“The gift of Jericho. Drink it in, man…”
This is possibly my favorite WWE catchphrase in the last couple years, definitely my top choice to debut in 2016. I love it for a few reasons. The first of which is that it’s just funny. The tone and the sincerity it’s delivered with make me laugh out loud every time it’s been uttered. Second, the arrogant self-adulation it implies are absolutely perfect for the heel character Jericho is currently portraying. The next reason is that this same arrogance and self-adulation would have perfectly fit the original heel character he debuted with in what was then the WWF 17 years ago. Looked at in a narrative sense, this shows that sometimes people never change their stripes. Last, but not least, I find it perfectly fitting in a real life sense. The current six-month run for Jericho truly has been a gift.
I’ve mentioned a few times before that I grew up as a strictly WWF kid. While I’d never discredit the work done by incredible performers in NWA and WCW now, back then I just simply hated it. My blind childhood brand loyalty knew no bounds. I typically despised anyone who jumped from WCW to WWF with the only exception being Dusty Rhodes because who among us couldn’t find a way to love The American Dream? While I did watch the early NWO stuff out of morbid curiosity for a heel Hulk Hogan and my affinity for Scott Hall and Kevin Nash, I still couldn’t stand it. Watching with friends during the Monday Night Wars was a nightmare because every commercial break on Raw meant flipping channels to Nitro. Then something happened. I was introduced to Chris Jericho during his “Man Of 1,004 Holds” feud with Dean Malenko over the Cruiserweight Championship. I found myself flipping to Nitro even when watching alone out of fear of missing Jericho’s segment.
The WCW version of Jericho was great in the ring, he had a unique look that he changed often, he was funny and annoying and a spoiled brat and was everything I wanted in a heel at that time. As much as I loved Stone Cold, Mick Foley, The Rock, DX and that era of the McMahon family, I was a certified Jerichoholic. That feeling only intensified when he became the WCW Television Champion and began his one man feud against Goldberg, the introduction of Ralphus as “Jericho Personal Security” and his WCW Monday Jericho shirt. His silliness was just a refreshing change from everything else at the time that was so much more gritty and violent. Even something as simple as referring to Mean Gene Okerlund and “Gene Mean” or mispronouncing his opponents’ names had me sold. To me Nitro truly was Monday Jericho. Around this time I became a member of the infancy stages of the Internet Wrestling Community.
I’m not ashamed to admit that as a 19-year old, I was actually reading the dirt sheets in my mom’s basement. It was through this avenue that I read about Chris Jericho’s impending free agency and the interest the WWF had in him. Then in the summer of 1999 came the “Countdown To The Millennium” clock that would randomly pop up on Raw. I can’t remember for sure if I knew for a fact that the clock was counting down to the debut of Y2J, but I do know I at least suspected it. On August 9, 1999 it was confirmed that Monday Jericho would now be Raw Is Jericho. To this day that debut is my favorite debut ever and I am certain I’m not alone in that. I had wish for it and anticipated it for so long and finally it was real. His in ring debut was on the first episode SmackDown! which is pretty cool in hindsight. Especially now that he’s still around for the changes announced for the show next month.
Over the course of almost two decades in WWE Jericho has won six World Titles, including the first Undisputed Championship. He has nine Intercontinental Championship reigns (that’s a record) and five Tag Team Championships under his belt. He’s come and gone quite a bit over the last decade with his commitment to Fozzy and other projects. I soured on him a bit due to superficial reasons like cutting his hair and switching to short trunks, but that stemmed from a period of just falling out of love with WWE. Also, most of his recent forays back into the company have been less than inspiring. I even remember feeling a hint of too much truth when Dolph Ziggler told Jericho that he had “lost his touch” and “couldn’t win the big one” in 2012. I’ve viewed Jericho in that light ever since. Anytime he’d come back I felt he would ultimately be an afterthought until he left again. Then 2016 came in like a Lionheart.
While many disliked the “Rooty Tooty Booty” promo Jericho did against The New Day on the first Raw of the year, he quickly elevated himself to real relevancy. He put himself into the Royal Rumble as a legitimate threat while talking openly about his many accolades in WWE. He showed up that night and lasted for 50 minutes before being tossed over the top rope. While that alone is impressive for a guy with that amount of miles on his body, the best was yet to come. The following night he began a program with WWE newcomer AJ Styles that would last until WrestleMania. The two started as respected rivals then formed the formidable Y2AJ tag team before Jericho selfishly turned on AJ. I suspected he would put Styles over at ‘Mania, assuming that he would go on hiatus, but he shockingly won and continued on. The reactions to Jericho’s WrestleMania win were varied, but in reality, Jericho helped elevate AJ for a full three months by making the feud matter by doing his best overall work in years.
While Styles was earning a title shot at Payback, Dean Ambrose was up next for Jericho. While the feud was ultimately over silly things like The Highlight Reel being cancelled, breaking potted plants and destroying light up jackets, the work in the ring ultimately delivered. Also, Jericho’s antics and attitude continued to shine week after week. As time has gone by he has gotten more entitled, more spoiled and more obnoxious in the best possible ways. It all culminated in Jericho’s first and last thumbtack bump in the first and probably last Asylum Match. At the time I didn’t have much appreciation for the Asylum Match. I thought it was too long and ultimately boring. Hearing him discuss it briefly on his podcast gave me a slightly different outlook.
Jericho explained that the crowd was dead because anything would have been a letdown after the Fatal 4 Way between Kevin Owens, Sami Zayn, Cesaro and The Miz. He also said it was their intention to slowly build through the match, use all the props and finish with the big bump. While this seems obvious in hindsight, I was watching the match through PG glasses, thinking there was no way anything too crazy would happen. In the end I was wrong and whether you liked the match or not, you have to tip your cap to Jericho for doing that thumbtack spot at this point in his career. He has nothing left to prove, but he is still willing to put it on the line like that for the sake of putting over a rising star like Ambrose. He even said he decided to take the bump because he was going to lose and he felt that spot needed to be protected.
With all the talk over the last couple of months about the New Era, it’s obvious to wonder what part Jericho might have in it. Will he be on Raw? Will SmackDown be his landing spot? Will he even still be around when the changes officially happen? He teased his exit the day after losing at Payback only to show up on Raw the next night. While we don’t know how much longer he will stay, I think we can all say this most recent run has been a joy to watch and his work with younger talent has definitely helped to usher in this New Era. Working with Jericho will make everyone he’s been in the ring with over the last six months better for it.
When Jericho broke into the company in 1999, he claimed it was to save the WWF from being boring. He was also going to usher in the new millennium for the company. At a time when WWE programming is perpetually under fire from critics, Jericho has been a consistently entertaining part of the show. While the new millennium has long been underway, he is now helping to usher in the next generation of WWE talent.
I don’t know how much longer Jericho’s run will last, but for as long as the former Ayatollah Of Rock N’ Rolla is around, I will happily keep drinking in the gift of Jericho.
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