We’re doing something a bit different for this match. Instead of reviewing a match that was officially rated 5-stars to see if that rating was deserved, we’ll be looking at a match that got under 5 stars to see if it deserved its original rating or if it deserved a higher rating. This is because there are so many great matches in wrestling history – especially in WWE and in WCW – that were critically-acclaimed yet weren’t rated as the best of the best. We’re talking matches that were fantastic and that are definitely worth re-watching, yet were rated 4 stars, 4.25, 4.5 or even 4.75. Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.
And it’s with that last rating that we begin. The match seen today was rated 4.75 stars by Dave Meltzer in the Wrestling Observer Newsletter when it first took place in 1997. Now we’ll see just how good it truly was.
This is a match without much of an ‘overt’ story. There’s no over-the-top scripted segments, no trash-talking, no bad acting or scripted promos. All you have is a lucha libre match between two of the greatest Latino wrestlers of all time. Eddy Guerrero was the heel WCW Cruiserweight Champion who wanted to keep his prize while Rey was the beloved underdog challenger. They had faced each other many times in Mexico prior to both coming to WCW. Both of them had reputations for being excellent wrestlers, and now American audiences would be exposed to them for the first time.
There was also a huge stipulation for this match: Rey had put his mask on the line against Eddy’s title. In lucha libre, this is something called Luchas de Apuestas, meaning ‘wager match’, and it’s very common in Mexico. It’s also very serious because lucha libre is steeped in strongly-held traditions. To lose one’s mask was considered the ultimate defeat; an unmasked wrestler could never wrestle under that mask again if they lost one of these matches. The only reason Rey was ever able to wrestle in WWE with his mask again was because he actually went to the lucha libre commissions in Mexico to gain permission, and got approval based on a technicality.
But at the time of this match, Rey could not afford to lose his precious mask at all. That meant Eddy had an advantage, because he had another vulnerability he could exploit in his smaller opponent.
This match took place on October 26, 1997 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The bell rings and the fans chant ‘Eddy sucks’. Eddy starts trash-talking Mysterio, who then ducks a cheap-shot from Eddy and the fighting begins. Mysterio hits a few punches and headlocks Eddy, who throws him to the ropes. Mysterio ducks a clothesline and hits a gorgeous diving springboard moonsault attack into an arm drag. He then leapfrogs over Eddy and sends Eddy literally flying with a monkey flip. Mysterio then follows that barrage with a jumping body splash that sends them both out of the ring. Damn, that was a ton of crazy action in less than 30 seconds.
Eddy is on the ring barricade as Mysterio prepares for a dive. But instead of diving, Mysterio skins the cat, only for Eddy to grab his feet and taking him down to the ringside canvas. Eddy’s in control as he smashes Mysterio into the steel ring steps, and then tosses him back into the ring before hitting a topé. Mike Tenay meanwhile does a great job of explaining to everyone the history these two men have had in Mexico prior to this match, emphasizing how well they know each other. It’s nice to hear commentary that makes sense and adds to the match.
Eddy chops Mysterio hard and hits a huge European uppercut as the fans still think he sucks. An Irish whip by Eddy gets reversed and Mysterio hits a huge dropkick. He tries to follow that with a handspring back elbow attack but Eddy cleverly catches him and hits a lightning-quick back suplex. A vertical suplex by Eddy gets the first 2.5-count of the match. Eddy maintains full control as he hits a massive tilt-a-whirl backbreaker and gets another two-count. Frustrated, Eddy starts trying to rip Mysterio’s mask off, even as he locks in an abdominal stretch. As Eddy continues to wrench the abdominal stretch, Tenay continues to emphasize how serious unmasking would be if Mysterio were to lose this match. That further adds to the importance of this match, and makes you want to cheer for Mysterio even more. Eddy has enough of the stretch and hits a pumphandle backbreaker to further damage Mysterio’s back.
Eddy goes for a pin grabbing the hands for more control, but Rey kicks out four times sat 2.5. Eddy maintains control, but Mysterio manages to push Eddy off of himself and stand on the top rope while still clutching Eddy’s hands. He then hits one of the coolest moves ever seen: a backflip DDT from the top rope. Simply amazing.
Mysterio gets up first and dropkicks Eddy out of the ring. He tries to go for a triangle diving move out of the ring, but Eddy’s quick to get back into the ring, so Mysterio ends up on the apron instead. Eddy uses the sudden change in motion to kick Mysterio off the apron, sending him to the canvas. Back outside, Eddy whips Mysterio into the steel ring barricade and then tosses him back into the ring. Eddy then locks in the Camel Clutch (which was invented by his father Gory Guerrero) and then rips Rey’s mask, exposing a part of his face. Eddy continues to ravage Mysterio’s back by locking in the Gory Special, but Mysterio counters with an arm drag to escape. Eddy dodges a standing dropkick and Eddy responds with a dropkick of his own to a sitting Mysterio’s head and back. Eddy follows this with a Canadian backbreaker and wrenches Mysterio’s back with a modified bow and arrow hold as the fans continue to chant ‘Eddy sucks’.
