I’m not usually a fan of legacy or tribute acts. I’m a strong believer in the idea that one cannot step into the same river twice, and while it’s good to recognize the past, attempts to relive it are doomed to fail.

The recent reintroduction of the Latino World Order (lWo) now under WWE has me thinking. The stable originated in World Championship Wrestling at the suggestion of Eric Bischoff’s friend and WCW quasi-executive Jason Hervey. It had a brief run, led by the late Eddie Guerrero. Hervey came up with the idea as a mockery of the New World Order stable, which had been very popular but was starting to show its age. The lWo was formed in late 1998 as Eddie Guerero’s popularity grew and he took issue with WCW head Eric Bischoff’s management. The stable was initially planned as a vehicle for fellow AAA alumnus Konnan, but he wound up joining the nWo’s cooler ‘Wolfpac” offshoot instead with a Mexican gangster character.

WCW’s lWo.

In August of 1998, Guerrero gave a shoot interview where he said he wanted out of WCW. He would return in October, forming the lWo with most of WCW’s Mexican wrestlers, nearly all of whom were badly underused. Despite banding together their single biggest feud was with one of the few luchadores to break out into American popularity, Rey Mysterio (Jr). who set himself apart by refusing to join the group, though he eventually would come on board. The stable would effectively dissolve by January 1999 following Eddie’s injuries in a car accident and the reformation of the nWo, which ran off most of WCW’s luchadores. Mysterio would be the last lWo member standing and would be programmed into a bigger feud against the Outsiders alongside Konnan.

The current version materialized in Spring 2023 as the backup to Rey Mysterio during his feud with his son Dominik and Judgment Day. Today, the Latino World Order appears on SmackDown under the leadership of reluctant OG Rey Mysterio. It currently consists of Mysterio and Legado del Fantasma (Santos Escobar, Cruz Del Toro, Joaquin Wilde and Zelina Vega).

My gut instinct when writing about the current lWo was to potshot the differences between it and the original, which was meant to capitalize on Eddie Guerrero’s emerging popularity. It was also a way to draw a bunch of luchadores into the English-speaking orbit of Guerrero and Mysterio, where before they were largely left to fight each other or get squashed by American talent. With the exception of Guerrero and Mysterio, who were both born in the US, the rest of the lWo came from Mexico. They could put on dazzling acrobatic matches, but suffered in WCW between the presumed language barrier, the fact that most (with exceptions like La Parka or Hector Garza) were smaller than the Americans on the roster at a time when size mattered (though Guerrero and Mysterio were in the process of changing that), and difficulties blending the athletic lucha libre style with the slower pace of American matches…and maybe some of the attitudes held by WCW wrestlers and executives didn’t help either.

Joaquin Wilde at the WWE Road to WrestleMania show at the Coca-Cola Coliseum in Toronto, Ontario, on Saturday, March 4, 2023. Photo by Steve Argintaru, Twitter: @stevetsn

The current version of the lWo reuses the Mexican Flag’s colors and has adopted music that pays tribute to Guerrero, but its membership is considerably more diverse. Mysterio is still Mexican-American. Escobar (who played King Cuerno in Lucha Underground) and Del Toro are from Mexico. Wilde (Impact’s Zema Ion/DJZ) claims Filipino heritage, while Vega is American, and of Puerto Rican descent. Whether it’s permanent or not, WWE has issued shirts featuring the Puerto Rican flag in advance of this Saturday’s pay-per-view on the island.

It’s a silly point if you think about it. It is disingenuous to cry foul over cultural appropriation in pro wrestling. I’ve written whole columns about fake Russians, and the group is called the “Latino World Order”, not the “Mexican World Order” but, it speaks to a failure of imagination within WWE and in wrestling in general.

Pro wrestling’s biggest American stages have often featured Latinx talent but failed to integrate them into the main roster in a meaningful way. There are historical exceptions. As a Northeastern regional promotion, the WWWF played to Puerto Rican audiences by having Pedro Morales beat Ivan Koloff for the World Championship. He would hold it for 1027 days and is only now at risk of being bumped down the list of long-term champions by Roman Reigns. Morales would have a paper run with the tag team championship alongside Bob Backlund and two lengthy Intercontinental title reigns, making him the first Triple Crown Champion. Bret Hart would join him 20 years later before those floodgates would open and the likes of JBL or the Miz would join the club. Tito Santana was billed from Tocula Mexico (which doesn’t actually exist). He was American-born but reinforced his ethnic identity by wearing a sombrero on his trunks and shouting “Arriba!” at the crowd. Wrestling fans might bristle today, but in the ’80s that passed for inclusion, and Santana would be popular enough to have a pair of runs with the tag team and Intercontinental championships. He was rumored to be waiting in the wings for a World Championship run if anything had happened to Hulk Hogan or Bret Hart (though the likes of Bruce Prichard have minimized those rumors; apparently multiple wrestlers were always in the mix for a title run…many are called, few are chosen).

