When Rey Mysterio’s mind drifts, he always finds himself in a wrestling ring. The 26-year veteran of the squared circle, without fail, always visualizes moments with the men he can no longer wrestle.
“There was one time I wrestled Eddie Guerrero in a ladder match for the custody of my son,” said Mysterio, referring to a memorable 2005 feud just months before Guerrero’s death at only 38 years old.
“I was stuck on the ladder and Eddie was climbing it,” continued Mysterio. “For some reason, [Guerrero’s wife] Vickie wasn’t going to the ring and she needed to be there. And Eddie was yelling at the ref, ‘Where the f--- is Vickie?’ He was really pissed – my own wife was backstage, and she never saw his temper until that evening. Vickie eventually made her way to the ring and we had a good finish, but when we came backstage, Eddie went in storming. Then he eventually apologized, and said it was such a beautiful feeling to be in the ring with me. Those are the moments you live on to keep the memory alive.”
The 40-year-old Mysterio, whose real name is Oscar Gutierrez, split his childhood between San Diego and Tijuana, Mexico. Along with Ric Flair, Mick Foley, and Samoa Joe, he will headline shows this weekend for Northeast Wrestling in Fishkill, NY on Saturday and Lowell, MA on Sunday. As grateful as he is for everything wrestling has provided, Mysterio never forgets what it has taken away from him.
“We are both blessed and cursed in wrestling,” said Mysterio. “We’re constantly on the grind, and it’s just hard to see so many good, close friends leave so soon. I don’t think there is another athlete in this world that performs as much as we do, or as much as we did in the [Chris] Benoit and Eddie days. We were wrestling five, six times a week. There was definitely a curse. I lost a lot of friends. You build so many relationships that it almost becomes a brotherhood. As much as we’re blessed, it hurts to see a lot of brothers go away, especially when you’re really close to them.”
Mysterio experienced tragedy this past March while wrestling in Mexico when his opponent, 35-year-old Perro Aguayo, suffered a fatal injury in the ring after a Mysterio dropkick.
“That something like that would even occur,” said Mysterio, who choked up and struggled to speak upon hearing Aguayo’s name. “You always think of the worst injury, but never that situation. In this case, it was absolutely that.”
Mysterio continues to grieve over the loss of his friend.
“We lost the biggest superstar that Mexico has ever seen,” said Mysterio. “There were so many plans moving forward that would have been incredible. When I meet great people in this industry, I like to let them know they are great human beings. Perro was definitely one of them. He was so warm-hearted, kind, and respectful. Just like there will never be another Eddie, there will never be another Perro.”
Mysterio started wrestling professionally at the age of 14, but the masked superstar grew up in a wrestling ring. His uncle, Rey Mysterio, Sr., served as his inspiration to succeed in the business.
“My uncle was a second father to me,” said Mysterio. “I spent most of my childhood with him. Growing up in wrestling, I would see my uncle put on his mask before he walked into auditoriums. The kids would run up to him and ask for autographs and pictures, and seeing him lacing up his boots in the locker room and putting on his mask before heading to the ring, that was all so real to me. That was the modern day super hero to me.
“Even when I was a young kid, I always told my uncle that, when I became a wrestler, I wanted to be Rey Mysterio, Jr. and I wanted to wear the mask. I always pictured myself wearing a mask. I dreamed about it for so long. I wanted to be one of those luchadores who wore the mask, the cape, and the fancy outfits.”
Turning a dream into reality is complicated for anyone, especially a 5’6”, 175-pound man with designs of succeeding in a world of giants.
“I honestly never thought I would get hired by WWE,” said Mysterio. “I was actually scared that I wouldn’t, but I had to be overconfident to succeed. My size was an issue when I first crossed the border and started performing.”
Mysterio, who is the youngest of four boys, grew up wrestling in Tijuana.
“Back then, in the early 90’s, wrestling was very famous in LA and would we’d wrestle in a lot of local bars, even Hollywood bars,” said Mysterio. “That’s how I broke into the business.
Mysterio received a boost from Charles Ashenoff – known in wrestling as Konnan, who has served as his greatest advocate – and friend – in the business.
“Konnan was a disciple of my uncle, and he was already creating a name for himself. He was already wrestling in Mexico City and was a big star already. [Mexican wrestling promotion] AAA was getting ready to kick off, and he gave me a call one day and said, ‘You need to come down here and be a part of this.’”
Mysterio was only 17 years old at the time, with only a year remaining at Montgomery High in San Diego and a beautiful girlfriend – Angie, who is now his wife of 19 years – but Konnan managed to convince him.
“Leaving everything behind at 17 was tough,” said Mysterio. “I questioned if I could really do this. I wasn’t mature enough, I was doubting myself, but I went to do Mexico, suffered for the first couple months, then AAA gave me my first exposure on national television.”
The legend of Rey Mysterio began four years later during his brief stint under the guidance of Paul Heyman in Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1995.
