It's a story that's become painfully familiar in recent years: an athlete dies in the prime of their career, much to the dismay of friends, family and fans across the globe. The wrestling industry has lost plenty of talented performers far too soon, from Brian Pillman to the late, great Owen Hart. Whether their deaths were due to actions inside or outside the square circle, such events have greatly influenced the industry in general, often paving the way for stricter safety guidelines and drug-related investigations. Eddie Guerrero's death in November of 2005 was shocking in its own right: though the talented, popular athlete had certainly lived recklessly in earlier years, he was reportedly clean and sober since 2001...and enjoying his most successful years in the industry to date. Yet the damage inflicted upon his body had already been done: Guerrero's heart finally gave out at the age of 38 while he slept in a hotel room.
Born and raised in El Paso, Texas, Guerrero was surrounded by the wrestling industry from an early age. His father trained and wrestled in Mexico, while his uncles and three brothers also followed similar career paths. Eddie began his professional wrestling career in Mexico's AAA promotion (Asistencia Asesoría y Administración) in 1992 and stayed there for roughly two years, earning a reputation as part of several successful tag teams. Meanwhile, Guerrero also enjoyed relative success in New Japan Pro Wrestling during these years, continuing his venture as a tag team performer and wrestling as a singles competitor. During his tenure in NJPW, Guerrero was soon discovered by ECW owner Paul Heyman, who invited the young star to wrestle for his fledgling promotion. Quickly establishing a strong reputation as an innovative singles wrestler, Guerrero was welcomed by the infamous ECW crowd and participated in some of 1995's most memorable matches. Fans and colleagues alike were dismayed to see him leave, along with close friends and future superstars Dean Malenko and Chris Benoit, after they were hired by WCW later in the year.
As fate would have it, Guerrero and company were sorely underused during their five-year stints in WCW. Like countless other young performers in the industry, management simply didn't know how to sell these gifted athletes---and while they certainly made their mark in the promotion, Guerrero and company were undoubtedly frustrated. During his stay, however, Eddie's ability earned him several notable achievements during these years, including a run as WCW United States Champion, several memorable matches in the company's Cruiserweight division, a feud with the legendary Ric Flair and a spoof of the popular "New World Order" stable. 1999 was certainly a rough year for Guerrero, as his involvement in a serious car accident led to several months of recovery and an increased drug addition. As his time in WCW slowly drew to a close, however, Guerrero displayed an increasingly methodical approach that led to a more successful career path.
Eventually, the fading promotion relinquished Guerrero to the WWF in 2000, which would finally give the charismatic athlete some time in the spotlight. Utilizing his natural showmanship and newly-christened nickname "Latino Heat", Guerrero quickly became European Champion and was involved in several feuds for the Intercontinental Championship. After an unfortunate drunk-driving incident led to his temporary release from the company (during which he wrestled for the fledgling Ring of Honor promotion), he returned to WWE and quickly regained the Intercontinental title. He also formed a tag team with his nephew Chavo, dubbed "Los Guerreros", and teamed with the unpredictable Tajiri a short time after. By 2003, Eddie earned the United States Championship and inched closer to true main event status. After a historic match with current UFC Heavyweight Champion and then-WWE Champion Brock Lesnar, Eddie finally peaked by earning the company's top title, cementing his status as a truly gifted performer. Following his loss of the title (not to mention a series of ridiculous storylines with Rey Mysterio), Eddie still managed to entertain fans worldwide. Unfortunately, his Survivor Series qualifying match on November 11, 2005 would be his last.
Viva La Raza: The Legacy of Eddie Guerrero pays tribute to the athlete's short-lived but memorable career through candid interviews and several of his most popular matches in ECW, WCW and the WWF/WWE. Like similar career-spanning "Best Of" collections, there's plenty of great content---and in this case, much of it is new to DVD. An earlier Guerrero collection (entitled Cheating Death, Stealing Life, after his infamous WWE catchphrase) is also available and contains almost no overlap with this three-disc set, so fans can truly get the total package quite easily. For now, let's take a look at the match listing, shall we?
