4. WWE Tag Team Champion Rey Mysterio vs WWE Tag Team Champion Eddie Guerrero, WrestleMania 21:
This was the first time in WrestleMania history that two co-holders of the Tag Team Titles would face each other one-on-one in a match. Two years later WWE would recycle this gimmick with Shawn Michaels and John Cena in the main event of WrestleMania XXIII and it featured two of the best wrestlers ever. Not just at WrestleMania. Not just in WWE. Ever.
Eddie Guerrero vs Rey Mysterio were no strangers to each other. Nor were they strangers to opening a pay-per-view having torn the house down in one of the most famous and best-received opening matches of all time at WCW’s Hallowe’en Havoc ’97.
Almost eight years later, both were in a different place from then. Eddie had fully adapted to the WWE Main Event style and in fact was not only a master at it but a former WWE Champion. Two years on from his first WrestleMania, Rey had established himself as one of the most consistently popular acts on the roster. It is safe to say these were two of the most over faces in the company at the time.
The story was that Eddie had never beaten Rey. Their rivalry was rekindled on first SmackDown of the year where Eddie lost to Mysterio in one of the best TV matches of the year (but not even the best SmackDown! match of their feud; see their classic from 23rd June 2005. You can thank me later). That match was a friendly affair.
An (extremely) slow-burn heel turn from Eddie started in February, carrying on all the way through WrestleMania, with Eddie getting more and more jealous of Rey’s victories over him and his nephew Chavo Guerrero sticking his nose in their business by pretending to take both sides and just generally stirring it up.
Heading into the night, the majority seemed to think this would be the night ‘Latino Heat’ finally snapped.
The Match: 2005’s ‘WrestleMania Goes Hollywood‘ theme was in full effect as short hair and mustache-era Eddie entered first, driving his lowrider up the red carpet in his Grand Theft Auto themed tee shirt.
Rey is wearing a tracksuit in the colours of the United States (back) and Mexican (front) flags.
Both were amazingly over with the LA crowd.
We get a respectful stare-off to start, as Michael Cole puts over the wrestling heritage of both (Eddie’s father and older brothers; Rey’s uncle). First move of the match is Eddie grabbing a hammerlock, meaning they are starting out scientific. He scores an early near-fall right away with a headlock take-down and keeps control with a wrist-lock but Mysterio flips out of a fireman’s carry take-over, lands on feet and hits a shoulder tackle only to run into a nice deep armdrag in an armbar as Eddie deliberately slows the pace down before Rey can build momentum.
The wrestling here is really fluid as Eddie transitions the armbar into a Greco-Roman knuckle-lock and actually turns that test-of-strength spot into a pinning combination as he racks up three nearfalls with Rey managing to lift his shoulder before finally making his feet – cool legsweep by Eddie brings his smaller opponent back down to earth but Mysterio is able to regain his feet, climb up Eddie’s body into a sunset flip only for ‘Latino Heat’ to roll through and slingshot Rey over the ropes and outside the ring. Looks like they are picking up the pace here. Guerrero tries to follow up with a baseball slide dropkick but Rey slips out of the way and goes for the 619 to the outside which Eddie also avoids.
The crowd liked that one. A big “Eddie! Eddie!” chant which only gets louder as the match progresses. Both these guys were incredibly over here but I’d give the edge to Guerrero in terms of popularity.
Back to the test-of-strength – Mysterio escapes with a monkey flip but somehow Guerrero keeps hold and both nip-up whilst still holding onto the knuckle-lock Eddie transitions into a top wrist-lock, World of Sport-style, but Mysterio powers out into the test-of-strength again. It’s amazing how much they got out of that spot, using the most basic hold in the book to tell a compelling sub-story. Eddie goes for a Northern Lights suplex but Mysterio again lands on his feet and a a criss-cross spot culminates with Rey delivering an inverted monkey flip that sends Guerrero flying half way across the ring. That may have been the biggest bump of the night, which considering this show also contained the first-ever Money in the Bank Ladder match and Kurt Angle and Shawn Michaels trying to one-up each other with crazy selling that is really saying something.
Right from the time he deviated from lucha tradition by becoming the first luchadore to voluntarily unmask (turning heel and forming Los Gringos Locos) one of Guerrero’s strong points were always his facials. At this point in the match he doesn’t look happy but keeps his cool enough to catch Rey coming, backdroping him out of the ring. The masked man holds onto the ropes on the way over and lands on the apron but Eddie levels him with a big right hand sending ‘The Master of the 619’ bumping to the floor. For all the technical wrestling, the is that Guerrero loves to scrap and appropriately it leads to the first sustained advantage anyone has in the match. Guerrero follows up with a plancha
This is where things get interesting because the viewer remembers that for all his technical wrestling prowess and underdog gimmick, Guerrero loved to scrap and at this point was presented as a true heavyweight who could stand toe-to-toe, slug it out with the JBLs and Chris Benoits of this world, whilst Mysterio was still a high-flying underdog. Appropriately it leads to the first sustained advantage anyone has in the match. Guerrero follows up with a plancha, then back inside zeros in on Mysterio’s back with a high back suplex, surfboard, STF, armbar and hammerlock. The implication is that Guerrero wants to win by submission as he smoothly transitions from one submission hold to another with an incredible level of fluidity. Everything he did here looked great and he combines the moves with world-class facial expressions and body language.
