The second generation wrestler is not a new phenomenon, but as these numbers continue to grow, it seems like a good time to look at just at which families may very well be wrestling royalty. What we mean by that term, are clans that have at least reached the third generation, have had multiple competitors per generation and show signs that wrestling lineage will continue for years to come. With that being the criteria (and with all due respect to many of the other great wrestling families) there are three names that we found synonymous with the term “wrestling royalty”; The Harts of Calgary, the Anoa’I (The Samoan Clan) family and the Guerreros out of Texas.
The patriarch of the latter was Salvador Guerrero who for decades was one of the biggest stars in Mexico. Adopting the name “Gory” Guerrero in reference to his vicious wrestling style, Gory would draw the ire of Mexican wrestling fans who flocked to arenas in hope that Gory would lose to their heroes. He was easily the top heel of his day in Mexico and arguably was the first heel superstar in Mexico. Despite his bloodthirsty persona, he was a technical innovator in the ring and is credited for developing many wrestling maneuvers that remain staples of the ring decades later. Like many of the great wrestlers, Gory Guerrero would give back and go on to train others. It was especially easy for him to do that as he had four sons; all of which would become stars in the wrestling industry.
His oldest son is Chavo Guerrero who the first to try to follow the large shadow cast by his father. Like his brothers did after him, Chavo was able to meet the expectations of being the son of Gory Guerrero and became a top performer where ever he competed. We had the opportunity to chat with the man who if affectionately known now as “Chavo Classic” about being the son of a legend, competing as a headliner, working with his brothers and the adversity he faced on his road to stardom.
After this interview, it was very clear that we did not just interview a wrestler; we interviewed a son, a father, a Mexican American, an athlete, but most of all we interviewed a Guerrero. We learned quickly that it was interviewing a Guerrero that was the greatest honor of all.
Regardless of what industry you are going in to, be it in athletics or even accounting, when you are following in the footsteps as someone as successful as your father, does that make you want to follow his path that much more, or was their pressure to become a wrestler, or was this something that never entered into the equation?
“Well my dad never said you guys have to be wrestlers. Like Fritz Von Erich did with some of his kids. With my dad, if we said we wanted to be wrestlers, he would say “all right, but I am going to be your trainer”. Now, he was a big legend like you said; probably the best wrestler to come out of Mexico, and my uncle was a wrestler too. We never wanted to be Superman or Batman or the Lone Ranger in my era, we wanted to be wrestlers. My dad had a gym in Mexico and he would take us with him to the gym. We didn’t learn drop kicks right away, like they do today. He didn’t teach us how to fall, he taught us tumbling, put your head in. Naturally, the first thing you hit in most moves is your head. You have to learn when you are in the air to keep your chin into your chest because that will protect your head. We would do a lot of basic exercises. We would learn a lot of amateur wrestling. I also wrestled in high school and at college at the University of Texas-El Paso. I even became a wrestling coach for several years, but all this time I was striving to reach my goal which was professional wrestling.
To answer the second half of your question was it harder for me? Yeah, people would say that you are a wrestler because of your father; it was easy for you to get in. We may have been booked because of my dad, but it wasn’t easy as other wrestlers really put it to us. Those wrestlers couldn’t beat my dad, so then they would come after me. And if they couldn’t beat me, they would go after Mando and so on and so on and I think Eddie got the worst of it. But it all made us better wrestlers because we had so much passion and to this day we still do. This business is part of the Guerrero name. You heard of the Flying Wallendas, we were the Wrestling Guerreros. The only ones that didn’t take up wrestling were my sisters, and I am sure they wrestle with their husbands! (laughs).
Bottom line is we never got forced into the business. My dad taught is all well. That is why still keep going today. At the age of 62 can I still out perform many of these wrestlers today. If you learn things the right way, you don’t have to do things twice. It is all about practice, practice, practice. At my age you can imagine how many times I did a fireman’s carry, or a takedown or an arm drag or a back drop or drop kick, but our dad taught us the right way. I used to be a diver and when I was learning I wanted to do a flip off the top rope, my dad did not say just do it. It is different landing in water. He put a harness on me. You have to protect your ankles; you have to protect your knees. Everything was done correctly and that is why we all became successful. The more time you put into something, the better you become.”
