Lucha Tributes: Chavo Guerrero Sr.
On February 11, 2017, the wrestling world was struck a blow when Chavo Guerrero Sr. passed away from liver cancer. I’ve decided to honor him the only way I know how; with a Lucha Tribute. So if you have the time, spare a few minutes, sit back, and enjoy a look at the career of the man many remember as the one Chavo Classic.
What You Already Know
If nothing else, Chavo Guerrero Sr. will always be remembered for three things. First, he’s the older brother of Eddie Guerrero, the lucha libre/American wrestling icon who is considered to be one of the greatest that ever lived. Second, he’s the father of Chavo Guerrero Jr., the highly respectable wrestling veteran who has been a key component to WCW, WWE, and Lucha Underground in a career spanning over 20 years. Third, and most importantly, he was a WWE superstar known as Chavo Classic. Originally brought in to add more heat to the Eddie-Chavo feud in 2004, Guerrero caught on with WWE audiences as the older, craftier, and funnier version of his son. The two would go on to form a popular but less successful version of the Los Guerreros unit, teaming regularly for a few months with Chavo Classic trying to help his son win the Cruiserweight Championship. The angle culminated in a triple threat match between Classic, Chavo, and Spike Dudley for the title and saw Classic “accidentally” pin his son to win the Cruiserweight Title from him (this was especially funny when you remember that Eddie “accidentally” won the Intercontinental Championship from Chyna a few years back, in similar fashion). It looks as though there may have been plans for a father vs. son match, but ultimately the angle was dropped after Classic lost the championship to Rey Mysterio a month later and was subsequently let go by WWE.
What You Didn’t Know
The history of the Guerrero Family is complex, largely because most contemporary wrestling fans believe it to be Eddie and a bunch of people that weren’t as good as Eddie. That couldn’t be further from the truth, starting with Eddie’s father Salvador “Gory” Guerrero. The patriarch of the Guerrero Family is arguably one of the greatest stars in the history of lucha libre, known for his innovation of many wrestling moves (including the Gory Special and the Camel Clutch) and his legendary tag team with El Santo, La Pareja Atómica (The Atomic Pair). Despite his ties to lucha libre and Mexico, Gory would eventually settle down in El Paso, Texas, giving him access to promote shows both in El Paso (where he served as a promoter for the Funks) and Ciudad Juarez. It was in El Paso that Salvador “Chavo” Guerrero III would be born on January 7th, 1949, the first of six children Gory and Herlinda would go on to have.
Chavo would train with his father (as would all the Guerrero boys) and made his debut in 1970 in El Paso under the name Gory Guerrero Jr. But success didn’t come for Chavo quickly, mainly because he was busy elsewhere. Like his brothers would later be, Chavo was an accomplished amateur wrestler, so accomplished that he actually was able to earn a scholarship with the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) in the late 60s. After graduation, he remained within the amateur confines, settling down in El Paso to serve as a school teacher and a high school wrestling coach. As such, there wasn’t much time for pro wrestling; Chavo would work the odd show for his father here and there, but he primarily focused on his teaching and coaching, wrestling only during the summer months. In fact, it wasn’t until a summer stint for Championship Wrestling in Florida in 1974 (where Chavo worked as an opening act performer) that anyone in wrestling knew who Chavo Guerrero was, let alone how good he was.
As it turns out though the stint in Florida was all Chavo needed to get noticed. Despite his short stature (Chavo was 5’9 and 190 lbs at the time), Chavo’s excellent wrestling ability and charisma caught the eye of the head honchos at NWA Hollywood Wrestling. And I mean he really caught their eye; not only did NWA Hollywood want Chavo to come work for them; they wanted him to come in pushed heavily from the start. Keep in mind that at this point Chavo, despite his training and ability, was an opening act wrestler who only worked a couple months out of the year due to his teaching and coaching commitments. Because Chavo Guerrero was no fool, he accepted the offer and moved himself and his family to Los Angeles in 1975. The gamble paid off; for the next five years Chavo wasn’t just a top star for NWA Hollywood but THE top star, winning the NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship 17 times, the NWA Americas Tag Team Championships 11 times (with ten different partners, including his father) and the NWA World Light Heavyweight Championship 2 times (the same title his father had once held a decade earlier). His California run was legendary that it got him the small role of “Indian Joe” in the Henry Winkler film The One and Only, and would later be immortalized in the song you just listened to, “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” by indie rockers The Mountain Goats.
While NWA Hollywood was where Chavo would have his greatest success, it was also where he’d have his greatest feud with a young Canadian wrestler named Roddy Piper. Yes, that Roddy Piper. Having only worked a few Canadian indies and the AWA as enhancement talent, Piper was a far cry from the man he’d become in WWE and WCW when he arrived in Los Angeles around the same time Chavo did. What many don’t realize is that LA is where Piper would find his groove, becoming one of the most hated heels in the LA area by putting down NWA Hollywood’s largely Hispanic fan base every chance he got. This made him the logical rival for Chavo and the two would wage battle for years, trading the NWA Americas Heavyweight Championship several times and even the NWA World Light Heavyweight Title on a few occasions. Chavo would eventually defeat Piper in a hair match and then a loser leaves town match, leading to Piper adopting “The Masked Canadian” gimmick. Piper’s secret identity would lead to a brief alliance between the two and they would actually have one reign as NWA Americas Tag Team Champions together. Naturally that reign was short and the two resumed feuding immediately. Ironically enough while Piper would eventually be unmasked by a Guerrero it wasn’t Chavo; his younger brother Hector would get the honor. Despite their onscreen animosity Piper and Chavo were close in real life, often riding motorcycles together in their free time. In the years after both recognized the rivalry as some of their best work, and for Piper it served as the beginning of a run that would lead to him becoming one of the most recognized and beloved professional wrestlers of all time. Thus if you ever wanted to know how Piper became Piper, know it began with Chavo Guerrero.
