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Retro (from 2002): How Good is Chris Jericho?

I’m in the process of moving (not that big a deal), so I don’t have the time this afternoon to write much as I’ll be unpacking boxes. Later tonight I’ll be posting part two of my FAQ because I’m 80% done that and I want to get it posted before year’s end as I promised. For now, here’s a column I loved writing from seven years ago. This was posted in February of 2002. Two months after he became the first Undisputed Champion and before he had to walk Stephanie’s dog while being the World Champion and getting buried by HHH. I think Jericho in 2008 and 2009 is as good as ever, but he was pretty damn great in 2002 too. Here’s that column:

The John Report: How Good is Chris Jericho?
February 9, 2002

For the past two months a guy has been carrying around two world titles claiming to be the “first ever” undisputed champion in the history of the WWF. He’s the same guy that used to parade around with a ninja, a fat guy named Ralphus and wrestled a referee with an arm tied behind his back. I’ve talked to some of my friends that aren’t exactly big time wrestling fans and they all ask me the same question:

Why is THAT guy the WWF champion right now?

I look at them with a big grin on my face and say, “Chris Jericho is the WWF champion because he deserves to be the WWF champion.”

I say it because it’s true.

Anybody that has read my work for more than two years knows that when Chris Jericho came into the WWF I was one of his biggest supporters. I was not alone though. In the summer of ’99, before he walked into the WWF, he was probably the most popular wrestler on the internet, even in front of perennial favourite Chris Benoit.

To me, Chris Jericho was a guy just hitting his wrestling prime with above average microphone skills, a good workrate, a friendly personality and the kind of determination that can propel somebody to greatness. It seemed like he had everything you could ever want in a young wrestler.

The Next One…or not?
When he entered the WWF in August ’99 on that Monday night in Chicago I was optimistic that he would star right away. He debuted by interrupting a Rock promo, which was the WWF equivalent of somebody upstaging the Pope during Midnight Mass on Christmas. Okay, so it’s not that big but it was still pretty huge. After that night, I thought, there was no way the WWF could hold Jericho back. The WWF was in need of some heels to counter their overloaded babyface roster so why not do that with a fresh face like Jericho? It seemed like the perfect situation to me.

As I’m sure most of you remember, things went downhill fast. He had a short feud with Ken Shamrock that could have been something if they didn’t bring in Mr. Hughes to be Chris’ bodyguard. He had an even shorter feud with Road Dogg that had no direction. Worst of all, the WWF decided that he needed a Ralphus-like sidekick so they stuck him with Howard Finkel. Although it was funny at times, it wasn’t working.

At the end of ’99 the WWF felt the need to punish Jericho by feuding him with Chyna, the last person I wanted him to feud with. During this feud, fans started to realize Jericho’s greatness as they began to applaud his mic work, warm to his character and cheer for him during matches. He started 2000 as a babyface with the Intercontinental Title around his waist. I had a tough time believing Chris as a face because he played the heel so well, but I thought I’d give him a chance.

Jericho a good guy? I don’t think so
The next twenty months were frustrating ones for Jericho fans. For every great match we saw with Benoit and Triple H, there were equally depressing feuds with the dull characters of X-Pac, Kane and William Regal. There were possibilities of great feuds with guys like Kurt Angle and Eddy Guerrero but the WWF failed to pull the trigger on them for one reason or another.

His promo work was still good although it seemed repetitive and uninspiring. It seemed like he was just going through the motions rather than really getting into his character. Every time he went out there and cut a promo making fun of Stephanie McMahon it generated a laugh, yet it didn’t seem like the real Jericho to me. Something had to give or else this multi-talented wrestler would be wasted.

By the summer of 2001, Jericho was a good wrestler but he wasn’t one of those guys that made you say, “I wonder what he’s going to do tonight.”

Things started to change as the invasion angle wound down at the end of the year. While a lot of people may not remember the invasion angle in a positive light, the one thing that it did was give us a very memorable feud that should be remembered for a long time.

A Feud for the Ages
It began simple enough. As the WWF battled the Alliance for wrestling supremacy (stop laughing) there was a question as to who the WWF leader would be. Chris Jericho held a meeting with WWF wrestlers saying they had to stick together in order to win. As Jericho was talking, The Rock interrupted him. Rock informed him that he had no right being a leader since he had never really won anything before. He was right. At that time Jericho was nothing more than a midcarder in the eyes of WWF fans so he had to prove himself.

What Rock’s remarks did was not only inspire Jericho the character but it also inspired the wrestler too. As time wore on, Jericho began to add more edge to his act and slowly he turned into the heel character we used to love a few years ago.

The night that solidified Jericho’s new character was No Mercy 2001. On that night, Chris Jericho defeated the Rock in a ****1/2 match that saw Jericho capture the WCW World Title. While it wasn’t the WWF title, it was still the biggest win of his career because he won a major title from the biggest babyface in wrestling. The match itself was one of the top five in the year and it was one of Jericho’s best matches ever along with Royal Rumble 2K1 against Benoit and Fully Loaded 2000 against Triple H. The Rock deserves a lot of credit for putting Jericho over the way he did. He did again at Vengeance and more recently at the Royal Rumble last month.

