RondaRousey.com’s Classic Match series takes a closer look at significant and super cool matches from wrestling history.
While main events were dominated by repetitive nWo run-ins and aging stars, WCW’s undercard featured young, hungry, talented men like Eddie Guerrero, Dean Malenko, Juventud Guerrera, Rey Mysterio, and Chris Jericho putting on great matches in their athletic primes. Lack of upward mobility would send many of these wrestlers to the WWF in later years, where they would become bigger stars, but in 1997 they were providing something exciting and different than what wrestling fans could see on the other side of the Monday Night Wars.
The Cruiserweight Championship match that opened WCW’s 1997 Halloween Havoc pay-per-view would go down as not only one of the division’s greatest moments but a historic display of the lucha libre wrestling style in the United States and a key moment in Eddie Guerrero and Rey Mysterio’s decades-spanning rivalry. Guerrero had been wrestling in Mexico and Japan since 1987 and had started working for WCW in 1989 (though he didn’t truly become part of the roster until 1995). In WCW, he battled for the United States Championship before moving into the Cruiserweight division, where he won the title from Chris Jericho.
Mysterio had been wrestling since 1989, early in his teen years, eventually debuting in WCW in 1996. He had held the Cruiserweight Championship before, but it was hardly a given that he would win it at Halloween Havoc. In addition to Guerrero’s technical skill and size advantage, he had upped the viciousness of their feud leading up to this pay-per-vie— repeatedly snatching Mysterio’s mask—leading to a Mask vs. Title stipulation being added to their match.
The Cruiserweight Championship match at Halloween Havoc was a Lucha de Apuestas—translated as “Wager Match” or “Gambling Fight”—a match in which both competitors put something of theirs on the line. The most common form of these is the Mask vs. Mask match between two masked wrestlers (in which the loser is unmasked). Mask vs. Hair and Hair vs. Hair are also popular, and wrestlers have put titles or careers on the line in more extreme cases. These types of matches are most common in Mexico, where a mask is crucial to a wrestler’s identity; even now in the age of social media, luchadors keep their real names and appearances a secret until unmasked.
As Mike Tenay reminded the audience on commentary, Mysterio’s mask was extremely important to him. He inherited it and his lucha identity from his uncle once he had been deemed ready. The cowl attaching it to his full-body Phantom-themed gear at Halloween Havoc showed he was taking every precaution not to be unmasked at this pay-per-view.
In contrast, Guerrero was well-known to be disrespectful of not only his opponent and his mask but lucha libre tradition. In Mexico, he had been the first wrestler to unmask himself (in real life, due to copyright issues with his masked characters when he moved companies) and that attitude became something that informed his character, even as he entered the ring for this match a smirking champion and scowled at the fans as they chanted “Eddie sucks!”
The match started fast and in clear lucha libre style, with the action quickly moving outside the ring. Guerrero started to go after Mysterio’s mask while holding his smaller opponent in an abdominal stretch. He’d win it anyway if he won the match, but, as often happens in mask matches, he wanted that extra humiliation of unmasking him during the fight. Guerrero continued to dominate, but Mysterio wouldn’t stay down, just barely lifting his shoulder to escape pins.
Mysterio finally managed to score some major offense by escaping a pin, moving to the top rope and dropping Guerrero with a springboard backflip DDT in possibly the most iconic, cool sequences in a match full of them. Guerrero stopped his momentum, working to weaken him with submissions, but Mysterio managed to get it back after he dodged a basement dropkick and send Guerrero groin-first into the
The high-flying ability Mysterio displayed in this match is unparalleled. He has to gain more momentum for impact moves due to his small size compared to most of his opponents. His ability to keep kicking out of pins though can only be explained as sheer heart and determination, and it made Guerrero angrier and angrier as the match went on. It looked like Guerrero still might be able to retain his title and put Mysterio away with a superplex, but Mysterio countered it at the last second into a hurricanrana to become, with mask barely intact, the new Cruiserweight Champion.
A grateful Mysterio celebrated to the camera… and Guerrero attacked him from behind and stayed in the ring to defiantly soak up boos. They would continue to feud for this championship in the following weeks and over various titles and issues in the future. In addition to many great matches, of which their bout at Halloween Havoc 1997 was the most iconic, they would spread a love and appreciation of lucha libre in the United States, something Mysterio continues to do to this day.
You can watch this match in its entirety along with the rest of WCW Halloween Havoc 1997 on the WWE Network.