CHRIS JERICHO – A 20-year veteran and two-time Wrestler of the Year award winner (2008 and 2009), Jericho was a long-time name wrestler on an international basis, who had his greatest success after taking a two-plus year sabbatical while in what would be considered his prime years.
Jericho left pro wrestling in August, 2005, after losing a match where the loser was fired against John Cena on Raw. He was only 34, but cited mental burnout, saying it was taking him hours to come up with new ideas that in the past would have only taken him minutes. He was losing his passion and his creativity in wrestling. He’s said in hindsight that he believes had he stayed in, the odds were good he would have suffered a serious injury, something he’s avoided, because he noticed when you physically and mentally get burned out is when you are at the highest risk of getting hurt.
For the next two plus years, he toured with his band, “Fozzy,” studied and did some acting, and never really committed to the idea of returning to wrestling. When he left, most in WWE figured he’d be back in three months. TNA was constantly showing interest. He followed the business in his absence, but not closely. He didn’t watch a lot, but was also never out of touch with what was going on.
What made him start to think about coming back were two matches with John Cena vs. Shawn Michaels, the match at the 2007 WrestleMania in Detroit, and the 51-minute rematch on April 23, 2007, from London, on Raw. But what solidified it was the tragedy involving the person he considered his best friend in wrestling, Chris Benoit. It left him perplexed, that a man he would have without any thought have allowed to babysit his children, would do what he did. He came off well on various media shows, in a manner very beneficial to WWE, speaking almost like a practiced politician. Even though he was not with the company, he was probably the most effective advocate WWE had during what was in some ways the darkest period in company history, not from a business standpoint, but certainly from a public perception standpoint, particularly when the people in the company sent out to defend the company were constantly embarrassing themselves and looking foolish.
The idea of the return was to ultimately be a heel. Vince McMahon insisted that he start out as a babyface, thinking the people would be happy to see him back. The return was teased on a viral campaign with hints on the Titantron during programming. People knew months ahead he was coming back. It actually worked almost too well. There were several dates where he was widely expected back, with interest peaking at the No Mercy show on October 7, 2007, in Chicago. At the beginning of the show, when Vince McMahon came out to explain how the vacant world title would be settled, there was a huge, “Y2J” chant that didn’t stop, with McMahon trying to explain his scenario that was supposed to get over, and he had to acknowledge the chants, say that you’re not getting him, and kind of flattened out his speech. A lot of fans were expecting him to come in and win the world title, which had been vacated a few days earlier when John Cena suffered a torn pec. He actually returned six weeks later, on November 19, 2007, on Raw, with short hair. Whether the return was anti-climactic or not, it mistimed the interest peak. He did a several month babyface run with mixed reactions, including a title program with Randy Orton and a bloodbath program with JBL, the latter of which kind of fell flat. The return run has lasted three years, and with his contract expiring this month, neither his short-term nor long-term future as a wrestler is clear.
While he knew he was coming back as a heel, he didn’t fully have the plan formulated. It was watching the movie “No Country for Old Men,” the 2007 Oscar winner for best picture, when he saw the character of Anton Chigurh, a hitman, played by Javier Bardem, who won the Best Supporting Actor award, that he came up with the inspiration. He would play a remorseless villain whose character believed he was right and that everyone else was wrong. He eliminated all the prior comedy elements of his persona, a risky move because comedy and frivolity was a lot of what he had built his character around and was an extension of his natural personality. He decided to always wear a suit, because at the time, almost nobody was doing it. He decided against talking loudly on interviews. No top heel had talked in a reasoned monotone deliberate fashion without raising their voice since Jake Roberts, whose heyday was from the prior generation. Using the big words to insult the intelligence of the audience and exude arrogance came from Nick Bockwinkel, who he saw as a kid growing up in Winnipeg when Bockwinkel was the AWA champion.
This led to his program with Michaels, the biggest of his career. The two were supposed to build to one PPV match, with Jericho turning heel. Instead, Jericho and Michaels formulated a game plan to slow it down and create a storyline involving Batista. Michaels would fake an injury to get Batista, also a babyface at the time, off guard and superkick him to win a PPV match. It was left ambiguous whether Michaels did or didn’t fake the injury. Jericho at first believed Michaels had faked the injury, when nobody else did, and would accuse him of it, which really turned him heel. Then, after several more weeks, Jericho turned around and, like everyone else, believed the injury was real. Then, when Michaels revealed he had been faking it, Jericho didn’t believe it at first. When it became clear after Michaels laid out Jericho and told him he wasn’t hurt, Jericho turned on the audience harder, because they cheered Michaels, the fraud and the liar, even though he was the one who was right all along. The key to the turn was the idea that him actually being right would add to the heat, because of the feeling Michaels at that point in his career was considered such an icon that the crowd would never turn against him. The crowd turning on the honest one, in the Jericho thinking, allowed him to insult the audience and not in a traditional “I’m playing bad guy wrestler” way.
The program involved an eye injury to Michaels, when Jericho threw Michaels through the Jeritron during a Highlight Reel segment, a takeoff on Michaels throwing Marty Jannetty through the barber shop window more than 15 years earlier in one of Michaels’ most memorable angles.
