The current generation of professional wrestling fans might remember Chavo Guerrero Sr. as an aging grappler who spent several months in WWE with his son Chavo Guerrero more than a dozen years ago.
But to those who followed the business back in the 1970s and ‘80s, Chavo Guerrero was a star of the first magnitude, a fan favorite whose blazing feud with the late Roddy Piper took the Los Angeles territory by storm.
And, like his WWE moniker implied, he truly was “Chavo Classic.”
Last weekend, with little fanfare and low profile, Chavo Guerrero died at the age of 68 following a short battle with liver cancer. Diagnosed only a month before his passing, he kept his condition secret with the exception of family and close friends.
“Today the world lost a true rebel,” former WCW and WWE star Chavo Guerrero Jr. posted shortly after his father’s death. “He did things his way. Not always right, not always wrong, but he always followed what he believed in. As a believer in Christ Jesus, he is now in Paradise.”
“Saddened to hear about my brother Chavo Guerrero,” tweeted 16-time world champion Ric Flair. “Will cherish the times we had together. Rest easy my friend.”
Handsome, athletic and one of the first real high fliers in the business, Salvador “Chavo” Guerrero IV was a member of one of professional wrestling’s most famous families.
The eldest son of Salvador “Gory” Guerrero, Chavo was brother to wrestlers Mando, Hector and the late Eddie Guerrero. His father, who passed away at the age of 69 in 1990, was part of a tag team with the legendary El Santo and was one of Mexico’s top stars from the ‘40s through the ‘60s.
Chavo and his brothers began wrestling in their home town of El Paso, Texas, at shows that their father promoted before eventually making names for themselves in the profession. The boys all learned the business training in a gym in Mexico with their father, who insisted that they learn amateur wrestling as well as the acrobatic and aggressive Lucha Libre style. They also competed successfully at the high school and collegiate levels.
During his storied career, Chavo Sr. would become a top star in Mexico, Japan, the AWA and a number of NWA territories.
In 2004 the 5-9, 190-pound Guerrero became an unlikely WWE cruiserweight champion when he accidentally pinned son Chavo Jr. during a three-way match, becoming the oldest competitor ever to win the original cruiserweight title. In his fifties at the time, he also managed his son in feuds with brother Eddie and Rey Mysterio. Unable to make some of his bookings, however, his stint was short and he was gone by June of that year.
“I worked for Vince (McMahon) three times. However, I got let go every time due to my own mistakes,” Guerrero would later admit. “Vince gave me the chance, and I am not going to blame anybody but myself.”
Chavo’s youngest brother, Eddie, passed away in 2005 at the age of 38. One of the most beloved figures in WWE history and a former world champion, Eddie died due to heart failure caused by atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. The following year he was posthumously inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame.
Chavo’s most famous feud was in California against a young Roddy Piper with whom he battled in cage matches, chain matches, hair vs. hair matches and a variety of other gimmick bouts. Their brutal battles produced sellouts over a span of three years, and the program proved to be a major financial boom for the territory.
Piper, who passed away in 2015, credited Guerrero with putting him on the wrestling map.
“Roddy was at the right place at the right time,” Guerrero said in a 2011 interview. “Roddy was a boxer, he wasn’t a wrestler, and we wrestled every damn day for three years. We had so many matches. I used to lead him, but we did every match you could think of. We had to, we had to fill those seats up.”
“I learned a lot from Roddy myself … He was open to what I said. We became great buddies,” added Guerrero, who held the NWA Americas title a total of 15 times between 1975 and 1980.
During his run in Los Angeles, Guerrero co-starred with Henry Winkler in the 1978 movie “The One and Only” as the character Indian Joe. Two years ago the band The Mountain Goats released a song titled “The Legend of Chavo Guerrero” and featured the wrestling great in their video.
Guerrero’s last high-profile appearance came last year on a Lucha Underground show where he turned on his son to help rival Rey Mysterio Jr.
Guerrero returned as “Chavo Classic” for one final WWE appearance on a 2010 “Old School” episode of Raw, driving Alberto Del Rio to the arena.
“We never wanted to be Superman or Batman or the Lone Ranger in my era, we wanted to be wrestlers,” said Guerrero.
Known as “the Mexican Warrior,” Guerrero was fiercely independent during his storied career, and was never shy about his letting his opinion of some promoters be known. He was banned from the Cauliflower Alley Club in 2004 following an incident in which he angrily confronted an elderly Verne Gagne over a payoff, or lack thereof, years earlier on a show Gagne promoted.
But, despite their differences, Guerrero gave credit to WWE owner Vince McMahon for taking care of the Guerrero clan.
“Vince McMahon has taken care of the Guerreros. All of us, in one way or another,” he said in 2011. “I still get royalties. He is a shrewd businessman. Truthfully, he never liked me. But he always paid me and paid me well. He gave me many opportunities, talked to me face to face. He took care of my family, my brothers, to this day he takes care of Vickie (Eddie’s widow). He certainly took care of Eddie in many ways.”
To Chavo Guerrero, the wrestling business was always a family affair.
“I still love this business, but I try to let it go. It is hard to let wrestling go. It’s like letting go of your soulmate.”