Now your dad wrestled primarily as a heel, was that because he was born in the United States?
“No, he wrestled as a heel in Mexico but was a babyface in the United States. He was a rough wrestler and he played well as a heel in Mexico, but the Latin community in the States wanted to the cheer for him. He was one of the first Spanish wrestlers, and they need someone to cheer. That’s just the way it was.”
As someone coming up, you began in a time when there was a lot of Hispanic wrestling fans, but not necessarily Hispanic wrestling stars. Behind the scenes did you face a lot of racial issues because of this?
“Oh my God yes. I am the darkest of the Guerreros and I mean by pigmentation. I love the sun, and in the summer, I really get dark. Even in grade school I remember an instance in North Carolina we went to the swimming pool where we lived. I mean, we lived one year here, six months there. We were like gypsies because at time you had the territories, but there always work. Anyways, we were in North Carolina at the time and I was with Mando, and he has a lighter complexion than me. They said to us he (Mando) can come in to the swimming pool but you can’t. I went home, and I couldn’t understand it at the time. This was like third or fourth grade. I went home and my dad said where is your brother, you were supposed to take care of him? Long story short, my dad went there and made a big stink out of it and I got in to the pool. When I got there, I did a high dive into the pool. When I got into the water, all of these kids who I thought were my friends surrounded me and said there is a N*****r in the pool. I didn’t understand it then, I looked around wondering where he was. I said where is he, and they all said it’s you.
When I finally got into wrestling, I wasn’t a big guy maybe 190 pounds soaking wet and they would tie me up and down. But by this time, I was at the right place in the right time. Satellite TV came into all these Hispanic places, and I was just happy to be there; often the only Mexican. But I was also bilingual. A lot of people did not want to put me over. They looked at me as too small but many promotions needed someone like me as there just wasn’t enough Hispanic wrestlers at the time. After a while, I just realized, if you don’t like me, just look the other way.”
Would you say you faced an equal prejudice for your size as your race?
“Well, at the beginning for my size, but once they saw they could draw money with me they would work with me because I sold tickets.”
In prepping for this interview, I read that it was a dream of yours to team with your father, which was something that you did get to do. You also said that you always felt somewhat in the shadow of Gory. With that said, in the NWA Hollywood territory, you established yourself as the top draw there for I believe a five year period. Did this make you feel that you truly made it on your own?
“Well, there will only ever be one Gory Guerrero. There will only ever be one Roddy Piper. There will only ever be one Chavo Guerrero Sr.. There is only ever one original. At first, people would say to me that you are good but you are not as good as your dad. I was proud at first, but you question yourself when you hear that a lot. When I got to L.A., I started taping the matches. Back then it was reel to reel, I was able to really see myself in the ring. I saw that I was good and I could convince myself that I was a good wrestler. Little by little I kept getting better. Sure, I could compare myself to my dad, but we are different. You have to compare to yourself. Everybody has their own style.”
In that timeframe, that is when you wrestled some of the biggest names in the industry. Terry Funk, Dory Funk Jr., Harley Race…
“I am the only one in one year who wrestled five world champions. It was Dory, Terry, Harley Race, Nick Bockwinkel and Superstar Billy Graham. This was all at the Olympic, because they would usually come through Japan. They were all very nice to me, they taught me a lot. I would just shut up and listen. Little by little, I would become what we call a general in the ring, where you call the matches. It wouldn’t matter if you worked with a tomato; you made that tomato look good. You give people their money’s worth, and you convince them to come back again. I learned a lot then, when you wrestle the best and you have an open mind you can’t help but learn.”
It is interesting to hear you say that. About two weeks ago, I was watching the WWE produced documentary on Roddy Piper where he credited you for putting him on the map and helping to teach him the next steps of the business.
“Again, Roddy was at the right place at the right time. Roddy was a boxer, he wasn’t a wrestler, and we wrestled every damn day for three years. We had so many matches. I used to lead him, but we did every match you could think of. We had to, we had to fill those seats up. I learned a lot from Roddy myself. I am really honored that he said that. He was open to what I said. We became great buddies. He remains one of my dear friends to this day.”
That is nice to hear. Again, prior to this interview I was doing research and was amazed how many times you wrestled Roddy at the Olympic. It wasn’t just his name coming up; many others came up over and over again.
