Brock Lesnar, who dominated everything in his path between 2002 and 2004, quit WWE after WrestleMania XX, leaving a spot open on the top of the card on SmackDown.
According to Bruce Prichard, who was a part of SmackDown's creative team those years, the performer who benefitted the most from Lesnar's exit was Eddie Guerrero. Prichard paid tribute to Guerrero's career during his recent Something To Wrestle With Bruce Prichard podcast.
"I think that Eddie did [benefit the most], and it was from a place of looking at who's going to be the next guy," said Prichard. "Who are we going to focus on to take us to another level? Kurt [Angle] was discussed in all these different things, but we had never had a champion like Eddie Guerrero. Eddie was over."
At No Way Out 2004, Guerrero defeated Lesnar to capture his first and only WWE Championship.
"He was primed for the picking, and Eddie was, when you looked at the roster, probably the least probable to be the champion. But also, [he was] the real logical choice that you would choose to be the champion," said Prichard of Guerrero's ascension to the top of SmackDown.
However, Prichard revealed there was pushback backstage from people who felt Guerrero was not World Championship material.
"So he had it all, and I think a lot of people felt that it was a bad decision," he recalled. "[They] felt that Eddie was too small, and the fact that he was Mexican. All these things were like, 'Ah, he's a little guy'. I don't know. There was just opposition, but in the end, I remember thinking, 'he's the guy.' He was just the guy at that time, and I think Eddie needed that title."
Prichard felt that Guerrero defeating Lesnar was the perfect underdog story that fans could get behind.
"It was the premiere of the underdog victory, defeating the big bad monster in Brock Lesnar and Eddie Guerrero overcoming everything," he said. "In addition to that, you look at the human being of Eddie Guerrero and what Eddie had accomplished in his career and his life. The struggles that he had throughout everything to now be the man.
"Not only that, but to be able to perform at the level that Eddie was able to perform and kill it every night? So, I was proud of him. I loved him to death and was just so happy for him," added Prichard.
Unfortunately, Lesnar and Guerrero never faced off again although they had instant chemistry in the ring. Prichard felt fans would have welcomed a long-term feud between the two superstars.
"I think they could have [had more matches], because I think it was the way that Eddie worked with Brock and the way that Brock worked with Eddie." he said. "They knew how to work with, and for, each other. So it was essentially the first time in looking at it, going, 'Hmmm. You know what? This could work.' Brock was able to accentuate Eddie's positives and vice versa."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit SITW with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.