Eddy whips Mysterio and hits a jumping heel kick and goes for a pin, but the referee sees Eddy’s obvious cheating when he puts his own foot on the rope. Eddy strikes Rey hard while he’s in the turnbuckle, but Mysterio gets a sudden second wind and starts hitting strikes of his own. Eddy reverses an Irish whip from Mysterio, sending Mysterio into the tree of woe in the opposite corner. Eddy hits one huge dropkick to Rey and goes for a second one, but Rey dodges it and Eddy ends up going crotch-first into the ringpost. Ouch, that’s gotta hurt. Eddy limps outside the ring as Mysterio climbs the top turnbuckle and hits an enormous diving plancha onto Eddy. That was great.
Eddy whips Mysterio again and tries for the tilt-a-whirl, but Mysterio escapes it and hits a Frankensteiner but Eddy kicks out at two. Eddy hits a clothesline and tries to whip Mysterio yet again. But as soon as Mysterio hits the rope, he goes for a springboard flip, but Eddy ducks. Mysterio lands on his feet and attempts the 619, but Eddy grabs his feet. Mysterio spins again and tosses Eddy out of the ring in one perfect motion with a headscissors takedown. As Eddy recovers outside, Mysterio runs the ropes and hits a suicide dive into a hurricanrana. My God, that was impressive.
Mysterio tosses Eddy into the ring, and hits a jumping twisting splash of some kind, spinning his body in ways I didn’t think anyone could do at the time. Eddy kicks out at 2.5, so Mysterio responds by scoop slamming Eddy and preparing for a split-legged moonsault. Unfortunately for Mysterio, Eddy has him scouted and raises his knees as Rey lands. Clever move. Eddy follows this with a massive Folding Powerbomb but Mysterio kicks out at 2.8 as the fans cheer loudly. The fans chant “Eddy sucks” louder than before as Eddy hoists Mysterio onto his shoulders and smashes him into the corner. Eddy charges at Mysterio, but Mysterio ducks and sends Eddy face-first into the turnbuckle and Mysterio followed with a spin kick. The fans cheer as Rey signals the end. He springboards, but Eddy catches him with a single-knee backbreaker. Eddy drags Mysterio into the middle of the ring and goes for a top rope splash. But Mysterio rolls out of the way and charges, but Eddy dodges and Mysterio ends up sitting awkwardly on the top turnbuckle. Eddy prepares to hit a top rope back suplex of sorts, but Mysterio fights out of it. They start pushing and shoving each other as they both straddle the second rope close to the corner. Eddy then goes for a Splash Mountain (Crucifix Powerbomb) from the second rope, but Mysterio reverses that into a hurricanrana from the top rope. That was crazy.
Mysterio pins Eddy and the referee counts one…two…three! That’s it.
Winner and new champion after 13:51: Rey Mysterio
This is quite possibly the best under fifteen-minute wrestling match you will ever see. Everything was executed with laser precision. Rey and Eddy had amazing chemistry and meshed incredibly well. Nothing was botched and the logic of the match made perfect sense. Rey used his speed to move quicker than Eddy could react, while Eddy relied on his size advantage and psychology to try to weaken Rey. Eddy constantly targeted Rey’s back, which made later pin-falls and submission holds more believable.
Furthermore, the moves executed in this match were incredible by 1996 standards. Although we look at wrestling in 2019 with different lenses, what Eddy and Rey did in this match was simply breathtaking. Rey, in particular, was able to pull off some of the most jaw-dropping maneuvers ever seen, especially that suicide dive into a hurricanrana. That takes an incredible level of skill to pull off, yet Rey did it seemingly without any difficulty whatsoever. If there was ever anyone that deserved the moniker of ‘pro wrestling prodigy’, it was Rey Mysterio.
This is a match that should be studied by everyone because it shows how much you can accomplish in under fifteen minutes. Eddie and Rey told an amazing story in that timeframe, which is something you don’t see often in today’s wrestling. In most of today’s matches, there is very little story told through moves, along with an overemphasis on the story told through promos. In this match, Eddy and Rey told their story through their actions, which is, in essence, the opposite of ‘modern’ wrestling stories, at least through a ‘WWE main roster’ lens. Eddy didn’t bother with taunting the crowd; he was too busy trying to rip Rey’s mask off to do so. That sold how important this win was for Eddy.
This match is proof that you don’t need a complex, multi-episode storyline with multiple lengthy promos to sell the importance of a match. In this contest, the athletes wrestled in the style they were most comfortable with while the commentators underscored the most important details of the match. Mike Tenay deserves special praise for telling fans who might not have understood lucha libre traditions about why Rey was in serious jeopardy if he lost. It took him all of twenty seconds to convince you to cheer for Rey, who was the underdog in a match against a smarter and more unpredictable opponent.
Final Rating: *****
I’m going with a full five star rating, for the simple fact that this was a flawless match. Nothing was botched and nothing was executed improperly. The story was superb, as it told the timeless story of the smaller underdog facing a larger and crafty champion. Eddy and Rey brought the lucha libre style to a new audience, and told a masterful story while doing so. This is a match that every non-heavyweight wrestler should study because it’s something of a template. If you want to tell the biggest and most important story possible with only a maximum of fifteen minutes available, this match shows you how that’s done.
It’s obvious to me that this contest served as a template for many to have come in the following years. Although several matches come to mind that might be better (Gargano vs. Ciampa comes to mind), you cannot deny that Eddy and Rey had a classic match together on this night that set the standard for wrestling matches involving ‘smaller wrestlers’.
Check out previous entries in my 5 Star Match Reviews series right here.