"Wrestling Declassified" is a series from WrestlingINC.com in which we draw together lesser-known details regarding some of the most noteworthy matches, angles, and stories in pro wrestling history. We'll also include commentary and new information from the men and women of pro wrestling who generously share their reflections for this series. This week, we're looking at the offbeat stakes in a hot WWE rivalry between Rey Mysterio and the late Eddie Guerrero.
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Rey Mysterio's 2005 feud with Eddie Guerrero was the realization of a dream for the two wrestlers. Although they had competed against one another during their time in WCW, both men wanted to chance to steal the show in WWE. But to pull it all off in the 'E, they needed more than name recognition and skill. They needed a compelling back story. Rather than a run-of-the mill jealousy angle or a rivalry for the title, the men looked to stir the kind of drama that can only come through use of behind-the-curtain, real life details as seen through the warped lens of kayfabe.
Eddie kicked off the angle in mid-summer of 2005, announcing that he had a secret about Rey's son, Dominick. Eventually, fans learned that Eddie claimed Dominick as his own son, explaining that he'd fathered the child as the result of a tryst during his wild years. The whole plot became a family affair, featuring appearances by Vickie Guerrero and Rey's wife, Angie.
In his WWE-sanctioned autobiography Rey Mysterio: Behind the Mask (WWE & Pocket Books, 2009), Rey spoke on how the rivalry came to be, giving a great deal of credit to Eddie as well as Dominick. (It's worth noting that Rey spells his son's name as "Dominik" in his book but WWE utilizes the "Dominick" spelling.)
The angle was Eddie's idea. I'm not sure where exactly it came from. There was a somewhat similar storyline back in ECW with Sandman and Raven, with Sandman's son turning on him, though I never really asked if it had inspired Eddie.
My wife and I talked with Dominik about the storyline and what he would have to do—if he wanted to do it. He was on the fence about doing it, I think, until he spoke to Eddie himself.
Eddie smartened him up about what it would involve. I think Eddie talked to him longer than I did. He wanted to make sure Dominik was cool with it.
We had to clear everything with his school and make sure he could do his work when he was on the road.
My wife and I kept saying, You know this isn't real, right? It's just made up."
"Oh yeah, Dad, I know. It's not real."
The storyline played out on SmackDown! as well as in a match at The Great American Bash but the whole angle reached its climax at SummerSlam 2005when the men vied for custody papers in a ladder match. The papers were suspended in a briefcase atop the ring with the stipulation that whoever captured the case won custody permanent of Dominick.
The bout was included on WWE's 2007 DVD set, The Ladder Match. In hindsight, WWE acknowledged the relative weirdness of the story, as Todd Grisham described the situation as a "bizarre scenario" with a "unique stipulation."
Bell to bell, the match lasted 20 minutes and 19 seconds. Dominick was at ringside and both wrestlers' wives appeared on the scene at different points in the evening. Aerial maneuvers and dazzling spots were delivered by both guys in what turned out to be a memorable contest. In retrospect, Rey was happy with the match when he discussed it in Behind the Mask but he did note that they had to do a little thinking on the fly a couple of times that night.
There was one spot we messed up. Eddie was going to do a sunset flip over the ladder, bringing me down so we'd set up a powerbomb. When he pulled me, I didn't let go right away. We missed the bump at the bottom—he hit and then I hit about a second later. But everything else went the way we planned.
Rey went on to explain that some improvisation during the match had put the two wrestlers into a different spot than they'd planned leading to a missed cue to bring out Vickie Guerrero at a decisive point in the match. They were able to correct things and make up for the missed opportunity and eventually Vickie came out for her big spot, dumping Eddie off the ladder.
Rey and Eddie met once more for the final chapter of their feud, with Eddie scoring a victory in a steel cage match at The Great American Bash. From there Eddie made a run at Batista's big gold belt, which was his last major angle before Guerrero passed away on November 13, 2005.
The tricky situation of including Rey's young child as well as Eddie's days of debauchery into an in-ring storyline required a lot of discussion and consideration on the part of WWE staff, the wrestlers and their families. Joe Dombrowski, a longtime wrestling announcer, creative consultant, booker and film producer, spoke to WrestlingINC.com about the decision process that's required when wrestlers mix their personal lives with drama inside the squared circle.
"I would think when you involve elements of that personal of a nature, you have to look at it on a per-case basis," said Dombrowski. "From my experiences, most don't seem to mind infusing some personal matters where it makes sense. In the big picture, it helps everyone, as it infuses an extra layer into the proceedings that people can usually pretty easily emotionally wrap themselves in. The best characters have elements of your real personality anyway, so it's usually not a stretch."
Dombrowski, who produced the acclaimed documentary Finding Zach Gowen about the career and real-life struggles of former WWE talent Zach Gowen, also spoke on his direct experience in working serious and deeply personal details of wrestlers' stories into their work.
"Two guys I've had the pleasure of working with, Zach Gowen and Gregory Iron, have had so much turmoil in their lives: cancer, cerebral palsy, addiction, turbulent home life, et cetera, Dombrowski explained. "Neither of them have ever expressed discomfort about any of that subject matter, however. We told a deeply personal story with the two of them briefly splitting their tag team apart. Zach compared Greg to a cancer, Greg discussed the true story of seeing Zach on WWE TV having inspired Greg to want to be a wrestler, etc. But they embraced it. Ironically, the only hesitation they expressed was to the idea of the match itself in general, which turned out to be far and away the best part of the story!"
Much like the angle involving Dominick, Dombrowski has also included real-life family members into in-ring storytelling.
"We had a story several years earlier also involving Greg, that included Greg's then-eleven year old brother," Joe recalled. "You have to be very careful when you involve people who are not generally within our business. As instinctive and natural as it is for those of us within wrestling to grasp the timing and concepts, you need to be a lot more careful in making sure everything is organized as smoothly as possible. Not to mention, those family or friends may not "get" the wrestler's mentality, so while a wrestler is willing to infuse some pretty heavy stuff for the sake of the overall presentation, people on the outside may not "get" that. So, not only do you need to take extra care in the layout and execution of everything, but also to make sure everyone is on the same page. it's not an easy process, but when it works it can absolutely add a major positive element to what's transpiring."
It's always a delicate balance when wrestlers blur the lines between in-ring entertainment and life behind the curtain. WCW and the original ECW attempted it with varying degrees of success. Promoters even did it back in the territory days, including the circumstances surrounding Sonny King's mid-1980s comeback after suffering a harrowing knife attack outside of a wrestling show.(King used his compelling story as momentum for a run at Jerry Lawler's title but—spoiler alert—he didn't win).
The question of whether or not WWE told a great story with regard to the angle featuring Dominick is one that fans will undoubtedly decide based on their respective individual preferences. There were some awkward and cringe-worthy facets of the spectacle, for sure. But there were tremendous moments in the feud and it ultimately occupies an important spot in the pro wrestling canon as one of the last great exhibitions of Eddie Guerrero's skills and talent.