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Chris Jericho’s Return to WWE: Who’s Saving Whom?

Not long ago, WWE regularly called upon Chris Jericho to elevate wrestlers who needed a boost. With a career spanning decades and prestigious international companies and titles, Jericho was lauded as a “comeback kid” who never seemed to mind getting pinned for the greater good.

A surprise number 2 entrant in the 2013 Royal Rumble, Jericho went move-for-move with Dolph Ziggler, famously proclaiming, “I NEVER LOST IT, BABAY!” to the approving crowd. The two wrestlers had a great time, and I was buying what Jericho was selling. His enthusiasm bordered on the cheesy, but the spirit of competition between him and the Show-Off was a treat. Dolph’s personality never really clicked on either side of the curtain, and so I imagine they hoped a bit of Y2J magic would rub off on him.

Fandango – or as Jericho liked to call him, “Fan-diddly-Dango” – debuted on the main roster as little more than a preening dancer with an enunciation fetish. He was positioned as a joke, with no hope for character development after weeks of evading his first match. Enter Chris Jericho, who latched onto the only known part of Fandango: his name. And while you certainly can’t say that Jericho didn’t make an effort, the results were so one-dimensional. You can only get so much mileage out of ridiculing someone’s name, before you start to sound like that guy who took 6 years to complete high school. And anyone who’s read Jericho’s books will know that he prides himself on pushing the envelope and being original. Perhaps his part-time status did little to motivate him, or reduced his clout with Creative. Nevertheless, their feud ambled down the road to WrestleMania 29, where Fandango won his first official match. If you had your eyes closed, you’d think the announcers were calling Taker/HBK, and that Fandango was already a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame. Jericho did the best he could with what he was given, but it all felt extremely contrived.

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His next dance partner was Ryback, who also became a target of childish name-calling in a half-assed effort to undermine The Big Guy. I distinctly remember Jericho standing on the ramp, making fun of Ryback who’d just injured his knee in a match. He started up a “CRY-BACK!” chant, told him he’d give him “something to cry-back about”, then kicked the crap out of his knee. I’m pretty sure this was my face too:

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Ryback beat Jericho at the next PPV, and then a returning Rob Van Dam beat Jericho, and then IC Champ (!!) Curtis Axel defeated Jericho. At this point, someone should have either given Chris Jericho the Slammy for Most Charitable Superstar, or checked his damn pulse. Ryback attacked him in order to write him off the show, and if you didn’t buy stock in rock n’ roll scarves at that point, I bet you’re sorry now.

After a year of keeping his neck well-adorned, Jericho came back. Bray Wyatt attacked him and the two began a feud which had a lot of potential. Both were confident on the mic, and Jericho’s speed in the ring would complement Wyatt’s. Keep in mind, this was right after Wyatt had been demoralized by John Cena, and a strong showing against his next opponent was key. But what if the fans no longer saw Jericho as a threat? He failed to innovate in his promos, which resulted in making Wyatt look the calm superior. But to what end? If Wyatt gets the upper hand on someone with stale material, what does that buy him? Furthermore, their match at Battleground was plodding and predictable. I’m not going to criticize Jericho for getting older, and it’s not like he’s a terrible wrestler by any means. Their first match served neither man well, and when Jericho got the duke, it didn’t whet my appetite for a rematch. However, the rematch was an example of Paul Heyman’s brilliant mantra: “Accentuate the positives, hide the negatives.” At Summerslam, Bray Wyatt didn’t engage his elder in a paint-by-numbers wrestling match. Instead, he beat him up. Inside the ring. Outside the ring. With great speed and precision. Jericho still got all his moves in, at his own careful pace, but amidst Bray’s onslaught it was far more fun to watch. Hey, it’s Chris Jericho! He’s still got it! But DAMN, that Bray Wyatt though!

Everyone won. Then they had their rubber match on Raw, and I tip my hat to whoever decided that a steel cage was the way to go:

A hobbling, valiant, badass Chris Jericho almost made it out of the cage. But in a well-orchestrated fluke, Bray Wyatt fell out to the floor first. He looked like a proper heel for winning in this fashion, but Jericho made him look like he’d earned it. There was no “A-Bray Ayatt-Way Stinky Pants Doo-Doo Face!” or a geriatric Running Bulldog. Chris Jericho had polished what John Cena had dulled, and since then Jericho has opted for hosting shows and wrestling one-off matches (when he’s not pursuing his many other projects).

Given the decreasing amount of time between his returns to the ring, it has become less of a surprise (and dare I say, less of a treat) to see Chris Jericho. Unfortunately, no one has told Chris Jericho that. I still love and respect the guy, and he has given so much to pro wrestling that he is entitled to do whatever he wants. But I like to think that the Bitter Man in the Little Three-Piece Suit would want more… to develop more original content and demonstrate his continued possession of “It”.

When the New Day started a countdown on Raw last night, a Chris Jericho appearance seemed inevitable – which is the last thing Chris Jericho should want to be! If I had been in San Antonio last night, heck yes I would have cheered him. But I’d be hard pressed to keep up the happy face as he trotted out the same old promo. It made me think of playing Buzzword BINGO during sales and marketing meetings at work. Here, I’ve made you a card:

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And now you can play!

If the purpose was for Jericho to announce his entry into the Royal Rumble, surely there was a fresher approach than a New Years countdown (which, as Matty J. Douglas pointed out, would have at least been far more suitable for the NEW YEAR’S EVE SMACKDOWN). In a Raw that featured the Dudley Boyz, the Social Outcasts, and Vince McMahon’s disturbingly jacked arms, the fans deserved a refreshing dose of the New Day. Don’t rain all over our unicorn parade with this rooty-tooty-booty business. They could have done a backstage segment between Jericho and his old nemesis Ziggler, crestfallen after losing to the likes of Heath Slater. Jericho could have worn non-ridiculous clothing that fit him properly and walked in looking like a true professional. A Superstar who’s succeeded outside the world of WWE, but who can’t let go of his glory days in the ring. A serious Chris Jericho who could bring out the same in Ziggler – who absolutely shone when he kept it real in his feud with Cesaro. That’s your hook.

Or is it that the tables have turned, and they need to use fresh, cool talent in order to elevate Chris Jericho? Who is hitching whose wagon to whom? Chris Jericho is a talent worth not just preserving but bolstering, for as long as he’s willing and able. He said it himself, the ratings are down, and he’s here to save WWE. The Man of 1,001 Holds should have more tricks up his well-lit sleeves. What do YOU think?

Thanks for reading!

@kickyhick

 

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