“Yeah, they made Roddy work. He was a wrestler, he was a manager, he was Mr. Mexico, he was the Canadian….”
Piper wrestled as Mr. Mexico?
“Yeah, at one time he was Mr. Mexico #3 or #4. Roddy was in every match. They abused his character, but he made it. He was so good on the mike, he still is.”
You competed a lot in Japan which was a completely different style.
“Tighter, you have to be tighter in Japan.”
You had a lot of matches with legends over there too, many with Tatsumi Fujinami.
“One of the best fights of my life. I just watched it the other day on YouTube.”
(Laughs) I was watching that an hour ago.
“My timing was good. I was leading Fujinami. If you know anything about wrestling he messed up a couple of times and I was able to cover it up, I was on track then, I was probably in the best shape of my life.”
You must still have quite the following in Japan, your fan page is based in Japan isn’t it?
“Yes it is. Some Japanese guy wanted to do it for me. He does a damn good job.”
(The site link is http://www.geocities.co.jp/Colosseum-Athene/1956/11.html)
It is a great reference site for your career.
“They have stuff on it I didn’t know I had! Everything I want them to put on they do. It’s an honor that someone would do this. Especially for the young kids I teach, I can show them all I that did.”
Did you prefer wrestling in Japan?
“No, I preferred wrestling everywhere! However, Japan was more my style because it was always tight. It was more amateur. If you grab someone by the waist, you got to be really tight to make sure you don’t take an elbow. They would challenge me more in Japan. In every tour you would do, especially the first day they would challenge you more. You had to beat the shit out of them a bit so that they would loosen up later in the tour. But you really had to make them, because many of them (Japanese wrestlers) didn’t know how to work the people. In the United States though, the timing was a lot better. I combined both styles which made me a better wrestler. I don’t know if you know this, but I am the first guy to do a moonsault. It was even the 1986 move of the year (Pro Wrestling Observer). I was always thinking about wrestling. I always had a little agenda, for example in L.A. Monday was Pico Rivera, Tuesday was San Diego, Wednesday was Olympic TV, Thursday was Bakersfield, Friday was the Olympic, the big show, Saturday was Fresno and Sunday was San Beranadino. It was mostly the same thing during the week. In my agenda, I would write down what color of trunks and boots I used and would always go different. That was one thing that my dad always told me. You always have to look like a professional. It all helped make the puzzle of Chavo Guerrero Sr..”
Is it safe to say that Fujinami was your favorite opponent in Japan?
“There are certain people that you can always have a good match with. Fujinami and I were always thinking together. I could have a much better match with him than Onita who didn’t know as much as Fujinami.”
When you were wrestling Onita that was before he got into the garbage style of wrestling that he became known for.
“Onita was just more awkward. Fujinami, I wrestled him in my retirement match in Japan, and he is still there. We always clicked. We knew which moves were coming next, when to improvise. It goes to show you, that match you saw on YouTube, none of that was choreographed. In Japan, they tell you nothing. You go in the ring, and you just have to wing it. That is where your professionalism comes in. It was a good match to watch. Damn I was good! (laughs)”
You established your name solid in Japan, and various territories in the United States, but how much did you compete in Mexico?
“I would go back and forth to Mexico. I was there with Triple A for about a year. You know here was my big mistake. When I would go to Japan and then come back to the States instead of going somewhere where they had TV I would work other places. When you are not on TV, it’s over. This would hurt me a lot in the States. I would come back and tell the promoters to go to hell. They were thieves, they didn’t want to pay. I could make good money in Japan. I became a rebel, I would go in and out, but I wasn’t thinking of the future. I look back and wondered if I did the right thing. With some points yes and some points no, but I always kept my integrity. They never wanted me to go to Japan even though they (American promoters) were paying me peanuts. I would say, pay me what I make in Japan, and I won’t go there.”
When you went back to Japan in the 80’s you worked for All Japan.
“Well, I worked for (Giant) Baba when I was really young, and later I went to work for Inoki. After I won the belt, they started their bullshit about money. There was a revolution going on there, Mike LaBelle was lying to me, so I took off to the other side. I talked to Terry Funk. He got me the deal, and it was a damned good deal. Baba gave me his handshake and he was always true to his word and I was happy. With Onita, Tiger Mask and Misawa, we made his Junior Heavyweight Class special.”
