One of the biggest challenges of writing a weekly column is that you can sit down to type with an idea in your head and get totally blindsided by something else going on in the world of wrestling. That’s certainly the case for me, as I just heard about the tragic passing of Eddie Guerrero.
With a great fan tribute already underway here at SLAM! Wrestling and some more veteran writers ready to weigh in soon, I’m not sure how much I can add, but I feel like I would be remiss not to share a few thoughts on this sad and shocking news.
My first exposure to Eddie’s work came way back when I started out as the WCW Nitro reporter for this site. He stood out to me right away through the quality of his in-ring work, and really seemed to have the dual talents of being able to pull off cool-looking moves and believably sell his opponent’s moves. His versatility made him capable of having good matches with cruiserweights and heavyweights alike, and I felt like he had the personality to be higher up the card. It took a move to WWE to do it, but as we know now, that was definitely the case.
Many people are correctly pointing to Eddie’s title win against Brock Lesnar at No Way Out 2004 as a significant milestone, but for me personally, his victory over Kurt Angle at WrestleMania XX shines even more. It’s not because it was his best match — it probably wasn’t even his best match with Angle. It just seemed to vindicate all the hard work that Guerrero put in, all the obstacles that he fought through, that he was given the chance to shine on wrestling’s biggest stage. The fact that long-time friend Chris Benoit got a similar opportunity on the same night made it even more special.
Now that Eddie has become the latest wrestler to be taken from us at an unnaturally young age, I find myself thinking two things. The first is that, like an artist whose work goes on to find its largest audience after his or her death, the true measure of Guerrero’s talent will live on even after he’s gone. The word “great” is overused in our society, but Eddie’s combination of physical skill and psychology made him a great professional wrestler, a trait that wasn’t always appreciated during his career. It will be now, and that might be the lone silver lining to his sudden departure.
My second thought is hoping that the autopsy reveals that drugs and alcohol played no part in Eddie’s death. For a man who worked so hard to overcome those problems and had been clean for years by all accounts, to succumb to them at the end would add an unnecessarily cruel twist to an already tragic story. I join fans everywhere in praying that this is not the case. Rest in peace, Eddie. You certainly deserve it.
My original idea for this week’s column came to me while I was listening to a program on ESPN radio a couple of days ago. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was one of the guests that day, and one of the things he brought up is that he doesn’t feel that the salaries of his players should be the subject of public discussion. The hosts disagreed for the most part, pointing out that the increased off-season coverage of all sports has a lot to do with money matters, and contract talk is here to stay, for better or worse.
That might not seem like it has a lot to do with professional wrestling, but bear with me. Back in the ’80s, when I first got into wrestling as a young lad, kayfabe reigned supreme, and the thought of discussing a wrestler’s contract status was unthinkable. Sure, performers still came and went, but it wasn’t like if someone left the NWA, the whole world would be buzzing wondering if that same guy would show up at the next AWA show. Of course, it helped that the internet hadn’t been invented just yet.
Everyone knows that’s not the case today. A surely as the talk in the sports world has focused ad nauseum over the past few weeks on the fate of Terrell Owens, just as surely did the eyes of the wrestling world turn to TNA on Sunday night to see if Christian — make that Christian Cage, now, if you please — would make an appearance at Genesis after apparently saying “no thanks” to the WWE’s most recent contract offer. It seems pretty clear that while it may not have saturated wrestling the same way it has the “real” sports, speculation about contract status, free agents and the like are realities for fans of the grappling game from here on out.
It’s certainly debatable whether this is a negative or positive development, but it’s interesting to note that even Vince McMahon seems to have caught on to the idea that a certain segment of the population is fascinated by this kind of stuff. How else could you explain the WWE website deeming a story about Brock Lesnar simply meeting with company officials to negotiate his return a newsworthy item earlier this year? If you can sift through storyline related garbage like “Lillian Garcia Heartbroken,” you’ll find that the fed often runs briefs on people signing or thinking about signing contracts, though usually not while said contracts are still being hammered out. And coming from the company’s own website, it helps to take these news releases with a generous helping of salt.
So now I’m wondering why Vince doesn’t just take it to the next level. While he might have been loathe to let the details of who’s getting paid what get out in the past, this is a new day, and might call for a different approach. I’m not suggesting that every dime made by every performer be made public, but letting a little more light shine through on the contract process might help folks understand why someone like Christian saw more opportunity somewhere else instead of assuming (as many people do) that the WWE just gave him an offer so low that he felt like he had to leave. Vince is all about the spin, and this seems like an easy way to help spin things for the WWE in a more positive light.
Heck, it might even get some more of the so-called mainstream media coverage that McMahon constantly craves. Just something to think about the next time you’re wondering how much your favorite wrestler is getting paid.