Aside from Bruno Sammartino and Tito Santana, there aren’t many wrestlers who can say they enjoyed a decade-plus run in WWE without once turning heel. Sure, Rey Mysterio was booed more out of fan annoyance than genuine hatred (Eddie-sploitation, being the 30th entrant in the 2014 Rumble instead of Daniel Bryan), but Mysterio was the consummate pro: a man who broke new barriers for undersized high flyers as oftentimes the most exciting performer on a given show. His runs in ECW and WCW set the stage for a lengthy stay in WWE, land of the giants, where he broke the glass ceiling several times though his daring leaps and well-honed underdog persona.
Going through Mysterio’s long run with WWE turns up the expected stockpile of captivating matches, boasting the sorts of dives, jumps, and crashes that explain a timeline of knee surgeries that has cruelly been mocked by armchair sloths each time he goes on the DL. In between those sideline stints, here are Mysterio’s ten best matches under the WWE banner.
Not even in the upper echelon of greatest Rumbles (1990, 1992, 2001, 2004), but needs to be on this list for two obvious reasons: Mysterio breaking the longevity mark (1:02:12, a record that still stand today), and actually winning the match itself. Mysterio’s entire 2006 became a sour blur of him almost literally becoming the late Eddie Guerrero in his quest for, and run with, the World Heavyweight Title, and his co-opting of Guerrero’s low-rider prior to the match reeks of button-mash pandering (moreso when we saw where the story went). Still, his endurance was most impressive, and the ending with him overcoming Triple H and Randy Orton to win was quite satisfying.
9. vs. Kurt Angle (SummerSlam, 08/25/02)
From the time the Filthy Animals faded into oblivion to Mysterio’s WWE debut, it seemed fans had forgotten just how special this athlete truly was. Upon his debut for the company at age 27, Mysterio reminded everyone of his world-class agility and precision, wowing Smackdown crowds en route to the SummerSlam bout with Angle, who famously called him a 12-year-old boy out of anger. Angle and Mysterio kicked off the greatest SummerSlam of all time with a bout laden with innovative counter-attacks and high-impact wrestling, what you’d expect from both in their primes. Angle won by countering a rana into the Ankle Lock, but what was packed into nine minutes was something else.
8. vs. Dolph Ziggler (SummerSlam, 08/23/09)
Mysterio’s fireball presence makes him a natural show-opener, and he would open SummerSlam four times in his career. This Intercontinental Title defense against a then-untested Ziggler was thought to either to be a formula win for Rey, or a way to get the belt on an unproven developmental call-up in order to falsely justify him to a too-hip-for-that audience. Mysterio did win, and in the process used the twelve minutes to piece together a sleeper of a bout, exchanging heart-pounding near-falls down the stretch. If you’re looking for the moment where Ziggler began turning heads, look to this match here. Mysterio did what he does best, elevating the guys he works with.
7. vs. Eddie Guerrero (Judgment Day, 05/22/05)
The 2005 feud with a soon-to-depart Guerrero started out enjoyable enough, rooted in a haunted Guerrero finding himself unable to cleanly defeat his good friend. It degenerated into a farcical custody storyline in which Eddie claimed to have helped inseminate Rey’s wife in creating son Dominick (and you thought PG-WWE was bad), but this B-show match did without that silliness. Continuing the original story, Guerrero threw everything including the metaphorical kitchen sink at Mysterio, and still couldn’t beat him. Interference from nephew Chavo still can’t close the deal, and Mysterio just about wins until Eddie blasts him with a steel chair. For once, a DQ finish didn’t even feel cheap – it just reinforced the angle that Guerrero couldn’t beat Mysterio.
