The woes of Jericho
UPDATE 9/22/10: Chris Jericho is having a tirade directed at Internet marks on his Twitter page, defending the decision for him to remain on WWE TV despite declaring that he would retire if he didn’t win the title Sunday: “Hello Internet experts. Allow me to explain something to u kiddies. Winning and losing means nothing if you do it properly. I would be happy to lose to every single one of you and watch your faces as I walk out of the arena with more heat than before. Watch and learn children. Sit back and let the real experts work our magic as we make u behave like the puppets that you are. Cheers!” Earlier, he also tweeted “..Im a heel. Heels lie, therefore if I say something boastfully and reneg on it, it’s not an official stipulation. Smarten up!”
Listen, I’m all for Jericho staying, which is evident in the column I wrote yesterday. (Jericho is indeed leaving for a few months, as he’s got a European tour with his band, Fozzy, planned later this fall. But it looks like he’ll be on TV for one more week before his hiatus as he’s booked to wrestle Orton for the title on 9/27 to oppose the battle of the unbeaten Bears and Packers on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. After that, he’s gone, likely returning in time for WrestleMania.)
The problem is that stipulations have been made nearly as worthless as title belts in the fans’ eyes over the last 15 years because they’re forgotten and disregarded so casually, especially when a wrestler vows to retire. His comment about wins and losses, in my opinion, is a telling reflection of current WWE Creative: How can rendering wins and losses meaningless be good for business? That’s doing it properly? When I was a young fan, I lived and died with my babyface heroes. When they lost, I hurt. (Jericho has voiced these sentiments when recalling his days as a fan.) When a heel vowed to shave his head or leave town if they lost, the stipulation was (nearly) always honored.
Maybe it’s outdated, but I feel that wrestling works best when rivalries, belts, stips, wins and losses are booked to matter–I think it’s insulting to the fan base otherwise. (That’s just one reason why some folks say UFC orchestrates traditional pro-wrestling drama better than pro wrestling.) Yeah, yeah, even the densest of marks nowadays knows wrestling’s a work, but I wish Creative and the boys stop constantly reminding us of that. (According to Dave Meltzer, the stip was supposed to be downplayed and not mentioned on the PPV, but Michael Cole didn’t get the memo. Incidentally, Dave’s got an excellent look at Jericho’s career in his current Hall of Fame issue If you haven’t subscribed to the Observer in a while, I highly recommend it.) I’m not sure who said what to Jericho for him to lash out with such a condescending tone, but no big deal, I suppose: He can always claim later he was merely in character…merely the latest work of a master puppeteer.
As far as current World Wrestling Entertainment story lines are concerned, Chris Jericho has supposedly “retired,” following his quick exit from the WWE heavyweight championship match at Sunday’s Night of Champions. (That’s carny for he hasn’t signed his new contract yet.) Despite the retirement stip, he’s scheduled to appear on RAW next week; after that, he’s likely taking a sabbatical, including a European tour with his band, Fozzy, later this fall.
The MVP (no slight intended toward Montel Vontavious Porter) of World Wrestling Entertainment since his heel turn two years ago gave his character a new lease on life, Jericho has consistently excelled in the ring and on the mic, and has done his part along the way to help create new stars.
Most interesting is that Jericho has successfully revamped his character in the last 24 months, evolving from the loud, hyper, ponytail-wearing, catchphrase-spewing juvenile heavy metalist to a smug, calculating, well-groomed, well-dressed businessman from hell who is quite possibly the best at what he does–from Y2J to 401K, if you will. His character has grown up with the man himself, avoiding the fading- heartthrob syndrome of the Tommy Richs and Ricky Mortons who have come before him. (The York Foundation’s Thomas Richardson and Richard Morton really should have at least gotten haircuts and cleaned up a little more to help get those characters over–perhaps suits from Michael’s of Kansas City would have helped.)
If there’s any doubt how far Jericho has come since his U.S. debut in Smoky Mountain Wrestling in 1994, check out this clip (clearly, the thrill-seeking Jericho and partner Lance Storm lived on the edge in those days):
During his initial sabbatical from WWE, I bumped into Jericho at a gym in Los Angeles in 2006, and struck up a conversation. At the time, he was testing the waters as an actor. (Speaking from experience, it’s a tough transition despite the obvious sleazy similarities between the two industries.) When I asked if he had plans of returning to the Former Fed, he suddenly had the look of a defeated man. He told me was tired, burned out, not only from the grind of the travel but also from the creative process or lack thereof in the company at the time. He said he didn’t like how he was being used and, above all, he wasn’t enjoying wrestling anymore. He told me that he honestly wasn’t sure if he’d ever go back. (He also stressed that TNA would never–ever–be an option.)
After his initial return in 2007 got off to a slow start (an average WWE title bout with Randy Orton on PPV followed by the forgettable feud with JBL), he turned heel, altered his look and promo style and was reborn. His work kept me watching WWE even when I felt like turning my back on an overall inferior product. For many wrestling fans, he truly did save us.
I can only speculate why Jericho hasn’t re-upped with the company, though during interviews the last few months he seemed to constantly bring up that he’s accomplished everything he set out to do in the business and felt that he was now prepared to do the right thing in putting over young stars to take his place as he gracefully exits, something he didn’t benefit from early his career in late-’90s WCW. Once again, he sounded exhausted, spent.
To me, Jericho has endured because he had a childhood fascination with the business–he’s a wrestling fan who’s living the dream. He’s paid his dues and honed his craft, and the business is better for having him in it.
Dave Meltzer is reporting that WWE does in fact have a WrestleMania bout tentatively planned for Jericho, so obviously they’re confident he’ll eventually sign a new deal. The retirement angle wasn’t heavily promoted, so they could easily bring him back–it’s not like fans today take stipulations seriously anyway after years of being burned. His latest book is finished (Undisputed: How to Become the World Champion in 1,372 Easy Steps, available for pre-order below), so it wouldn’t surprise me to see his return coincide with the release date of his follow-up to the excellent A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex.
Heres’s hoping Jericho enjoys his break, rests and comes back reinvigorated for one last run.