After a year in which we were treated to a stint on Dancing with the Stars, a new music video, live album and summer tour with Fozzy, as well as several cryptic vignettes promoting his (not so) shocking return, Chris Jericho finally reappeared on WWE programming during last Monday night's edition of Raw.
Although reviews of his return performance have been mixed, the impact of Jericho's appearance has already been felt in terms of television ratings. Per James Caldwell of PWTorch, the 1/2 episode of WWE Raw scored a 3.10 rating, which was up from the 2.93 rating the program hit on its final shows to close out 2011. And while the initial boost in viewership is a positive sign for the WWE, it raises the question—what will the impact be going forward, and who or what does Y2J's return affect the most?
Is it the WrestleMania pay-per-view?
Last year's event generated over one million buys off of fan and media interest in appearances by Attitude era Superstars "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, The Rock and Trish Stratus. Jericho can certainly hold court with those individuals and could be the perfect complement to the Rock/John Cena main event.
Or perhaps it's the WWE Network, which is set to launch this April and could benefit from the spike in viewership Jericho has the potential to help foster?
Either could be affected by Jericho's involvement, but in my estimation, the greatest impact of Y2J's return to professional wrestling will be felt by current WWE Champion CM Punk.
In the months following WrestleMania XXVII, Punk captured the imagination of fans around the world and even the mainstream sporting press with his controversial promos and participation in angles that blurred the lines between reality and show. However, his more recent work in the ring and on the microphone has been occasionally overshadowed by other programs/storylines (Kevin Nash vs. Triple H, the return of a masked Kane, etc.) within the company.
As his current feud with Alberto Del Rio reaches its conclusion, a new program with Jericho culminating in a match at 'Mania could be just the thing Punk needs to regain some of the momentum lost following his excellent run last summer. Both men are superior performers in and out of the squared circle, and their similar size and wrestling styles make for an intriguing matchup going into WWE's biggest event of the year.
Whether or not this comes to fruition is yet to be determined, but the smart money says that if the "best wrestler in the world" and the "best in the world at what he does" go toe-to-toe at WrestleMania XXVIII in Miami, it's the fans who will come out on top.