Chris Jericho’s accomplishments don’t need to be repeated. The artist formerly known as Y2J has done it all in the wrestling business and has lived to reinvent himself as many times as he’s wanted to. “Wanted to” being the words to emphasize here. Jericho doesn’t need the wrestling business. He doesn’t need to be cutting edge and innovative at this point in his career. He doesn’t need to be taking chances. He wants to do these things and in the process, is redefining what it means to be an icon in the wrestling business.
Long before his decision to join upstart AEW, Jericho was the last of a dying breed. Jericho entered the business a few years after the territory system had died and years before WWE created their own developmental system. Jericho became a world traveler, competing all over the globe, learning style after style from the best all over the planet because that’s what he had to do. That’s what he wanted to do. Just a few years prior, talent could’ve gained invaluable experience in North America alone with the territories available. For Jericho’s generation, they had to go to the far ends of the Earth and that’s exactly what he did.
In the ‘90s and early 2000s, there were a lot of wrestlers who could make the claim that they had worked for ECW, WCW and WWE. Today, most of them are gone, most long retired and some no longer with us. Chris Jericho is still going strong. That wealth of experience, combined with time spent in Japan, Mexico, Germany and more makes Jericho completely unparalleled in today’s wrestling world. What he has to offer a new promotion like AEW is something that goes beyond any measurable value.
Pro wrestling has a long history of top name talents jumping ship and moving over to the competition. Despite all of those examples, the closest one in terms of size of impact is Hogan to WCW and even that’s not a fair comparison because Hogan and Vince were on such shaky terms when Hogan left. Jericho was never expected to leave the WWE. He was considered a lifer at this point and in today’s pro wrestling business, being a lifer in WWE, especially at the level Jericho is at, is an ideal spot to be in. Leaving WWE, with all of the perks and advantages to being there at this stage of his career, to not only push himself to another level creatively but also elevate AEW in the process, is something pro wrestling historians will be talking about forever.
Both AEW and Jericho are saying that they don’t see them going live on cable TV weekly as a sign of them going to war with WWE but it is obvious that WWE doesn’t feel that way. Prior to AEW beginning their live weekly TV show on TNT, WWE will begin airing their NXT program live on USA, a move that many feel could hurt their brand but at the same time, places a major obstacle in the path of AEW. To their credit, AEW doesn’t seem concerned. They’re building their brand the way they want with their chosen first champion of their company: Chris Jericho.
If AEW takes off the way fans such as myself want them to, Jericho’s already massive legacy gets another huge mile marker added to it by being the company’s first champion. Already the first man to hold the WWE and WCW titles at the same time, being the first AEW champion is something people could, in theory, be talking about for years to come.
Of course, as I said at the beginning of this article, Jericho doesn’t need any of these accomplishments. He’s the frontman for one of the biggest rock bands in the world. He’s the host of an industry-leading podcast. He’s been cast in numerous projects as an actor or on-air talent. Chris Jericho has made himself into a brand, bigger than any of his industries, Jericho can have his hands in almost anything he wants. Yet he still takes career chances. He didn’t play it safe by staying with WWE for life. He saw an opportunity to help build something that could change the wrestling business for the better and took it. That’s really damn admirable and inspiring when you think about it.
Since WCW and ECW closed their doors in 2001, nobody has been able to give Vince McMahon and the WWE real competition. The product has grown more sterile and stale over the years with no sign of that changing anytime soon. It’s driven long-time fans such as myself away. AEW is a collective of individuals who resent that formulaic vision that lacks the magic pro wrestling should offer. With Chris Jericho as the face, the first champion of this promotion, AEW has the name power to go with the talent, the passion and the money to compete with WWE which really would be the best thing for the industry as a whole. WWE needs someone to challenge them for their own sake. AEW has a real chance at doing just that.
Chris Jericho could’ve been content coming back to WWE every few years for a short run and a WrestleMania payday. He could’ve been content knowing that he’s wrestled all over the world, amassed accolades that few ever have before and that he undoubtedly was one of the greatest of all time. He could’ve probably even found a few more ways to be innovative in WWE in between touring and recording with Fozzy and any other projects he may have been working on. But that wasn’t enough for Jericho. He took the biggest chance of all, walking away from the biggest wrestling empire of all to help start a revolution, a revolution this industry so desperately needed. Sure, Jericho’s loving every minute of this thrilling creative experience but it’s also selfless on a level that cannot be underestimated. This was a massive gamble and if it pays off, we the fans and the business as a whole are the winners. Jericho has been an icon for a long time now but now he’s redefining what it means to be an icon and the wrestling world is benefiting from it.