La Parka.

WCW’s luchadores were mostly cannon fodder. La Parka had a brief run where his lack of English was openly mocked when he was dubbed during promos alongside Kaz Hayashi. El Dandy’s WCW tenure is notable because he was name-checked by US Champion Bret Hart, who was trying to duck more worthwhile challenges. WWE’s track record isn’t much better. Konnan was cast as all-time WrestleCrap bait Max Moon. He walked after two months and went on to greater success elsewhere. Super Crazy, Psicosis and Juventud Guerrera dressed up as gardeners and rode lawnmowers to the ring as the Mexicools in the 2000s. Eddie’s nephew Chavo would debut a character named “Kerwin White” who explicitly rejected his Hispanic background-it was offensive and quickly shelved following Eddie’s death. Lucha House Party (which featured performers from multiple backgrounds) brought pinatas to the ring within the last few years.

WWE has tried to recreate Eddie and Rey’s magic repeatedly: Andrade Cien Almas, Sin Cara (both of them), Kalisto, Lince Dorado, Gran Metalik, Angel Garza and Humberto Carrillo would often spend months feuding with Rey Mysterio and each other, and otherwise be squashed in syndication or internet-only shows. Alberto del Rio received the closest thing to a Guerrero-level push, likely because he spoke English well and was big enough to pose an interesting physical matchup to most WWE wrestlers. He collected a few WWE world titles, though never held them long-and also had runs in Lucha Underground and Impact…he might have been the exception to the rule and an heir to Mysterio and Guerrero, but for alleged substance abuse and domestic violence issues which have played out publicly. Even then, his runs on top were brief and like the others listed above he spent much of his time fighting with the few other luchadores on the roster or staying at home.

So maybe the current lWo is a chance to get Latinx representation right in American pro wrestling. Perhaps broadening membership to include other countries captures the spirit of Eddie Guerrero’s group and gives more stars the chance to shine (not the Shining Stars, though. The Colons have their own deal). As my friend Elliott might say, it’s not meant to be a literal revival but a chance to expand the brand and promote a more representative stable to a larger audience.

Chavo Guerrero Jr. at The Asylum WrestleBash ’22 on Saturday, August 20, 2022, at the Police Athletic League in Parsippany, New Jersey. Photo by George Tahinos, https://georgetahinos.smugmug.com

Eddie’s absence is keenly felt, and some including Chavo Guerrero Jr. may feel that a new lWo is feeding off Eddie’s memory, but to borrow from the music world there are lots of bands who lost key members, took a pause, and carried on with new people-sometimes picking up where the original left off, sometimes bringing it to new heights. Van Halen released albums with Sammy Hagar replacing David Lee Roth. INXS turned former lead singer Michael Hutchence’s death into a reality competition. Chicago’s lead guitarist Terry Kath accidentally shot himself to death in 1978 and the band plays on. Journey frontman Steve Perry left the band acrimoniously. They found a soundalike and are more popular than ever as new generations of fans discovered their music on TV shows like The Sopranos and Stranger Things. Guns ‘n’ Roses went through a messy split with lead singer Axl Rose-they’ve since reconciled but in the meantime, we got an alternate universe band playing Chinese Democracy and the underrated Velvet Revolver featuring ex-Stone Temple Pilot Scott Weiland (that run would also be truncated). Alice in Chains replaced Layne Stayley following his death and released a pretty good album “Black Gives Way to Blue” with Jerry Cantrell singing lead.

I can go on, but in some respects, it seems like the continued success and artistic value of these bands, or in other entertainment fields, lies in embracing the legacy rather than the lineage (full props to Elliott Silverstein for that line. Brother’s a poet).

For that reason, the lWo is a great opportunity. Moreover, like Judgment Day or the OC, the lWo now includes a female member, which I think opens up storyline possibilities and advances the cause of representation in pro wrestling. I will always say that is a good thing; a more diverse roster that includes more women in meaningful roles expands the in-show ‘universe’ and helps draw a broader audience. My seven-year-old daughter might not relate to musclebound dudes like Roman Reigns or Brock Lesnar or Bobby Lashley, but she is captivated by the likes of Becky Lynch, Bayley, and Bianca Belair. Her favourite is Alexa Bliss because Alexa comes to the ring with a doll, Lily

WWE has its share of luchadores on the roster but has trouble finding a place to showcase their abilities. Original lWo member Hector Garza has two nephews on the WWE roster-Humberto Carrillo and Angel Garza have spent the last while teaming as Los Lotharios, but their biggest platform was a WrestleMania Smackdown loss to then-intercontinental champion Ricochet last year. Repackaged, they would bring an interesting dynamic to the group. WWE also recently signed Dragon Lee, who is part of his own family dynasty, and if he gets comfortable in front of American audiences has Rey Mysterio-level acrobatic skills. Ricochet has had his own challenges on the main roster. He’s currently booked in a tag team with Braun Strowman and doesn’t come from the same background as most original lWo members, but he was the focal point of Lucha Underground as Prince Puma and worked a tremendous series of matches opposite Santos Escobar back in the day.

