” confessed Guerrero. “I never liked the politics of the dressing room over there. You’re going to get politics everywhere you go. Here, Mr. McMahon has taken care of me. He’s been real good with me. The whole McMahon family… when I’ve had a question they’ve answered it. The whole organization for me, from the bottom to the top, is A-1, top notch. That’s the difference here. Everybody is on the same team. Even though there’s the politics here, it’s nowhere near the level of politics I had to deal with in WCW. The big deal here is it’s a wrestling company. With the McMahons, it’s their money, their business and they’re going to see to it that things are done right and they’re so professional that they deal with you on a hands on basis for everybody. I’m very happy here.”

Guerrero’s only regret is that he doesn’t see his nephew, WCW World Cruiserweight Champion Chavo Guerrero Jr., quite as often as he’d like.

“The only regret is that I miss Chavo Jr. He’s been doing great. I’m proud of him. He’s doing fantastic. He stepped it up to another level and he’s going to keep going forward. I’m very proud of him.”

While other wrestlers may obsess over their push and their spot on the WWF roster, Guerrero remains grounded, focusing on what personally matters to him in life.

“I love wrestling. It’s a part of my life and it’ll always be a part of my life. But to me there are more important things in life than wrestling. Now, don’t get me wrong. I will always do my best and I think you can see that in my work. I always give it my all and 100% but I’ve gone through a lot of personal trials the last few years and God has allowed me to look at life in a whole new perspective. So if I start thinking about whether or not I’m going to be a top star, I think I would drive myself nuts. Do I want that spot? Do I want to be a main-eventer? Yes. Will I die if I never make it? No. Life goes on. It’s just that if I worry myself or make it without God, I don’t see it ever happening, especially being a Christian. I’m going to keep my focus on God and I believe he will provide a way to keep my family healthy and myself working one way or another.” God is an important part of Guerrero’s life. In a 1999 interview he told SLAM! Wrestling “everything I have or accomplished in wrestling is because of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is my saviour and is responsible for all the gifts I have.”

On the surface, the tenets of Christianity and the WWF product hardly seem compatible. Christian-based groups such as the Parent Television Council (PTC) have waged war on the WWF over the content of their television shows, suggesting that it isn’t appropriate for young viewers. Branding it as cheap smut and sleaze, the PTC has gone after the WWF’s advertisers, costing them millions of dollars in ad revenue.

While the PTC may have a problem with the PTC, Guerrero doesn’t find it difficult reconciling his Christian faith with the WWF’s racy product.

“That’s the thing about Christianity is that it’s your personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Each and every one of us has to answer to Him when we meet up with Him. I know that in my heart He knows that I’m working and I haven’t done anything in my opinion out of my moral ethics to dishonour Him and everything that I have done that might hurt my wife… I always run through stuff with my wife before, especially when I was working with Chyna. I’m always telling her what’s going on. She knows it’s just a work and she knows my true love is for her. It’s like telling an actor not to go and act. We’re entertainers and we’re physical but we also have to have our acting parts.”

Still, there are times when Guerrero is caught in the middle and feels that what he has been asked to do conflicts with his Christian faith. During those times of internal crisis, Guerrero has turned to God for His guidance and support.

“If have a question or I don’t feel comfortable with it I have raised the issue many, many times… not just here but in WCW or ECW. In my opinion, God worked it out to where we worked around it or we worked it another way to where everybody’s happy and you still get the point across.”

Guerrero is also quick to defend against criticisms levelled by the media that the WWF is currently portraying him as a stereotypical Latino.

“How does it portray Mexicans in a bad way? Are you talking about the so-called educated Mexicans? Because I’m educated and I don’t think it’s racial. That’s my people, it’s what I am. I’m a Chicano. I’m a Latino. You go down to the hood and this is what you see. These are guys that I grew up with. Now that I’m not doing the heavy Cheech Marin accent anymore I’m more like a normal Mexican-American.”

“The Cheech Marin accent was there for a while when I was doing the thing with Chyna but that was done more for comedy,” continued Guerrero. “That’s what (the WWF) wanted and if I had a problem with it… why didn’t (the media) ever question Cheech Marin for it? He made millions of dollars and he’s still making millions off of it. He’s Latino, too. So if they don’t question him for doing that… I’ve heard him talk with his real voice and he doesn’t talk anything like that. So if you’re questioning me about that, that’s like question Cheech Marin about that or any other actor for portraying that. It’s acting man. It’s a role.”

Even though he’s made it to the WWF, Guerrero hasn’t forgotten where he’s come from. Six years after the tragic, untimely death of his former tag team partner ‘Love Machine’ Art Barr, Guerrero still thinks about his best friend on a daily basis.

“Everyday that I work I think about him. Days like today, he’s been on my mind maybe because I knew I was going to do an interview. I’ll always think about him. He was a big part of my life for two or three years and he taught me in many ways a lot of things. I saw through him that facials were so important because before I really didn’t believe it. He just opened my eyes in a different way. I hope he’s looking down and smiling on me. If not, then I’ll hear about when I get up there.” (Laughs).