More often than not, our society marks an anniversary as a positive event, a day to celebrate something we take joy in remembering. There are exceptions though, more somber times when we recall things or people we’ve lost.
For wrestling fans, today falls into the latter category. It was exactly one year ago when Eddie Guerrero was found dead in his Minneapolis hotel room. At the time of his passing, the wrestling world came together to pay tribute to his life and his career. What’s clear on this anniversary is that his absence is still being felt.
Obviously, Smackdown is a much different show without Guerrero on the roster. Various reports circulating a year ago suggested that Eddie was scheduled to win his first World Heavyweight title, which would have given the WWE a number of possible feuds to propel the show, which had switched to Friday nights in the U.S. just a few months earlier. Instead, Guerrero’s death was the first of a number of hits to a talent pool already perilously short on star power.
But the WWE hasn’t let Guerrero’s memory fade away, using his name liberally on Smackdown over the past year. Certainly, it’s impossible to consider Rey Mysterio’s push, which included his Royal Rumble victory and his World Heavyweight Championship title win at WrestleMania 22, without recalling how he dedicated the run to his fallen friend. Critics have taken shots at the WWE for exploiting Eddie’s tragedy, but watching the very real emotion shown by Mysterio over the past 12 months, it’s tough to believe he would have willingly gone along with an angle if it was simply an attempt to cash in. One thing’s for sure: Rey would gladly trade his title run for another day with Eddie.
Eventually, Mysterio and others close to Guerrero will have to move on, and in that respect the WWE hasn’t been as successful. Had Rey simply dropped his title to Booker T, he would have paid his respects to his friend and gone on to his next challenge. Instead, Chavo Guerrero interfered and began a seemingly endless feud over who was doing the best job building on Eddie’s legacy. When Eddie’s widow Vickie became an active participant in the storyline, you started to understand where the critics were coming from. Now Chris Benoit has been drawn into the fray as well, and you have to wonder when enough is enough.
I’m not suggesting that the WWE never gets it right. Today on WWE.com, there are a pair of videos with Chavo, Ken Kennedy and Dean Malenko all sharing their thoughts on the anniversary. The company is also offering Eddie’s final match for free online, which seems like a fitting tribute. It would be great to see even more free content, either through the website or through WWE 24/7, as it would give fans the opportunity to see the man doing what he does best one more time.
It would also be a real positive for the business if Guerrero’s legacy was reflected in the form of more Latino champions down the road. We’ve already seen Eddie, Rey and Chavo wear various titles, and TNA has the L.A.X., so that’s a good start. There are still plenty more Latino wrestlers out there in various promotions and lots of fans for them to represent. If anything, Eddie Guerrero stood out as an example of how hard work and determination in the face of obstacles — even if you construct some of them for yourself — really does pay off in the end. To honor that example and see it rewarded would be the best tribute wrestlers of all races and backgrounds could pay.
As for my own memorial to Guerrero, I simply looked back to the words I wrote in this space a year ago tomorrow and found everything I needed:
“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. ”
Those words are as true now as they were when I first typed them. This particular anniversary may seem like a sad one, but that doesn’t have to be the case. One year later, the shock has subsided and the tragedy has lingered, but the appreciation we feel for the career and the impact of Eddie Guerrero can continue to grow for this and many more anniversaries to come.