It heated up on June 29, 2008, when Michaels distracted Jericho, causing him to lose the IC title to Kofi Kingston. The first major match of the program was July 20, 2008, at the Great American Bash at the Nassau Coliseum. Michaels bled from the eye and Jericho head-butted the cut, and punched the cut. They used a finish taken out of MMA, as Jericho got a side mount and started throwing punch after punch, as well as palm blows to the eye. Michaels was selling like he was out and unable to defend himself, and Marty Elias, acting like an MMA official, dove in to stop the match.
Michaels announced that he had to make a decision, because of eye damage. At SummerSlam on August 17, 2008, in Indianapolis, in one of WWE’s best angles of the past decade. Michaels came out with wife Rebecca Curci Hickenbottom, who prior to being introduced to Michaels, was Whisper of the Nitro Girls in the late 90s. Michaels claimed he had seen the doctor, and said that due to his eye injury, his back injuries and knee injuries, that the doctor advised him to retire, but said he had to personally make that decision. He said that for the first time in his life, he was going to listen to the doctor. He talked about his career, and Jericho came out and demanded that Michaels admit that he was the one who ended his career. Michaels said that was the case, saying he would tell his wife and son that Daddy can no longer wrestle due to the act of a vile, selfish, worthless human being, and that Jericho would have to go home and tell his wife and son that he would never be Shawn Michaels. Jericho threw a punch at Michaels, who ducked and he nailed Rebecca. The angle was inspired by an 80s angle with Buzz Sawyer and Jim Duggan and Duggan’s girlfriend (now wife) in Mid South Wrestling.
As it turned out, the punch connected too closely by accident and busted her lip open, leaving her with a fat lip and bleeding. It was not overplayed. Michaels was concerned over his wife, and didn’t attack Jericho. His wife didn’t go out on a stretcher, as would be the case in almost every angle of the type. Whether those little things mattered at the end or not, there’s no proof either way, but there was an attention to detail that is rarely seen in modern angles. The reality of the beautiful wife with her face messed up and Michaels’ reactions were some of the best acting on WWE television in recent years.
The program continued on September 7, 2008, at Unforgiven in Cleveland, where Michaels got his revenge beating Jericho via ref stoppage in 26:53, using his belt buckle but again with an MMA-inspired ground and pound finish and ref stoppage, but Jericho came back later that night to win the world title as a late addition in a scramble match with JBL, Batista, Rey Mysterio, and Kane. This led to a ladder match where Jericho beat Michaels by head-butting him off the ladder at 22:20 in a ****½ match to retain the title. The title run was short-lived, going to Batista three weeks later.
With that program as the key, Jericho won a close race for Wrestler of the Year with Michaels and Edge. He placed fifth in Most Outstanding, won feud of the year with Michaels by more than double second place Undertaker vs. Edge, won Best on Interviews, and his ladder match with Michaels won Match of the year.
He also did strongly last year, winning Wrestler of the Year by a substantial margin, placing fourth in Most Outstanding Wrestler, third in feud of the year with Rey Mysterio, third in tag team of the year with Big Show, winning Best on Interviews, and he had a top ten match of the year with Mysterio.
The Mysterio feud was also supposed to be short-lived, and even the lengthened version was probably was shorter than it could have been, as it seemed to end just as it was peaking with several strong matches and dual angles where each man came out of the audience to attack the other. Jericho came up with the idea of doing a program based around taking Mysterio’s mask, based on the tradition from Mexico. Vince McMahon wasn’t hot on the idea, believing nobody would care (McMahon did nix Mysterio putting his mask on the line in the 2010 program with C.M. Punk) about the mask.
Jericho’s strength as a candidate is his consistency in the 90s, always being among the top wrestlers, and particularly in recent years when he was arguably the best all-around performer in the game, and at worst, somebody who would be mentioned in the running for that position. His weakness is that with the exception of the Michaels program, which didn’t do any kind of record business, he was never really slotted as a guy carrying a territory. Even when he had world title runs, even after beating Rock and Austin on the same night to become undisputed champion in 2001, he was never pushed as the main guy carrying the territory. His title reigns always seemed to be bridges, such as the first one, where from the time he won it, it was clear he was there to lose it to HHH. Some of that comes from his era. For the most part, he was usually slotted in the top tier, but did more jobs than most in that tier, partially in recent years because of the feeling his promos were so good he could lose to anyone and it wouldn’t hurt him, and partially because he wasn’t a Cena or Batista or HHH or Randy Orton who are protected a lot more.
He was often used to get younger guys over, and, like with Kofi Kingston and Evan Bourne, and even a young Cena, after he’d put them over, their pushes would be forgotten. The rule of thumb seemed to be have Jericho put them over, and then a month later, someone comes to the conclusion they aren’t getting over and they end up back in the slot. His programs have been some of the best the company has done, including a program with himself, Christian and Trish Stratus that went a long time although was not a main event program at the time, because he’s respected enough to be able to give significant input and direction on his programs. One of the strengths of his interviews is he’s one of the selected ones whose judgment is considered such that he can ad lib on his promos, staying in the direction but veering from the word-for-word script.
He held a host of championships, 22 in his WWE tenure, among the most in company history. He was the undisputed champion, billed at the time as the first one in pro wrestling history. He won six versions of the world heavyweight title in WWE, and held the IC title a record nine times. He also held four tag team tiles in the company, with Benoit, The Rock, Christian, Edge & Big Show (same reign, Jericho picking Show as his new partner when Edge was injured). He also held middleweight and tag team titles in Mexico and Japan, cruiserweight and TV titles in WCW, and the International jr. title in Japan doing a program with Ultimo Dragon, as well as the world middleweight title in Mexico, also working with Dragon.
