WWE: After 20 Years, the Gift of Chris Jericho Keeps on Giving


Since his WCW debut in 1996, Chris Jericho continues to reinvent himself and remains one of the most entertaining superstars in the WWE.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been 20 years since “Lionheart” Chris Jericho debuted on WCW Monday Nitro. He was a rah-rah babyface that would fist pump and cheer to the mild enthusiasm of the crowd. The mediocre reactions ended following a heel turn that allowed Jericho to find his stride as a top cruiserweight in WCW. Over the next two decades, Jericho proved the ability to continually evolve. Helping him maintain his position as one of the of the most entertaining wrestlers in the world.

Jericho’s ability to connect with fans utilizing his excellent promo ability became evident during his heel run in WCW. Whether reading his list of 1004 holds (4 more than Malenko), or parading around with a “conspiracy victim” sign over his head, he effectively found an angle within his feuds to generate heat. Jericho never got an opportunity to be a top star in WCW. However, he did get some creative freedom during his segments on Nitro. Knowing that he wasn’t going to advance any further in WCW, Jericho decided to create promos that he found entertaining. The result was some of the best promo work of his career.

One of the highlights was his work with Bill Goldberg, where Jericho (w/ Ralphus) would mimic Goldberg’s ring entrance. He claimed illegitimate victories over the WCW champion by challenging him, knowing that Goldberg was not in the building. Jericho was eventually informed that his program with Goldberg would not conclude with a pay-per-view match.  This made Jericho become increasingly frustrated with his role in WCW. Shortly after, he decided to part ways with WCW. Jericho became one of the first stars to jump from WCW to the WWE during the Monday Night Wars.

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Jericho’s “Countdown to the Millenium” debut in the WWE is one of the biggest moments in Monday Night Raw’s history. His debut was a further example of Jericho’s ability to infuse pop culture into his persona to make himself more relatable. In August of 1999, the Y2K scare was a hot topic and Jericho utilized this to create his Y2J character. Referring to himself as the “Y2J problem”, Jericho quickly became a top level heel in WWE. His success also influenced other stars like Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit to leave WCW for WWE.

Marketability has also been a strength of Jericho over the years. In a time when wrestling shirts were often corny and generic, he was one of the pioneers creating shirts that were actually cool. His “Monday Night Jericho” shirt was one of the few WCW shirts that were wearable that didn’t have NWO written on it. In WWE, with the marketing machine behind him, hot selling merchandise items were created based on “Y2J”, “Raw is Jericho”, “Jerichoholic” and several other catchphrases. The self proclaimed “Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla” also understood the importance of music to enhance his marketability. His iconic “Break Down the Wall” entrance theme featured on WWF The Music Volume 4 that sold over one million copies and reached No. 4 on the US Billboard 200.

Jericho also mastered the art of the return. After a two-year hiatus from 2005-2007, Jericho returned with a new look. Once again using popular culture to keep himself fresh, he used mysterious binary code videos, reminiscent of The Matrix movies, to build his return. The videos were revealed to be for Jericho and he returned to a huge reaction. He sported new gear with a binary code design and featured a new finisher called the Codebreaker. Another brilliant return in 2012 featured Jericho coming to the ring to a rounding ovation and leaving without addressing the crowd. He continued this trend for several weeks, turning the crowd’s cheers to boos without muttering a single word.

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These days, Chris Jericho is a made man. He is a six-time world champion and continues to be a vital part of WWE. Over the past few years, he has split his time between WWE, his band Fozzy, and other entertainment ventures. Even now at 45, he continues to reinvent his character to connect in the current landscape of the WWE. His new scarf wearing snobby persona has been an excellent foil for new stars like Enzo and Big Cass. With new catch phrases like “Quiet…Quiet…” and “You’re gonna get…It!”, he has maintained his position a top performer on the Raw brand. After 20 years, we continue to get the gift of Jericho, so drink it in…