I don’t know exactly what it’s like to be Dominik Mysterio. For starters, I’ve never served hard time, nor have I waited for my dad to throw on his luchador mask before fighting me during Thanksgiving dinner. And, maybe most important, I don’t look good in purple and black. But like the most hateable member of the WWE Universe and the emotional backbone of the Judgment Day, I do know what it’s like to grow up with a famous last name. My experiences growing up in a midsized suburb with a surname that’s both part of a massive movie and TV franchise and also a commonly used verb and noun easily pales in comparison to how Dominik has grown up in the pro wrestling industry, surely. But I do understand what would make someone like Ex-Con Dom act out the way he has since he turned on his father, Rey, and his father’s fellow Hall of Famer friend Edge at last September’s Clash at the Castle in Cardiff, Wales.
Wanting to exist outside the legacy (or shadow) of your family is a natural progression for a person and something we all struggle with from time to time, though many of us don’t confront those issues with low blows and clotheslines, thankfully.
That may also be because many of us have significantly better relationships with our parents than Dominik has with Rey (at least in kayfabe). To be fair to Dom, though, the relationship between most people and their parents has to be different from whatever situation he and his father have going on. Among other things, Rey has done the following:
- Chosen his middle-aged Canadian dad friend to fight Dominik’s battles for him in front of the Welsh.
- Bought Dominik a BMW (not even an M series!) while all of his friends were getting Mercedes.
- Fought Eddie Guerrero over custody of Dominik.
Now, the first two could happen to anyone (though no. 1 is dependent on how often you visit Wales). But that last bit—where the custody of a child was determined via a ladder match—is very sports entertainment specific, and not just because paternity suits aren’t typically settled with ladder matches. More important than that, though, is the fact that professional wrestling (and WWE in particular, with its wide-reaching video library) is unique in the creation of story lines like the paternity of certain “non-playable characters” who can then turn into canon fodder if they eventually become part of the show proper.
The idea that performers like Edge or Mick Foley were visible on camera in crowds at important wrestling shows added to the broad appeal that they were “just like us, if we had a little bit of size and a lot of masochism.” CM Punk’s and Diamond Dallas Page’s random appearances as extras in the WrestleMania entrances of other performers help bolster the narrative that they more than paid their dues on their way to the top.
There’s also one other way for these kinds of cameo appearances to occur. Because modern wrestling is overflowing with second- and third-generation superstars whose parents spent at least part of their careers on television, it’s not particularly surprising that two of the most prominent such performers, Cody Rhodes and Charlotte Flair, both made their debuts on wrestling television in main-event spots nearly exactly the same way, long before they ever laced up their boots or took a back bump.
For Flair, it was in Starrcade ’93, when 7-year-old Ashley Fliehr appeared on-screen at her family’s home to say goodbye to her father, Ric, as he began his march (alongside Gene Okerlund) toward Big Van Vader and their excellent title vs. career match (which Flair eventually won) at Charlotte’s Independence Arena. In a less dramatic version of this, Rhodes’s first appearance on TV was at his father, Dusty’s, WCW Hall of Fame ceremony, where he stood alongside his dad as he made his induction speech.
Dom Dom didn’t have this kind of brief introduction, though. Neither Flair nor Rhodes was involved in a single angle at that age, and they weren’t the centerpiece of a multi-month story line the way Dominik was in his TV debut. Dom wasn’t just a prop or a MacGuffin, either. He didn’t simply hold a trophy or hug his dad. Instead, he actively participated in two-hander on-camera segments with his “uncle” (and real-life close family friend) Eddie Guerrero, appearing on TV throughout the story line, in which Eddie claimed that he was actually Dominik’s biological father. The end result? A blow-off ladder match for custody of Dominik at SummerSlam in 2005.
Poor 8-year-old Dominik was thrown as far into the deep end as anyone ever has been in the history of wrestling, and long before it was reasonable to expect him to swim. Even Stephanie McMahon—who is maybe the only person who can remotely understand where Dominik is coming from—waited until after college before getting into the real weird shit.
If we’d never heard from Dom again after 2005, no one would have been surprised. Between that dye job and his (let’s call them “age-appropriate”) “acting” skills, he didn’t seem destined for any kind of stardom. Yet here we all are, with Dom doing some of the best (or at least hottest) work in the business.