Christopher Keith Irvine was born November 9, 1970, in Manhasset, NY, on Long Island, while his father Ted was playing hockey for the New York Rangers.
Ted Irvine, who was born in Winnipeg, was a left winger who played in the NHL from 1963 to 1977. Actually he only played one game in 1963 for the Boston Bruins, and spent the next three years in the minor leagues, before being brought up for good by the Los Angeles Kings for the 1967-68 season. He was traded to the Rangers in early 1970, just before Chris was born. He was good enough that in a 2009 book “100 Ranger Greats,” he was listed as No. 74 in the list from the long history of the franchise. He moved to the St. Louis Blues in 1975, where he finished his career. After his NHL career was over, returned to Winnipeg where he spent several years as the radio color voice of the Winnipeg Jets as well as hosted a weekly television show on the team.
Jericho wanted to be both a wrestler and the lead singer in a rock band growing up, and ended up amassing a considerable amount of trivial knowledge of both pursuits, and ended up doing both. He wasn’t sure about the wrestling, because the late 80s was the era of the monsters. It wasn’t until meeting his favorite wrestler growing up, Ricky Steamboat, at an autograph session, and seeing that Steamboat was the same height he was, that he realized he wasn’t too small for wrestling, although his size has probably worked against him his entire U.S. career. The irony was that more than 20 years after that meeting, Jericho played a part in Steamboat’s brief final run, starting at WrestleMania 25.
The idea was Jericho vs. Mickey Rourke, who garnered a Best Actor Oscar nomination for “The Wrestler.” While there is a story that Rourke and Jericho were on Larry King and Jericho was so effective as a heel in warning Rourke not to come and make a joke of his sport that Rourke got scared and backed out of the match, that’s only halfway accurate.
Rourke, when doing the role and learning about pro wrestling, studied pro wrestling and idolized Ric Flair, inviting him to the premiere and actually at the premier referred to Flair as a God among men. The two became friends and drinking buddies, and Flair convinced Rourke to do one match at Mania, and the idea was Jericho was the guy who could both build it up the best, and also could carry Rourke and would have no ego problem with putting an aging outsider actor over at the end.
Rourke then made a mention at another awards show of going to WrestleMania, and his people went crazy, believing that if he was wrestling at Mania, he would have no chance to win the Oscar (he ended up not winning anyway). So after being pushed hard for a week, WWE had to backtrack. Vince McMahon’s idea was for Jericho to face a gauntlet series of wrestlers. For whatever reason, McMahon decided it would be three Hall of Famers who had wrestled at WrestleMania I, somehow tying that in to the billed 25th anniversary of WrestleMania (it actually was the 24th anniversary). McMahon chose Jimmy Snuka, Roddy Piper and Greg Valentine, which would have made it the worst match on the show. The idea was Jericho would make them look old and sad, beat them, but then in the end, Rourke, who was a former boxer, sitting at ringside, would come into the ring and they would go into a boxing stance and he’d land a punch that Jericho would sell like he was knocked out. Pretty easy formula.
Jericho, hoping to save the match, wanted at least one guy he could work with. Jerry Lawler’s name came up, which is why Lawler was actually in the angle at one point. But McMahon nixed it, saying that even though Lawler was a Hall of Famer, he was not in WrestleMania I. Jericho then suggested Steamboat, who was 56 and hadn’t wrestled in 15 years, and at first that was nixed until they realized Steamboat had wrestled Matt Borne at the first Mania, and was going into the Hall of Fame that year. What was supposed to be another one-and-done, ended up going so well that it was held over to a straight singles match a few weeks later, and brought back on several house shows. After being in the ring with Steamboat at 56, he said he was better than 85% of the wrestlers on the roster at the time, and most notably, when the two had a match in Greenville, SC, Steamboat’s stomping grounds three decades earlier, they tore the house down.
As for Rourke, he and Jericho appeared on “Larry King Live!,” by which point the actual match was dead, but Rourke was going to make the appearance. Jericho did such a convincing job on his promo that Rourke, who had just portrayed a wrestler in the movies and was an actor, didn’t believe Jericho was acting, and thought Jericho really wanted to hurt him, and nearly changed his mind about doing the show. McMahon, for his part, wanted Jericho to go out in character, but at the end, do something like give a wink or a nod so the audience would know he was working and wasn’t serious. Jericho insisted on not doing anything to compromise his heel character. Rourke was so worried he brought three bodyguards with him, including MMA star Frank Shamrock, for the weekend. WWE officials were very worried when they saw Shamrock in a bodyguard role, as well as an Israeli special forces operative who they didn’t know, as well as Clint Colonel, another MMA fighter.
Jericho met with Rourke for a few minutes that weekend before the show, and insisted everything on King was in character and there would be no problems. Rourke acted surprised, said he believed it, but never let down his guard the whole weekend. Then when Rourke threw the punch, he put a cast on his hand, and made sure it was photographed so he worked it all the way as well.
