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Posted in: Mr. Tito
On This Day in Pro Wrestling History... 7 Years Ago, Eddie Guerrero Passed Away and Gave WWE "Wellness"
By Mr. Tito
Nov 13, 2012 - 8:47:08 PM

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ON THIS DAY IN PRO WRESTLING HISTORY... 7 years ago, pro wrestling lost one of its most charismatic superstars in Eddie Guerrero. At the young age of 38, Eddie passed away due to "Acute Cardiac Failure" on November 13th, 2005. He was a 1 time WWE Champion, as he was the man to defeat Brock Lesnar at the main event of No Way Out 2004 to end Lesnar's last WWE Title reign and was able to celebrate with his friend Chris Benoit to finish Wrestlemania 20. Guerrero collected many titles in his day aside from his 1 World Championship between his time in WCW and WWE. He was a wrestler who succeeded anywhere he went, be it Japan, ECW, WCW, and later WWE.

His cause of death not withstanding, Eddie was a wrestler who appeared to repeatedly overcome personal demons and adversity to make serveral comebacks in pro wrestling. He returned from a car wreck in 1999 to have a solid return to WCW and later join the likes of Perry Saturn, Chris Benoit, and Dean Malenko (Shane Douglas and Billy Kidman almost joined, reportedly) to help thicken up the WWE roster for 2000. He branched out on his own eventually with "Latino Heat", allowing him to work well as a singles wrestler and was a proud owner of the European Championship. The 1999 car wreck, however, caused Guerrero to develop a dependence on painkillers and was sent to rehab during May 2001. He received his second strike with the WWE by a drunk driving arrest in November 2001 and was soon released.

However, Guerrero returned to the WWE during April 2002 and had an incredible run with the WWE until his death in November 2005. He ended up being a major part of the Smackdown tag scene during 2002-2003, tagging with his nephew Chavo Guerrero to do battle with Kurt Angle/Chris Benoit, Rey Mysterio/Edge, and later, Charlie Haas/Shelton Benjamin. Tag team perfection was had, as the roster churned out repeated 4-star and then some matches. Eddie Guerrero was a major part as to why the Smackdown brand actually outdrew the RAW brand, along with Angle, Benoit, and of course, Brock Lesnar. Those wrestlers were free from the shadows of the Attitude Era that remained on RAW under Paul Heyman's booking. Eddie's popularity grew and grew, so by the end of 2003, a legitimate main event push was on hand.

Eddie won a 15 man Royal Rumble match on a January 2004 episode of Smackdown to earn his shot against then WWE Champion (yes, WWE Champion on the Smackdown roster) Brock Lesnar. During early 2004, there were early signs of Brock Lesnar becoming a disgruntled WWE wrestler and began to consider ways to exit the WWE. WWE management was well aware of Lesnar's unhappiness and Guerrero's timing couldn't be more perfect. At No Way Out 2004, Guerrero defeated Brock Lesnar in a thrilling match. I always enjoy the finish where Guerrero reversed the F5 and drilled Lesnar with a DDT on the WWE Title. Guerrero would go on to successfully defend his WWE Title against Kurt Angle at Wrestlemania 20 and then go on to celebrate with new World Heavyweight Champion Chris Benoit at the end of the show. Considering the long road that Benoit and Guerrero traveled from Japan to ECW to WCW to WWE, it was cause for celebration of their hard work together.

But the celebration last long. After Wrestlemania 20, the Smackdown roster was depleted of big name starpower after Brock Lesnar left and Kurt Angle's neck troubles flared up again... The WWE was desperate to elevate a new heel to the main event scene and pushed a repackaged John "Bradshaw" Layfield (JBL) to the top. A few months later, JBL defeated Eddie Guerrero for the WWE Title and JBL wouldn't relinquish the WWE Title until Wrestlemania 21. For whatever reason, it was reported that WWE officials soon lost interest in Eddie as the "top guy" and preferred to have him within the upper midcard instead. It allowed him to eventually have an incredible midcard feud with Rey Mysterio that many younger fans remember during 2005. After his feud with Mysterio, the WWE gave consideration to Guerrero for the World Championship scene again... But then his untimely death had occurred.

Eddie's death was celebrated with a full blown tribute shows for both RAW and Smackdown. After all, he was a big part of the active roster at the time, a former WWE Champion, and was still a major staple of the Smackdown roster before his death. He was a major part of Smackdown's success, especially from UPN/CW Network's success in more urban areas which gave the WWE a strong Latino following (along with Rey Mysterio). Eddie winning the WWE Championship in 2004 opened the door for future Latino wrestlers to succeed. Better yet, at a short 5'8" height, he opened the door for smaller wrestlers with a big punch to get WWE Championship consideration. Wrestlers who were over and accepted by WWE audiences could no longer be discriminated against for a World Title push, possibly thanks to Guerrero. Rey Mysterio would become World Heavyweight Champion at Wrestlemania 22 during 2006, for example, just shortly after Eddie's death.

Most of all, however, Eddie's death could have helped pave the way for other wrestlers to be saved from the dangerous pro wrestling industry. The bumps, bruises, and the many days on the road can develop a dangerous lifestyle among wrestlers. Eddie had personal issues and it came to light after his November 2005 death that during early 2005, according to Sports Illustrated, Eddie allegedly received HCG and the steroid stanozolol from an Arizona doctor who was under investigation by the Drug Enforcement agency. Possibly sensing the bad publicity regarding Eddie's cause of death at age 38, the WWE proactively acted to start 2006.

Effective Febuary 2006, the WWE implemented the Wellness Program to test their pro wrestlers for recreational and prescription drug abuse. During the late 1990's and the 2000's, the excesses, the pain killer abuse, and performance enhancer use were beginning to cease pro wrestlers before the age of 50. It was slowly becoming a publicity problem for the WWE Corporation, especially when sports writers began to compare the rate of deaths of the pro wrestling industry against that of the National Football League. Eddie Guerrero's death might have served as a wake-up call to the WWE Corporation who had become relaxed in its drug testing since the 1990's. But it's bigger wake-up call was when Eddie Guerrero's friend, Chris Benoit snapped and murdered his family. The performance enhancement substances in Benoit's body, in his house, and then the multiple reports of online pharmacy raids that named other pro wrestlers during the rest of 2007... The Wellness Policy got teeth!

Through today, the Wellness Program is in place and not only regularly suspends pro wrestlers, but also provides rehab services for former WWE superstars. Stephanie McMahon was quoted during an ESPN E60 segment as saying that the WWE pays "6 figures" on former wrestler rehabilitation. Former WWE wrestler, Sean Waltman (X-Pac), has heavily praised the program for being a life saver. Who knows where the WWE Corporation would be without Eddie's 38 year old death possibly scaring the WWE straight?

Eddie's legacy stands as being a great wrestler. Nothing but a great collection of matches spanning from Japan, ECW, WCW, and WWE. He won the WWE Title when the World Championship wasn't as diluted as you see today and put up a great effort against Brock Lesnar to win the title. Guerrero succeeded mostly, in my opinion, at making his opponents look like a million bucks. Almost every feud that Guerrero had a great payoff match. But most of all, Eddie's death caused the WWE to the personal health of wrestlers seriously. Too many greats were lost during the late 1990's and 2000's and it took a former World Champion passing to get the ball rolling. Better late than never.

The person who might have kept Eddie Guerrero together and around longer for us to enjoy, Vickie Guerrero, remains in the WWE for us to enjoy ("Excuse me!"). Behind every great man is a great woman.

I'm Mr. Tito and I approve this message...

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