“Konnan was the first one to enter, and then he brought Psicosis and myself there, too,” said Mysterio. “Psicosis and I went up to Paul Heyman, introduced ourselves to this incredible human being, and asked, ‘Is it OK if we use a table in our match?’ Paul said, ‘Do whatever you want – go out there and have fun.’ And we went out there and we rocked it, and had a great match.
“Paul Heyman is just a genius to this industry. Very few people like him come around. I wish ECW had the resources that WCW had at the time, because ECW would have been a monster and could have competed with WWE.”
While Heyman brought out the best in his performers by allowing them to be themselves, that creative license did not exist in World Championship Wrestling, which was Mysterio’s destination the following year in 1996.
“Every step that I took that my ranking up a notch, I learned and matured,” said Mysterio. “But once I entered WCW, I realized I was in a monster of a company. It was very different from what I knew, and I learned about the political side of wrestling. That really opened up my eyes. Unfortunately, no matter how good you are, if there is someone in that company that doesn’t like you, they can hold you back.”
Before the powers-that-be in WCW could decide whether Mysterio was the right fit for the company, he first had to debut. Eric Bischoff started a revolution in wrestling by heavily promoting his cruiserweight division, and agreed to have Mysterio make his first appearance in a match against cruiserweight champion Dean Malenko on at the ’96 Great American Bash.
“WCW wanted to have me try-out, so I showed up in Baltimore for the match,” explained Mysterio. “Dean Malenko, was someone I’d never wrestled, I’d never even met him before. I thought it was going to be a dark match, but this was live pay per view. The company didn’t know if I could deliver or not, and they were counting on what they’d seen on tapes and word of mouth.
“In ECW, there was no size differential there. If you could perform, they were going to want you to come back. WCW was different. The slang was, ‘WCW is where the big boys play.’ I was never confused with a big boy, so I dealt with a lot of criticism right away. On my first night, I could hear whispering in the locker room from the older guys asking, ‘Who is this kid?’ I’ve always had kind of a babyface look underneath the mask, so for the guys who’d never saw me perform and had only seen me backstage lacing up my boots getting ready for my first show, they had no clue what I was doing in the locker room.”
Mysterio and Malenko tore the roof off the Baltimore Arena, which started an extremely successful five-year run in WCW. But his time working for Bischoff did not go without issues. Bischoff decided in 1999 that he wanted the diminutive superstar to lose his mask, which was devastating to Mysterio.
“Losing my mask really bothered me,” admitted Mysterio. “I’d been carrying my mask for almost ten years, and in Mexico the mask is very prestigious. It became a part of me, so I was very disappointed.”
Mysterio opposed the move right from the beginning, but Bischoff laid out two options – lose the mask or lose your job.
“That was the political side of this industry,” said Mysterio. “I wasn’t given a choice. I couldn’t protect myself because I had signed my name on their contract, so I was screwed. I couldn’t stop it from happening.”
Mysterio finished with WCW – maskless – in 2001, until donning the mask again in June of 2002 for Vince McMahon’s WWE.
“Meeting Vince was eye-opening,” said Mysterio. “It was exciting for me to meet the man. Here I was, part of a company I thought I’d never be a part of because of my size, but Vince McMahon decided to bring me on board.”
Size matters, especially in the WWE, and though Mysterio compensated for a lack of size with his rapid speed, he constantly fought an uphill battle.
“My only option was to succeed,” said Mysterio. “I needed to prove that I could make it in the big leagues with my size and weight. But Vince was really cool right off the bat. He said they had big plans for me, and I was looking very forward to every single plan they had. My first night with WWE was coming in after a match with Chavo [Guererro]. He had me run down to the cage, climb up, and do a plancha off the top of the cage. No one knew how to market me like Vince McMahon.
“But I always took advantage of my size. I constantly heard, ‘You’re not a wrestler. I can take you.’ I lived through that for the first two or three years in WCW, but as my performance became bigger and bigger every time being on the stage, I earned the respect of the fans, as well as the locker room. When I made it to WWE, none of that came afloat again. Once the fans saw I’d made it to WWE, they were like, ‘S---, he’s in.’
Mysterio had no problem wearing the mask again in WWE. Considering he owns over 200 of them – not to mention a whole closet full of wrestling wardrobe – the move felt as natural as lacing his boots. He even wore the mask during Guerrero’s posthumous Hall of Fame induction.
Guerrero died on a Sunday, and the WWE aired a memorial the following evening on Monday Night Raw. Shawn Michaels approached Mysterio about wrestling each other in honor of Guerrero.
“We’d just found out Eddie had passed, so the memorial went down last minute,” said Mysterio. “Shawn came up to me and said, ‘I know Eddie would have loved to see me and you work together. You think you have it in you to work?’ I said, ‘Of course I do.’ That’s definitely a match that I will cherish as long as I live here in this world. That’s definitely not the condition I wanted to wrestle Shawn Michaels in, but we performed that night for Eddie.”
Mysterio had countless highlights in WWE, including memorable feuds with John “Bradshaw” Layfield, Randy Orton, Kurt Angle, and Booker T. His personal highlight reel includes wrestling the Undertaker.
