The one constant in the 30-plus-year career of Chris Jericho has been change.
Forever reinventing his character and presentation, Jericho once again embarked on something new this past March in the formation of the Jericho Appreciation Society (JAS), a new heel faction that has embraced the “sports entertainment” aspect of professional wrestling, something that rankles the All Elite Wrestling fan base.
For Jericho, the new direction represented a logical progression of his character.
“I would like to say that I sit down with a pen and paper and write down a year’s worth of ideas and material and it’s all genius and it all comes together exactly the way I planned, but it’s not like that,” Jericho told TSN.ca. “You’ve just got to go with the flow and read the room and see where you’re at week by week and go where the story takes you. You let the story lead you, rather than try to lead the story.”
After a lengthy run as heels, the Inner Circle, the faction formed on the very first edition of Dynamite in 2019, turned babyface in the spring of 2021. By the end of the year and into the beginning of 2022, Jericho found himself feuding with fellow popular babyface Eddie Kingston. Friends with Inner Circle members Santana and Ortiz, Kingston began to tell the duo that Jericho was holding them back. As the feud progressed, it appeared as if Jericho and Kingston were going to have to join forces to take on the crew of Daniel Garcia and 2point0 (Montreal’s Matt Menard and Angelo Parker), who had started terrorizing the both of them.
Jericho confirms that it was indeed the intended plan.
“I saw Eddie Kingston, and much like I did with Orange Cassidy, MJF, Sammy Guevara or any of the guys I was working with over the past couple of years, I knew he could be a much bigger star if I could paint my picture the way I wanted to create it,” Jericho said. “Eddie was just the perfect guy to work with and my plan would be, I accuse him of not being able to win the big one, then he wins the big one [against Jericho at the 2022 Revolution pay-per-view in February] and we become kind of a ragtag, surly veteran tag team and maybe even connect with [Kingston’s ally Jon] Moxley. Then I had some issues that postponed things and then he had some issues that postponed things and then the story started to go in a different direction. That’s when I thought this might be much better if we actually faced each other and kind of start a whole new thing. But yeah, the original direction was for us to be partners, but it ended up with us being in a blood feud for the last six months, so it worked out pretty good.”
Instead of teaming with Kingston, Jericho, along with Inner Circle holdover Jake Hager, aligned with Garcia, Menard and Parker to form the JAS on the Mar. 9 Dynamite, inflicting a brutal beating on Kingston, Santana and Ortiz.
Despite having reached beloved babyface status, Jericho says he’s more than happy to turn heel once again, enjoying the creative freedom that comes with it.
“What exactly is a heel nowadays, right? I think one thing AEW has established is that for the most part, it’s like going to a football game,” Jericho said. “You cheer for who you want to cheer for. I think, obviously, yeah, I’m cast as a heel for sure, and I think most people are booing and playing along with the story and they’re actually into the story. But that’s because we’re telling a great tale here. And you can say it’s hard to be a heel when you’re a babyface again, but I could feel towards the end of that last babyface run that people were getting sick of me. I started to see comments like ‘Just retire already. This guy’s shot. He’s got nothing left in the tank.’ And that’s just because you have to sort of colour within the lines, so to speak, when you’re a babyface, whereas when you’re a heel, you can do whatever you want, and people end up liking you anyway.”
But Jericho is mindful of treading the line with the Jericho Appreciation Society. You can be comedic, but you can’t be a joke.
“It’s funny because people now are like ‘Okay, you’re sports entertainers, so you’ve gotta come out with sports entertainment announcers and come out with this gag and that gag,’ but the reason why it works is because we play it straight,” Jericho said. “If we came out and did sports entertainer things where we all had gimmicks like a garbage man or a friggin’ milkman or one of those really campy [early-‘90s WWF] things, it would be a joke. There’s a saying in wrestling that’s true: ‘Funny don’t make money.’ It’s great to have the concept of sports entertainment, but the reason why it works is that we play it straight. We still are kicking ass, but obviously, we have a little bit more of an entertaining slant to it just because of the guys who are involved.”
As part of his character shift, Jericho has dubbed himself “The Wizard,” something he said was birthed from a throwaway line he said one night on commentary after he threw a fireball into the face of Kingston on the Apr. 27 Dynamite.
“‘The Wizard’ just came up because we wanted to do a fireball and nobody had done a fireball in years, so when I did it, I saw the reaction – once again, read the room – and I just said one day on commentary or on a promo ‘I’m a wizard’ because I threw a fireball,” Jericho said. “Isn’t that what wizards do? I don’t know, do wizards throw fireballs? I think so. They cast spells and s--t, so I figure they can throw fireballs. And people started responding to that.”
Like with the presentation of the JAS on the whole, Jericho understands that “The Wizard” can’t get too goofy, either.
