Ed. Notice: This piece was initially printed on April 24, 2020 at Unnamed Short-term Sports activities Weblog. Defector thanks Large Cool Tom Media, LLC for permitting it to be reproduced right here throughout Rays Week.
Wrestling has been a enterprise pushed by nostalgia for so long as I’ve recognized it, which is why I’ve usually been skeptical of older followers claiming the mid-to-late Nineteen Nineties as a golden period for the shape. Positive, Stone Chilly and The Rock grew to become cultural icons at a stage that the present era of wrestlers may hardly dream about, however even only a few minutes of the ugly, embarrassing old-timer’s matches that WWE has been placing on overseas over the previous few years are sufficient to make younger(er) followers surprise if there ever actually was something worthwhile about stars like Goldberg or DX.
I used to be one such fan, however I believe I used to be flawed! The previous a number of weeks have given me ample alternative to dig by way of the archives and take a self-guided historical past lesson in sports activities leisure, and I’ve discovered myself legitimately compelled not simply by true superstars like Bret Hart and Shawn Michaels however, greater than something, the WCW exhibits in ’96 and ’97. It seems that folks weren’t mendacity about how good these items was. The NWO in its preliminary incarnation was positively cool sufficient to justify its grip on the merch market 25 years later, Sting was really type of badass as their opposition, and the athleticism of the world-class performers within the midcard was marvelous to behold.
The San Diego cruiserweight often known as Rey Mysterio—billed as Rey Mysterio Jr. on the time, if you wish to be technical about it—jumped out even amongst that sprawling and star-studded supporting solid, delivering extra must-see matches than anyone else on the roster. Whereas it’s completely true that Mysterio has been wonderful for 3 a long time at this level, viewing his early work for the primary time ever has each deepened my appreciation for his profession and introduced some mandatory smiles to my little house. In higher instances, I’d virtually actually not have spent as many hours digging by way of the stacks; within the second we’ve obtained, Mysterio’s daredevil brilliance was greater than welcome. It was a mood-altering substance.
I first obtained hooked on younger Mysterio because of one in all his most well-known matches—a 1995 bout in ECW in opposition to his lucha libre rival Psicosis. As he virtually all the time is, the 5’6″ Mysterio was by far the smaller man within the ring and due to this fact the clear underdog. However he hurts his opponent and wins the love of the gang because of an offensive model that’s each decided and swish. Within the span of about two minutes, Mysterio executes 4 totally different fantastically acrobatic strikes, whereas additionally discovering time to creatively brutalize Psicosis with a number of chairs. Mysterio has by no means been often known as a hardcore wrestler within the ECW mould, however this efficiency nonetheless units the usual for every thing to return. It’s each moronically violent and gorgeously skillful, which implies it’s nice wrestling.
It wasn’t lengthy earlier than the nationwide highlight discovered Mysterio, because the then-dominant WCW introduced him in as one in all a number of proficient wrestlers in its cruiserweight division. There was no adjustment interval for Mysterio on the larger stage. Lower than a month after making his debut, he grew to become the fan-favorite cruiserweight champ.
A fantastic match in his first championship reign is one from September ’96 in opposition to the pretty obscure Tremendous Caló. Mysterio selflessly lets his comparatively unknown opponent get the lion’s share of the offense within the first ten minutes or so of the match, then asserts his dominance with a set of then-revolutionary assaults. This very bouncy hurricanrana particularly is a delight.
On the finish of the match, Mysterio does an absurd double-jump throughout the ring ropes to get the pinfall. This is able to clearly be a hilariously impractical strategy to attempt to win an precise battle, which could trouble some followers. However however, it’s downright superheroic, and who doesn’t love a real-life superhero?
Mainstream American wrestling followers, particularly in that period, didn’t all the time take to unorthodox performers, particularly foreign-coded ones. (“U-S-A!” chants are fairly frequent in these previous exhibits, and Mysterio was characterised as Mexican regardless of his California roots.) This makes it doubly spectacular that Mysterio acquired a lot adoration from followers so shortly. It’s the masks, not less than from my viewpoint, that makes the character so universally standard. Based mostly on measurement alone, Óscar Gutiérrez is the final man you’d ever imagine may win an enormous battle. However when he places on that masks and turns into Rey Mysterio, the equation modifications such that his measurement turns into a storytelling benefit. Within the masks, Mysterio is an everyman who can accomplish the unbelievable and defeat the not possible.
The masks is the centerpiece of my favourite spot from one other Mysterio basic—Halloween Havoc 1996 in opposition to the masterful Dean Malenko. As is the norm for these two, this match is virtually flawless, stuffed with each savvy technical talent and high-stakes emotional depth. Malenko stole Mysterio’s masks within the build-up to their battle, however the little man was in a position each to get it again and execute a formidable mid-ring costume change with the assistance of some fast, flashy innovation.
As each wrestling promotion appears to finally do with an organically standard character, WCW ruined Mysterio, particularly by stripping away his masks as a part of a stipulation in what was mainly a throwaway match in 1999. Regardless of dropping his most vital trademark, Mysterio continued working for WCW till the bitter finish, even showing unmasked within the closing episode of “Nitro.”
Mysterio spent the subsequent chapter of his profession within the indies, however whereas his legacy would possibly merely have been that of a cult favourite from a defunct firm, the best heights of his profession have been but to return. He signed with WWE in 2002, and if he’s not that firm’s biggest performer of the previous 20 years when it comes to championship reigns or red-hot peaks, he’s actually among the many finest when it comes to constant excellence and enduring recognition.
Even after leaving WWE for a couple of years and returning in 2018, Mysterio has maintained an in-ring capacity that defies typical knowledge. Simply this week on “Uncooked,” Mysterio had an excellent match with Murphy that would have been nice in entrance of a crowd. And at 2019’s Survivor Collection, he took benefit of a title shot in opposition to Brock Lesnar and teamed up together with his son to virtually deliver down the Beast in deliriously entertaining trend. Keep in mind whereas watching these that Mysterio is now in his mid-40s.
As a normal rule it’s each wholesome and normally right to tune out people who find themselves too sentimental concerning the wrestling of their youth, or not less than to take their assessments with a grain of salt. That stated, I’m completely going to be nostalgic for that Mysterio And Son match 20 years from now.