So you found All Japan a better environment than New Japan?
“Yeah, the tours were easier. With Inoki, they had you going from one end of Japan to the other, waking up at five in the morning to go the next town. I was there for six weeks at a time, it was hard. With Baba you were going on for two week stretches but was in or near Tokyo all of the time. When we did travel, we flew a lot. They respected me.”
Later in the 80’s, you spent most of your time in the U.S. quite often teaming with your brothers. How was that period of time for your career?
“Dusty (Rhodes) brought me into Florida. It was a fun territory. Hector was already there, and they tagged us up. At first we didn’t get along, but once we got it together, nobody could touch us.”
You and Hector didn’t mesh right away?
“No, we were different. There were jealousies amongst us Guerreros. He had is style and I had my style, but once we meshed our styles and we got down to business and overcame our egos we were unstoppable. There was a match with the Rock and Roll Express that was amazing.”
Later on you were with the AWA, and at that point they were not in good shape.
“Mando was with the AWA, and he brought me in. It was only once every two weeks at the Showboat in Vegas. They started doing Pay Per Views. I did my first one in Chicago, we didn’t get paid.”
You didn’t get paid for SuperClash? (The AWA PPV that he appeared on)
“Hell no. That’s why I called out Verne Gagne at the Cauliflower Alley Club a few years ago. I asked him where my money is. I don’t like liars. I don’t like cheaters. I don’t like people that owe me money, I don’t owe anybody anything. I confronted him (Gagne) and he acted stupid, or senile so they said. But they threw me out of the club. (laughs)”
That was a few years ago?
“Yeah. Guess I am not going back there. (laughs) But it is all about principle. It is hard to do that in this business. They use you like whores and when you are no longer good anymore they spit you out. We don’t have any insurance, we don’t have a union. We don’t have a 401K plan, nothing.”
Do you think there will ever be a union in wrestling?
“I’ll never see it. I don’t know. Wrestling is a subject that is totally different than anything else. It’s entertainment, it’s art, it’ sport, it’s acting. We don’t have double takes. One take, that’s it. If you fuck up, you fuck up. There probably won’t be a union. Wrestlers are own worst enemy. Why? Because if you got TV you can make anybody. If you got a kid who has a dream to make it in professional wrestling, and he is half assed good, half assed good looking, he doesn’t give a shit about the union. All he wants to do is get on TV and become a star. He sees recognition right away because of TV and there goes everything.”
The WWF was still a regional promotion, but by the mid 80’s they went National. You were still competing then, were there ever any thought to go work for Vince?
“I worked for Vince three times. However, I got let go every time due to my own mistakes. Vince gave me the chance, and I am not going to blame anybody but myself. Even this last time (referring to his run as Chavo Classic) I didn’t show up to an event. I can only blame myself.”
In the 90’s you were in semi-retirement, and this was the time that your youngest brother started to prove his worth in WCW, and later the WWE. When the WWE later picked him up, they did so with a track record of not promoting smaller wrestlers well.
“There was always an anti-small, anti-Mexican deal going on. There is still a lot of people who hate to see Mexicans do well. A lot of prejudice is still there. I have experienced it. I still see it today. It was like when Hector once won a battle royal in L.A., Andre was there. Andre wasn’t complaining, but others did. They said how can he win when he is so small. It don’t matter. Look at Rey Mysterio. He earned money for the company.”
So were you more surprised that Eddie won the World Title in the WWE because he had to overcome his size or overcome being Mexican American or a combination of both?
“Eddie was box office. They saw the draw. When it comes down to Vince McMahon, I think he might have been prejudiced at one time, but I think he has learned that whoever sells more tickets should be the champ. Here is a good example, have you heard of a wrestler named Karl Gotch?”
“He could beat up anybody. Really, any two people put together. But, he couldn’t draw flies because of his accent and he wasn’t very charismatic. He also had an attitude. He would say that he knew how to wrestle and didn’t want to put people over as he said he could beat them to death. It doesn’t matter. If I go wrestle with you and you are over, I am going to make you look like a million dollars because I want to make money with you. That’s what this business is all about. It’s entertainment”
If you could put me over as I am a short, tubby, pasty white guy I would be really happy.
