By the time Eddie Guerrero finally got his hands on the WWE Championship in 2004, the wrestling era that made him famous, the Attitude Era, had largely passed him by.
The Rock had left for Hollywood and Stone Cold was retiring. Fresh young faces like Randy Orton, John Cena, Rey Mysterio and Brock Lesnar were on the rise as the WWE transitioned to a more family-friendly product. By the time Eddie Guerrero had become champion, lying, cheating, and stealing — what he was known for — was a thing for wrestling past.
At least so we thought. Because the night Eddie Guerrero won the WWE title, the Attitude Era was alive and well for one final night.
To understand why Eddie winning it all was such a feat for fans of wrestling, you must first understand the wrestler himself. Guerrero, or “Latino Heat”, was never the most popular wrestler. In the age of The Rock, Stone Cold, Triple H, The Undertaker, and more, Guerrero was largely an afterthought when it came to competing for major titles. And not only was Guerrero rarely in contention for major titles, but he was also a villain — he was an asshole. After all, his catchphrase was “I Lie! I Cheat! I Steal!”.
Yet despite his lack of title contention and villainous persona, Guerrero was always a fan favorite amongst wrestling fans. His craftiness, creativity and “get-it-done” attitude in the ring combined with his charm and playfulness on the mic made Latino Heat always one of the most endearing characters in the WWE. Guerrero was the perpetual underdog. He was the troublemaker with the heart of gold. He was a fighter.
Which is why Guerrero’s ascension to and conquering of the mountaintop will remain one of the most memorable moments in wrestling history — because he earned it in front of our eyes every step of the way.
And what does Guerrero do immediately after winning? Head into the stands to celebrate with the fans — a move that is unheard of these days.
He kisses his mother at ringside.
Before finally hoisting his nation’s colors and breaking down into tears, a champion:
This is who Eddie Guerrero was and why his death remains so shattering to this day: he was a man of the people, a man of his family, and a man of his nation — he was pride incarnate.
This is why, 12 years later, Guerrero’s death remains a tragedy not only for the world of wrestling but the sports world entirely, as he was an underdog if there ever was on. Simply put: the life of Eddie Guerrero was one of the greatest underdog stories ever told.