Michael Cole: “Eddie’s like a surgeon in the ring.”
Tazz: “Just dissecting Rey Mysterio, submission after submission.”
Of course, All the submissions look great. Mysterio fights his way back turning a powerbomb into a deep armdrag of his own which sends Guerrero reeling outside as ‘The Man of Mystery’ follows up with a baseball slide dropkick and (in the high-spot of the match) a twisting corkscrew plancha onto the red carpet at ringside. Back inside Eddie cuts off this momentum with a high back elbow and goes for the Three Amigos. On this first attempt he hits one, then Mysterio floats over and gets a near-fall with a sneaky O’Connor roll-up Eddie catches him with a high and hard Pedro Morales-style backbreaker for a nearfall so close it causes him to question the ref.
You can feel Guerrero’s tension at this point as he makes a second attempt at the Three Amigos this time getting to two before Mysterio countered into a head-scissors putting Eddie in position for the 619.
Sensing ‘The End is Nigh’, the crowd are on their feet by this point as ‘The Kid From San Diego’ ‘dials one up’ but Eddie ducks and hits a nasty tilt-a-whirl backbreaker. This was a strong contender for move of the night on a night with lots of cool moves. Sufficiently ‘softened up’, third time is the charm as Guerrero finally hits all Three Amigos and goes up top for the Frog Splash only for the crafty little so-and-so to roll out of the way.
This leads into the finishing sequence as Mysterio rolls Guerrero up with La Magistral but before he can even get the ‘one’, Guerrero stacks him up and counters for a crafty near-fall of his own. Rey backflips out of Eddie’s powerbomb attempt, hit a drop-toehold and 619 sending Eddie bumping half way across the ring again. Mysterio tries to follow up with the West Coast Pop but Eddie catches him with that cool hard powerbomb spot he made famous (notably at AAA’s When Worlds Collide 1994 and later in WCW against Rey Mysterio) for two and a half. Eddie can’t believe it.
The finish comes out of nowhere with Mysterio reversing a backbreaker attempt into a hurricanrana. After the match, the two men shook hands.
TheBigBoot’s Post-Match Analysis
Strange as it may sound with the benefit of hindsight, this match was considered a bit of a letdown by a lot of fans at the time.
In the build-up to the event, a lot of observers argued this was going to be the best WrestleMania opening match ever and were disappointed by the (very good) match we got instead. The dangers of high expectations and all that.
That disappointment stemmed from two things. Firstly, for fans who were hoping for a repeat of Hallowe’en Havoc. If you were expecting Splash Mountain Bombs from the top rope being reversed into then this was a very different match. Although technical, it was still worked much more in the WWE heavyweight style and although there was no shortage of moves at times it had a methodical pace.
Secondly, other fans (and no doubt some of the above group as well) thought incorrectly that Eddie would turn heel. As it turned out, deliberately teasing it for months before finally delivering was for the best. Again hindsight being 20-20, it’s easy for me to say that and personally I’m not a fan of rushed-feeling storylines but there’s no denying that a lot of online critics at the time felt Guerrero should have beaten down Mysterio after losing.
The truth is, this wasn’t the best match these two ever had. It was arguably not even the best match of the night but it was the one that told the most cohesive story.
This wasn’t Hallowe’en Havoc ’97. Nor was it intended to be. This was very much a “transitional” match in that it took place in the early stages of a long and was worked accordingly. They gave us exactly what they should have at this whilst still keeping something for later on.
Rather than breaking out a million moves and nearfalls they stick to good scientific wrestling worked around the ongoing story that Eddie needs to prove he can beat his partner/friend, Guerrero plays subtle heel as the match goes on but in the end doesn’t turn to the darkside.
This match contained more mat-wrestling than any WrestleMania opener since a certain match between a pair of brothers eleven years earlier.
The execution was textbook and they worked a solid back and forth babyface match between two tag team partners.
Always in the background is the idea that both know each other like the back of their hand. This leads to some great wrasslin’ storytelling with neither man being able to hit their established moves because of their opponent/tag team partner’s familiarity with them causing them to have to work around all kinds of obstacles to set them up. The main example being the Three Amigos and the 619 where both countered each other’s secondary moves because they knew what they lead to, but both couldn’t resist going back to attempting them because they knew they could yield a result. Then when they finally did hit the, the impact was sold as such that they both desperately countered each other finishers (we which were never actually used).
Prior to that, there is the clever touch of Eddie having to soften Rey up so he could apply the Three Amigos as he sought to break down ‘The Ultimate Underdog’s’ defenses by working on his back. Eddie’s brutal backbreaker variations were great. This match also contained the best use of a Greco-Roman knuckle-lock I’ve seen since ‘The Ultimate Challenge‘ fifteen years earlier.
Sadly, this match would be the last of Eddie Guerrero’s five WrestleMania appearances as he sadly passed away on the following November.