“That was surreal,” said Mysterio. “Standing in the corner of the ring, enjoying his entrance, watching him come to the ring, that’s a moment that will always stick with me. As a human being and as a performer, he’s just on another level. He was our leader of the locker – ‘Taker had the highest rank in the locker room, and we all paid our respects to him, always. But he is such a great human being as a person and a friend, which makes you appreciate him even more.”
Mysterio’s run in WWE culminated in a Royal Rumble win in 2006, where he entered second and lasted 62 minutes. He captured the world heavyweight championship in a triple-threat match against Orton and Angle at WrestleMania 22.
“That’s what really makes me acknowledge and makes me feel blessed,” said Mysterio. “I’ve opened doors in WWE for other athletes with my stature to be a part of that company, and of course, the fact that when I did win the title, there were so many people who wanted to see that moment happen. My friends, my family, and wrestling fans in Mexico wanted to see Rey Mysterio lift that title up in the air and say that it was his.”
People criticize wrestling for its predetermined finishes, but Mysterio’s time as champion was very real to him.
“All the sacrifices, all the blood, all the sweat, all the days being away from home, away from my kids, away from wife, missing birthdays, anniversaries, that was all real to me,” said Mysterio. “And the people who believed in me were feeling the same gratitude and happiness.”
Fittingly, Mysterio’s lowpoint in WWE also occurred during the Royal Rumble. Eight years after winning the match, he entered as the thirtieth and final wrestler in 2014, a spot where the WWE Universe hoped to see Daniel Bryan. Mysterio was booed by the crowd the moment his music hit.
“I was shocked,” admitted Mysterio. “But I was in the heat of the moment. After I actually saw the pay per view with my own eyes on TV, I realized what was going on. I got home and realized I should have walked back into gorilla after I heard the boos, pulled Daniel Bryan out, and gave him my spot so he could go out and perform. I understood the boos weren’t directed at me. They really wanted to see someone else, and I don’t blame them.”
Mysterio wrestled his last WWE match April of 2014, and internet reports then circulated that the WWE extended his contract without his approval. Mysterio addressed and clarified the rumors.
“My contract was coming to an end,” said Mysterio. “I had been on the grind for so long, and even I was out for a long period of time due to surgery, I was constantly rehabbing. I never had the time to participate in my kids’ lives or be around my wife. So I really thought about it – I could be working until I’m 43, 44, or 45 years old, and keep on making money, but where is that going to leave me? I’ve already done good for myself, so I really needed a break. I wanted to detach myself from having a certain obligation. I wanted to do things on my terms. I wanted to rest, I wanted to enjoy my kids. I wasn’t getting any younger, and my kids weren’t getting any younger. I weighed my options, and leaving WWE was a decision my wife and I made together.
“I’m truly blessed to have a partner, a soulmate that’s been loyal and equal to me for all this time. She’s been a mother and a father throughout all the years me being on the grind, on the road. Now, I have control of my life and my career. Family has always been the number one importance in my life, and they’re the reason I decided I stepped away for a little while.”
Mysterio considers himself in relatively good shape, but he has battled back from eight different surgeries. Four of the procedures have been major, including ACL reconstructive surgery and then an ACL/PCL tear in 2011. Despite the tread on the tires, he is still open to a return to WWE after he finishes his independent bookings.
“I didn’t leave on bad terms,” explained Mysterio. “I left on good terms with WWE, so I don’t want to say never. They treated me very well, and I’m nothing but thankful with that company for letting Rey Mysterio be Rey Mysterio and be recognized worldwide. If the opportunity comes about in the future, and there is interest from both parties, then why not?”
A big part of the reason Mysterio accepts independent bookings, he explained, is his connection with the fans.
“I’ve always tried to connect as much as possible with my fans, but now there is even more of a connection,” said Mysterio. “The fans are the reason why my position is where it is. It’s because of them. They have placed me in this category, and I’ve become who I am because of them. They’re my believers, and it’s those fans that I am loyal to and give a million thanks.”
Fans may wish to see Mysterio return to a WWE ring, but if that day ever does come, it is possible he will not be returning alone.
“I always envisioned myself being one of those wrestlers wearing a mask,” said Mysterio. “So not only to wear the mask but to carry the name that my uncle made, and continue on with the legacy, means a lot. I’m hoping that, one day, my son will carry this on.”
Mysterio continues to give his heart and soul to the business. He has suffered broken bones, tore cartilage, lost friends too soon, and missed moments at home he will never recapture, yet he never questions the decision to spend his life in the ring.
“If I was to die and re-live again, I would pick the same life that I have now,” said Mysterio. “Every single sacrifice I have made is well worth it. Everything that I carry inside my heart is because I have lived. If I were to reincarnate, I pray to God that I have the same life I have now.”
**Northeast Wrestling and the Lowell Spinners are offering two free tickets to this Sunday's show at LeLacheur Park for the first to answer this trivia question: Who did Rey Mysterio debut against in ECW? Tweet your answer to @JustinBarrasso, and the first to reply correctly will win the tickets.