As Jericho’s father’s hockey career ended, the family returned to Winnipeg. Jericho credited that with one of his main claims to fame, his durability. Wrestling a hard style with plenty of flying, he suffered relatively few injuries. He suffered a broken arm while practicing doing a shooting star press the afternoon of what was his biggest U.S. match at that point of his career, a much promoted Heavenly Bodies vs. Thrillseekers (Jericho & Lance Storm) tag team street fight. Jericho got a cast on, and still worked the match. But there have been relatively few injuries. He suffered a torn ACL a year ago, but he was lucky that the structure of his knee was such that his knee was able to stabilize and he’s worked through it without any need of surgery. Although luck surely played a part in his not getting hurt, other factors in his mind include being born in Winnipeg, noting that it is the coldest major city in North America. When growing up, he never wanted to look like a geek all bundled up, so he’d walk the streets in 20 below weather and he felt that toughened him up. Even though he did a lot of flying, he was always under control in his matches. Also, while he did steroids at times during his career, he was never a heavy user, to the point he never got the muscle and joint imbalances that lead to tears.
After studying journalism in community college, he left school at the age of 19 and answered an ad to study at the Hart Brothers School of Wrestling in Calgary. The school didn’t have much to do with the Hart Brothers, other than Keith Hart, who had an affiliation with it. While at wrestling school, his mother, who had been divorced from his father, got into an argument with her boyfriend, and in an ensuing altercation, ended up being flipped over, almost like a back body drop, and landed on her head, and was paralyzed. Jericho returned home and when he saw how bad it was, thought that he wasn’t going to be able to pursue his dream because he’d have to care for her. She insisted he go back and pursue his dream, and at that point he mentally decided that there was no turning back and he would have to make it. As irony would have it, his mother passed away just a few months after the end of his first career, in late 2005.
Jericho and Lance Evers, soon to be Lance Storm, were the only two to make it from that class. Their first pro match came against each other. Stu Hart had closed Stampede Wrestling at the end of 1989. But many people involved with Stampede opened up a group, with local television, running in some of the same cities. On October 2, 1990, in Ponoka, Alberta, Jericho drew with Storm in both men’s first professional match, for a group called the Canadian Wrestling Connection, a small group that ran a show or two a month and their first match aired on local cable access TV, and Jericho was able to get a tape of the match for airing on his DVD that will be released next week.
By December, they had moved to the Canadian National Wrestling Alliance (CNWA), promoted by Frank Sisson at the Silver Dollar Auction Center in Calgary, running the traditional Friday nights, for a show that aired in many of the old Stampede time slots. Jericho’s debut match as Cowboy Chris Jericho aired nationally on TSN, but TSN canceled the show a week later. The group continued to air in Alberta for several more months before they lost their TV deal. He worked on-and-off for the promotion from 1992-95, holding the heavyweight title once, the mid-heavyweight title twice and the tag team title twice (with Storm).
Jericho and Storm became a tag team, first called Sudden Impact, working for all kinds of Canadian indie groups, mostly from Winnipeg west. The two looked impressive, doing high flying moves, most notably their finisher, which was both men standing on the same top turnbuckle and doing a missile dropkick, ironically with all the smaller guys and high flying, it’s not a move seen on the current scene. They also worked regularly for Tony Condello’s West Four Wrestling Alliance, which had television on a show where Nick Bockwinkel was one of the announcers, and they teamed with Gene Kiniski in what was Kiniski’s next to last career match (it was the night of his last match, but Kiniski did a Battle Royal after the match where he teamed with the Thrillseekers). They got booked into FMW in Japan in 1991, and both men’s careers were off.
One thing about his early career was his willingness to travel. He did the Tony Condello Canadian death tours that a lot of the guys who broke in that later made it did early on, but also would travel to the U.S. for independent bookings, and ended up first becoming a star in Mexico.
In 1992, he debuted in Mexico for Monterrey promoter Carlos Elizondo, using the name Corazon de Leon, or Lion Heart. He wrestled as the English version, Lion Heart, and later, Lion Do (as a trio with Gedo & Jado) in Japan. He was in the right place at the right time, as wrestling in Mexico was on fire, promoters liked his look and he was already a good wrestler by that point. He was a headliner and television star, making good money and having a strong degree of notoriety. This was during the early stages of the promotion war with AAA, and both groups were doing strong business. Mexico’s economy was strong, at least compared to what it was, and there were so many shows and so many good different veteran wrestlers around that you could learn a lot in a short period of time. This remains a big advantage, knowing how to perform nearly every single style as opposed to the wrestlers of today who mostly get trained in a singular style and if they know another style, in many cases it’s treated as a negative.
With long blond hair, Jericho was marketed like a pretty boy foreign babyface. He was usually in main events, or semifinals during that run, which included a long run as the NWA world middleweight champion, winning over Mano Negra on December 7, 1993, in Mexico City, before losing to Ultimo Dragon on November 8, 1994, in Tokyo. He also teamed with Dandy to win the WWA tag team titles, working a program with Mexico’s best tag team of the era, Los Cowboys, Silver King and the late El Texano. He worked at one time or another with every major name star in CMLL.
The period in Mexico was good because he had a deal with Paco Alonso that he could largely come and go as he pleased, which allowed him to work Japanese tours. He developed a relationship with Ultimo Dragon, which led to him become a regular for Genichiro Tenryu’s WAR promotion. He was considered the top foreign junior heavyweight as a regular, including working several big shows against Dragon. One night at Sumo Hall in Tokyo, the two clicked, and it was the best match of his career up to that point in time. The match led later to his being brought to ECW. Paul Heyman was actually looking at bringing Dragon in and asked me for a tape of Dragon, and the Dragon vs. Lion Heart match was Dragon’s best match of that year. Heyman saw the tape. He never did get Dragon, but that convinced him to bring in Jericho.