6. vs. Eddie Guerrero (Smackdown, 03/16/04)
Times sure were different one year earlier – Guerrero was WWE Champion and Mysterio the on-again/off-again Cruiserweight Champion (off at this point). Mysterio won a gauntlet series earlier in the night, earning an immediate shot at Guerrero’s title, and damned if this match wasn’t Smackdown’s best in a dreary 2004 for the brand. The action is literally non-stop save for some arm-work in the earlier stages, and is only a couple shades off of their Halloween Havoc 1997 all-timer. Guerrero avoided the Dime-Drop, and cradled Mysterio to retain the gold after a wild near-twenty minutes of duration, and ended up being the apex of Guerrero’s doomed title reign.
5. with Billy Kidman, vs. The World’s Greatest Tag Team (Vengeance, 07/27/03)
Perhaps the most underrated WWE PPV ever (this match along with Benoit vs. Guerrero, Cena vs. Undertaker, and Lesnar vs. Angle vs. Show), Vengeance was a snapshot of what Smackdown in 2003 was: a bold and fresh alternative to the one-note wankfest Raw had become (Smackdown’s only hindrance: wretched McMahon involvement). Mysterio and ex-Animal comrade Kidman took on Charlie Haas and Shelton Benjamin for the Tag Team Championship, and were given fifteen minutes to put together a lost tag team classic in an era rife with them. Haas and Benjamin retained with a modified Doomsday Device on Mysterio, but not before the faces teased the crowd to its nerves with a near victory.
4. with Edge, vs. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle (Smackdown, 11/05/02)
Frequent use of the “Smackdown Six” (these four plus Los Guerreros) in interchangeable bouts left the brand new Tag Team Titles ripe to be watered down. This ended up basically true, even if it gave us these classic matches. Sixteen days after Angle and Benoit got the gold, they lost the belts in a two-out-of-three falls match to Mysterio and Edge in a sadly-overlooked encounter. Benoit was pinned to end the first, and Edge tapped to Angle to even it up. The third fall seemingly ended with a Mysterio victory roll, but Angle being in the ropes led to a restart. Mysterio blasts Angle with a 619 on the floor (using the ringpost as a wraparound point), and Edge spears Angle after nearly a half-hour to capture the titles.
3. vs. Chris Jericho (The Bash, 06/28/09)
Long before Cody Rhodes and Dean Ambrose made all-too-plain their intentions to restore legitimacy to the IC Title, here were Mysterio and Jericho doing just that, understated in words, explicit in action. Jericho had just won the belt three weeks prior at Extreme Rules, and Mysterio put his mask on the line for the rematch. Crowd was living and dying on a million and one crazy counters, including Mysterio escaping a torture rack with an intricate DDT. Jericho, who made his obsession with Rey’s mask clear, ripped it off, only for there to be a second one underneath. Mysterio won shortly thereafter, culminating a feud that was an oasis in a desert that was WWE’s 2009 in decline.
Shortly after the earlier-mentioned sleeper epic with Ziggler, it was announced that Mysterio would be out for thirty days after testing dirty in the company’s Wellness Policy. On the way out, Mysterio would have to drop his Intercontinental Title to someone, and rising babyface star Morrison (no stranger to the situation, given his passing the ECW Title to CM Punk two years earlier under the same circumstances) would receive the torch. If the match was an attempt to rehabilitate his image in light of the bad news, Mysterio made the match count, taking up almost a quarter of TV time in a hyper-driven babyface clash, losing clean as a sheet to Starship Pain.
1. with Edge, vs. Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle (No Mercy, 10/20/02)
The tournament final for the new WWE Tag Team Championship was hailed as 2002’s match of the year by many outlets (it’s neck and neck with Shawn Michaels’ comeback against Triple H for me), and its string of crisp sequence after crisp sequence makes it hard to argue against. You know WWE has high hopes for a match when there’s two heat segments, one each for Mysterio and Edge to play hero-in-peril, paid off with multiple near falls in the homestretch. Angle made Edge submit to the ankle lock to close out the lengthy battle, with Wrestling Observer, Pro Wrestling Torch, and RSPW each selecting the match as the best of 2002.