Wrestling 101: Chris Jericho
He is by no means the first wrestler to claim to be the best in the world at his craft, but he is certainly the only one to have said it and be one hundred percent correct. While many PG-era fans have seen him sparingly, those of us who have witnessed the full scope of his work understand that Chris Jericho is one of the most gifted and well rounded performers in the business' storied history.
There are many who criticize his fluctuating commitment towards wrestling and the business in general, pointing to his frequent absences and his stint on Dancing With the Stars as evidence of a lack of respect for the business. While some of those critiques may be valid to an extent, one cannot understate his accomplishments in wrestling.
Chris Jericho is the first Undisputed Champion, a belt resulting in the marriage of the old WWF Heavyweight Championship and the then defunct WCW Heavyweight Title. Even more impressive is Jericho's record nine stints as the WWE Intercontinental Champion, a feat that any other performer has yet to come close to breaking.
While age and commitments outside the ring will likely further lessen Jericho's time in WWE, he will stand as an example of what wrestling was and what it should be. No other wrestler in history, save for possibly Hulk Hogan, has been as successful in recreating their character as Chris Jericho has been. No other wrestler, save for The Rock has made the transition to mainstream fame in the way that Jericho has. Chris Jericho is a very special type of performer, one who doesn't come around but once in a lifetime. Like Brock Lesnar, The Rock, and Stone Cold Steve Austin, history will remember the "Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla" as one of the greatest of all time.
Raw 8/9/1999: Raw is Jericho
It is impossible to discuss Jericho's work without mentioning his revolutionary WWF/E debut. For what felt like nearly half of 1999, mini vignettes were shown at what seemed to be random intervals. They featured nothing more than a metallic image bearing the words “Countdown to the Millennium” and an accompanying clock. These would be displayed on the Titantron at the beginning or end of the show. At times this would even happen during the middle of the match, each time the now iconic countdown noise would fill the arena and our speakers at home.
While at this time Jericho had been free from his WCW contract for sometime, the internet was still in it's infancy. Many fans were left in the dark as to who, or even what this countdown was referring to. By a bit of a coincidence, the counter would reach zero during an in ring promo by one of the WWE's top stars, The Rock. The debut and ensuing promo would introduce those of us unfamiliar with WCW programming to the Y2J problem for the first time.
WWE had never before executed a debut that was this perfect, and likely never will again. Granted, Jericho does deserve much of the credit, claiming to have come up with the idea after being inspired by a similar counter in a post office lobby. This is one example where WWE and the relevant talent struck gold, taking what was then a pretty standard approach to promos and vignettes and making it something more engaging and most importantly, far more entertaining.
The promo above, while very entertaining, is by no means the crowning achievement of his extensive and downright top notch stick work. Very few wrestlers are as brilliant and consistently entertaining on the mic as Chris Jericho. Possessing great crowd presence and a great sense of comedic timing, its easy to see how he transitioned into a more mainstream entertainment role. For those with plenty of time to kill or half of a bowl left, I recommend viewing promos during his feud with Stephanie McMahon, (Yes, that one.) or his now legendary “Man of 1,004 holds,” promo opposite Dean Malenko.
Wrestlemania 2000: Triple Threat
Admit it, triple threat matches can be awful, however, this being Jericho's main debut, he made sure that he wouldn't be lumped into the reels of forgettable triple threat matches. Angle entered the match a dual champion, possessing both the Intercontinental and European straps. The feud entering the match had a decent build to it after Jericho had lost his coveted Intercontinental title to Angle at the prior No Way Out PPV.
The match itself was unique, as each fall represented a contest of one belt. While history is not kind in its portrayal of Wrestlemania 2000, watching this match today reveals much as to where Jericho's career was headed. Jericho shows excellent pace and presence in the ring, making sure to share the spotlight with the other two men. However, it's after the first fall that momentum begins to swing Jericho's way, allowing him to capture the European strap via a pinfall over Benoit.
No Mercy 2008: Chris Jericho vs. Shawn Michaels
Chris Jericho and Shawn Michaels have a long and storied history as both in ring workers and real life friends. In fact, this entire list should be full of Jericho/Michaels contests. However, what makes this match so special is the incredible amount of work the pair put into the build for their contest over the World Heavyweight Championship.
After months of traded promos and an unprecedented angle in which Jericho would actually strike and knock out Michaels wife in ring, the stage was set for a legendary ladder match. The match would go on for over twenty minutes and contain numerous dangerous spots and false finishes. A particularly cringe worthy moment occurred when Michaels would use the ropes as a wedge, using his momentum to send the ladder crashing into Jericho's mouth, resulting in a chipped tooth. On paper it may appear mild, however viewing it adds gravity to the amount of danger the veteran was willing to put himself in to entertain the crowd.
Vengeance 2001: Chris Jericho vs. The Rock/ Chris Jericho vs. Stone Cold Steve Austin.
In a series of matches to unify the defunct WCW World Championship and the WWF Heavyweight Title, Chris Jericho would enter alongside the likes of Kurt Angle, Stone Cold Steve Austin and the Rock as the clear underdog. Ahead of the contest there had been little build in Jericho's favor, aside from Jericho's execution of wonderful promo work. After Jericho defeated The Rock to capture the WCW strap he would immediately move on to face Stone Cold Steve Austin.
The final third of the triple feature main event would begin in a truly unique way. It would go on to showcase why Jericho was chosen to represent as the inaugural Undisputed Champion. The match not only showcases Jericho's ring work, but stands to show both the care and attention paid to the progression of his heel character by Jericho and the WWE. There were multiple reasons for viewers at home to hate Chris Jericho that night. He was “pinned” by The Rock while the referee was distracted and he “tapped,” to The Liontamer courtesy of Stone Cold, but he still won. He was the undisputed champion, and he stepped on your heroes to do so. But in doing the show, he gave us forty minutes of wrestling that will go down as some of the most entertaining in history.
Raw 9/8/2014: Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt
While by no means his best match or his most memorable and flashy, this cage match is legendary for different, more personal reasons. I personally think that even Jericho himself knows that his brief feud with Bray “Of Course I'll Supersize” Wyatt was less than perfect. The PG era of scripted promos and less intense ring work hasn't been kind to Chris Jericho, in part leading to his reduced role on television.
However the cap is put on this rather lackluster feud with a great cage match, featuring a great spot that should be required viewing for anyone with any amount of passion for the sport of professional wrestling. Near the end of the match, Jericho would ascend the cage, gazing down from the far side of the announcer's table. While looking towards Bray Wyatt below, he would begin to turn to climb down, however he stops abruptly and turns around. As the crowd begins to stir, Jericho readies himself, shrugs his shoulders and jumps. We are treated to a forty five year old man, a twenty year veteran in the ring performing a cross body from the top of a steel cage.
There are many in the roster today that will barely ascend to the middle rope, let a alone climb to the top of a cage. Jericho had nothing to prove to fans that day, but he gave us a spot that we rarely see; reckless abandon. Granted, smart marks would take notice of his triple padded knees and would gather that Jericho had something big planned for us that night. His cross body proved that at any age or level Jericho can still electrify a crowd like few others.
There are hours and hours of memorable and thrilling ring work from Chris Jericho, and the above is barely scratching the surface. However, as newer fans who may not have seen the scope of his work, you'd be doing yourself a disservice to not familiarize yourself with one of the greats. His feuds with Chris Benoit and Shawn Michaels belong to legend now and his promo work is second to none. When Jericho entered our world he stated that we were being led by Vince McMahon to believe that mediocrity is excellence. He was right. Jericho is excellence.