The Mexico run as a full-timer ended in late 1994 when the economy collapsed. The value of the peso almost overnight declined 90%. This meant the promotions could no longer afford to pay talent in dollars anywhere close to the money they had been doing. Jericho worked some in Mexico after that point, but no longer as a regular.
Other highlights included the March 26, 1995, tournament to crown the International junior heavyweight champion. The name of the belt meant something as it was a title held by Tatsumi Fujinami recognized by the NWA at the time when New Japan marketed Fujinami as the world’s best junior heavyweight since he held an NWA title (he couldn’t get the world title but Eddie Graham and New Japan created a version just underneath for him) and the WWF jr. title (through a deal with the WWF). That version of the title also went to All Japan, and was held by Atsushi Onita and the Mitsuharu Misawa version of Tiger Mask in the 80s. Jericho went to the finals of the one-night tournament, beating Masao Orihara, and then Dragon, who everyone expected to win, in the semifinals before losing to Gedo.
Then, as Lion Do, he won a battle of tag team partners on June 4, 1995, at Korakuen Hall to capture the title from Gedo. What was notable was that in those days, it was a rarity for junior heavyweights to main event above heavyweights, but this match was put in that position. This led to his dropping the title to Dragon on July 28, 1995, in an NWA middleweight and International jr. title champion vs. champion match at Korakuen Hall. He later held the company’s International jr. tag titles, teaming with Gedo to win a tournament on February 23, 1996, in Sendai, beating Dragon & Negro Casas and Storm & Yuji Yasuraoka. They dropped the titles to Storm & Yasuraoka on March 27, 1996, in Nagoya.
During that period, WAR promoted the second Super J Cup on December 13, 1995, at Sumo Hall in Tokyo. After winning his first match from Hanzo Nakajima of Michinoku Pro Wrestling, in the second round, Lion Heart lost to Wild Pegasus (Benoit) in a great match. Indirectly, that led to his signing with WCW. Eric Bischoff got a tape of that show, with the idea being pushed to do a similar Super J Cup tournament. Even though it was one of the great shows of all-time, Bischoff wasn’t interested in the tournament, but was intrigued by the good looking blond haired guy who had a great match with Benoit. He asked Benoit about him and should he sign him, and Benoit highly recommended him. As it turned out, Jericho had been booked at a multi-promotional show put together by New Japan Pro Wrestling, the World Wrestling Peace Festival, on June 1, 1996, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. While wrestlers came from a ton of different promotions, it was mostly a joint effort of New Japan, WCW and AAA. Although Jericho was unaffiliated with those companies, he ended up being booked in a three-way match with Konnan and Bam Bam Bigelow. Bischoff was there, met him, and offered Jericho a contract. The funny part of this is Bischoff left the arena before Jericho even wrestled, not watching his new signee. He said that the recommendation from Benoit was good enough for him.
Before starting in WCW, Jericho had short stays in both Smoky Mountain Wrestling and ECW. He and Storm were brought in and groomed to be a top babyface tag team in SMW in 1994. Jim Cornette introduced them with videos, very reminiscent to what Jerry Jarrett had done a dozen years earlier with The Fabulous Ones. The idea was Jericho was a wild partier who liked to stay out all night and Storm was a straight-laced non-drinker, who actually was shown drinking milk in one of the videos. The team never got over the way Cornette envisioned, whether it was due to doing a style based in Calgary and Japan style in the South, or never fully getting momentum because Jericho left for trips to Japan, as well as him having to miss time due to his broken arm just as the team was hitting its stride. They worked about six weeks, then left for a month, and were back for three months with the idea of building toward matches where they would beat the Heavenly Bodies on a run of the company’s biggest shows. However, it was prior to the first night of the tour that Jericho broke his arm, still his most serious career injury. While the bloody street fight that night was, by far, the team’s most memorable match of that run, it was the only one. Whatever momentum they would have gotten from beating the promotion’s tenured top heel team, who at that point were WWE regulars and only came down for big shows, was lost.
The ECW run in 1996 saw him as a pushed guy, but not quite at the top. He worked with most of the top talent there, winning the TV title on June 22, 1996, at the ECW Arena, from Pitbull #2 (the late Anthony Durante), but it was destined to be a short run since he was already headed to WCW. He lost it to Shane Douglas in a four-way on July 13, 1996, that also involved Pitbull #2 and Too Cold Scorpio.
The arrival in WCW in August 1996, spelled the end of the working for international promotions, other than whatever business WCW sent him to do with New Japan. At the start of 1997, there was an agreement where he would become the main junior heavyweight heel in New Japan, as Super Liger, to be the evil version of Jushin Liger, in a similar but darker costume. He debuted on January 4, 1997, at a Tokyo Dome show and 52,500 fans, and apparently his match with Koji Kanemoto was a disaster. The match never aired on television. Jericho himself wrote the match was terrible, and the gimmick, and his tenure as a New Japan regular died long before he got his big program with Liger.