When I think of their feud I try to liken it to one from the past. The first one that came to mind was Bret Hart vs. Steve Austin from five years ago. It’s similar because Bret was an established big name while Austin was the hungrier younger wrestler who had a lot of potential. It’s different because Austin never really “won” the feud by winning a match. However, the biggest similarity is that after that feud ended we knew that Austin had achieved greatness much like Chris Jericho has achieved greatness today.

So how good is he?
Even though I have sung the praises of Jericho in today’s column I can’t sit here and say that he is the best wrestler in the business today. I would put Kurt Angle, Steve Austin and maybe The Rock ahead of him right now. When I say this I’m not just talking about workrate, mic work or charisma, I’m talking about the overall package.

While I would say that Jericho is a good worker, I won’t say that he is better than Angle or Austin or a healthy Chris Benoit. Yes, he’s also a good orator but it’s hard to rank him ahead of somebody like Flair, Rock or Austin. Those aren’t knocks against Chris, they are just things that he can improve on.

The good thing is that he is improving every day. Over the past several months he has cut some of the best promos in all of wrestling. The one on Smackdown just days before the Royal Rumble where he was almost in tears asking for respect was very powerful. The numerous promos with Ric Flair where he suggested that Flair was jealous of Jericho have been epic as well.

His work in the ring has also improved. As Jericho learned, the WWF style of wrestling is different than the Japanese and WCW styles that he was used to. They had a different pacing to them, they didn’t allow people to be as stiff as he was accustomed to and they certainly weren’t going to let a new guy upstage the established veterans. You have to give credit to Jericho for adapting to the way the game (no pun intended) is played in the WWF. It was almost as if he had to learn how to wrestle again and I think last year he finally picked up on that.

Right now Chris Jericho is one of the top five performers in the business. In some people’s minds he may be the top guy, in others he may be the most undeserving champion in recent memory. The one thing I think everybody can agree on is that he’s definitely better now than he has ever been.

Personally, I don’t know if Chris Jericho can improve on his current level of performances. Maybe he has reached his peak or maybe the best is yet to come.

One thing I do know is that he is definitely worthy of being the first ever Undisputed WWF Champion.

Congratulations Chris, I mean Champ, you’ve finally made it.

Smell ya later,
John C.

Categories: Retro Columns, wwe Tags: , ,
  1. tony m
    December 30, 2009 at 4:14 PM

    that was great dude . Wow fink was really his sidekick ? If u ask me , being able to say u beat the rock and stone cold in the same night to become undisputed champ is a acomplshment that i dont know has an equal . glad to see he made it to the top , whish he was champ for longer

  2. Mike Stein
    December 30, 2009 at 4:56 PM

    I think his greatness is also defined by enduring feuds against the likes of Kevin Nash (hair vs. hair) and JBL. While he was not always the focus of the show, he performed his role like a good soldier and his character/persona/reputation never really suffered. This past week’s Raw where Jericho petitioning outside the building reminded me of some of his greatest work in WCW when he went to the Library of Congress to cite a loophole that allowed him to erase a loss in the record books.

  3. Swanni
    December 30, 2009 at 6:43 PM

    I am very suprised you left the name Chris Benoit in

    • Aaron
      January 4, 2010 at 3:01 PM

      I don’t think John is employed by WWE, I think he’s good to leave in the name Chris Benoit.

  4. Jay
    December 30, 2009 at 10:48 PM

    An important man like Mr. Jericho needs his personal security guard so he can concentrate on just being awesome. Ralphus in 2010!

    Is anyone else getting concerned that the only person who loses more frequently than Jericho is Chavo? Both of them do not fit Vince’s model of a champion’s appearance.

    Is anyone else concerned that Vince and H3 are spending to much time trying to copy AAA with midgets? If they are going to embrace this philosophy, Jericho needs his own midget immediately! He is the only person with the talent to pull off having his own midget.

  5. bigmark
    December 31, 2009 at 12:51 PM

    Its great that u posted this just hours after I finished jerichos book.He was always one of my favorites but he is now at the top of my list. Keep up the great work,john and happy new year.

    • robyn
      January 4, 2010 at 6:10 PM

      Funny ‘cos reading this article inspired me to pick up Jericho’s book. It’d been sitting on the shelf forever and I kept telling myself I needed to get to it, but this was the push I needed to get reading.

  6. Grant C
    December 31, 2009 at 7:59 PM

    John, you said that the work in WCW was different than the style in WWF in the ring, can you elaborate on that?

    • Aaron
      January 4, 2010 at 3:08 PM

      Really you just need to watch a couple late 90’s WCW whows, then watch some late 90’s/early 2000’s WWF(E) shows. The work is very different. WWE alwasy focused on the story, and story telling in the match. Outside of the main even on Nitro, the lower/mid card talent just went from high spot to high spot.. and really were cut loose to try and get themselves (more often than not) over. It never amounted to much for them obviously, but that’s how it went. The matches would be much “stiffer”. Also, a great example is to look at when they’d take commercial breaks. WCW might cut to commercial in the middle of a 450 splash, whicle WWE would (and still does) cuts to commercial while the heel hits the floor, and the pace will slow for 2 mins and 30 secs until they’re back live.

      John can put it into words better I’m sure, but the production of each show was totally different.

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