In between his success in California, Chavo also found success in Japan. He began touring in the Far East in 1978 for New Japan, immediately catching on as a standout Juniors Division performer. His primary rival in Japan was future WWE Hall of Famer Tatsumi Fujinami, although Chavo would go on to battle with the likes of Mike Graham, Steve Keirn, Kengo Kimura, Kuniaki Kobayashi, fellow luchadors Sangre Chicana, Canek, El Solitario, and even legends like Andre the Giant (who Chavo teamed with occasionally) and Dusty Rhodes. His eight year run in Japan for both New Japan and All Japan Pro Wrestling was largely successful and he’s considered to have been one of the top juniors in Japan in the era prior to the rise of Jushin Thunder Liger, the original Tiger Mask, and the Dynamite Kid. In a way, you could say that Chavo’s Japan run summed up both the best and worst aspects of his career. For his time he was a legend; unfortunately his time was immediately followed by guys contemporary fans remember far better.
The reason for that? After NWA Hollywood closed its doors in the early 80s, Chavo’s profile slowly but surely declined. He continued to get work, having stints in Mexico, Mid Atlantic, World Class Wrestling in Texas, the AWA in Minnesota, Bill Watt’s UWF, and many other NWA promotions during the 80s (he also had a brief house show run with WWE around this time). But strangely his push in all these territories was never higher than midcard, opener, or tag team role with his brothers. Regardless of where he went, Chavo would never get another chance to be a headliner for the rest of his career, save for a special one off show or two. As it turns out many promoters still looked at the 5’9 Chavo as someone too small to be a huge draw, despite the fact that he had been one of the biggest draws in California during the late 70s. And we wonder why wrestling goes through ebbs and flows like it does. So even as Chavo continued to churn out good to great work during the 80’s, the loss of a high profile spot in a promotion led to him slipping through the cracks and in many instances being forgotten. It’s not hard to see why Chavo could’ve become bitter as some would claim; he put in so much great work between NWA Hollywood and Japan during the mid 70s to mid 80s and in the end the only thing he’s remembered for a brief run in WWE years past his prime. The wrestling business, and wrestling fans, is a cruel beast at times.
To his credit though, Chavo never stopped working. He was active throughout the nineties, picking up work in Mexico (he worked CMLL, AAA, and UWA at various times); Japan and even a few WCW house show matches (though he never appeared on TV). Those who think his WWE run was the end would also be mistaken; he worked as the stunt coordinator for the Wrestling Society X pilot, working one off shows for AAA and PWG and doing work for the Viva La Lucha pilot. He was even still wrestling a couple months prior to his death, doing one last show for All Japan on November 27th, 2016 where he teamed with Tajiri, Último Dragon, and Dory Funk Jr. to win an Atomicos Match (his last match, a trios match, took place a day later for the Tokyo Gurentai promotion). The most notable moment of Chavo’s later years however was a recent appearance on Lucha Underground, where he played a key role in a feud between his son and Rey Mysterio Jr. Realizing LU wasn’t big enough for him and Chavo Jr., Rey sought Chavo Sr.’s blessing in ridding Chavo Jr. from the Temple, which was (reluctantly) granted. Chavo Sr. would then appear during the Loser Leaves Lucha match between the two, betraying Rey by hitting his son with a chair and getting Rey DQ’d and seemingly kicked out of the Temple. Unfortunately for both Chavo’s, Dario Cueto stepped in and restarted the match, and Rey ultimately picked up the win and sent both Chavo Sr. and Jr. packing. In retrospect, it was a very fitting last TV appearance for Chavo, who went out the Guerrero way; lying, cheating, and stealing. Well, almost stealing; Rey did win after all.
I would love nothing more than to show you some of the best stuff from the feud between Chavo and Roddy Piper. Unfortunately, most of the best work isn’t online; instead there’s one promo that isn’t Chavo’s finest work (a lot of tripping over his words), a match where Piper starts out brawling with Chavo and then lets someone else fight instead and…yeah that’s pretty much it. So instead I’ll show you a quick promo between the two where they nearly come to blows. Even at 50 seconds it's well worth your time to see some old school Piper and if you want to see some of the other stuff online, all you need to do is type in “Chavo Guerrero Roddy Piper” on YouTube and you’re in business. I’ll also leave you the Rey-Chavo Jr. Lucha Underground match Chavo was heavily involved in. It’s a lot simpler than I’d like it to be and all, but it's an important moments of his career. It's a highly entertaining moment and easily accessible unlike some of Chavo’s best work.
As awesome as a lot of us are, even the best of wrestling fans can be fickle and at times close minded. We get so wrapped up in our favorite styles, promotions or wrestlers that we easily forget there’s a whole bunch of other worlds out there that deserve our attention and our acclaim. Chavo Guerrero Sr. got lost in that other world. He had all the tools; he was a charismatic worker with in ring ability ahead of his time, who drew big houses in one of the biggest markets in America and wrestled all over the world. If you give him the same success in the right promotion or the right era then he’s considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. Instead his mainstream wrestling exposure ultimately paints him as “Chavo Jr.’s father” or “Eddie’s brother”; those are part of the package yes, but it doesn’t tell you the full story. Hopefully some of what I’ve shared with you here has given you a glimpse of who Chavo Guerrero was as a wrestler. If nothing else I think we can all agree on this; he was one hell of a performer, he deserved a better shake than what he got and much like his more famous brother, there will never be another one out there like Chavo Guerrero. Goodbye Chavo; may we carry you in our hearts and souls and fists.
That’s a wrap folks. Join me in sending your deepest condolences to the friends and family of Chavo Guerrero Sr.