His three years in WCW would be best described as frustrating. There were positives in the sense WCW had arguably the greatest talent roster of any promotion in history, so he had a number of very good matches with a wide variety of opponents. Even though Bischoff didn’t see him as main event talent, he was funny enough in coming up with ideas for programs and interviews, and good enough in the ring that he became a star. At first he struggled, but eventually was used in the cruiserweight workhorse mix.
He became one of the best interviews in the business, and as a heel, created a cult personality in Ralphus as his head of security. His character was good in the ring, but mostly comedy outside the ring. Because he ended up being so successful in WWE, it’s allowed him to poke fun at those WCW years, such as his first major win being against referee Nick Patrick, and him spending week after week to build up a match with Bill Goldberg, which Goldberg refused to do because jealous people holding onto spots got in his ear and convinced him Jericho was too small and Goldberg shouldn’t allow him, even to beat him, to move up to the top level. I can even recall in 1998 talking with Bischoff about how he needed to build for the future, or there would be no future, and mentioned several names that should be given a chance, among them Jericho. Bischoff accepted some of the names, noting that even though Benoit was small, he was so believable that Bischoff could see him in with the top mix. But he blew off Jericho, claiming that nobody would believe him on top, saying that his teenage son could kick Jericho’s ass.
During that run he held the TV title, beating Stevie Ray on August 10, 1998, in Rapid City, SD (the champion was Booker T, but since he had an injury, WCW invoked the brothers can defend the title clause) and lost to Konnan on November 30, 1998, in Chattanooga. He also had four runs with the cruiserweight title, beating Syxx (Sean Waltman) on June 28, 1997, in Los Angeles, beating Alex Wright on August 12, 1997 in Colorado Springs, beating Rey Misterio Jr. on January 24, 1998 in Dayton and finally beating Dean Malenko on June 14, 1998 in Baltimore.
On WCW PPVs, he wrestled some of the biggest names of that period (and a few who wouldn’t fall into that category in prelims and mid-card matches), including Benoit, Masahiro Chono, Ultimo Dragon, Prince Iaukea, Alex Wright, Gedo, and multiple bouts with Eddy Guerrero, Misterio Jr., Juventud Guerrera (winning his mask), and Malenko and Perry Saturn.
He was probably better known for his skits and comedy performances, but at no point during the run was he considered or booked as being on the level of the main eventers. Once, by chance, he was put in a tag team with Guerrero, and the chemistry between the two was obvious to almost everyone. After a few weeks of matches that got over big, the team was dropped.
There were a lot of motivations that led to Jericho leaving WCW for WWF in 1999. In early 1999, due to producing some of the worst wrestling on television, the key revenue streams, house shows and PPV, started going down fast. Ratings were falling as well. It felt like a sinking ship. WWF was on fire, selling out most of their events and they were doing record ratings. Jericho’s best friends at the time in wrestling, like Benoit, Eddy & Chavo Guerrero, Malenko and others were in WCW, but unlike Benoit, Eddy Guerrero and Malenko who had for years stuck together, Jericho from the start of his career had gone his own way. Another key thing was the Goldberg angle going nowhere. While Goldberg was out of action for a few weeks, Jericho went on television every week and taunted him, challenged him and would declare himself the forfeit winner over him. He even brought out a local indie guy who was about half Goldberg’s size, dressed him up like Goldberg, and Jericho beat him on a PPV acting like it was the real Goldberg. The program seemed to be getting over, and Jericho knew the end result was Goldberg was going to have to beat him, but instead, when Goldberg got back, he refused to do the program. Jericho saw that as a sign that with the people the company had on top, he’d never get a chance on that level. In addition, growing up in Winnipeg, while AWA was the local promotion when he was a child, by the time he was in high school, WWF was it, and he was a big fan and his childhood goal was WWF.
Still, there was frustration. He had a good look, was a good worker, had experience all over the world, and WWF had never showed any real interest in him. Aside from the period he was in Smoky Mountain when the groups had a working relationship and there was an offer for a fill-in spot on a house show swing that didn’t materialize, the only thing he ever got from WWF was when Vince McMahon was in the mode to, instead of use nameless, faceless job guys, have a crew of glorified job guys.
The idea came from Jim Cornette to bring in talented workers as television regulars as opposed to using local job guys, and book more competitive television matches as opposed to one-sided squash matches. The idea was strictly for television jobs but if they did well, they could also be used as prelim guys on house shows. Cornette called a number of people he was familiar with, including Jericho.
After Cornette had asked people to come in, the company went with the idea that if they were regulars, they should have cartoon gimmicks which McMahon wanted to be based in some form on reality (such as Big Bossman’s prison guard gimmick because that was his job before wrestling, or Paul Bearer’s mortician gimmick because that was his job both before and after wrestling). Among the most notable were Tracy Smothers as Freddy Joe Floyd from Oklahoma (a spoof on the Brisco Brothers, as Jack’s name was Freddy Joe Brisco, and Gerald was Floyd Gerald Brisco), Tony Anthony as the Plumber T.L. Hopper and Bill Irwin as The Goon, doing a hockey gimmick. Jericho may have been the one originally earmarked with the hockey player gimmick, given his family background. He turned the offer down, not wanting to go in as a glorified jobber.
