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If you think Cinco de Mayo is something you put on your burrito at Taco Bell, then you need a quick history lesson. May 5 is actually the annual celebration of the Mexican army's 1862 smackdown of France in the Battle of Puebla. Doesn't seem like a big deal? Consider the fact that the Mexican soldiers were outnumbered by the French two to one — that's an underdog victory even Rey Mysterio could appreciate.
If anything represents the fighting spirit of the Mexican people, it's Cinco de Mayo. That's why WWE.com is paying tribute to the proud Mexican wrestlers who helped bring the influential "lucha libre" (Spanish for "free fighting") style of competition to WWE. And to make sure we had our story straight, we spoke with third-generation Superstar Chavo Guerrero. Who better to ask than the self-proclaimed "Mexican Warrior"?
El Santo Starts The Fire
Any discussion about the history of lucha libre begins with this ring legend. A legitimate icon south of the border, El Santo popularized professional wrestling in Mexico in the 1940s and became a crossover celebrity akin to WWE Superstars like John Cena and The Rock. "El Santo did a movie where he saved Mexico from alien vampires," Chavo Guerrero told WWE.com. "This was the early times of Hollywood, so people saw the movie, really believed this guy saved Mexico and he became a national hero." In addition to his fame outside the ropes, El Santo was one of the first ring competitors to don a mask. "He didn't take his mask off for anything," Chavo said. "He used to shower with his mask on. In fact, he was buried with his mask on."
Los Guerreros Are Born
The patriarch of the first family of Mexican wrestling, Gory Guerrero was an innovative mat technician who created the camel clutch and many other holds. He was also one of the most hated bad guys of all time. "My grandfather was the No. 1 villain in all of Mexico," Chavo said. "He was stabbed, he was arrested for beating people up, someone shot at him in the ring and missed him." When he wasn't dodging bullets, Gory was passing on everything he knew about lying, cheating, stealing and wrestling to his four sons: Chavo Sr. (Chavo's father), Mando, Hector and former WWE Champion Eddie. Now that's a legacy.
Lucha Libre Goes International
While Mexican wrestling continued to produce national stars like Blue Demon and Black Shadow throughout the '50s and '60s, Mil Máscaras was the first luchador to truly achieve international stardom. "He was a pioneer for his time," Chavo said. "El Santo had been a big star in Mexico, but Mil Máscaras really crossed over into the United States and Japan and Europe [in the 1970s].” A masked wrestler with a chiseled physique and an explosive offense, Máscaras' career spanned multiple decades, but he is best remembered by classic WWE fans for his series of matches against WWE Hall of Famer "Superstar" Billy Graham and his appearance in the 1997 Royal Rumble. Today, the legend’s impact is still felt in WWE through his nephew — Raw Superstar Alberto Del Rio.
Rey Mysterio Gets Extreme
The early days of lucha libre featured a more technical style, but the lighting-fast, breathtaking feats we know today developed over a number of years thanks to stars like El Canek and Dos Caras (Alberto Del Rio's father). But American audiences got their first real taste of this gravity-defying brand of action when legendary luchadores Rey Mysterio and Psicosis faced off in a series of groundbreaking matches in Extreme Championship Wrestling in 1995. The two fierce competitors put on a clinic of aerial moves that wowed the small Philadelphia audience and began the legend of Mysterio in America. "I've heard people compared [to Mysterio] a 100 times, but nobody can do it like Rey," Chavo admitted.
The Revolution Is Televised
By far the biggest influx of south of the border talent came to WCW in the latter half of the '90s. "They first brought the luchadores over after Dean [Malenko], Eddie [Guerrero] and Chris [Jericho] came to WCW," Guerrero explained. "Those guys were the pioneers. They all wrestled in Mexico and Japan, so they had this style that nobody had ever seen before." This new in-ring style, which consisted of aerial maneuvers like hurricanranas and top rope dives, caught the eye of WCW President Eric Bischoff. "That's when they started bringing in people like me, Juventud Guerrera, Rey Mysterio and Psicosis," Chavo revealed. The Mexican revolution had truly begun.
Los Guerreros Steal The Spotlight
On Jan. 31, 2000, Eddie Guerrero debuted in WWE after leaving WCW, bringing the lucha style — and the legacy of Mexican wrestling's first family — with him. In the following years, his nephew, Chavo, wife, Vickie, and brother, Chavo Classic, would all join him. "It was huge for Eddie and I to come [to WWE]," Chavo said. "As young kids we'd see a lot of Mexican wrestling, but when we became teenagers it was all about WWE. That was the big time. WCW was like college football, and WWE was pro football." Los Guerreros' impact wasn't only immediate, it was sustained. In the years since their debut, Vickie has become one of WWE’s greatest villains while Chavo has held the ECW, Cruiserweight and WWE Tag Team Championships.
Eddie Takes The Whole Enchilada
More than 50 years after El Santo popularized professional wrestling in Mexico, Eddie Guerrero became the first Mexican-American to win the WWE Championship when he defeated Brock Lesnar with a Frog Splash at No Way Out in 2004. "To be honest, our goal wasn't to be WWE Champions," Chavo revealed. "[Our goal] was to be the WWE Tag Team Champions, and we achieved that at Survivor Series in 2002. But after you achieve that, your goal is to be the top dog." Although Chavo was at odds with his uncle at the time, he was still moved by the momentous achievement. "That was the top of the top. The next night in Fresno, I wrestled Eddie for the title. It was incredible.”
Rey Jumps To The Top
On April 2, 2006, The Ultimate Underdog achieved the impossible when he defeated Kurt Angle and Randy Orton in a Triple Threat Match at WrestleMania 22 to win the World Championship, becoming the first masked luchador to hold the title. Rey's amazing accomplishment truly cemented the legacy of the lucha libre influence on American ring competition. Chavo remembered the day fondly. "[Rey and I] were always told we were too small. We heard that our whole lives," Chavo said. "You always have doubters, but you just have to believe. As long as you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. Rey Mysterio, a 170-pound, 5-foot-4 wrestler, has been the World Champion. That's a testament to that."
Alberto Del Rio Fulfills His Destiny
The privileged son of one of Mexico’s premier wrestling families, Alberto Del Rio shocked many in the WWE Universe when he rose to the top of SmackDown within months of his 2010 debut. The aristocrat’s success did not surprise Chavo, though. “I knew he had 16 professional MMA fights. He made the national wrestling team in Mexico at 16,” Guerrero revealed. “He was a guy you didn’t want to mess with, because he’d kick your butt.” This background in combat sports made Del Rio tough, but it was his extensive lucha experience that put him a step ahead of the competition, Chavo believes. "He's a big guy, but he can move like a cruiserweight," Guerrero explained. "Wrestling a lucha style gives you a different facet in the ring."
Sin Cara Springs Into Action
Nearly a decade since Rey Mysterio brought the high-flying lucha style to WWE, a dynamic, gravity-defying sensation by the name of Sin Cara exploded onto Raw. A massive box-office star in his native Mexico, the masked marvel has stunned the WWE Universe with his amazing maneuvers, but the Superstar still has a long way to go if he wants to live up to the legacy of the man who blazed the trail. "Mysterio changed the way luchadores wrestle," Chavo said. "Of course, Sin Cara came after Rey, so he adopted a lot of Rey's moves. He has his own style, but it's still to be seen if he can live up to the legend of Rey Mysterio."