Anybody who has been gracious enough to spend a few minutes of their week reading my column understands that I’m not afraid to wear my heart on my sleeve when it comes to wrestling. In addition, it should be readily apparent that I’ll never hesitate to spotlight the superstars, past and present, who have earned my lasting respect both in and out of the ring…In essence, if I’m a so-called “mark” for someone, it shouldn’t be that hard to figure out.
Another reality that likely has revealed itself by now is the fact that I am a WWF/E loyalist first and foremost…This doesn’t mean that I blindly drink the Kool-Aid or that I ignore the existence of intelligent life outside of the WWE Universe…It simply means that despite exposing myself to as many iterations of professional wrestling as possible, my first and strongest emotional bonds were formed watching WWF Superstars on Saturday mornings. (I’m not sure if that last sentence came out quite right).
Naturally, with every rule comes an exception, as is the case when I think back to the period of time in the mid-nineties when my interest as a fan began to skyrocket. In 1996, as I entrenched myself in preparation for the bloodshed of the Monday night wars, I managed to form an unlikely emotional attachment to Chris Jericho with his Lionheart persona. He was the one guy who caused me to cross my lines of loyalty on a regular basis…He had me hooked with the look, the attitude, the crowd interaction during his entrance, and damnit, if you don’t think “All the Days” is the best entrance music of all time, you might as well stop reading because we’re no longer Internet friends…. Honestly, that song makes me want to run through a wall, wrestle a bear, fight a giant Russian, and engage in all forms of montage-worthy activity.
Although the face version of the Lionheart gimmick didn’t last, the stage was set for the introduction of one of the industry’s all-time great heels…More importantly, the world was introduced to the man who should go down in history as the most iconic sidekick ever to squeeze into a white cut-off shirt…I’m talking about the charismatic sex-symbol known to us simply as Ralphus.
All kidding aside, watching Chris Jericho jump ship to the WWF in 1999 still remains one of my greatest memories as a fan…Surprisingly, with every successive absence and triumphant return, my excitement and anticipation to see Chris perform has not waned…Naturally, his latest return evoked these same emotions as I eagerly awaited the prospect of the brash veteran running roughshod through the roster.
Much to my dismay, ever since the emotional high of January 2nd, I began to ask myself whether this return has been a bust. Much like similar predictions from every cult leader, prophet of doom, seer, psychic, and Miss Cleo, it hasn’t seemed like WWE’s own version of the “end of the world” has quite lived up to the hype. I didn’t exactly expect a WWE Title run, but I also wasn’t prepared to see Jericho appear as “just one of the guys.” I expected glamour…a pedestal…a man who deserved nothing less than rock star treatment.
After allowing myself to entertain these thoughts for a few fleeting moments, I promptly slapped myself in the face and snapped back to reality. Chris Jericho couldn’t return in that fashion because that’s not him…In reality, he is, was, and always will be “just one of the guys” in the best way possible.
Throughout his career, Jericho has displayed an uncanny ability to move throughout the various tiers of the roster without skipping a beat. In a short period of time he could transition both happily and seamlessly from the World Title picture, to the Intercontinental Title picture, to the Tag Team division, and any such place in between. This ability is thanks in large part to a personality and level of self confidence that permits the audience to move past any embarrassing calamity suffered by his on-screen character….Not many guys other than Jericho could leave Raw crying and begging for his job, ala 2005, only to return with his trademark smug smile that says “daddy’s home…you know you missed me.”
The most important aspect of this trait is the fact that it has allowed Jericho to utilize his stardom to put over his peers. For an example, one needs to look no further than the additional legitimacy that he has provided to CM Punk’s title reign since returning. His inclusion in the World Heavyweight Title picture this Sunday at Over the Limit likely will accomplish a similar feat, as it appears improbable that the belt is leaving the Great White’s waist anytime soon.
While there is little question that Chris has the pure talent and charisma to maintain his aura in the face of on-screen adversity, the fact remains that at this point in his career, he simply could refuse to be placed in that position. Let’s face it, with his star status in and out of the ring, Jericho could have made his return contingent upon any number of high profile demands…Instead, he’s in the trenches on a weekly basis helping to raise the bar for the up-in-coming young talent who unquestionably benefit from his mere presence in the locker room.
As a young burgeoning star in WCW, Chris felt the sting of a glass ceiling imposed by veterans who had lost touch with modern wrestling reality. The fact that he rose above this suppression is to be applauded…More importantly, the fact that he has followed a different course since reaching his own level of stardom is to be admired.
In the end, it’s yet to be known how Chris Jericho will spend his remaining days on the WWE roster. While reports conflict as to whether or not his appearances will extend past Summerslam, there is little question that Y2J is nothing more than a temporary fixture on the WWE horizon. Although this reality certainly limits his flexibility in terms of either major title picture, there is no doubt in my mind that any role undertaken by Chris will be played with the same intensity, passion, and charisma that has both entertained and angered fans who have had the pleasure of experiencing his career.
Once his dates are up, the full impact of his presence will be felt, analyzed, and sorely missed. In the meantime, as has been the case for the past 16 years, you can be sure that this work-for-free nimrod (thanks Mark) will be enjoying and appreciating every remaining moment.