“You guys just gotta realize when I put my mind to something, I get it over no matter what,” Jericho said. “I just love the concept of ‘The Wizard.’ What is it? Nothing! What is it? Everything! This character thinks he’s a wizard. He can cast these spells in AEW and is the most popular performer and the best wrestler in the world, so that’s basically a wizard…am I ever gonna come out with a Gandalf hat or a Gandalf gown and have a big staff? It’s like, ‘That’s what you gotta do!’ No, I don’t! If I came out dressed like a wizard, then it becomes completely stupid and not threatening.”
While Jericho is obviously the focal point of the JAS, the lesser-known trio of Garcia, Menard and Parker have emerged as stars in their own right. Still only 23, Buffalo’s Garcia has shined in the ring and recently became the Pro Wrestling Guerrilla Champion. Menard has become the group’s go-to promo man, excelling on the microphone. The trio’s arrival has been a pleasant surprise for Jericho.
“All three of those guys are supremely talented and I hadn’t even heard of any of them prior to AEW,” Jericho said. “Kevin Owens called me and asked me if I would have, at the time, Parker, and Lee [Menard’s former ring name], on Talk Is Jericho, my podcast, because they had just been let go by WWE and he wanted to try to help them gather some steam. I have them on my show and two weeks later, they’re signed to AEW.
“So, there was a connection there and they’ve done a great job…as supporting characters in the Jericho Appreciation Society in the same way that Santana and Ortiz were three years ago when you didn’t really know them and then they get a chance to shine in all of the different cool things we did, and they became stars in their own right. That’s kinda what we’re doing with Menard and Parker and Danny Garcia and Jake Hager.”
The 51-year-old Winnipeg native also credits having strong babyfaces – Kingston, Santana, Ortiz, and the Blackpool Combat Club’s Moxley, Bryan Danielson and William Regal – to play off against for his group’s early success.
“We are great heels, but if you put us with other babyfaces that maybe weren’t as popular or weren’t as over, we probably turn babyface by proxy,” Jericho said. “I think the story was perfect for the Jericho Appreciation Society to start. Right out of the gate, we always knew it would end up with Eddie and his guys and Blackpool Combat Club. Nobody saw that coming, which kind of surprised me and made laugh, but when it happened it was like, ‘Oh, how did we not see that coming?’ So, it was just a really cool story that just went in that direction, and it worked out perfectly to have great foils. That’s what wrestling is all about – if you don’t have a dragon, you don’t need a dragon slayer. You have to have both in the course of your show and the JAS represents the dragon and the BCC and Eddie’s guys represent the dragon slayer.”
Though the Jericho Appreciation Society was victorious over the team of Kingston, Santana, Ortiz, Moxley and Danielson in a wild “Anarchy in the Arena” match at last month’s Double or Nothing PPV, the feud between the two groups rages on. The 10 men will face off in the second ever “Blood and Guts” cage match on the June 29 edition of Dynamite from Detroit. Before any of that can happen, though, Jericho takes on Ortiz in a Lucha de Apuestas hair-versus-hair match on Wednesday night in St. Louis on Dynamite.
You can catch AEW Dynamite featuring Chris Jericho vs. Ortiz in a hair-versus-hair match LIVE at 8pm et/5pm pt on TSN2, streaming on TSN Direct and on TSN.ca.
Jericho was insistent that if the feud were to continue, it would have to make sense and put some shine on his former Inner Circle stablemates.
“One of the ideas when we did the Inner Circle split was that I’d like to have a singles match with Santana and I’d like to have a singles match with Ortiz and put them in the spotlight,” Jericho said. “We had a tag-team match [in February] where Santana beat me and that’s the idea. It’s not all about Chris Jericho. Obviously, there’s a certain level that I have to keep myself at and AEW has to keep me at so I can be worthy of being a guy that when you beat me, it’s a big deal, but also even just having a singles match against me is a big deal. So, we did the Santana match [last month] and it turned out great. Now Ortiz is the other guy, so what can we do? We came up with the idea of a hair-versus-hair match and thought it would be a great idea to focus on him and put the spotlight on him and continue the story from the ‘Anarchy in the Arena’ match through Blood and Guts. You gotta have some more build-up and I thought that was a great catalyst.
“Why would we give them a Blood and Guts? Why would we ever want to do that? We already beat them at Anarchy in the Arena. Well, what if they attacked me [two weeks ago on Dynamite] and Ortiz cuts some of my hair off, which pisses me off? And it did. I literally have a short piece of hair on the back of my head that doesn’t fit the rest. Okay, well, Blood and Guts? You’ve got it, but if you wanna touch my hair, I’m gonna shave you bald, mother---er. And that’s the whole concept of what we did.”
Jericho acknowledges that people might think he’s going to win the match because he’s the bigger name, but he says don't be so sure.
“It’s a really intriguing match with a really cool stipulation and it puts Ortiz in a great spotlight,” Jericho said. “Who’s gonna win? Well, obviously the smart money would be on Jericho, but you never know what’s going to happen in AEW. You never know what’s going to happen with the Blackpool Combat Club and Eddie Kingston. There’s a million ways we can go with this, which is why I think the match is so intriguing.”
