Where Are They Now?: Juventud Guerrera
Juventud Guerrera has a go-to adjective when he describes something he’s very passionate about. In the course of a conversation, it came up when talking about his multiple runs as WCW Cruiserweight Champion, the music he creates today and the TV show he’s putting together.
That word is “juicy.”
“Juicy” can even describe how Guerrera’s road to the squared circle began in Mexico. The son of luchador Fuerza Guerrera, he grew up with an insider’s perspective on the mat game.
“Coming from a traditional [lucha libre] family is a beautiful thing,” he told WWE.com. “You see the wrestling world from a different point of view.”
Lucha libre is a world full of unique traditions, some dating back to the Aztecs, like the reverence for the mask. Guerrera was exposed to those customs from a very young age, when he saw his father don the hood for the first time.
“We had a family meeting, it was that important for us,” Guerrera explained. “He used to wrestle without a mask, but to put one on has special meaning. He stood in front of a mirror, put the mask on and said, ‘Let me know what you think.’ It was amazing for him to share that with us. It was like having Superman in my house, and he was my dad!”
Growing up, Juventud gravitated toward athletics, excelling at basketball, volleyball and soccer. Still, when he showed interest in becoming a luchador, his father warned him that it wasn’t something to take lightly — it was a full-time commitment. So, Juventud left school and began a year-long journey of preparation to enter the ring.
During that time, he worked as a manager at his father’s gym while training in the ring three times a day, in the morning with a teacher at the gym, in the afternoon at Arena Mexico, and in the evening with his father. The preparation was intensive, but he learned how to perform like a topflight professional.
Adopting the name Juventud Guerrera — Spanish for “youth warrior” — he made the decision to wear a mask in the squared circle.
“I wanted to go with the mask, but I wanted to do something different,” Guerrera said. “I didn’t like the style of my dad’s mask, I thought that was old. One of my biggest influences was Jushin Liger, and I saw a picture in a Japanese magazine of him and drew something inspired by that, which became my mask.”
Guerrera’s hood featured three horns protruding from the head and left room for his hair to flow free as he flew through the air. After debuting in 1992, Juventud first made a name for himself in AAA, a promotion that opened the same year. His arsenal, filled to the brim with breathtaking dives and capped off with a picture-perfect 450 Splash, made him an instant favorite of lucha fans. Guerrera broke out during a rivalry with another young daredevil who came to AAA from the lucha scene in Tijuana, Rey Mysterio. The two matched perfectly in the ring, their high-risk acrobatics complementing each other and dazzling crowds around Mexico.
“We were trying to be the best,” Guerrera said. “We pushed each other to the limit.”
Their incredible in-ring style saw them catapulted to stardom in Mexico. It was unusual for undersized athletes to break out in a world dominated by barrel-chested battlers like the iconic El Santo and Blue Demon. However, the new promotion was willing to give them a shot.
“Konnan realized that we were different, and [AAA founder] Antonio Pena realized, too,” he said. “They didn’t see us as big or small, but as entertainers.”
Guerrera, Mysterio and fellow luchador Psicosis grew close, moving in together as they tried to grow their profiles. They made their way across the border, winning over the notoriously tough-to-please ECW crowds with their death-defying lucha libre. Those electric performances opened doors for them at WCW, which was in the midst of launching a Cruiserweight division featuring the world’s best high-flyers. While the dingy, underground vibe of ECW may have been similar to some of their stops in Mexico, jumping to the slickly-produced WCW provided a bit of culture shock to the young luchadores.
“There was a universe of differences,” Guerrera said. “The style, the production, the arenas, everything. Lucha libre is beautiful, but it’s so different from the American style.”
Guerrera sought to stand out from the pack in the division. He knew that talking was a big part of American wrestling, so he did his best to learn English. A fan of American music and movies, he picked words and phrases up little by little.
“When I started wrestling in America, it was like, ‘I know that word,’ and I started putting it together,” he explained. “A lot of the guys were making fun of me for trying to speak English, but I had to try.”
Even though he was battling in a division with world-traveled grapplers like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko and Chris Jericho, Juventud’s fire, along with his daredevil style, made him a fast fan favorite in WCW. He etched his name into the history books on Jan. 8, 1998, when he captured the Cruiserweight Championship from Ultimo Dragon on the debut episode of WCW Thunder.
