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M&F is in Los Angeles covering all the action and excitement of WrestleMania 39 week in Hollywood and with Friday’s WWE Hall of Fame induction less than 24 hours away, we felt it only right to celebrate one of the most iconic figures and inductees in pro wrestling history: Rey Mysterio Jr!
When Mysterio won the WWE Championship at WrestleMania 22, he really did achieve the unthinkable. If you recall (and who doesn’t) the WWE was once a place where giants reigned supreme. Especially in the 1980s, when the promotion first found global success, man mountains like Hulk Hogan, King Kong Bundy, the Ultimate Warrior and of course, Andre “The Giant” himself were the type of grapplers that found a seemingly unshakeable footing at the very top of the card.
In time, with those pillars of the main event either passing their prime in the ring or falling foul of company management for a variety of different reasons, the early nineties served to usher in a new generation of smaller in stature, but equally huge in heart performers.
Bret “Hitman” Hart’s work ethic and undeniable storytelling, while weighing comparatively less than his larger-than-life predecessors at 235 pounds, proved that the evolving “sports entertainment” audience wanted athleticism and technical skill to go with their muscle fix. And, thanks to Hart’s shattering of the glass ceiling, by the mid-’90s, Shawn Michaels was able to follow suit, toppling “The Hitman” while weighing in at 235 pounds.
Progress was undoubtedly being made for the smaller guy, but even so, the idea that a high-flying luchador could follow suit seemed like it might be a step too far for the bodybuilding fanatic, and supreme decision maker: Vince McMahon. It would take some huge shifts in the pro wrestling universe for perceptions to change. But change they did.
Rey Mysterio’s Performances Influenced ECW, WCW, and WWE
With WWE’s “New Generation Era” beginning to lose viewers in the latter half of the nineties to the then edgier rival; World Championship Wrestling, there was a third, smaller, wrestling promotion based out of Philadelphia that was more cutting edge than both of those bigger promotions combined. Paul Heyman’s Extreme Championship Wrestling didn’t constrain itself with traditional “wrasslin” traditions like the practice of using lighter guys as fodder to be squashed by the bigger marquee talent. Instead, ECW focused on a full throttle, balls to the wall style, that went on to influence WWE’s much heralded comeback with its “Attitude Era.”
Few true wrestling aficionados can discount Rey Mysterio’s impact during this period. First there were those classic confrontations with Juventud Guerrera and Psicosis in ECW, then came his superlative cruiserweight performances on WCW’s “Monday Nitro” show after signing with WWE’s biggest threat — helping Nitro to trounce WWE’s “Monday Night Raw” in the ratings for 83 weeks straight. Then, when WWE finally rebounded and put their competition out of business, Mysterio was signed to Vince McMahon’s group and made a splash there.
The “Attitude Era” audience was chomping at the bit to see somebody fresh like Mysterio shake up the status quo and win wrestling biggest prize, and those prayers were answered when he won the 2006 Royal Rumble and earned himself a successful shot at the gold in a triple threat match in Madison Square Garden. On that fateful night, Mysterio had already cemented his legacy as a future WWE Hall of Famer. And yet here we are, nearly twenty years on from that groundbreaking win, and this superhero in human form is still enthralling fans with some of his most emotional moments yet.
Mysterio became an undeniable champion because he’s relatable as an underdog, but he’s also been one of the consistently hardest workers in the mat game. “Rey Rey’s” enduring popularity has re-written the formula of wrestling bosses booking their winners and losers based on size. And, after talking to his peers here in Hollywood, there’s no shortage of love for him in the WWE locker room.
The WWE Locker Room is Excited for Rey Mysterio to Go into the WWE Hall of Fame
“I think he should have been in the Hall of Fame a long time ago,” says NXT Superstar Alba Fyre, who explains that for her, Rey Mysterio brought escapism and excitement to her television screen as a kid, making her want to follow in his footsteps. Fyre’s tag team partner Isla Dawn couldn’t agree more. “For me, he was just one of the people that I wanted to be,” she says. “Me and my sisters would go into the back garden and play wrestle and argue about who would play the part of Rey!” No doubt, this team will channel Mysterio’s energy and excitement when they head to NXT Stand & Deliver in their quest to become tag team champions.
It’s not just up and coming WWE Superstars that respect the man. Even athletes that came from different circles to him can still appreciate his art. “I think the thing that people forget about the lucha style is that they have really technical stuff,” says Shayna Baszler, who came to pro wrestling from the world of MMA and has a deep respect for Myseterio. “In the back, talking to Rey about some of that is something people probably wouldn’t expect.”
Of course, at WrestleMania, Rey Mysterio is set to wrestle his son Dominik. While the two will go to war on screen, it’s fair to say that he has become a great mentor to his own next generation behind the scenes. Mysterio’s unselfishness in honoring his legacy while sharing his success with others is not lost on Santos Escobar and the Legado Del Fantasma stable. “We respect Rey. We admire Rey. And now we protect Rey” says Escobar. “If you talk about big or small, he’s the smallest of them all, but he’s a giant. His heart, huge. His talent even bigger than that. You can’t ignore that.” Mysterio has unquestionably opened the door for others to follow. “So, when I got here (WWE) the first thing was, I don’t wanna be like the American superstars. I don’t wanna be like, with all due respect, the Hulk Hogan’s. I don’t wanna be like The Rock. I don’t wanna be like the John Cena’s.”
Wouldn’t we all want to step inside Rey Mysterio’s high flying shoes for the day? Watch Rey Mysterio’s WWE Hall of Fame induction March 31 on Peacock in the United States and WWE Network everywhere else.