Full Book Review: Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story

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November 13, 2005: I was at a friends house preparing to watch a TNA PPV that Sunday night on his pirated satellite feed. I had just worked a Saturday 12pm-12am shift, followed by a Sunday 9am-4:30pm shift. I had not had time yet to surf the interweb for wrestling news, as was, and still is, a pastime of sorts for myself. We had just finished getting our pizzas and alcoholic liquid refreshments for the evening at around 7pm when I decided to check the computer for news heading into that TNA PPV, Genesis 2005. I was shocked and saddened when I got to my first site. Eddie Guerrero, apparently, had died.

My first reaction was disbelief. This was Eddie Guerrero, the man who had overcome seemingly insurmountable demons to become one of the WWE’s top drawing competitors. This was a man who had overcome unbelievable drug and alcohol issues to reform his life and reclaim his legacy. This was a man who had become a man of the cloth of sorts, a man of tremendous spiritual faith. He had conquered his demons and was at the pinnacle of his profession. How could he POSSIBLY be dead? It was a gut shot of the worst sort, a total low blow by the God’s of Humanity. How could you possibly take someone who rightfully should have died numerous times over, when he was in the throes of drug related depravity, at a time when he seemingly had gotten his life sorted out? I was in total denial, even when the TNA Genesis PPV opened with a tribute to Eddie. Needless to say, I don’t remember any of that PPV. I was too distracted. I was still in denial. The following evening, I had to work a 5pm-10pm shift (the wonderful world of the restaurant business). I was the acting manager in charge that night, but I had a sort of understudy there: a manager in training. The guy was a total loss, just one of the worst management candidates I ever laid my eyes upon, but that made no difference to me. Finishing my shift at ten o’clock that Monday meant missing the beginning of Raw. I needed to see it, NEEDED to see it. It was the first step of the grieving process. I left the jabroni manager in training in charge of my shift at roughly 8:57pm that night and scurried over to the bar adjacent to my place of employment. The place, as always, was empty. Perfect. No one would question my choice of programming. I turned to Raw, and what followed was perhaps the most gut wrenching few minutes I have ever seen on a wrestling program, and also probably the single best video package the WWE production staff has ever put together. Bar none.

I am a jaded, cynical man. I am also, as an Italian man, born and bred, not prone to show too much emotion, besides rage. I openly cried that night watching that. All out balled out. Hell, just watching that video now, over seven years later, I was almost driven to tears. I share that life experience just to show what Eddie Guerrero meant to my wrestling fandom. There was never quite a man before him, and certainly none after.

Eddie Guerrero’s book, Cheating Death, Stealing Life, was something I avoided for years. Not because I didn’t feel that it would be a compelling story. I was just too emotionally scarred. It was published shortly after Eddie’s untimely demise on that bathroom stool. And you are reminded of that before the posthumous words of the performer are even heard, as Vince McMahon writes a touching memoriam to begin the book. Viva La Raza.

Eddie Guerrero was preordained to be a pro wrestler, if for nothing else than bloodlines. But it was a struggle ever step of the way. Eddie was the youngest son to Mexican wrestling legend Gory Guerrero. All of his older brothers became wrestlers, and Eddie felt the pressure to follow in their footsteps. In the earlier portions of the book, the most illuminating thing that is brought to light is Eddie’s difficult relationship with his brother Chavo (Classic). Considering how it all ended for Eddie, its almost damning to Chavo (Classic) , especially as Eddie got Chavo (you get it) a job with WWE, only for Chavo to piss it away due to substance abuse.

I will say this: Simply put, I believe this to be one of the finer instances of a ghostwriter capturing the spirit of his subject. The book comes off as total Eddie. And that is a great thing.

Eddie started at a very young age wrestling, and from day one seemed to be a natural. Growing up, his best friend was his nephew, of all things, Chavito, Chavo Guerrero Jr. The two would horse around in the ring during intermissions of shows Eddie’s father or brothers would be performing on. Eddie eventually cut his teeth in Mexican promotions, not doing much of note. He did receive a WCW try out match in 1989, at the behest of Terry Funk. Funk made Guerrero look great in a squash match.

The Guerrero name helped Eddie land some overseas gigs in Japan as Black Tiger, but soon he didn’t need any sort of legacy treatment. He was fast becoming one of the best pure wrestlers in the world. In Japan, he met and befriended the two men who would become his best buds and traveling and wrestling life partners: Chris Benoit and Dean Malenko. Those guys would end up having many epic, memorable matches. In fact…

In 1995, Guerrero ended up debuting in Paul Heyman’s ECW. It was supposed to be Eddie and his Mexican tag partner Art Barr, Los Gringos Locos, who were a PHENOMENAL tag team that drew crazy pesos in Mexico. Unfortunately, Art Barr became the first, of many, drug deaths in pro wrestling. Eddie, himself no stranger to drugs at this point, was devastated, but money and opportunity awaited. Eddie won the ECW TV title in his first match from 2 Cold Scorpio, and went on to have a memorable series of wrestling clinics with Dean Malenko over the title. These were some of the finest series of matches seen in the United States since the 1989 Steamboat-Flair matches, and were a huge hit with tape traders in the mid 90’s. (Myself included.)