Prince Puma.

I’m not a fan of how stables based on racialized notions of identity lump wrestlers into a single group ‘just because’ of their Latinx heritage. We don’t reflexively label the Four Horsemen a bunch of white guys, though that’s implicit…but wrestling promoters are often lazy and easily lulled into stereotypes.

The New Day and Hurt Business lean into the similar experiences of their members as Black professional wrestlers. The Nation of Domination initially failed as a motley collection of thugs under Farooq’s leadership but became must-see television when Crush and Savio Vega were replaced by D-Lo Brown, Kama Mustafa, Mark Henry and The Rock (and Ahmed Johnson for a hot minute). In the storyline, this version of Nation was explicitly a response to the racism its’ members experienced as part of the WWF. They were positioned as heels, but like all great villains, one could see the merit in their arguments, especially when programmed into racially charged angles with the Hart Foundation and D-Generation X. The latter program featured Triple H and Company performing in blackface. As babyfaces.

Over time the Nation shifted its focus. Admitting Rocky Maivia into its ranks meant they had to soften the racial component of their act since Maivia had been openly acknowledged as half-Samoan. Owen Hart joined later, disaffected by the events of Survivor Series 1997, but the stable was so influential that to this day it seems that any remotely successful grouping of Black talent immediately draws comparisons to the Nation.

The implosion of the original Nation also begat Los Boricuas-a Puerto Rican offshoot, and the borderline white supremacist biker squad (including an alleged actual white supremacist or two) Disciples of Apocalypse. The Disciples hung around for a while, even after their original leader Crush left…and continued through Skull and 8 Ball’s run as a tag team-including a vaguely homophobic gimmick paired up with Brian Christopher and Scott (2 Hotty) Taylor as a pre-Too Cool Too Much. Los Boricuas were mostly lost to history.

Roman Reigns (Universal Champion), the Usos and Paul Heyman at WrestleMania 38 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Sunday, April 3, 2022. WWE photo

Today, the practice continues. The Bloodline may feature members of an extended family but their Samoan heritage is front and center. Special Counsel Paul Heyman never refers to current WWE Undisputed Universal Champion Roman Reigns without calling him the “Tribal Chief”. Jimmy and Jey are called the Usos- “Uce” comes from the Samoan word uso, and is used when a man addresses another man as his brother or a woman addresses another woman as her sister. Sami Zayn’s run alongside the stable was rooted in his ‘otherness’ as outside the family and its culture. He would become sympathetic as he tried harder and harder to fit in, winning the group’s members over but never truly belonging. One of the key moments in that story arc was Zayn’s coining of the term “ucey” which somehow captured his desire to belong and the futility of the effort.

Part of what made the Bloodline-Zayn dynamic work was how it called out the audience’s discomfort when ‘one of these things does not belong’, and perhaps our recognition of where that discomfort might come from. It’s one thing to put a group together on the basis of racial identity. It feels like another thing when that identity feels misleading beyond the usual pyro and ballyhoo.

In any case, I don’t think I’d love to watch a stable led by Paul Heyman and made up of MJF, Colt Cabana, Drew Gulak, Goldberg and Barry Horowitz if there was only one reason for their alliance.

Actually, that would be awesome.

However broadly a Latinx group is framed, there’s precedent. TNA used a pan-Latino group in the Latin-American X Change, which included Konnan, Hernandez and Homicide…and their successor Mexican America even featured the future Zelina Vega. AEW lifted a later version of LAX in the team of Santana and Ortiz-Proud and Powerful. AEW has hired a number of luchadores including the Lucha Brothers, Kommander, El Hijo del Vikingo, Bandido, Andrade and Rush. They’re still often programmed against each other but AEW’s more action-focused, wrestling-first product gives them a chance to show their stuff, and a wider variety of opponents including top-tier wrestlers like Kenny Omega, who can hang with them. AEW may be taking a page from Ring of Honor’s playbook, where Latinx wrestlers like Homicide, Bandido and Rush all had world championship runs. It’s an easier spot for talents with limited English skills since a good manager can take care of most of the talking.

AEW’s emphasis on action gives these talents a better chance to breathe and interact with the rest of the roster. It helps that AEW has also signed several former American Lucha Underground talents who can help bridge the gap between the Mexican style and American audiences-like AR Fox, Swerve Strickland and Brian Cage.

LAX (Hernandez & Homicide) in Ring of Honor. Photo by George Tahinos, georgetahinos.smugmug.com

And if it all really doesn’t work, I’m begging an enterprising promoter to revive my absolute favorite pro wrestling promotion ever…

Lucha Underground.

(To be continued…)