Chris Jericho’s signing with AEW is more than just a simple career transition. It is yet another example of how his career has put substance, creative freedom, and happiness above all.
Fans of professional wrestling are rejoicing as the upcoming debut of All Elite Wrestling will provide, arguably, the most legitimate American alternative to WWE since WCW.
The leadership of Cody Rhodes, Kenny Omega, and The Young Bucks, in addition to the bankroll of Tony Khan, will place AEW prominently in the number two position behind WWE on the list of prominent American wrestling companies.
The Elite and Khan might be responsible for spawning AEW, but what gives the embryonic company ultimate legitimacy is the signing of veteran Chris Jericho.
For Jericho to sign with an American company not-named World Wrestling Entertainment for the first time since 1999 may be shocking to some. For those who have been following Jericho throughout his career, they are held witness to yet another reinvention of the career of Chris Jericho that again leaves us in awe of his fearless commitment to nonconformity.
And yet, Jericho seems to surprise those accustomed to his habitual reinvention. This move is the most daring of Jericho’s career as he is leaving the McMahon regime behind in the pursuit of a new challenge. At this point in his career, Chris Jericho has earned the right to pursue anything his heart desires.
But as more and more performers are seeking artistic freedom in opposition to WWE’s structured format, performers and fans alike may remember Jericho’s choice as the game-changing ignition of the restructuring of an industry that has been controlled primarily by one family, cementing his career as a blueprint that one should attempt to duplicate when determined to have’s one’s stamp forever embedded within the wrestling business.
Chris Jericho might be the last of a breed of performers who were expected to go through passports like lions through gazelles to achieve greatness in professional wrestling.
His book, A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex, documents his travels from Winnipeg to Mexico, Japan, Germany, ECW (which could technically be considered a foreign county with a culture all its own), WCW (see comment regarding ECW), to WWE.
On his way to the WWE, Jericho had the unique opportunity to study various styles in order to build his own. It shows in each of his matches, as one can note instances of luchadore-like acrobatics, then technical skill that has fingerprints of the Harts all over it, and psychology that may have been accumulated in his time wrestling a Puroresu style in Wrestle and Romance (WAR) and New Japan Pro Wrestling.
Jericho literally traveled the world in spandex, creating a skillset rolodex that prepared him for WWE’s grand stage. On that stage, he revealed a separate rolodex in terms of creativity that set his career apart from anyone else’s.
The Chris Jericho we encountered the night of his debut (when he interrupted The Rock, mind you) was somewhat similar to the flamboyant, obnoxious Jericho we grew to love in WCW, but he now had a company interested in building new stars rather than squeezing what juice was left from old ones.
As the years went on, the pyro and bright colors stayed with Jericho, but we were exposed to a maniacal underbelly within the character, with its most polarizing moment coming at the end of his match with Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 19 when he kicked his boyhood hero and then disgustingly pie-faced him to the ground.
This would transition to an Anton Chigurh-inspired turn that dumped gasoline on the aforementioned underbelly, resulting in the most successful run of his career that included multiple runs with the World Heavyweight Championship and iconic feuds with Michaels and Edge.
Other reincarnations of Jericho include a determined enabler of the destruction of CM Punk’s straight edge lifestyle, and a turn as sidekick to Kevin Owens that resulted in a clipboard and pen being higher on the card than the strong majority of the locker room and a “Festival of Friendship” that made Fredo Corleone’s betrayal of Michael look like a group therapy session.
Chris Jericho’s near two-decades proved him to be the antithesis of stagnancy. This trend continued into NJPW, where he has transitioned from the “Alpha” willing to do anything to keep the moniker, to a version of Jericho that would be best described as “Barnum and Bailey’s A Clockwork Orange”.
His theater of versatility remains on full display as he continues a run that ranks among the best in his career.
Versatility remains the theme as Jericho signs with All Elite Wrestling. The only difference this time around is that what should be seen in his decision is the versatility he hopes to transmit to AEW’s roster and others seeking sanctuary outside of WWE.
For years, Chris Jericho has put the beat of this own drum to the forefront creatively, and he is doing it again, this time on a more grandiose scale, helping to cultivate a company wishing to provide said sanctuary.
Again, hopefully not for the last time, Chris Jericho is extending his already-impressive wrestling portfolio in a company that will benefit from his talent, creativity, and above all else, experience in navigating through almost every single context a career in professional wrestling can provide.
This article is not intended to be a career retrospective of Chris Jericho; that has already been produced in the form of books, DVD’s, and $9.99 subscriptions. Rather, this is meant to show why he is the perfect addition.
His name brings enough value to the upstart company, but what is so much more valuable is the acquisition of a mind allergic to stagnancy and to simple acceptance of script. The industry’s script once called for exactly what WWE may have wanted it to, which is that one has not “made it” unless they can place “WWE” on his/her resume.
Chris Jericho has proven that the interpretation of “making it” is subjective, and should probably include success running parallel with creative freedom a professional happiness.
He could have finished his career in WWE with his list and catch phrases getting pops from loyal fans every night. Instead, he chose a path that leads him to being the blueprint of success, professionally, creatively, and mentally, in the industry of professional wrestling. He chose the unfamiliar devil rather than the devil he knew in the hopes of continued reinvention.
In short, Chris Jericho’s signing with All Elite Wrestling is such a Chris Jericho thing to do.