Eventually, Eddie (then spelled EDDY) became too big of a fish for ECW’s then small pond. WCW came calling, and Eddie jumped, with Benoit and Malenko. The three became the backbone of the WCW undercard, providing great matches while the NWO headlined. Eddie, ever the perfectionist, was dismayed by WCW’s “Indian Caste System” with talent. Essentially, your level on the card did not exceed your paygrade, no matter how over you may get yourself. Eddie started as a virtuous babyface, but soon turned to the role he was born to play: vicious heel, or rudo. And if you were not around to see it, my god, was Eddie ever a great heel. He was so convincing in that role, it was scary. Eddie could naturally portray both a good guy and a villain, but he was just truly amazing as a heel during his 1997-98 WCW run.

Naturally, WCW had no seeming use for him. They gave him the LWO angle, which, by force of sheer will power, he got somewhat over. He had a match for the ages with Rey Mysterio Jr. at Halloween Havoc 1997. The most profound thing in Eddie’s book is his description of Kevin Nash, who he describes as “THE DEVIL. ” My word. But his career was not advancing where someone of Eddie’s talent should have gotten him. I was there that he really fell off a cliff, into the abyss of drug and alcohol abuse. Eddie pulls no punches in this regard in his book. He was a mess, and makes no bones about it. GHB, liquor, pain pills. He did them all, which lead to his car wreck on New Year’s Day 1999. All for the want of some eggs, Eddie, under the influence of a litany of substances, drove recklessly towards a local convenience store, only to wreck his car and wreck his body in a horrific car crash that left him all but for the dead. He recovered, miraculously, but doctors feared he would never wrestle again, at least not for a year.

He was back in six weeks.

WCW as per usual dropped the ball with the good angle gifted them: Eddie returning from near death to continue his career. I can’t say I blame them all that much, because this was when Eddie REALLY amped up the drug dosages. Listen, I am a recovering addict myself, and even I am humbled, Iron Sheik style, on what Eddie was doing. Eddie stumbled along for a few months until his friends, Benoit, Malenko, and Perry Saturn, had had enough, and jumped to WWE.

Eddie went with them, and had an inauspicious beginning. He grotesquely broke his arm in his first match. He eventually came back, and his career would never be the same. He was paired with Chyna, and became “Latino Heat” Eddie and Chyna were one of the WWF’s hottest midcard acts until Chyna got herself turfed from the promotion, while Eddie was still comfortably sedated on a litany of prescription pharmaceuticals.

Benoit and Malenko finally had enough of Eddie trying to destroy himself, and ratted him out to then VP of Talent for WWE, Jim Ross. Eddie had to go to rehab. After two aborted attempts, Eddie was fired. It didn’t help that after one night of one rehab he got all loaded up and tried to ram the fence of the gated community he lived in. Eddie was spiraling out of control, and this book is amazingly candid in that regard. Eddie needed help, and eventually got it, through WWE sponsored rehab, which he completed right around the time the Twin Towers were falling. He was no longer under WWE contract, so he wrestled for a few independents, including Ring Of Honor. Most were expecting him to fall on his face, but he didn’t. He was a model recoveree. Hell, he let people like Lo-Ki beat him on the indy scene, just to show he was recovered and ready for a second run with WWE. The book details his spiritual revival, in great detail, and his career renaissance. Eddie did get rehired by WWE, and made guys like Edge and RVD look like stars of the future through his efforts. Eddie was born again, and it was refreshing to watch, especially as Eddie was a once in a lifetime performer the likes we rarely see in wrestling. Eddie was truly a reborn man who was having the best matches of his life, while simultaneously experiencing a rebirth outside of the ring.

All of this culminated with No Way Out 2004, as Eddie was set to challenge WWE Champion Brock Lesnar for his strap. Yeah, I said it, STRAP. Honestly, I was a huge Guerrero mark at that time, but did not see him winning the title. Brock then, as he is portrayed now, was a monster, an unbeatable entity. It seemed a fait accompli that he would defend that title against Goldberg at WrestleMania 20. Little did we know the off screen rumblings. Eddie defeated Brock that night in one of the most satisfying matches of this fan’s life following the game. Not HHH. Even more satisfying was the Kurt Angle-Eddie Guerrero match at WrestleMania XX. Many deem the Three-Way match with HHH, HBK, and Benoit one of the finest of all time, and I am not one to pick nits. That match was incredible. But Angle-Eddie on that same card was one of the finest WWE Championship matches I have ever seen, completely different to any “WWE Main Event Style” matches you saw during that epoch. It was a fantastic match that is completely overlooked in light of that match, but what cannot be overlooked was the celebration following the match: Benoit and Eddie embracing in one of the most heartfelt embraces wrestling has ever seen. In light of the Benoit debacle of June 2007, I can see how this memory is tainted. But in 2004, with these two guys, best friends, the two best performers in the industry, it was AMAZING.

Eddie’s book pretty much ends here, with him admitting more or less that he was not ready to carry the WWE torch. It was passed to JBL in short order, because Eddie felt on the verge of relapse, which is provided in this book. I only wish Eddie would have lived a little longer. And by that I mean a LOT longer. Eddie Guerrero is a talent you find once in a lifetime. A Mike Trout or Bryce Harper, to use a baseball analogy. We were blessed with Eddie and Chris Benoit. And as inauspiciously as those two men’s lives ended up, we should thank the good lord above for the privilege of being present for the culmination of their lives work.

In short, Eddie Guerrero’s bio is excellent. I would recommend it to any fan of the mat game. Read it and, if you did not live through it, experience it with the man who lived and died it. R.I.P. Eddy. We all miss you.

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One thought on “Full Book Review: Cheating Death, Stealing Life: The Eddie Guerrero Story

  1. First off I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question that I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your head before writing. I’ve had a difficult time clearing my
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