SI.com’s Week in Wrestling is published every week and provides beneath-the-surface coverage of the business of pro wrestling.
Juventud Guerrera represents the third of Chris Jericho’s “Five Labors”
Chris Jericho is in the midst of his newest masterpiece, an intricate “Five Labors” story arc that is finding a way to touch on each part of his legendary career. He needs to advance past each challenge in order to attain a much-desired grudge match against MJF. Jericho has been successful thus far, defeating Shawn Spears in the opener, then surviving an exceptionally gory encounter last week against deathmatch icon Nick Gage.
This week’s encounter goes back to the future, as Jericho meets former rival Juventud Guerrera on Dynamite.
Jericho is the greatest storyteller in all of wrestling, and the history behind this match dates back over 20 years to when Jericho unmasked Guerrera at WCW’s Superbrawl VIII in February 1998. Guerrera has stayed active during the pandemic, and he wants to make the most of this moment.
“For me to come back at this moment, to this stage in AEW, the hottest company with the best talent in wrestling, it’s a blessing,” Guerrera says. “For me and Chris, this is a great opportunity to showcase what we did and what we can still do. Chris has such a great mind for the business. He always knows the right time and the right moment. This is going to be a very special night for wrestling fans.”
Born Eduardo González Hernández, Guerrera is a legendary luchador. He is responsible for helping create the current style and approach of pro wrestling. Along with Rey Mysterio and Psicosis, Guerrera ushered in a whole new way of wrestling to the mainstream in the 1990s by introducing the lucha libre style to a wider audience.
“Rey, myself, and Psicosis, we were three trailblazers,” Guerrera says. “We accomplished so much together. We changed the business.”
Guerrera began his rise to prominence as a teenager in AAA. His matches with Rey Mysterio were unlike anything taking place in the United States, and he later showcased this authentic brand of lucha when he arrived in ECW in 1996. That is where Paul Heyman pitted Mysterio and Psicosis against each other, then brilliantly chose to highlight Mysterio vs. Guerrera, knowing that was the best progression of the story and a match that could even surpass what Mysterio created in the ring with Psicosis.
Guerrera was then part of the group of luchadores that Konnan helped bring to WCW. He won the cruiserweight title on the very first edition of WCW’s Thunder in January 1998. Only a week later, he lost the title to Mysterio, and then established himself in a feud with Jericho, who eventually defeated Mysterio for the belt.
Only 23 at the time, Guerrera was enamored with life in WCW, yet was overwhelmed when told that he would be losing his mask in a title vs. mask match against Jericho at Superbrawl in ’98, a show headlined by Sting against Hollywood Hogan.
“That was very, very difficult for me,” Guerrera says. “I didn’t want to do it. When I started to wrestle, I never thought I would ever lose my mask. Then I found myself in a major company in the United States, and the traditions are different here than they are in Mexico. They liked my charisma, and I was promised it would be better for my future without the mask. So I took a chance.
“At the time, I was very ashamed. For luchadores, we are warriors here in Mexico. Wearing the mask is a source of pride and our tradition.”
The feud with Jericho extended beyond Superbrawl, with Guerrera regaining the title in August ’98 at the Road Wild pay-per-view.
“Looking back, I’m very grateful that it was Chris Jericho to take off my mask and that I was able to continue working with him,” Guerrera says. “I felt so much better being in the ring with Chris. He loved the Mexican style, and had come to Mexico earlier in his career to learn lucha. We were so happy to work together, and that’s why we had so much chemistry together in our matches.
“Chris brought out the best in me. The way it turned out, people really welcomed me after I lost the mask. Now I have two different personas–Juvy with the mask, and The Juice without the mask.”
Guerrera plans on wearing his mask on Dynamite, a callback to their past together as well as a chance for Jericho to again attempt another unmasking.
“I want to wear the mask on Dynamite,” Guerrera says. “I am a luchador, and we are very proud of our masks. Also, since the match has been announced, a lot of people have asked me if I’ll come out to the same music I had in WCW. That would be nostalgic, but I’m going to showcase my new music, a heavy metal song I wrote and produced. This is a new moment and people are going to see a new Juice. This Wednesday on Dynamite is going to be Juicymania.”
In order to move on to the fourth labor, Jericho needs to win the match against Guerrera by hitting a maneuver off the top rope. That is now a less familiar terrain for the 50-year-old Jericho, but Guerrera, now 46, believes that people are in for a surprise with the quality of work that will be on display in the ring.
“People are going to be shocked when they see this match,” Guerrera says. “I feel great, and I’m ready to make the most of this opportunity. I’m very grateful to Chris Jericho, I’m grateful to AEW, and I’m grateful to all my fans.
“I can’t wait for the bell to ring. I am dedicating this match to my mentor and my special friend, Eddie Guerrero. This match is going to be for him.”
The end of Bray Wyatt’s run in WWE
For the past nine years, Windham Rotunda had been viewed as an integral part of WWE’s present and future. A third-generation wrestler trained by a pro’s pro in Barry Windham (his uncle), Rotunda possessed all the necessary ingredients—size, charisma and presence—to become a star for WWE, and he caught lightning in a bottle with his Bray Wyatt character.
