Big year, little man

If one could measure a man solely on heart and fortitude, then five-foot-six Rey Mysterio came up twice the size of The Great Khali—and then some—in 2006. Last January Rey overcame a No. 2 selection and insurmountable odds to win the Royal Rumble, which he dedicated to the late WWE Hall of Famer, Eddie Guerrero. Just over two months later, he delivered "Big Time" in his Triple Threat Match at WrestleMania 23, pinning Randy Orton to capture the World Championship. Again paying tribute to his departed friend, Rey celebrated at the top of the entrance ramp with the two people closest to Eddie: his wife, Vickie, and nephew Chavo Guerrero.

In every match following WrestleMania 22, Rey prevailed past the label of being an "underdog" World Champion. In May he defeated former champion JBL twice in one week, first at Judgment Day, then after a brutal SmackDown contest that forced the one-time "wrestling god" into retirement. Chavo was there to lend Rey support on both occasions, joining him in the ring and pointing up in the sky toward Eddie.

Sadly, the second half of Rey Mysterio's dream year is better described as a tragic nightmare, and the people responsible are those he trusted most to have his back. He was on the verge of successfully defending his title against King Booker at The Great American Bash last July—until Chavo inexplicably leveled him with a steel chair, enabling Booker to pick up the 1-2-3 and be hailed as the new champion. Asserting that Rey had been capitalizing on the Guerrero family name—a claim the masked Superstar disputes to this day—Chavo forced a confrontation at SummerSlam, securing the victory after Vickie Guerrero inadvertently knocked Mysterio off the top rope. Or so Rey thought, until Vickie herself blasted him with a chair several nights later.

Working together, the two Guerreros continued making Rey's life a living hell, right up until Chavo nearly crippled him during their grueling "I Quit" Match on SmackDown last October. He'd leave Mysterio dangling upside-down on the steel structure that supports the SmackDown set, agonizing from a ruptured left anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a torn patella tendon.

Having undergone successful surgery back home in San Diego, Rey Mysterio continues to rehab his knee, building on the promise he has made to both himself and WWE fans everywhere: that he will return to the ring in 2007, stronger and more determined than ever. But until we witness Rey executing his 6-1-9 in the ring again, this remarkable Superstar ranks No. 8 among WWE's top stories for 2006.

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