Chris Jericho vs. Mike Tyson in AEW? Le Champion Has His Work Cut out for Him

Jonathan Snowden@JESnowdenCombat Sports Senior WriterMay 28, 2020

Mike Tyson made his AEW debut Saturday on PPV.
Mike Tyson made his AEW debut Saturday on PPV.Photo courtesy of AEW

More than 22 years ago Mike Tyson helped write professional wrestling history, propelling WWE and its top new star "Stone Cold" Steve Austin into the cultural mainstream. His appearance garnered nationwide attention and helped bring the struggling wrestling behemoth even with its competitors on TNT, the now-defunct World Championship Wrestling.

In 2020, once again, the 53-year-old Tyson is having a mainstream moment. The indiscretions of his past seem mostly forgotten, with fans focusing on his brutal knockouts and new, gentle personality, rather than his darker side.

A heavily edited video of the former heavyweight champion hitting pads, muscles again bulging like they did in his heyday, led to speculation that he'd make a return to the squared circle—but few imagined it would be a professional wrestling, rather than a boxing, ring.

On Wednesday night, Tyson came out with a motley crew that included former UFC champions Vitor Belfort, Rashad Evans and Henry Cejudo to answer a challenge from All Elite Wrestling star Chris Jericho on Dynamite.

Still mad, apparently, at an "Iron Mike" knockout punch from an episode of WWE Raw in 2010, Le Champion declared his desire to smack Tyson around.

After a brief back-and-forth, the two engaged in a shoving match before the locker room emptied to get between them. It was, no doubt intentionally, very reminiscent of the famous Austin-Tyson confrontation that helped launch WWE's Attitude Era. It was a spot specifically for "the returners," older fans chasing the feeling wrestling used to provide in the good old days of their past, prior to the WWE hegemony of the 2000s.

And, as much as wrestling resides in the past and feeds off this kind of nostalgia, it's simply not going to work. 

In 1998, Tyson was the most dangerous man in sports, one year removed from biting Evander Holyfield's ear off and spitting it on the mat. In 2020, he's muscle grandpa, still impressive but lacking the menace that made hairs tingle with anticipation at the height of his fame.

Sure, there will be some initial headlines at major media sites. AEW might make it onto SportsCenter and whatever other outlets exist from the legacy media of yesteryear. They might even pop a rating or two, assuming interest in Tyson extends beyond watching a 30-second clip on social media. 

But what is the path forward? 

Tyson helped launch the Attitude Era by putting the spotlight on Austin, a transcendent star just beginning his rise. Jericho, himself approaching 50 and already an established legend, doesn't need the rub. Besides, when the two shared a ring together in 2010, Tyson didn't manage to pull a rating for WWE. The days where millions would tune in to see the boxing superstar are decades in the past.

The only way this is a success is if they pull off a win in the ring with some entertaining television. Unfortunately, Tyson himself was a lousy performer in a wrestling context. He couldn't go back and forth verbally in a believable way, couldn't be trusted to work any complicated spots and even forgot Austin's name when he was supposed to put him over. 

While he didn't mess anything up too badly in his AEW appearance, neither did he do anything to light the world on fire. As a fan, I just don't see where this can go. The best-case scenario is a match where Tyson doesn't manage to screw anything up too badly.

Frankly, I've come to expect more from AEW. 

Of course, if anyone can make this all work, it's Jericho. He has spent the entire year cementing his case as the greatest wrestler of a generation, fitting seamlessly in with the avant-garde performers of AEW without missing a beat.

His interviews remain peerless, his vignettes and skits have reached the level of legendary, and when called on to fill in as an emergency color commentator, Le Champion went ahead and knocked that out the park like he was born for it.

I've learned not to bet against Jericho and fully expect he'll be moving mountains to prove doubters wrong.

All Elite Wrestling @AEWrestling

Iron @MikeTyson keeps his message to @IAmJericho straight forward & to the point. WATCH the full Jericho & Tyson altercation here: https://t.co/XAHEA3ffJG https://t.co/2JAPfbBiLS

But I can't help feeling like Tyson is a step in the wrong direction for a wrestling company looking to change what the sport looks and feels like. We've already seen what happens when a promotion looks to recreate the Attitude Era—TNA tried for years to diminishing returns. 

Earlier in the night, Cody pledged to defend his new TNT championship weekly on Dynamite. It was a passionate promo that harkened back to the legends of yesteryear, the brave babyfaces who pledged to do their best for the fans and their families. That was nostalgia more in keeping with AEW's mission statement to provide the best bell-to-bell wrestling on the planet.

This, for better or worse, is sports entertainment. And "sports" has one foot out the door.


Jonathan Snowden covers combat sports for Bleacher Report.