“(laughs) Tell you what. If people pay money to see it, I’ll put you over clean in the middle!
Because of who we are (notinhalloffame), Eddie is justifiably in the Hall, I had a chance to talk to Mick Foley and I got the chance to ask him if he saw the WWE Hall of Fame as the Hall of Fame in wrestling. I would like to ask you the same question and gauge your view on the WWE Hall of Fame.
“It depends how you look at it. From a wrestling point of view, wrestling with a ‘w’ it is a joke if you look at some of the people in there. But if you look at the entertainment point of view, it keeps getting bigger, people are watching it.”
Do you view it as a legitimate Hall of Fame?
“When Eddie was inducted I was so honored. It really hit me. I was happy and so proud of that. I don’t think it will ever happen to me, but if they were to ever induct me, I would be like a little kid. It is the recognized wrestling Hall of Fame, just like the Academy Awards.”
Do you think your dad should be in?
“Oh of course! I don’t think he will ever get inducted….I know I won’t. (laughs)” I have been a champion everywhere I competed. Considering some of the people who are in, I should be in there too. But that’s not up to me. I know that I am in the Hall of Fame in heaven and Jesus Christ. That is what matters to me. It can get you depressed when you think about it. I still love this business, but I try to let it go. It is hard to let wrestling go. It’s like letting go of your soulmate. I still do my gigs here and there, but sometimes they turn around and not pay me. I just got cancelled from a Nigerian tour and it still hurts when it happens. God has a plan, and I just go with that.”
I usually like to finish off with a name association and please feel free to say whatever you like.
“Oh brother, one of my mentors. He taught me that the color of this business is green, not black, brown or white. He gave me one of my first opportunities in this business. He was the master.”
“You seen one match, you seen them all.”
“He is a man’s man. A gentleman.”
Kerry Von Erich
“He had it all, but wasted it on his drug use.”
Fritz Von Erich
“He lied to me too many times. As a wrestler he was great, but as a promoter he was very controlling. Put it that way.”
Dory Funk Jr.
“Another one of my mentors. Always took the time to give me advice. He taught me a lot.”
Andre the Giant
“Oh man! Great heart. Great physical ability. He was a gentle giant.”
“Egomaniac. He was a good friend but things got to his head. I tried to see him at TNA, he didn’t even say hi to me. He forgets his friends.”
“For his size he was one of the best. He was awesome. He was crazy, but a good crazy. Actually, I introduced him and his wife. Same with Fujinami. I introduced Dr. Death Steve Williams to his wife. I am like cupid, I don’t know what’s going on.”
“I don’t know that much about him. Great gimmick.”
Did you work for his father?
Never did, my dad though. Tell you one thing about Randy. When I went to the WWF one time, I didn’t know that many people. I had been away a long time. When I came downstairs for breakfast, he came to me and shook my hand and welcomed me. That meant a lot to me. It kept my insecurities away.
What timing Pat Patterson had! He has a mind for this business that is absolutely phenomenal.
One of my tag team partners. Nice guy. He was just happy. You put him on first he was happy, you put him on in the main event he was happy. Just a happy-go-lucky guy.
One of the best punchers in the business. I worked with him many times. He had one of the best left hands in the business.
I will finish with this one, Vince McMahon
Vince McMahon has taken care of the Guerreros. All of us, in one way or another. I still get royalties. He is a shrewd businessman. Truthfully, he never liked me. But he always paid me and paid me well. He gave me many opportunities, talked to me face to face. He took care of my family, my brothers, to this day he takes care of Vickie (Eddie’s widow). He certainly took care of Eddie in many ways.
One final question if I could. As the generations of Guerreros continue, your niece (Shaul) is in Florida Championship Wrestling. You have grandkids of your own. Would you want to see them in wrestling, or pursue a different career?
Whatever they want to do. If they want ot be doctors I support them. If they want to be wrestlers I support them 100 percent. I am trying to get in touch with Shaul. I wish that one of the Guerreros would be training her. It would make it a lot easier to be successful. If my grandkids ever did ho in wrestling, their chances are a lot better learning the Guerrero way. There is only way to us, and that is the Guerrero way.