By William Quant
Wrestlemania 39 is done and in the books, the entire weekend full of great matches and even greater moments. There was one match in particular that demonstrated to me the beautiful nature of the way wrestling tells stories. While Sami Zayn & Kevin Owens vs. The Usos and Rhea Ripley vs. Charlotte Flair were also gorgeous displays of different kinds of wrestling storytelling, none of them had a certain extra layer of mystique that only lucha libre can bring.
At the WWE’s premier event, Rey Mysterio went one-on-one with his biological son Dominik Mysterio in a contest littered with references, subtleties, and homages to many levels of wrestling and lucha libre, as well as having a huge tie to one of comics’ first costumed heroes.
Rey Mysterio (Jr.)
Undisputedly the most influential active wrestler in the world today. The number of grapplers from Japan to Mexico to Canada to the States that cite Rey Mysterio as the reason they laced up boots and/or put on a mask is innumerable.
Not only has he inspired the latest generation of wrestling performers, but his high-flying, fast-paced, lucha libre style was one of the first and most prolific of its kind to make its way onto mainstream television in the 90s, making him one of the building blocks of an entire craft in the modern day. In a land of giants, the 5” 2’ Rey Mysterio inspired countless smaller wrestlers and helped kick start the cruiserweight revolution that is still very much felt today.
Originally competing as Rey Mysterio Jr. until 2001, Rey dropped the “Jr.” upon signing with the WWE in 2002. He was just inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame on Wrestlemania 39 weekend. Among a mountain of accolades, he is a 3x world champion, 9x cruiserweight champion, and 9x tag team champion – with one of those reigns being alongside his real-life son, Dominik.
Dominik Mysterio is the biological son of Rey Mysterio. After teaming with his father from his in-ring debut in 2020, Dominik turned on his dad in September of 2022 to join a delinquent faction, The Judgment Day. The rift between father and son would build for months before Rey and Dominik locked horns at Wrestlemania 39.
While he didn’t attempt to step into the family business full-time until 2019, his on-screen debut came almost a decade and half before as an 8-year old. Dominik was used as a pawn to force Rey Mysterio into one more match with a rival; a rival who claimed to be Dominik’s REAL biological father. Said rivalry culminated with perhaps the most outrageous and telenovela-esque of all wrestling stipulations: a ladder match for the custody of a child. The man who was using Dominik to get to Rey was one of his oldest friends in the world, Eddie Guerrero.
Eddie Guerrero is the most influential Latino wrestler in the world not named Rey Mysterio. He wrestled anywhere there was a ring and in every major American wrestling promotion throughout the 90s and early 2000s – even showing up in Ring of Honor in their founding year.
One of the most respected performers of the modern era, Eddie came from the wrestling family of the Guerreros, who have a legacy of grappling in Mexico and the southwest US that spans decades. In Rey Mysterio’s own words, Eddie was “the bridge” for all Latino wrestlers hoping to perform in the States; his success gave all of them opportunities and Eddie helped everyone who came over any way he could. Able to play both a good guy and bad guy with aplomb over his career, one of his final feuds was against friend Rey Mysterio where he claimed to be Dominik’s “Papi.”
Sadly, Guerrero passed away due to heart failure in November 2005 at age 38. He was inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame the following spring.
A costumed crime fighter who debuted in 1936, created by Lee Falk, predating even Superman. Still running as a newspaper strip to this day, the Phantom is an action adventure story focused on the masked main character. The Phantom is credited as the first fictional hero to wear a skintight costume and a mask that hides the wearer’s pupils, both of which would become iconic features of the superhero and vigilante comic book genres.
At its peak, The Phantom would reach over 100 million people a day. Among the places it would reach is Mexico, where a few future performers could be inspired by his design…
Right off the bat, you’ve got one of the most important parts of a wrestler’s character: their entrances. While Dominik’s managed to make headlines for, uh, negligent reasons, Rey had a direct tribute to the late Eddie Guerrero, entering the arena to Eddie’s entrance music while also entering in a Low Rider (driven by Snoop Dogg, no less) as Eddie did in his final years; just the first of an abundance of Eddie tributes all throughout the match made deeper by his connection with Dominik.