In June 1998, with more than a year left in his contract, he was offered a renewal and a big raise by Bischoff, and agreed to it. But he never actually got the physical contract from the company for five months, which ended up making the difference. Jim Ross and Gerald Brisco spoke to him in Tampa, where he was living, at the Bombay Bicycle Club to feel him out. The key thing was in October. Vince McMahon flew Jericho to his home in Connecticut, and he was there all day with the key decision makers in the company while they worked on that week’s Raw show. It’s funny in hindsight. This was in the middle of what was a heated wrestling war. Both companies by this point had lawsuits out against each other. And, while this never got out at the time, there couldn’t have been a more obvious case of contract tampering. They gave him a pitch and told him they wanted him as a major part of the company. He made the decision to go, and never wavered. The next month, five months after he had verbally agreed to stay with WCW, he finally got the physical contract, and said that he wasn’t going to sign. At first, they tried to punish him by beating him and burying him until he signed, figuring that would get him to sign with the idea they could make him worthless to WWE but portraying him as a job guy. Whether Bischoff thought he was a main eventer or not, in 1998 and into early 1999, he didn’t want to lose a talented performer to his rivals. Bischoff offered him a new deal with a big raise, where he’d make more than what WWF guaranteed, but Jericho had no interest. Bischoff then claimed that Jericho had gone back on his word.
Shortly after a program with Perry Saturn, when it was clear Jericho was leaving, rather than continue to job him out on television which was the standard operating procedure of the industry, Bischoff was so mad he pulled him off television completely. Jericho still got full pay, and it was a blessing in disguise. Being jobbed out in WCW would not have been the kiss of death for his career. But the way the business was at that time, it is unlikely WWF would have debuted Jericho going toe-to-toe verbally with The Rock if he had been on WCW television every week putting everyone over. The WCW punishment, removing him from television, turned out to be a lucky break, because he was like a fresh character when he started with the new company.
His debut was with great build-up. He officially signed with WWE on June 30, 1999, and for weeks on television, they had a countdown clock to the new millennium, except it was going to end on August 9. That was Jericho’s idea, saying he had the idea from seeing a similar clock at the post office. The clock ran out while Rock was doing a promo, and Jericho came out, calling himself “Y2J,” based on the new millennium being called “Y2K.” He went back-and-forth with Rock, coming in as a heel.
While he came in with great fanfare, it was not smooth sailing. While everyone understood that the management of WCW and WWF were at war, in this promotional feud, the wrestlers on the WWF side at least, took it like they were part of it. Jericho had the label as a WCW guy at first. He was buried by HHH at first, saying that he didn’t know how to work. Instead of being the breakout star, he was a mid-card wrestler or upper mid-carder who ended up feuding with Chyna over the IC title. A lot of people in the company hated the idea of that program, not just for Jericho but just the idea of his having to make a woman his physical superior, and that it was being done largely because HHH had major power by that point in time, and they felt having his girlfriend work even with Jericho wasn’t good business. The fans eventually rejected it, turning on Chyna and cheering Jericho at a PPV show. This led to Jericho going babyface and feuding with Kurt Angle.
His WrestleMania debut was at No. 16 in Anaheim, a three-way match with Angle, Benoit and Jericho, who would go on to be three of the best wrestlers of the decade. But the match wasn’t as good as it sounds. Angle held both the IC and European titles, and in the match, the winner of the first fall would be IC champion, and winner of the second fall would be European champion. Jericho and Benoit traded pins, with Benoit getting the IC title and Jericho the European title, with the story that Angle lost two belts without ever getting pinned. Jericho lost that title the next day, when Chyna turned heel on him, and Guerrero beat him.
His most memorable match was a WWF title match on the April 17, 2000, Raw in State College, PA, against HHH. In a great match, Jericho won the match via pinfall. The crowd in State College exploded even louder than expected for the apparent title change. However, later in the show, HHH made a deal with referee Earl Hebner that if he reversed the decision of the earlier match, then as long as Hebner was under contract, HHH would never attack him (HHH had been giving Hebner beatings several times). Hebner reversed the decision, leading HHH to fire him, and then attack him again. Jericho had a number of matches with HHH, always losing, most notably a last man standing match that in the past babyfaces had usually won, and also lost to Benoit and Angle on big shows.
In one of the greatest ladder matches ever, on January 21, 2001, in New Orleans at the Royal Rumble, Jericho beat Benoit to win the IC title, holding it for more than two months before losing to HHH.
Jericho was working a mid-card program with William Regal when his next shot at being in the top mix happened. This was the period when WWF business, that had been super strong through the end of 2000, started to fall, before the invasion angle. The big problem was the heel turn of Steve Austin. The plan, stemming from a show in February in Las Vegas where HHH beat Austin in two out of three matches, and a significant percentage of the crowd cheered HHH, is that Austin would go heel and HHH would go face. However, HHH instead decided against going face, leaving the company without a top face since Rock was working on movies all summer. HHH instead pushed for and got a tag team with Austin (and the funny part of the team is HHH was pushed bigger than Austin at the time). However, the face side was depleted, so they were working on top with Undertaker & Kane. When it appeared that program wasn’t working out well, Heyman, then working in WWE creative, pushed for a Benoit & Jericho vs. Austin & HHH feud, starting on May 21, 2001, in San Jose, where, in one of the best matches in Raw history, Benoit & Jericho scored the upset win to take the tag titles. But the tag program was immediately done, as HHH tore his quad right before the finish, and after surgery, was out for the rest of the year.