No, the character did not always connect. Too often, WWE pulled back on the more sadistic, Cape Fear–like qualities of the Wyatt character, and there were periods where the persona turned cartoonish. But there was nothing else like it in all of wrestling, and Rotunda reinvented himself as The Fiend, which briefly complemented his sweater-wearing, foreboding Firefly Funhouse character.
And now, all of those Wyatt memories are just that. Rotunda was released by WWE on Saturday, given a parting gift of a 21-word statement that somehow made the past decade seem all that less important. Wyatt had some spectacular moments in the company, with his Wyatt Family capturing widespread attention in the build to his WrestleMania 30 program with John Cena. There was the outdoor match a year later against The Undertaker, taking place at dusk, as Wyatt helped ’Taker regain his WrestleMania aura. In retrospect, perhaps the reverse should have taken place. But by WrestleMania 36, Rotunda had The Fiend hotter than ever, again working with Cena. The match was unique, but it needed to be in order to stand out at an empty arena show in the Performance Center.
Only 34, Rotunda has yet to even reach the prime of his career. So how did he possibly receive what amounts to a pink slip from WWE?
Since WrestleMania 37 in April, Rotunda has been out with an undisclosed physical ailment, one that Sports Illustrated confirmed is not concussion-related. He was finally cleared last Thursday, then effectively fired on Saturday.
Rotunda lost leverage when he signed his last contract. As The Fiend, Rotunda had reinvented and re-established his character, outselling the rest of the company on merchandise. He signed a new multimillion-dollar deal in 2020, yet agreed to the 90-day noncompete clause. Had he not done that, there would have been potential for him to be part of AEW immediately. But talent, like cream, always finds a way to rise. Even with the need to wait 90 days, Rotunda—who could use his real name in his next stop—should be a real benefit to whoever signs him, with AEW being the most likely destination.
WWE has ultimately determined that Rotunda was no longer worth its investment. This is jarring when considering that, less than a year ago, Bray Wyatt defeated Braun Strowman at SummerSlam to become the new universal champion. He lost that title a week later to Roman Reigns, who has since reached a new level of fame during this current stretch. Strowman (Adam Scherr) was released in June, and now Rotunda joins him.
Rotunda is one of the most creative thinkers and unique performers in all of pro wrestling. Both eerie and mystifying on the microphone, he can play multiple roles exceptionally well. Rotunda holds the potential to make a massive impact outside of WWE, though it remains strange to think that Bray Wyatt—who was viewed a year ago as an indispensable piece of the company—is no longer part of WWE.
The (online) week in wrestling
- Sasha Banks returned to SmackDown on Friday, setting the stage for another memorable moment with Bianca Belair at SummerSlam.
- Ric Flair is no longer a part of WWE.
- I could listen to The Rock and Bret Hart compliment each other about their careers forever and never lose interest in the conversation.
- Deonna Purrazzo vs. Chelsea Green is a fantastic matchup to build toward for the Impact Knockouts title.
- On the subject of reunions, here is a heartwarming one between John Cena and Miro.
- In terms of words that are synonymous, wrestling and Crockett certainly fit such a description.
- Simone Biles mentions and Duke lacrosse references represent nothing more than a careless, tired way to generate attention, especially for someone as creative as Max Caster.
Jaden Newman on the Scenic City Invitational: “People are in store for the best wrestling in the United States”
The 2021 edition of the Scenic City Invitational Tournament begins on Friday in Chattanooga. This is a 16-wrestler tourney that has grown in stature every year that it has been held. Streaming on IWTV, it highlights a festive, passionate audience and a collection of talent hungry to prove themselves in the industry.
This year’s tournament includes 2019 champion Daniel Makabe, who is the defending champ since SCI did not run in 2020. Daniel Garcia, 1 Called Manders, AC Mack and Arik Royal are also part of the field, which includes Jaden Newman, who is proudly representing his hometown of Chattanooga.
“TWE Chattanooga is my home, and a lot of the best professional wrestlers come through here,” says Newman, who helps run the promotion. “The Scenic City Invitational is run by Matt Griffin and Scott Hensley, and we’re so grateful to host this tournament. It’s especially cool for us to experience this in our home, and I’m very excited to be a participant, too. I’m going to do everything I can to keep the trophy at home.”
An eight-year veteran, Newman’s wrestling portfolio includes F1RST Wrestling in St. Paul and an appearance in the Young Lions Cup for CHIKARA, in addition to his SCI appearance. He brings a hybrid style to his matches, able to strike, fly, work on the mat and adapt extremely well to the strengths of his opponents.
Newman drew an especially tough first round opponent in Brett Ison, who has adopted a “Kill or be killed” mantra. They met last month in a 30-minute draw, which further heightens the importance of this encounter.
“I know what Brett brings to the table,” says Newman, who is only 23. “I’ve been studying, I’ve been preparing, and I think my first-round match is going to shock a few people.”
SCI represents the heartbeat of indie wrestling, presented in front of a dedicated fan base that delights in seeing the next generation of stars build their way up the ladder in the industry.
“This tournament is such a unique event,” Newman says. “Our fans get to see such different styles and types of competitors. It brings our community together over our love of professional wrestling. And we raise so much money for schools and different local events, so it’s also really important for the community.
“This is going to be very special. We’re gathering the most well-rounded wrestlers all in the hub of Chattanooga, Tennessee. People are in store for the best wrestling in the United States.”
Tweet of the Week
Is there still doubt over Kenny Omega being a genuine draw?
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.