A collage of just a smattering of Rey Mysterio’s comic character tributes (even the dorky Ben Affleck version of Daredevil)
A big thing of note here is Rey’s entrance attire, which doesn’t seem to have a specific property in mind in terms of inspiration. Rey is known for paying tribute to some kind of comic book hero or character for many of his Wrestlemania outfits, but here, the thing of note is this is the first mask Rey has worn, possibly ever, that actually shows his age. He’s been described as an ageless wonder for a long time, likely because his traditional mask hides any age lines on his face. But here, facing his son, a wider window to his face finally seems to show that he has the worry lines of a father. Not having a comic book tribute and looking older is a story in and of itself.
Bonus mention here goes to Rey Mysterio’s outfit that he wore in that outlandish match against Eddie Guerrero for the custody of his son back in 2005 being fashioned after the iconic Fantastic Four’s blue numbered bodysuits for a match that was all about family then and created enough echoes to have another match about family now.
While Rey’s attire for the Wrestlemania 39 match didn’t have one direct inspiration, Dominik’s absolutely did. His purple and black attire fits in with the color scheme of The Judgment Day folks he’s been running with, but it also allows him to make a dirty homage to perhaps his father’s most famous attire.
Back in 1997, Rey Mysterio Jr. won the WCW Cruiserweight Championship in a Title vs. Mask Lucha de Apuesta match. That match is in consideration for the best match in WCW history, as well as in the discussion for greatest wrestling match period. Who was opposite Rey in that historic contest? None other than Eddie Guerrero. In addition Dominik’s mullet he rocks during the present-day match makes him damn near identical to late-90s Eddie Guerrero, actually making a case for really being Eddie’s kid after all these years.
Speaking of Rey and his comic book inspirations, his iconic outfit in that iconic match was inspired by none other than The Phantom. We’ve got a reference on top of a reference with a deeper reference that harkens to a key piece of lucha and comic history and that’s beautiful. And this isn’t the last time The Phantom will create layers in this match.
Part of the way through the contest, Dominic’s running buddies, the Judgment Day, interrupt and start attacking Rey. The dirty tactic turned the title of the battle for a moment, but Rey had been getting back-up for a couple of weeks from some other Latino wrestlers and they returned here to help even the odds. This is significant because that guy on the far left over there.
His name is Santos Escobar, or at least his WWE ringname. Prior to signing with the WWE during the Pandemic, he competed for over a decade in Mexico as El Hijo del Fantasma, a masked luchador who also belongs to a wrestling family. This makes three lucha libre wrestling families to have representation or be referenced in this match already.
Escobar is the legitimate, real life son of famed luchador Fantasma. If you take a look at Fantasma or his son’s masks, you’ll notice they bear a striking resemblance –
– to our boy The Phantom. I’ve never encountered anything to confirm this for sure, but the fact that the iconic Fantasma mask, which translates to “Phantom” in English, shares a near identical design to the face of that Golden Age vigilante The Phantom can’t be a coincidence. This of course becomes a recursive reference that Rey himself made in his iconic match with Eddie and that is again referenced by Dominik’s attire.
Oh, for even more layers, we’ve got Santos Escobar and his buddies wearing LWO shirts, which stands for Latino World Order. The LWO was an offshoot of the incredibly popular NWO, the most impactful wrestling faction of the 90s and possibly in all of wrestling history. The LWO is fondly remembered today, even if the actual stable only existed for just a couple of months in 1998-1999. The leader of that faction? Eddie Guerrero. The group’s final notable action? Forcibly recruiting Rey Mysterio Jr. into their ranks.
All throughout the match, an enormous portion of Dominik’s moveset were more derogatory references to Eddie’s old moveset while looking like the spitting image of him. With the number of wrestling families involved just in this contest alone, it is only fitting that the match and this story attains its cathartic end with the same family that watched Dominik be fought over in a ladder match helping reign in the rebelling youth and giving Rey the chance to defeat his son with Eddie Guerrero’s finishing move, the Frog Splash.
Professional wrestling is a weird animal that you either get or you don’t; there doesn’t really seem to be an in-between. But the multi-generational reverence in this match exhibited just how artistic lucha libre and professional wrestling can be; not in the punches and kicks, not in the suplexes, but in just the subtleties of the craft itself.