But even now his path is not forged like those of most successful legacy performers in WWE. Stars like Bret Hart, the Randys (Savage and Orton), and the Rock so exceeded their family members that came before them that we view their familial legacy through the prism of their success, at least narratively. Even now, at 26 and with all the skills he has acquired, Dominik would need an almost unprecedented level of success to overshadow his own family in the same way.
At Backlash in 2021, the Mysterios made history by becoming the first father-son tag team to hold a tag team championship in WWE. While Dom won his first championship at a relatively young age (24), he’s definitely not the youngest performer with a pedigree to have at least some title success: Cody Rhodes and Randy Orton both grabbed their first championships—a tag title for Cody and the Intercontinental championship for Randy—earlier on, at 22 and 23, respectively. The younger Mysterio won his only championship (one-half of the SmackDown Tag Team title) with his father at the age of 24 and lost it before turning 25. Twenty-four is, as you may have noticed, the same age the Rock was when he won his first championship, the Intercontinental title. But the Rock also fared slightly better than Dom has at ages 25 and 26, winning the Intercontinental title again before turning 26 and then capturing the WWE Championship two more times before he hit 27.
Dominik, on the other hand, has never had a singles title match, let alone a singles championship. It’s hard to believe Dominik will be able to catch up to Rocky on any of those accomplishments around 30, the age Dwayne was when he left for Hollywood. And we, as well as Dom, should probably forget about him getting anywhere near performers like Roman Reigns or Charlotte. Weirdly, his closest analogues are probably Cody and Bret, who was considered one of the best workers in the entire company for the entirety of his WWE run. But Dominik has a somewhat less sterling reputation in the ring than someone like Bret, and again, it seems unlikely that he’ll somehow become a top-five worker in the history of wrestling.
Dominik could, however, emulate Cody’s level of success. Rhodes has done well for himself but hasn’t set the world on fire in terms of his accomplishments. The secret, though, is that Dusty didn’t either, at least in front of the camera. He didn’t accomplish much of anything in WWE. And even though many of his NWA title runs were significant, almost all of them were very short.
Though Cody’s kind of success is well within reach, Rey’s is a bit further away. Dom does have several years to catch up to his dad, however, at least in terms of world titles (or, specifically, heavyweight championships). Rey won his first World Heavyweight Championship at 31, but he had already won the first of his five WCW Cruiserweight championships before he turned 22 and then won it again in a classic match against Eddie at Halloween Havoc ’97, just months after Dom was born.
Rey isn’t quite as impossible to surpass as, say, Ric Flair. Charlotte is at least a pioneer in women’s combat sports. It’s unfortunate that a number of Charlotte’s title runs occurred during WWE’s heavily criticized “divas” era, initially hindering her from getting anywhere near the Nature Boy in terms of in-ring prestige.
But even more than Ric, Rey’s impact on wrestling and the broader culture makes it seem that Dominik will probably never be able to touch his father’s legacy. Rey is a Mexican American icon—there’s potentially nothing Dominik could do to achieve that level of significance. Or maybe Dom doesn’t have to. There’s definitely a bit of a lightning in a bottle aspect to the dynamic between Rey and Dominik, and it’s as popular as anything WWE has produced in ages (even ever so slightly more than the Bloodline).
Videos involving the two of them have done exceptionally well on social media and YouTube, with business picking up as they became more and more intertwined with Backlash’s main event and its genuine global megastar host, Bad Bunny. What’s a bit unclear is how sustainable this level of crowd energy toward Dom is, but there’s definitely something there.
Dominik has a “look” that’s very different from Rey’s—though they obviously do look very much alike, albeit in a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of way. (At least until we saw Dom in the mask before his match against Rey at WrestleMania 39, and then holy fucking shit did he look like Rey.) Weirdly, this helped make the “father teaching his son a lesson” idea underlying their story feel less like an echo of some crazy pro–corporal punishment narrative than a tale about failsons getting their comeuppance.
That father-son idea will seemingly be going away for Dom, as the Judgment Day and the LWO have been drafted to different shows, presumably to keep them from turning into the Hatfields and McCoys of professional wrestling. What will happen to Dom after he loses the specific dynamic he had with his father that carried him through programs is something that only time will tell. But if he somehow keeps on generating the heat he has over the last six months every time he speaks (or is spoken about), he’ll make the family who turned him into the man he is today proud by reminding us every day that “Guerrero” means “Warrior.”