Chris Jericho is back. But can the 41-year-old WWE superstar take his career to the next level and enhance the WWE product in the process?
Jericho returned to the WWE scene this past Monday after weeks of speculation prompted by the much talked about series of superbly produced teaser videos featuring a schoolboy and schoolgirl prophesizing the return of an individual to reclaim his place in WWE and “the end of the world as we know it.”
The inarguably intriguing build-up sent the WWE Universe abuzz with discussion and conjecture over whether the videos—a departure for Jericho in their lack of digital emphasis, being more Blair Witch than Matrix—were for the anticipated return of the Undertaker, or, less likely, the outgoing UFC fighter Brock Lesnar making a comeback to the squared circle.
These two suspects were talked about much more as the weeks passed, and the role of the girl in the videos became more prominent, as both Taker’s wife, Michelle McCool, and Lesnar’s spouse, Sable, were on-screen WWE characters in their own right, but never beside their partners.
The only logical choice, of course, could ever be Chris Jericho. What threw people off the scent this time, though, was the way the videos were produced, making it far less obvious to be the veteran known as Y2J.
Chris Jericho, real name Christopher Irvine, debuted for the WWE (then WWF) in 1999 as a new millennium approached, and many people feared the master computer glitch known as “the Y2K Problem” was bringing imminent nuclear holocaust.
Having been wasted by WCW management, he debuted following a millennium clock’s countdown over several weeks and overcame a rocky start to go on to capture a succession of major championships and become the first-ever unified (WWF and WCW) champion by achieving no less an impressive feat than defeating both The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in one single night.
Jericho’s WWE departure in 2005 wasn't a surprising move for a wrestler who prides himself on avoiding injury and has many other avenues to pursue with his band Fozzy and successful autobiographies, as independent from WWE as they may be.
His return two years later came about after weeks of digital code raining down WWE screens eventually leading to the “second coming” of Chris Jericho, but despite his revamped persona of sharp suits and slowly-spoken arrogance, he continued to pursue outside interests, even hosting an ABC game show called Downfall, annoying WWE’s McMahons, who have long been loyal to NBC.
Jericho said after he left WWE again in 2010 that if he returned, he’d reinvent himself again, even taking a few shots at the likes of CM Punk for borrowing from his style. He’s certainly returned in interesting fashion.
The eerie mystery video teasers didn't seem to match Jericho’s aura when he appeared in a jacket illuminated by in-built lights, with no explanation for the schoolchildren’s references or the prominent presence of the girl. Indeed, Jericho offered no verbiage at all, instead milking his inevitably warm welcome back for around 10 minutes of airtime.
By the time fans began booing him near the end, it became apparent that this was, for once, an extremely sophisticated piece of creativity from WWE and no doubt Jericho himself, who, as with his war with Shawn Michaels in 2008, is afforded some creative control in the company.
It’s worth remembering Jericho’s desire to antagonize fans as a heel in WCW when he recited on-air the supposed 1,004 wrestling holds he knew, with producers even going to commercial halfway through, Jericho using Andy Kaufman-esque overkill to provoke the audience. He used a similar approach in his 1-2-12 return.
In addition, this technique was used by Brian Pillman on his debut in the ECW Arena in 1996, appearing to a rousing ovation only to insult the ECW faithful and threatening to urinate in their ring.
Like the Undertaker, Chris Jericho has been around long enough to know what works. But Jericho also knows how to reinvent himself, how to stay relevant and injury-free and how to patiently attempt the slow burn rather than burn out fast. His obnoxious return was deliberately antagonistic, whether the videos turn out to be relevant or not.
As a result, Jericho has brought to the WWE landscape not only interest, but a smorgasbord of creative possibilities, from character developments to storyline opportunities that are also fresh exactly because he had the sense to step away for a while. Champions CM Punk, Zack Ryder and Daniel Bryan did not feature prominently in WWE when Jericho was last there, nor did heels like Dolph Ziggler and Alberto Del Rio.
The ancient Mayans believed 2012 would be the end of the world as we knew it. Chris Jericho is no longer a Y2J Problem. He is a postmodern provoker of thought and intrigue who has built a legacy of longevity in WWE and will no doubt end his world—his WWE career—by teaching some of the other wrestlers how to generate interest long-term. This writer believes this is a good thing.
It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel fine.