Why AEW's Chris Jericho Is the Current GOAT of Professional Wrestling

Erik Beaston@@ErikBeastonFeatured ColumnistMay 17, 2020

Why AEW's Chris Jericho Is the Current GOAT of Professional Wrestling

0 of 5

    Credit: AEW

    The idea that Chris Jericho is the greatest professional wrestler of all time would have been inconceivable just five years ago. 

    That conversation had been dominated by the likes of Ric Flair, Bret Hart, Shawn Michaels, Randy Savage and Ricky Steamboat for so long that it almost became gospel among fans that it was one of those stars and to hell with anyone else breathing the same rarified air.

    Since then, however, Jericho has built for himself a legacy in the industry that few can match.

    Competing across four different decades, amassing a resume of championships unmatched by any modern performer and finding success in every major promotion of the last 30 years, he has done, quite literally, everything there is to do in sports entertainment.

    Unsatisfied, he continues to create new firsts, seize all opportunities that come his way and thrive as the face of All Elite Wrestling.

    In an era in which it is trendy to label someone the GOAT, Jericho has exceeded all of the parameters and stands head-and-shoulders above his peers as the standard-bearer for such a title.


1 of 5

    Jericho will celebrate his 30th year in professional wrestling this October, a remarkable feat in its own right.

    That he has been able to stay relevant that long is a testament not only to his hard work and dedication but, also, to his ability to recognize when something is getting stale and change it.

    Reinvention has been key to Jericho's run and something that sets him apart from his peers.

    While he very easily could have taken the Y2J character from WWE and beat that into the ground simply because he was over and fans loved him, he recognized when something was no longer creatively fulfilling and altered it. 

    No longer satisfied with his role as the generic white-meat babyface that he had played as Corazon de Leon in Mexico, or as one-half of The Thrillseekers with Lance Storm in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, Jericho seized the opportunity to turn heel during his WCW run and completely did away with the notion that all he could play was that good-looking midcard hero.

    He developed a heel persona that was oftentimes goofy but always entertaining and captured the attention of those in WWE. So much so that he debuted for that company in 1999 with a new persona: industry savior Y2J.

    That character got him through an incredible run, one that saw him become the first undisputed champion by defeating "Stone Cold" Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night (in case he hadn't already told you). 

    Upon his return in 2007, he needed to change, and by the following May, he underwent a dramatic reinvention that saw him become a suit-and-tie wearing bad guy. He was meticulous with his performances and cunning. He was a cerebral villain who spoke slowly, never allowing his emotions to get to him, and did every dastardly deed with some sort of plan in mind.

    He was the absolute best thing about WWE television from 2008 through 2010, and it was not even close. His willingness to take the risk to discard a character that had finally earned him that worldwide recognition in favor of one no one knew would work as well as it did, showcased that creative ballsiness that has defined his career.

    Whether he gets a scarf over, has fans chanting "YOU JUST MADE THE LIST!" or plays the oblivious sidekick to a much more manipulative universal champion Kevin Owens, Jericho has always been able to pinpoint exactly when a character has run its course and change things up to keep himself fresh and relevant.

    It also sells him a ton of merchandise, as we have witnessed thus far in his run with All Elite Wrestling. 

    Le Champion, The Inner Circle and The Bubbly Bunch have all kept him at the forefront of the industry, both in terms of merchandise sales and star power. When he needs to get serious for a high-profile match, one in which things require him to leave the rockstar persona behind, he transforms into The Painmaker, signifying the agony he is about to put someone through.

    And again, said reinvention prevents audience exhaustion.

    There is nothing wrong with a performer doing what works for three decades. Flair did it. Michaels was a Sexy Boy way after the bald spot and grizzled veteran look set in. Triple H has been The Game for two decades. It is Jericho's willingness to leave the comfortable for the unknown and, more importantly, somehow making it all work that keeps him at the forefront of an industry that would have passed a lesser performer by 10 years ago.

