Chris Jericho has been a mainstay in professional wrestling for the past three decades, performing for myriad companies and in countless cities and countries across the globe.
Over the past two years, however — just under 7 percent of the time he has been in the industry — Jericho has been one of the faces of All Elite Wrestling, the latest promotion to take aim at Vince McMahon’s WWE conglomerate. For Jericho, as accomplished a performer as there has ever been, AEW offered him a new opportunity to take control of his career and help re-shape the business of professional wrestling.
“I wanted to make a difference,” Jericho told Yahoo Sports. “I knew where I’d be slotted and what I’d be doing if I went back to WWE. It’s just the way it is there. I knew if I came to AEW, much like I did in New Japan when I went there, that I could do some good business, I could really change the way that the industry is, for the better.”
Since last October, AEW’s “Dynamite” TV show has gone head-to-head with WWE’s NXT brand on Wednesday nights and Jericho has been at the center of it. After becoming AEW’s inaugural heavyweight champion, Jericho was arguably the key cog in making sure that AEW hit the ground running when it came to its first shot at a weekly television program.
Although Jericho has been with AEW since its start in January 2019, he does not have an executive vice president role the same way his colleagues Cody Rhodes, Matt and Nick Jackson and Kenny Omega do.
That doesn’t make him any less important, however.
“I’m a big part of the success of this company and I feel like it’s my company as a result, I’m not working for a machine,” Jericho said. “I loved working for WWE, but I feel like I am AEW. When we first started it rested on my shoulders in a lot of ways, and thankfully we did what we were supposed to do and it rests on a lot of people’s shoulders. That original task was mine and mine alone, I was kind of the flag bearer for the company so it’s been very cool to see the success.”
Jericho’s jump to AEW wasn’t the first time he helped swing a ratings battle between McMahon and a rival promotion however. In 1999, amid the ongoing “Monday Night Wars” between WWE (then WWF) and WCW, Jericho’s defection to McMahon’s company was one of the signature moments not only for fans, but for the business as well.
Despite having the unique experience of playing a pivotal role in both eras, the 49-year-old veteran refuses to compare them like many wrestling fans and media tend to.
“We didn’t start a war or a battle, we are just worried about our own stuff,” Jericho said. “We don’t care what WWE or NXT does. Obviously we love beating them in the ratings every week, to the point where it’s almost embarrassing at this point, but we’re not obsessed with it.
“Twenty years ago there’d be a party if WCW’s pyro went off before WWE’s. Every moment was so intense, every segment of the show had to be mapped out to beat WWE. We’re not like that, we don’t know what NXT is doing and we’re worried about our own show and our own business and I think that’s why we’ve been so successful.”
A master class in wrestling and entertainment
Although part of AEW’s success is undeniably due to Jericho, Tony Khan’s company has given the star another opportunity to perform at a high level and a challenge to stay motivated both physically and creatively.
“I’ve never lost my passion in AEW,” Jericho said. “I did in WWE a couple of times and that’s when working with Kevin Owens, Seth Rollins, Sami Zayn, Roman Reigns and Cesaro and those types of guys helped reignite the passion. AEW has been nothing but passion. It’s been nothing but us trying to make it great. If you see how I run my matches, I’m doing everything that I can for everybody. Does it affect me? No, it never affects me, but it gives people the ‘rub’ and makes them into bigger stars. That’s the idea.”
While on one hand, Jericho getting the chance to work with new and emerging talent has allowed him to keep his passion fierce for the business, getting advice and a boost in visibility from a figure of his stature has helped foster along those same budding stars.
“Even if just by proxy, look at all of the talent I’ve helped build, starting with the Inner Circle, Darby Allin, Jungle Boy, Jon Moxley,” Jericho said. “Moxley wasn’t what he is now when he was in WWE. He paled in comparison. Even Cody, look at how great Cody is. He was never given that chance or it was never planned out for him. It’s one of those things where you have a lot of people on the roster and we are all there for the same reason — to get everybody over and have the best and most successful company we can by working together.”
Jericho also offers a somewhat contrasting style to what most AEW fans have come to expect as well. With stars like the Young Bucks (Matt and Nick Jackson), the Lucha Brothers and Omega, AEW came in with a very indie wrestling feel, putting a bigger emphasis on action and high-risk maneuvers versus telling a story in the ring.
“The best wrestlers are the best entertainers,” Jericho said. “I don’t care about how many star matches you have or anything like that. All I care about is if you connect with the audience and are you fun to watch. Do you piss people off? Do you get that emotion when people see you? That’s what wrestling is.”
It’s a lesson Jericho — who is quite literally also a rock star as the lead singer for Fozzy — learned early on in his career.
“When I first started, I wanted to be the ultimate rock and roll frontman in a wrestling ring,” Jericho said. “I think that doing both is very reciprocal. The best in both industries know how to command a crowd, captivate an audience. They take the crowd on a journey and that’s what I’ve been very good at. I knew I was never going to be the biggest man on a show, but I could have the biggest charisma and personality.”
‘I’ve never been in love with wrestling as much as I am now’
As AEW celebrates its first year of “Dynamite,” it has not come without challenges. As the world adapted to the coronavirus pandemic this year, the wrestling industry had to as well. Gone were the cheering crowds week after week. Instead, Jericho and his peers had to bring the same moxie in front of a handful of people.
“We’ve [done a television show] without fans longer than we have with fans,” Jericho said. “It’s crazy to think about that. It was hard. Guess what? We had no option. We had to continue and make the best of it and that is what we did.”
Ahead of its one-year television anniversary, AEW was the first wrestling promotion to allow fans back into its shows. While still filming at Daily’s Place, AEW has allowed a fraction of fans to attend while also implementing social distancing measures.
“We were the first to have fans back, even just 500 people, it felt like Madison Square Garden, it was the best feeling ever,” Jericho said. “It was really cool to see the reactions, have that vibe and have a crowd be a crowd. I appreciated that and like the fact that it was organic.”
That moment — relatively muted compared to the debut of “Dynamite” last year — brought Jericho back to his favorite memory from working with AEW thus far.
“Just the fact that we exist is my favorite part [of this],” Jericho said. “I remember that first night in Washington, D.C., we had a sold-out crowd and people realized that it was really happening. I remember the reactions for that. It was a very special night all across the board.”
Now, with AEW having a year of television under its belt and a contract with TNT through 2023, the stage is set for Jericho to have many more special nights with the organization that he helped build and, in turn, helped push him to possibly his greatest run yet.
“I think going back five years with WWE, I was only doing house shows and I was thinking that I would be done in a year or two,” Jericho said. “Then when I started going to New Japan and coming to AEW and having that kind of freedom, I’ve never been in love with wrestling as much as I am now. I’m very excited and it’s been a blast.
“There’s no career arc for me. I’ll do the best that I can until I feel like I am not that guy anymore and then I’ll transition quietly into something else, but I am nowhere near that point yet.”
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