Displayed on a large box of a television set was a monitor with a black screen; emblazoned in green on the upper-left hand corner was “Ch 03”, meaning channel three. It was simple times back in the late 1990s. In my brother’s hands was a Nintendo 64 cartridge, as he blew into it. Upon inserting that cartridge, he flipped the power switch, and the hard music of WCW flowed forth from the box CRT-TV.
This game, rented from a local movie/game rental store known as Aardvark Video, was WCW/NWO: Revenge. I take a sip from a Dr. Pepper and my brother pressed the game into the slot and turned the Nintendo 64 back on as he gulped from a bottle of Surge. His mind was set on selecting either Goldberg or Diamond Dallas Page, as mine was lasered in on a masked little superhero known as Rey Misterio Jr. I was fully prepared to ask him to let me win, as I was still a young child.
Normally, I’d have picked his costume that was reminiscent of Spider-Man, but rather, I chose one I thought was cool from a match he had at Halloween Havoc 1997. You guessed it – the iconic purple/magenta gear. Ever since my brother watched an old VHS tape of the show, Rey’s match against Eddy Guerrero and Diamond Dallas Page’s battle with Randy Savage.
Though today the match is talked about ad nauseam for how emblematic this style of wrestling was, as audiences were wowed by the level of athleticism and acrobatics on display from WCW’s Cruiserweight Division, I’m here to talk about it for a different reason.
I remember to this day, the sight of the magenta Rey coming to the ring adorned by ring posts decorated in Slim Jim advertising, and Eddy Guerrero strutting to the ring, the WCW Cruiserweight Championship belt slung over his shoulder as his upper mustachioed lip curled in a condescending sneer. Through his shiny, jet-black hair draped over his eyes, he saw the booing Las Vegas masses, giving him a thumbs down as he stayed afloat above the wave of jeers washing over him.
Guerrero was here at the MGM Grand Garden Arena for one thing and one thing only: Rey Misterio Jr’s mask. These men know each other well, but as the heelish Guerrero held gold, he felt strong and untouchable. He went from a skinny geek to a chiselled man, and he towered over his rival during his matches in Mexico. Eddy knows how important masks are to the culture of lucha libre. After all, he wore one before he turned his back on the notion and wrestled bare-faced.
Rey could not afford to let himself lose this match. He had to overcome the domineering Guerrero or else he had no career and his mask would mean nothing, and so issued a challenge, known to luchadores as Luchas de Apuestas, which in translation is a match of wagers. Rey’s mask for Eddy’s belt. Rey has gasoline in his tank while Guerrero’s fingers were on the queen, ready to move her across the chess board.
Amidst chants of “Eddy sucks!”, the bell rings, and the title holder taunts and mocks his smaller opponent until they clash. Guerrero’s arrogance is silenced by the blinding speed of Misterio, with arm drags and hurricanrana manoeuvres, sending Guerrero flying. The champion is ready, however, and catches Misterio, slamming him around with strength and power before sending him into the ring. Rey may be speed, but Eddy is power.
My five-year old self was worried at the readiness of Guerrero as he caught and crushed the purple one, tearing at his mask. As he did so, most memorably to me in that hold, stretching Rey as he gasped desperately for air.
Determined to pin Rey’s shoulders to the mat, the acrobat matches it with his own arm strength with a springboard backflip DDT combo, followed by a dropkick that blasts Guerrero outside, yet Guerrero returns this action in kind, and goes further,, slamming Rey into the steel metal barricades with unholy force.
With a Camel Clutch firmly in place, Eddy tears open the eye of Rey’s mask, exposing the left eye of Rey, and the drama is heightened.
Eddy tears a page off of the family playbook with the Gory Special, named after father his Gory Guerrero, and a dropkick to the neck of the challenger. Disgustingly, Eddy plays with his food, with holds that would incapacitate any normal man – but let’s face it, we’re talking about the future iconic Rey Misterio Jr. here.
In one particular instance, I thought Rey was done for, as he hung upside down on the ring post in a Tree of Woe, but with a snap moment of agility and core strength, he held himself up as Guerrero slides into the ring post, damaging his lower extremities. Rey soared to the skies towards a stunned Guerrero on the outside, landing the a diving plancha.
Through his tattered mask, he counters and fights to survive in nothing short of a fantastic underdog fight, using his entire body and athleticism with flying head-scissors galore. The sheer adrenaline in the voices of Mike Tenay, Tony Schiavone, and Bobby Heenan pump so much blood as the heart of this match races in the Texas champion and Californian challenger.
What once was a smirk of cockiness is replaced by a snarled frustration as he loses his composure, and though his attacks are deadly, he lacks focus. He’s slipping. He even misses a Frog Splash and fails to wrestle Misterio off the top rope.
I didn’t understand what I was seeing as a bright-eyed child behind the lens of my glasses, but I knew Rey was a superhero for this. Eddy tries his version of a Crucifix Powerbomb, known as Splash Mountain, which is reversed at the very, very last second in an impressive and god almighty hurricanrana as Rey pulls Guerrero in for a successful pin.
On Halloween this year, Eddy was tricked by his own failing, and Rey was given the treat of a reward he reaped for himself.
The gaping maw of his mask amid the rest of his covered face shows a glassy-eye filled with emotion as he now holds the WCW Cruiserweight belt, that he, his identity, and his mask is protected on this day, that he has fought with every ounce of his heart. This was one of many instances in my youth where the pulse-pounding art of professional wrestling captured my imagination.
So as I sat on that 1998 day, long after this match had transpired, I mashed the A and B buttons and twirled the control stick as best as I could as the purple Rey, I lost twice. I won the third time, surprising even me.
What is great about this match is that it simultaneously feels like it’s taking a long time with itself, where each pivotal moment seems stretched in time like a portrait to emphasize its importance, yet fast enough to make you feel like you were sitting down for five minutes. That’s how you maximize the most out of fifteen minutes on a card jam-packed with a nearly undefeatable roster.
While Rey and Eddy will forever be known for their incredible performing quality, especially in earlier and later matches against one another, it must be said that this match was incredibly executed, with the utmost precision and dearest care.
As I sat watching this match back as an adult, I can rest grateful that I grew up in a time where I could see spectacle like this in the midst of multiple historic happenings in wrestling, while living in times as an adult as more history is made, and I watch it all with a grin as I had twenty-five years ago, when I flung my Nintendo 64 controller in the air in victorious jubilation.
And to think there wasn’t a dramatic build – just excellent storytelling in the ring.