Whatever momentum the tag title win would have had was done because they booked Austin vs. Jericho vs. Benoit in a three-way for the heavyweight title. With Austin as the heel beating two babyfaces who were tag champs, it took them down a notch.
After being part of Team WWF in the Invasion PPV, which did 775,000 buys, the most ever for a non-WrestleMania show in pro wrestling history, he was back in the middle, until he got his biggest career break as far as being a top guy. The Rock returned, and by this time, Jericho had been high middle and always lost to the top tier guys, aside from the tag match in San Jose. They actually pushed a storyline about how Jericho could never win the big one, and then Rock put him over for the WCW title on November 21, 2001 in St. Louis at the No Mercy PPV. At the time, this was a huge career breakthrough because results still meant a lot, and Rock put him over about as clean as a top babyface should put over a new heel.
This was followed on December 9, 2001, in San Diego, a show built around crowning the “first undisputed world champion in pro wrestling history.” While it was hardly what was advertised, the idea was after buying WCW, and using the WCW and WWF world titles, they would merge the lineage of the two most important championship belts in North America dating back to 1963. That was the night that Jericho beat Rock in the semifinals, and then Austin in the finals of a four-man tournament that also included Angle. As a heel, for years, he would bring up that night for heat, about being the only person to ever beat Austin and Rock on the same night.
While he was really a place-holder, as HHH was to return from his injury to win the title at WrestleMania, Jericho as champion on PPV going into Mania scored a win over Rock for the third straight time on PPV in a singles match at the 2002 Royal Rumble, and followed with a second win over Austin at No Way Out. HHH won the title on March 17, 2002, at Sky Dome in Toronto. The Jericho run looks impressive based on who he beat, but in other ways he was portrayed beneath both HHH and Stephanie McMahon, who were the stars of the show, even as champion. The title change match, while technically fine, didn’t get over well live, as the crowd was clearly there to see the Hulk Hogan vs. Rock match as the main event, but the decision was made to put the title match on last, where it kind of floundered.
After losing the title, Jericho wasn’t even on the Backlash PPV, as the company changed directions based on Hogan’s reaction, having Hogan beat HHH for the title right away. HHH followed beating Jericho in a Hell in a Cell match on May 19, 2002, in Nashville. After that, he lost on the next three PPVs to RVD in the first round of the King of the Ring, to Cena, who Heyman was pushing as his new big star, only to have the rest of the company turn Cena when he was tagged with being a bad worker and was soon jobbing on Velocity. He also split matches with Flair.
This led to a tag team run where Jericho & Christian beat Booker T & Goldust to win the tag titles on October 20, 2002, in Little Rock. After losing the titles back in a four-way, he worked an early 2003 program with Michaels, with the idea of proving he was better than Michaels. This led to a classic match at WrestleMania 19 on March 30, 2003, which Michaels won in 22:33 with a Japanese rolling crotch hold, which was generally considered the best match on the show. The two hugged after the match, and then Jericho laid Michaels out with a low blow.
Jericho followed with a program with Bill Goldberg, built around an angle where Storm attempted to run over Goldberg with a limo, saying he and Jericho were working together. Goldberg won their PPV match. There was also a backstage incident between the two at the time. The two had words, and Goldberg charged at Jericho, who grabbed a front facelock. The skirmish went about 30 seconds with Jericho on top when they were pulled apart, but contrary to urban legend, was neither choking Goldberg out nor did he choke him out cold. Jericho also beat Kevin Nash in a hair vs. hair match.
Jericho, Christian and Trish Stratus did a long program in the mid-card at that point. Jericho started as a heel, but turned face as he tried to woo Stratus, only to have it come out that Christian had been with Stratus behind his back. He also had a short IC title run, winning a ladder match from Christian, but losing in unique fashion to Shelton Benjamin on Taboo Tuesday. The two did a match without any warning. Jericho was in the ring, not knowing who his opponent would be (chosen in a legit fan voting), nor knowing he was losing the title.
Jericho was in the first Money in the Bank ladder match at WrestleMania 21, and later in the year, before leaving, turned heel for a program with Cena, building to a super heated SummerSlam match, followed by a loser gets fired match, which Cena won, and led to Jericho’s sabbatical.
Besides his rock band, which he formed in 1999 and has released four albums, he hosted a weekly rock radio show on XM radio, he has regularly appeared as a talking head on VH-1 historical shows talking about music history and trivia, as well as pop culture. During his break from wrestling, he did theater acting, stand-up comedy, and several movies. He appeared on a reality show on FOX in 2006 called “Celebrity Duets,” but was immediately eliminated. His first book, “A Lion’s Tale,” a comedic look at his life right until the moment he debuted on Raw in 1999, is generally considered one of the best wrestling books ever written, and one of the few wrestling books not promoted by WWE to crack the New York Times bestseller list. His second book, covering his WWE career, is scheduled to be released in 2011. He hosted a cable reality show in 2008 called “Redemption Song,” and this past summer, hosted an ABC prime time game show, “Downfall.” The latter, which only lasted a few weeks, saw him get very strong reviews as a host, but the concept had no staying power. He’s also twice been in the running for “Dancing with the Stars,” but his WWE commitments on Mondays made that impossible.
CHRIS JERICHO – A 20-year veteran and two-time Wrestler of the Year award winner (2008 and 2009), Jericho was a long-time name wrestler on an international basis, who had his greatest success after taking a two-plus year sabbatical while in what would be considered his prime years.