(25 matches on 3 single-sided DVDs)
2 Cold Scorpio vs. Eddie Guerrero [ECW TV Title match, ECW TV 4/8/95]
Chris Jericho vs. Eddie Guerrero [WWF European Title match, WWF Raw 4/3/00]
Eddie Guerrero vs. Rey Mysterio [WWE Heavyweight Title match, WWE Smackdown 3/18/04]
As expected, most of these matches deliver the goods. Easy standouts like Guerrero's historic ECW matches (especially his bout with Malenko) and epic encounters with the likes of Ric Flair, Rey Mysterio, Kurt Angle and Brock Lesnar make Viva La Raza worth the price of admission alone. Though Eddie's domestic career lasted just over a decade, it's great to see such a fantastic variety of matches from three different promotions. What's unfortunate, however, is the lack of wrestling footage from his earlier tenures in Mexico and Japan; whether excluded due to rights issues or otherwise, this somewhat limits the scope of his short-lived career. The brief interviews tend to graze the surface of certain points in Guerrero's career, often glossing over events to paint a generally inoffensive portrait. Former WWE collections have ranged from trouble-free to brutally honest; I'm sure I'm not alone in favoring the latter.
Another unfortunate exclusion (though certainly warranted, at least from a purely moral perspective) is the complete erasure of the late Chris Benoit, whose horrific actions shocked the wrestling world less than two years ago. He and Guerrero were close friends, so his absence certainly leaves a gaping hole in this collection. Missing details and events include their start in the WWF as The Radicalz (with Perry Saturn and Deal Malenko), their historic matches together and even Eddie's tribute show on Raw after his untimely death. Any way you slice it, the lack of this footage is unfortunate.
On the technical side of things, this three-disc set is on par with recent WWE releases: production values are solid, matches are presented in their entirety and that damn WWF "scratch" logo is still blurred from existence. Oddly enough, even audience signs bearing the company's previous initials (and audible mentions of the name) have been digitally edited. This makes for a rather confusing experience at first, but WWE fans should be accustomed to such a visually compromised presentation by now.
Presented in its original 1.33:1 aspect ratio, Viva La Raza is easily on track with most current WWE collections: colors are generally bold and bright, while black levels and image detail are typically solid. Mild pixellation, edge enhancement and compression artifacts can be seen during many pyrotechnic sequences, but these are generally kept to a minimum. As usual, newly-recorded interviews are crisp and clear. Overall, fans should know what to expect here.
The audio is presented in a fairly standard Dolby Surround mix; likewise, it's roughly on par with recent WWE releases. As expected, the newer footage is much more enveloping and dynamic. Crowd noise and play-by-play commentary come through loud and clear, creating a satisfying soundstage overall. Optional subtitles and/or Spanish commentary (during WWE matches, at least) have not been provided---and with Eddie's Latino heritage in mind, such an oversight is truly surprising.
Last but not least is Guerrero's Final Match vs. Mr. Kennedy (7:34), which took place on the 11/11/05 edition of Smackdown...just two days before his untimely death. Though it's hardly a fitting farewell in scope or execution, one wonders why this match wasn't included during the main feature. It's worth noting, however, that this segment cuts to black before Kennedy gets in a post-match chair shot, which smartly ends everything on a high note. Interested parties can view the full, uncut segment here.
All extras, like the main feature, are presented in 1.33:1 format and do not include subtitles or captions.
Though it doesn't cover every base throughout Eddie Guerrero's short-lived career, Viva La Raza is one of WWE's most accessible and entertaining collections to date. Guerrero's in-ring talent and natural showmanship made him a reliable fixture wherever he went, even if management didn't always make full use of his skills. From top to bottom, this three-disc collection boasts a wide variety of matches: from the quickest cruiserweights to wrestling legends like Ric Flair, Guerrero's gift of adaptation paved the way for plenty of memorable moments. WWE has treated his legacy with care on this three-disc set---and even though it doesn't always dig below the surface, the wrestling certainly speaks for itself. Boasting a competent technical presentations and a few minor extras (which are almost superfluous, given the main feature), Viva La Raza is an easy choice for wrestling fans of all ages. Firmly Recommended.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA. He also does freelance graphic design projects and works in a local gallery. When he's not doing that, he enjoys slacking off, second-guessing himself and writing things in third person.