Championship Resume

2 of 5

    Jericho has been around for so long that it is easy to forget the incredible resume he has amassed for himself. It is one dripping with gold, the result of the many championships he has captured over the course of his three decades in the industry.

    Those, coupled with his countless achievements, make up a lineage difficult to argue.

    • First-ever AEW world heavyweight champion
    • WWE undisputed champion
    • 3-time world heavyweight champion
    • 2-time WCW world champion
    • IWGP heavyweight champion
    • 9-time WWE intercontinental champion
    • 2-time WWE United States champion
    • WWE European champion
    • WWE hardcore champion
    • 7-time tag team champion
    • Grand Slam champion (WWE, IC, European, tag team)
    • Triple Crown champion (WWE, IC, tag team)
    • WCW cruiserweight champion
    • WCW television champion
    • ECW television champion
    • 3-time Wrestling Observer Wrestler of the Year (2008, 2009, 2019)

    And that's just the Cliff's Notes version, not taking into consideration all that he accomplished while competing in Mexico or the accolades heaped on him by fans and critics for his work.

    One would be hard-pressed to find a star of any magnitude who has accomplished as much as Jericho has, both in WWE and away from its cozy confines. That he is approaching the three-decade birthday of his first match, yet remains a legitimate, full-time challenger to the top professional wrestling championships in AEW and New Japan Pro-Wrestling, is incredible.

    He is not getting by on name alone, hoping to pop a television rating or pay-per-view buyrate on name alone. He is, instead, actively contributing to the companies he performers for because he still has plenty to give an industry that has been very good to him.

    It shows in the trust promoters and creative teams have to position him so high on the card, whether it be in WWE's Universal Championship picture with Kevin Owens, against Kenny Omega in NJPW or as the centerpiece of AEW.

    As long as the production continues, so will the resume-building. AEW did just introduce a TNT Championship, after all.

Unforgettable Storylines and Matches

3 of 5

    Any professional wrestler even considered for GOAT status has matches and storylines fans can readily recall in his or her defense.

    Jericho is no different.

    From the "List of 1,0004 Holds" promo in WCW to his earth-shaking WWE debut, his Last Man Standing Match against Triple H at Fully Loaded 2000 that firmly established him as a main event star to his Undisputed Championship victory at Vengeance 2001, Jericho has provided fans with angles, matches and moments that stand the test of time.

    Who can forget the close call he had with the WWE Championship that elicited one of the loudest ovations in WWE Raw history from a State College, Pennsylvania, crowd that so desperately wanted Y2J to capture the top prize?

    What about his shocking betrayal of Shawn Michaels, capturing the world title at Unforgiven 2008 just an hour or so after a brutal encounter with HBK and the subsequent ladder match that concluded their program in October of that year?

    WWE Network is a treasure trove of Jericho excellence, with enough matches against Chris Benoit, Eddie Guerrero, Kurt Angle, Triple H and John Cena. And don't forget the superb series against The Rock from late 2001 or the underrated rivalry with Christian and Trish Stratus from 2004 that yielded some damn fun matches.

    Then there is The Festival of Friendship angle from the February 14, 2017, episode of Raw that may low-key be the greatest performance of his career. The way he segues from overly celebratory best friend to the heartbreaking realization that he is about to be betrayed by his comrade is sheer brilliance and, some three years later, is not remembered nearly as much as it should be as the extraordinary piece of WWE television that it was.

    In AEW, Jericho sold a ton of t-shirts off his post-world title victory speech involving "a little bit of the bubbly" and formed The Inner Circle on the first night of Dynamite. His Double or Nothing match with Kenny Omega was a brutally stiff affair while his match at Full Gear against Cody was a fantastic bit of storytelling.

    Whether he is waging war with Jon Moxley or verbally sparring with a drone from his own backyard, Jericho continues to create moments and matches that only add to what is already a jam-packed legacy.

Elevating Younger Stars

4 of 5

    Make no mistake about it: A guy in Jericho's position, having done everything that he has, at a level that he has, does not need to work with someone like Scorpio Sky, Jungle Boy or Darby Allin. He does not have to be the guy who gives those young stars the proverbial rub.

