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Reflecting On Eddie Guerrero’s WWE World Title Win

If you hadn’t seen that footage of Vince McMahon, you’d think the preceding event was one big rib on him. No, McMahon was as much part of the jubilation as anyone, as ironic as it may have seemed.

There exists video of McMahon rejoicing with Eddie Guerrero, moments after “Latino Heat” became WWE Champion at the 2004 No Way Out in San Francisco. McMahon’s narrow-eyed grin, the one that accompanies his patented yuk-yuk laugh (to borrow a Bret Hart phrasing), beaconed as much as the glow of accomplishment on Guerrero as the two hugged, an embrace that looked like a perfect fit from the trained eye of the one-shot lens.

That Guerrero, barely 5’8 with an absurdly-volumed musculature to compensate, went over on the 6’3, nearly 300-pound Brock Lesnar to win the title was startling, less in the ‘that wouldn’t happen in real life’ sense, and more in the ‘McMahon would never greenlight that’ matter. Yet, there Guerrero was, leaping into the ringsiders like a Cannibal Corpse stagediver, taking time to share love with mother, Herlinda, and brother Mando, an ex-wrestler himself.

This was no ordinary title change.

Admittedly, that’s a sentence that should never exist with casual spokenness; all title changes should mean something. After all, if someone captures a championship, and it means nothing, then what’s all the play fighting about?

When the likes of Cena and Orton and Helmsley and Edge hit double digits with their title reign totalities, the champions stop mattering. A sense of accomplishment in a fake sport becomes the irony that non-fans would plainly see: champions in a fake sport *shouldn’t* matter, right? After all, it’s fake, and they’re actors in tights, acting out a ballet of brutality for a crowd tasked with suspending disbelief.

When those names rack up reign number seven or eight or nine, up to ten and beyond, few fans believe, ‘Wow, what a decorated champion!’ and more think, ‘He’s champion *again*? Man, they’re running out of ideas.” Generally, the rug-cutting Indian giant and leprechaun that preceded the title change help reinforce this thinking.

Guerrero only reigned once, and once was plenty. In fact, it was all he needed.

In any other context prior to the actual events of No Way Out, the notion that WWE would put Guerrero over juggernaut Lesnar, even with outside shenanigans rearing their way in (indeed, Lesnar’s rival Goldberg and the use of the belt as a weapon figured into the finish), would have been laughable.

Ask a fan in March 2002, just two years prior, if a just-returning-from-rehab Guerrero had Glacier’s chance in Hell of toppling a freshly-debuted, and clearly going places, freak of nature in “The Next Big Thing”. Even Guerrero fans would consider your question absurd. About as absurd as, ‘what should we serve at the party, fruit punch or the grease-trap catchings?’

Then it started to happen: Guerrero caught on with the fans in a way that all of his planchas and headscissors could never resonate. It took broad stereotyping in the form of a low-rider, as well as acts of thievery and scoundrelism, but Guerrero connected with the people.

Fans saw the heroic in his hooliganism, that his creative methods of cheating were lauded for the creativity instead of being vilified for the cheating. Here was not-just-any-other-wrestler, one with a diet that didn’t consist of Generic-O’s and glasses of paint-by-numbers watercolor. This was a wrestler whose style was unlike any other. Oh sure, other performers could fly through the air with similar grace, and a select few could put his precise ‘oomph’ on suplexes and powerbombs. None, however, demonstrated his blend, a crayon of its own shade.

Ten years ago Saturday, Eddie’s fans got to see a the culmination of his comeback, with character renovations that would have been wasted on some flavorless 6’5 stiff from Ohio Valley (whose lone highlights would be found in his hair). Guerrero had become the best kind of WWE star: one whose fanbase consists of those who stood beside him through the winding paths of an imperfect career, and those who joined along the way, embracing the perfected character from its incubation to upright walk.

Few World Championship changes since have produced the heartfelt reaction that Guerrero’s win over Lesnar created. A month later, Chris Benoit satisfied a similar unlikely journey, though real life events scrubbed out its shine.

It was hard to feel that same sense of pride when Cena and Orton and Batista reigned, because they were engineered toward the gold.. Guerrero was a self-made patchwork that created his own opportunity.

Mysterio’s win came close, but the exhilaration was constricted out by the ham-fisted inclusion of our subject, since passed, in Rey’s journey. Forget about Money in the Bank cash-in winners; their triumphs were on par with mugging a corpse.

Many of these men were on top more than once, and the second score never trumps the original. Shawn Michaels said that the first time you win it, it’s real. After that, it stops being real, and just becomes business.

That Eddie reigned just once was indeed plenty. Nothing will diminish the moment, because there can be no second reign. It’s been alleged that, on the day of his death, Guerrero was slated to become World Heavyweight Champion at a rare Sunday night TV taping, while others claim he wasn’t to have won the match. While we all would have preferred not to see Eddie go at the prime age of 38, there lay a small consolation to the fictitious Eddie; his hard-earned standing as a figurative giant never had the chance to be watered down.

As I rewatch Guerrero’s victory over Lesnar, I hear the octave in Michael Cole’s voice hit an operatic shriek. I see Guerrero’s face flush with emotion. Fans celebrate with more raucousness than a put-on clap of respect. The behind-the-scenes footage only adds weight to the genuine happiness at hand.

Eddie Guerrero was good enough to have had a second World Title. I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m glad he didn’t. Nothing on earth could have matched the sheer joy of watching him win the first one.

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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Justin Henry

Justin Henry has been an occasional contributor to Camel Clutch Blog since 2009. His other work can be found at WrestleCrap.com and ColdHardFootballFacts.com. He can be found on Twitter, so give him a follow.

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