“It means everything to me,” Guerrera said of his championship win. “I’m so proud of that. I remember Rey and me, we used to take the title home and it was like gold.”
However, in the high-risk division, the title often changed hands quickly, which was the case for Guerrera, as he dropped it to Mysterio one week later. He was so intent on reclaiming the title that he soon found himself risking something sacred to get another reign — his mask. At SuperBrawl VIII, Guerrera came up short against Jericho and was forced to reveal his face to the world, a frightening prospect for the second-generation luchador.
“I was very afraid. What am I going to do? What is my dad going to think?” Guerrera recalled. “If you watch the match, I didn’t want to show my face. I had my hair down, covering my face because I was shy. But I looked right into the camera, which means a lot.”
After going through the most frightening ordeal for a masked wrestler, Juventud found nothing but encouragement when he walked back through the curtain.
“The first guy to hug me and say, ‘Juvi, you’re amazing,’ was Scott Hall,” he said. “He told me that look I gave the camera means a lot, it’s who you are. He told me that I was going to be something special and not to worry that I lost the mask.”
WCW President Eric Bischoff also assured Guerrera that he wouldn’t be forgotten after losing his mask. He lived up to his word. Guerrera went on to win the Cruiserweight Title from Jericho at that summer’s Road Wild and held the WCW Tag Team Titles with Rey Mysterio as part of The Filthy Animals, a group that allowed Juventud to show off more of his natural charisma. That’s when he transformed into The Juice, a brash, outlandish master of the mic.
Guerrera left WCW in late 2000, a few months before the company closed down. He readily admitted that he was hungry to get back to the major leagues in the United States, but did not get another chance until 2005, when he was hired by WWE following a meeting in Japan with then-Talent Relations head John Laurinaitis. He was elated.
“It was like, ‘Finally!,’” he said. “My chance to go back and show what The Juice is all about!”
Juvi debuted alongside Super Crazy and Psicosis in WWE in spring 2005 as part of The Mexicools, a trio that sought to tear down stereotypes of Mexican wrestlers. Guerrera emerged as the voice of the group, as well as the main singles competitor. He was a force to be reckoned with in the Cruiserweight division, going on to recapture the title he held in WCW on two more occasions.
However, his run would come to an end in early 2006. Looking back on it, Guerrera wishes things had gone a little differently.
“In the moment, I wanted to go back to WWE,” he explained. “But WWE is different, I didn’t understand that. You don’t need to be flying around all the time. It didn’t work out the way it was supposed to, but I trust in life. Sometimes you have to go through things to get better. Now, I’m trying to be the best I can be. I’ve been really happy the last couple of years, just doing my own thing.”
Since leaving WWE, Guerrera has branched out and discovered new passions. One came out of his love of music.
“I can’t live without music,” he said. “When I’m doing anything, I have to have music. It’s a relaxing thing for me. If it’s quiet, it’s not juicy.”
That love of music led Juventud to dive into making music himself.
“I didn’t know I could actually write a song and make it,” he said. “I started doing it just for the fun of it.”
Juventud has produced several hip-hop songs and music videos, featuring verses he wrote himself. He’s also working on his own electronic music. If you’re lucky, you might find him spinning tunes at your nearest nightclub. Knowing he has to stand out from every other DJ, Guerrera even puts his mask back on for some gigs.
He’s also working on a television show, which he will host, “TV Show La Arena.”
“It’s a trendy and sporty show with interviews, but there’s also a lot of lifestyle segments,” he explained. “We cover things like fitness, fashion, restaurants and hotels.”
Guerrera recently wrapped filming the pilot episode, which he is hoping to premiere in December.
“TV Show La Arena” also serves as a record of all the interesting places Juventud travels to compete in the squared circle. He still steps in the ring to this day, going around the world to wow fans that have been supporting him since day one.
“It’s cool to work in independent companies that value you and love you, then you give that back to them in a major way,” he said. “That’s what I like in wrestling, when there’s respect, kindness and emotion, which I can show in the ring. This is one of the happiest times in my life.”
In other words, for Juventud Guerrera, everything is just juicy.