Holy cow, I am so excited for this. I wanted to choose a chapter from the book “My Favorite Match” and analyze that match for you. I did it for Cody Rhodes’ chapter back in the summer – his favorite match was at Summerslam as part of Legacy vs. DX (though he tweeted in response to my column that he’s got a new favorite match!). I was going to choose Mark Henry’s chapter, in light of his recent wig-splitting on Raw (his fave match: the Casket Match vs. The Undertaker at WM 22). But this chapter was a lot more thrilling to read, and a match that’s been seen by far fewer people.
As soon as I read the chapter, I could hardly wait to search for the match on YouTube. I was thrilled to find that WWE has posted the full-length version of it – and it looks better than when I would have watched it on the old CRT television back in 1997 (though I don’t think I’ve seen this match).
First, I have to tell you what got me so excited. Yes, it’s Eddie and Rey-Rey, who were like brothers in all the ways that mattered. And they’re in their prime here: at 30 years old, Eddie is a finely-tuned wrestling machine, and Rey (at only 23, but having already been wrestling for 9 years) is almost injury-free at this point (he had his first knee surgery a few months after this match). So without telling you anything else, all you need to know is Guerrero/Mysterio 1997 and be excited.
But the more I learn about Rey Mysterio, the more I realize what a special person he is. I developed a greater appreciation for him recently, when I reviewed The Life of a Masked Man DVD. He was as soft-spoken and passionate about wrestling as one would expect, given his history and the way he conducts himself in the ring. He was also simply eloquent, if that makes sense – it’s not like he used fancy words, but he expressed himself so well, with such economy. I have a lot of admiration for people who can do that. And his reverence for Eddie is not the sort that’s manufactured because someone’s passed away (when so many get automatically sainted). Their bond was so strong, they got to create great matches together, and this is the one Rey chose.
I’d heard him talk about the build to this match in a podcast, because it was a very unsettling time in his career. According to Rey, Eric Bischoff was basically on a power trip, trying to assert himself as an authority figure. He decided that Rey should be unmasked, failing to appreciate the meaning of it (or at least, feeling insecure enough to sacrifice the mask for his own benefit). Trust me, if you hear Rey’s story about that mask, being passed down from his uncle and the symbolism related to it, you’d want to MacGyver-up a time machine and go back to 1997 so that you could kick Bischoff in the wiener for even thinking such a thing. You may want to go do it in the present day too, your choice.
And I don’t know if I’m reading too much into it, but Rey mentions that his ring gear for this match was very special to him as well. Designed in Japan, it was based on The Phantom comic book character and had Rey’s newborn son Dominik’s name subtly airbrushed on the back. Rey says that he actually has the outfit framed and hopes to pass it down through the generations as a souvenir. Well, The Phantom was a hero born centuries ago, who vowed to fight crime after his father was killed by pirates. The Phantom legacy is passed on from father to son, and the present-day incarnation is the 21st Phantom… Rey wrestled as “Rey Mysterio Jr.” in WCW to indicate his descent from Rey Misterio, his uncle who trained him and passed down his mask. Rey was told that he would lose the match, and be unmasked at Halloween Havoc – and I wonder if that’s why he chose to design a Phantom costume, a nod to preserving his legacy and his son being born. I’m not into comic books, I had to look up The Phantom, but it blew my mind. That’s the kind of romance I love in wrestling.
Rey’s chapter in “My Favorite Match” also stands out because he highlights specific moves from the match. Given his wrestling style, it stands to reason that innovative high spots would hold greater meaning to him, and he and Eddie made magic. “I was able to do moves with Eddie that I’ve never been able to do with anybody else, that’s how special our chemistry was.” He goes into great detail on four brilliant sequences from the match: a suicide dive that turned into Rey giving Eddie a Frankensteiner on the floor, a variation on the 619, a backflip DDT (!) and the match’s finishing sequence. This brings us full circle to me being super excited to watch.
I love the Halloween Havoc sets and the always-vaguely-familiar music of WCW. Huge nostalgic pop! Eddie Guerrero is at his greasiest, sneering best, such a perfect counter to Rey who epitomizes the noble warrior. Eddie could practically conduct the crowd like a symphony, such was his power. And there is no way to do a play-by-play of this match for you, because it flows non-stop from move to move. They almost move like water. My GOD, Eddie possesses the perfect mix of speed, agility, and strength. He’s quick and inventive but strikes like a sniper. And Rey looks so small but in the best way, because it enables him to move well without looking like his size is a detriment.
I am reminded of how suplexes used to punctuate wrestling matches so much more. And Eddie gives Rey a tilt-a-whirl backbreaker that looks simply effortless. I’ll bet that would be considered creative by today’s standards, but blends seamlessly into the Cruiserweight repertoire of 1997. A golden era, for sure, and represented quite well by the announce team (Dusty Rhodes, Tony Shiavone, and Bobby Heenan): they don’t fool around talking about anything other than what’s happening in the ring and what it means to Eddie and Rey. And props to WCW for not shying away from wrestling history that took place outside of WCW. The omissions and revisionist history in WWE is infuriating and insulting.
Whoa, yeah that backflip DDT is so beautiful, as is the lead-up to it, during which time Rey had no plans to finish with that DDT. When you see how quickly it happens, and know that Rey only decided to do it as it was happening, well damn. DAMN. In the book, he recounts how he and Eddie looked at each other as if to say, “What the f-ck was that! That was awesome!” How often do best friends get to accomplish something like that together?
Soon thereafter, Eddie is really ripping away at Rey’s mask, which creates a bold visual. Rey’s pristine costume now has a gaping flaw across the face, where we can see the panicked look in his eyes. Shortly thereafter, Rey turns a Gory Special into a sweet arm drag, showing that he hasn’t lost an ounce of smooth despite having his mask askew. But Rey never gets much offense in before Eddie is back on him, really cementing Eddie as a villain with the upper hand. It is a classic match structure that Ricky Steamboat refers to when talking about his epic series with Ric Flair. Holy crap! Eddie goes for a low drop-kick on Rey who’s upside down in the corner. At the very last second, Rey gets out of the way and Eddie ends up crotching himself on the ring post. Honestly, I’ve never seen a fake-out succeed with such speed and precision like that.
And yes, that variation on the 619 is pretty neat too. Rey says it wasn’t called the 619 at that point, and I certainly prefer the way this was set up (Eddie wasn’t lying chest-down on the middle rope waiting for it, which drives me crazy these days). The sequence that follows is also amazing, and Shiavone comments that it’s a shame one of these men will come out the loser tonight. The finish is not ruined for me even though Rey describes it in the book. Eddie goes for a Razor’s Edge with Rey on the top turnbuckle – when Rey gets high enough up on Eddie’s back, he somehow turns it into a Frankensteiner for the pin. Like the rest of the match, it happens quickly and organically, without losing any of its edge.
I had very high expectations going into this match, and they were surpassed by Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio. And you know what else was cool about it? The fans cheered for all the high spots, they booed at Eddie, and chanted “Eddie sucks” a few times. They were present, but not distracting. I never realized how much I missed a regular crowd that wasn’t spending their collective time trying to out-entertain the wrestlers. I also appreciated that Eddie and Rey were able to wrestle this match without any interference. When Rey arrived at the arena that day, he was told that the plans had changed. He would no longer be losing his mask, and would in fact be winning the Cruiserweight Title. Who knows why Bischoff changed his mind, but thank goodness he did. This match would have been completely different if Eddie was going to be winning it.
I hope you enjoy watching it! And when you’re done, please leave some Comments below, and follow me on twitter @kickyhick. Thank you for reading!