With WrestleMania just days away, there’s a rare consensus on the card that’s becoming too familiar to ignore: “Hey, at least the Jericho match will be great.”
No insult meant to Kevin Owens, whose work with Jericho has been a highlight of Monday Night Raw for months now. Blindsiding his closest ally (during the Festival of Friendship, of all days!) proved an unpretentious on-ramp for exactly the kind of hot feud this year’s WrestleMania needed. Owens and Jericho are just two incredibly talented men who were given immediately relatable reasons to want to beat the crap out of each other.
It seems so simple, yet these cut-and-dry motivations are increasingly alien during WrestleMania season as WWE scrambles to fill out the biggest —not to mention longest—show of the year. In spite of this discouraging trend, Jericho always seems to guarantee something to look forward to, no matter how quickly it’s explained or how much of a trainwreck it looks on paper.
A quick reminder of Jericho’s healing properties: In 2008, Chris Jericho was antagonizing Mickey Rourke leading up to WrestleMania 25 and the release of The Wrestler. Rourke was so caught up in Jericho’s master-class hype, he seemed to publicly accept a call-out before notifying his Oscar-minded representation. WWE dealt with Rourke’s limited availability in a typically sensible manner: By booking Jericho against three WWE legends who hadn’t competed in a WrestleMania ring for decades.
It was here that Jericho propped up an elimination handicap match against Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat for a surprisingly bearable eight-and-a-half minutes, then sold Mickey Rourke’s post-match knockout punch with an enthusiasm that made Y2J look like the true actor of the two. If that wasn’t enough, Jericho’s chemistry with the 56-year-old Steamboat was so solid that the two were booked in an entirely Rourke-less singles match the very next pay-per-view.
But Jericho isn’t just a master of making the best out of highly suspect booking. There are few safer bets than pairing him up against an established hand, as evidenced by his work with the likes of William Regal or Kurt Angle. While Vince McMahon was stamping out the last bit of heat from the “Montreal Screwjob” with an embarrassment against Bret Hart, Jericho and Edge were on hand immediately afterwards to act as a two-man crowd defibrillator.
Jericho is, to this day, one of WrestleMania’s most vital utility players. Shawn Michaels is still rightfully referred to as “Mr. WrestleMania” for delivering some of the greatest matches to ever grace the card, his classic against Jericho at WrestleMania 19 being just one of them. And not to tear down Michaels’ legacy, but you have to wonder what HBK would’ve done if he were saddled with the star of Masked and Anonymous knocking him out on pro wrestling’s biggest stage.
While Michaels largely defined himself though the most high-profile matches the WrestleMania marquee had to offer, Chris Jericho quietly became the versatile star that can excel in any role WWE throws at him. Through repeated comebacks and hastily thrown-together feuds, alongside classic main event level matches, Jericho’s proven to be WrestleMania’s secret weapon.
AJ Tigner is a freelance writer in Seattle. He enjoys pro wrestling, obnoxiously long podcasts and Mads Mikkelsen.