    But he does.

    He understands the frustration of watching established, top-tier stars put themselves over everyone at the expense of young, hungry talent just looking for an opportunity to build their own stars. He was in WCW. He witnessed Goldberg's refusal to work with him firsthand.

    Always one of the most giving in-ring performers, Jericho has made it a habit of helping elevate young talent.

    He did it in 2004, using his established star power to help elevate former tag team partner Christian to the next level of competition. He brought aggression out of CM Punk in 2012 that the then-WWE champion needed in order to continue his run at the top. Look at what he did for Kevin Owens during their monthslong storyline in 2016-17.

    Jericho's legacy, though, will ultimately be defined by what he is currently accomplishing in AEW.

    Not only has he worked with the aforementioned Sky, Allin and Jungle Boy and made every single one of them look like they might be able to upset the great Le Champion, but he has also surrounded himself by a faction of young, hungry and incredibly talented individuals in The Inner Circle.

    Santana, Ortiz and even Jake Hager will all ultimately benefit from their on-screen relationship with Jericho, not to mention the wealth of information he has when the cameras aren't rolling.

    It is Sammy Guevara, though, who stands to benefit the most.

    It has become readily apparent from their interactions on Dynamite that Jericho has sort of taken Guevara under his wing and is preparing him for the stardom that both he and AEW officials believe The Spanish God will ultimately achieve in the company.

    As Le Sex Gods, Jericho has the opportunity to team with, and teach, Guevara on a fairly regular basis. That knowledge and experience will prove invaluable by the time the cocky, arrogant, young heel ascends to the top of the industry.

    Of everything that the future Hall of Famer has accomplished over his career, his preparation of the next generation of stars in AEW may wind up being his greatest achievement.

The Leader

5 of 5

    Still not convinced Jericho is the greatest of all time?

    As if the titles, matches, moments and constant reinvention is not enough, how about the historical significance of carrying an entire upstart promotion in its infancy?

    The idea of leading a company at any time in one's career is a daunting task. It is even more so for someone as renowned and celebrated as Jericho.

    He has a reputation to protect.

    Sure, Cody, Kenny Omega and The Young Bucks are all stars in their own right, but none of them have done what Jericho has, on the stage that he has and as consistently as he has. He is a bona fide industry icon who decided to go on this incredible journey with them and AEW owner Tony Khan, and he has done it by banking on his star and connection with fans. 

    Yes, The Elite was red-hot and had garnered an incredible following based on their webshow and work across top indie promotions, but Jericho was the spark the company needed. He was the star AEW needed in order to convince even the biggest skeptic that it was an entity worth taking notice of.

    Without Jericho, there is a real possibility that AEW would have been closer to Ring of Honor on steroids than the hugely successful company it has become.

    He is the leader, the face and the centerpiece of the company. He is the star who attracts viewers while The Elite keeps them invested with their storyline and in-ring work. He captures the attention of the audience, while Allin, Jurassic Express, Orange Cassidy, Private Party, Nyla Rose and Britt Baker are the young stars who intrigue them.

    Jericho easily could have accepted another big-money payday from Vince McMahon to go back to WWE and work a program with Drew McIntyre or Bray Wyatt that may have been satisfying and damn good in the moment but would have done nothing to further establish his legacy or better the WWE product long-term.

    Instead, he opted to take the biggest risk of his career and gamble on a promotion with a visionary owner and hungry EVPs at the helm and now, one year into a historic run, is reaping the rewards.

    It is ironic because Jericho and former boss Vince McMahon have that in common.

    McMahon could have easily cashed the checks for every territorial show he promoted with Hulk Hogan, running New York for years and building his empire off of that. Instead, he recognized the opportunity to make history and change the business. He seized it, and the rest is history.

    Jericho did the same, and as a result, he has firmly entrenched himself as the GOAT of a professional wrestling industry that has forever debated who to apply that title to.