Ahead of Blood and Guts, there is the matter of the Forbidden Door pay-per-view on June 26 in Chicago when AEW’s stars take on competitors from New Japan Pro-Wrestling, a show that will be headlined by Moxley – stepping in for the injured AEW World Champion CM Punk - wrestling Hiroshi Tanahashi for the interim AEW World Championship.
Facing off against NJPW superstars isn’t anything new for Jericho, who has wrestled a number of high-profile dream matches for the company over the past several years, meeting the likes of Kenny Omega, Tanahashi, Kazuchika Okada and EVIL. Jericho hopes to return to Japan now that pandemic restrictions are easing.
“I would have loved to have worked with [Minoru] Suzuki, I would have loved to have worked with [Will] Ospreay,” Jericho said. “There are still some guys I want to work with, but I’d also like to do those in Tokyo. I think Jericho versus Suzuki has a way different feel to it in Tokyo than Jericho versus Suzuki does in the States because Suzuki has worked a lot in the States and worked a lot of lower-level guys. In Japan, that’s not the case.”
Jericho thinks he will be on the Forbidden Door card, but it’s going to have to make sense for his ongoing storyline.
“To be honest with you, when Punk got hurt, I thought maybe I would get the call to work with Tanahashi,” Jericho said. “Obviously, Mox is a great choice, as well, but that to me is the status of what I should be doing in a New Japan situation. Don’t forget, we’ve got Blood and Guts three days later, so if I do something at Forbidden Door, it has to be something that leads to Blood and Guts. It has to be the next step in the story, so where does that fit in? Well, we have to use our heads and figure something out to make it fit in somewhere. And you can’t really have a pay-per-view without Chris Jericho on the show or Eddie Kingston on the show or Bryan Danielson on the show at this point in time, especially with Punk and other guys out. I’m sure I’ll be involved in some capacity, but it’s going to have to be more of something that fits together with what’s going on at Blood and Guts, which probably means not so much a singles match and more of a faction-based match with the Jericho Appreciation Society at the crux of it versus the BCC or whatever New Japan guys we decide could fit in there.”
Even if Jericho isn’t on Forbidden Door, he’s still interested in what will take place on that card.
“Zack Sabre Jr. just called out Bryan Danielson,” Jericho said. “As much as I’d like to beat the s--t out of Bryan Danielson at Forbidden Door, I’ll get the chance three days later, so I’d love to see Zack Sabre versus Bryan Danielson. That’s the type of match, I think, is gonna blow people’s minds for just the styles that they both have. If people haven’t seen Zack Sabre, wow. He’s super unique. But I’m more of a singles match guy. That’s my thing. You’ll get tags and six-mans and eight-mans and they still can be great matches, but the classics are always the singles matches. So, Mox and Tana and if they do Bryan and Zack, those will be the two that I’ll keep my eye on.”
With Punk sidelined, Omega still out of action and several other competitors currently injured or unavailable, there is opportunity for others on the AEW roster to improve their spot, a chance, Jericho says, they can’t afford to miss.
“Everybody should be stepping up every week,” Jericho said. “Injuries happen. It’s part of the game. It’s been happening throughout my whole career. I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities when guys got hurt. Jado got hurt in WAR and I became part of Fuyuki-gun with Gedo back in the ‘90s. Triple H tore his quad and that’s how I was kind of able to get involved with the Undisputed Championship. Edge got hurt and that’s why Big Show and I became a tag team and became one of the best tag teams in WWE history. There are always times when that happens, and it is what it is. Who would think that Punk would get hurt the day after he won the title? But it happens. I think Finn Balor got hurt the day after he won the world title or something along those lines a few years ago – same with Dolph Ziggler. It’s the nature of the beast and it’s the way it goes.”
The unavoidability of injuries forces companies to roll with the punches, but more than that, Jericho says, it offers the occasion to thrive.
“You just have to shift your stories and we’ve been doing that,” Jericho said. “Throughout the lockdown, every week somebody wouldn’t be able to work because they tested positive for COVID, so you gotta switch the show. Is it opportune? No. Is it what you want? No, but is it the way it goes? Yes, so you have to step it up and it does open up a lot of opportunities for other guys. But guys are always ready. I don’t think it’s that big of a deal for Moxley to step in for Punk against Tanahashi because, for me, it’s just as intriguing of a match, if not more so because Mox has been in New Japan for a few years. Punk and Tanahashi would have been great, but Mox and Tanahashi will be great for different reasons, so you just move on. And then when Punk comes back, you have a whole new story of a guy who was taken out with an injury from a position he didn’t want to be taken out from, but now he’s back with a vengeance and here we go. I’ve never worried when injuries happen, or guys quit or leave companies. It’s just the way that the business goes. You just have to move forward and continue taking negatives and turn them into positives. It’s what we do best.”