When will he debut? Is the Save_us22 campaign for him? Where will he fit in on the roster of the WWE in 2007? These are questions that have dogged Chris Jericho since the videos first showed up in the WWE. While it is well known that Jericho has in fact re-signed with World Wrestling Entertainment — and will return tonight on RAW — in the days leading up to tonight he was still keeping mum on the when and where.
The rumor mill has, however, created a tremendous buzz, one that coincides well with the release of Jericho’s book, A Lion’s Tale: Around The World In Spandex, now out from Grand Central Publishing.
“It has worked out great because I am not even on the show and there is a buzz,” Jericho told SLAM! Wrestling. “It is great for me, for my book and for Jericho fans. There has been speculation that I was going to return since the day I first left. I like that, it is great because people want to see me. The timing couldn’t be better with the book coming out so from a cross-promotional purpose I get more publicity then if I was standing in the middle of the ring holding my book and saying ‘buy this,’ which I think would actually turn people off. It is better than anything I could have asked for.”
Patience, however, has never been a strong point for wrestling fans, some of whom are quite upset that Jericho has not debuted yet and make a point of telling him so on his book tour.
“It is funny that I did signings in Long Island and Philly at the same time WWE as in town. I had no idea RAW was going to be in Philly; I just go where my book company tells me to go. People were actually getting mad at me, telling me they bought the pay per views and tickets to Raw to see me and I wasn’t there. Nobody ever said I was going to be there, people just read the clues wrong. I think the Save_Us22 promos are like The DaVinci Code: you’ve got to dig deeper and just when you think you know the answer, you are wrong. Whether I am coming back or not it is great publicity either way.”
Jericho also does not deny that he did negotiate with TNA. However, his heart lies with the promotion in which he gained the most success in his career.
“I never said I wouldn’t go to TNA. It is great for the business, the boys and the fans to have two promotions and as a businessman I would be crazy not to at least talk to them. But the point of the book is that my goal was to be in the WWE. I always wanted to work there, I loved working there, and I didn’t leave with any kind of issues. I enjoyed working with Vince [McMahon] and left on great terms with him and had no score to settle or bitter feelings. I think a lot of people that go to TNA do it because they are mad at the WWE for whatever reason, whether they felt slighted or thwarted or spiteful. I don’t have any of those feelings, there is nothing but positive. Did I always like working for Vince? No, there were times I thought he was insane, but it is like that with any boss. Overall it was where I wanted to be.”
He won’t be the only Canadian in the promotion either. With Harry Smith having debuted with the company as D.H. Smith, and Nattie Neidhart and T.J. Wilson waiting in the wings, there is a whole new generation of “Calgary Kids.” And much like Jericho, all three spent time gaining international experience before taking a shot at WWE.
“Those kids are great kids, I have had them over to my house a bunch of times. I am really happy for them getting the chance to at least get started in the WWE, but am also impressed that they took their time to get there. This could be the last crop of people who ever come out of the business the way I did, to a lesser degree than I did. They have done some tours of Japan and England but at least they are gaining some international experience. You can’t beat experience and that is something I have harped upon over the last couple of years. The reason why so many guys aren’t breaking out the way guys used to is because they don’t have the experience to be able to know how to do that, through no fault of their own. I can always draw on something I learned in Mexico or Germany or Calgary not just in the ring but outside the ring, life experience and character-wise. A lot of new guys train in OVW or Florida for six months to a year and then they make the big show and don’t know what to do. They haven’t seen enough. Fortunately, Harry and Nattie and TJ and Teddy — well Teddy I don’t know what his problem is — but the other three seem to have their heads screwed on a lot better.”
Gaining experience is something that Jericho has pushed to anyone who asks about breaking in to the WWE.
“I told Bryan Danielson the first time he was hanging around developmental that if a tour to Japan or England comes along, take it. The WWE is not going anywhere, it will still be waiting for you. It is better to go and gain wrestling and life experience so by the time you get to the big show you are ready. That is what happened with me; I wasn’t the biggest guy but by the time I got to the WWE my workrate was so out of the box and my character had really been honed and worked on from my time working in other places. That is one of the things going for the next generation of Harts is that they have had that experience to some extent.”
Jericho however did not have the extensive “Hart Training” that some say he has. As talked about in his book, Jericho technically did not learn from the Harts, despite them owning the wrestling school he attended.
“I am sure Keith [Hart] is a really cool guy but I never got the chance to know him because that was literally the only time I ever saw him. Maybe he was just in a bad mood that day or maybe that was how he liked to break guys in, but the fact that he never came back after that day for the entire three months was kind of a downer. Nothing against Keith as a person but as a business it was a ripoff; the only thing that was Hart influenced in our training was that book of Stu’s that we trained off of with Ed Langley and Brad Young. What I wrote is true, Keith showed up the first day, bumped us around, stretched me a bit and was on his merry way. This is something that Lance Storm and I have discussed quite a bit. We did train in Calgary, and people talk about us being part of the Hart dynasty. Believe me, we tried to be a part of that, I wanted to be with the Harts and train with Owen and those guys. But when they had their shows, like the Stu Hart 80th birthday show (on December 15th, 1995 at the Stampede Corral) and their annual rodeo shows, they never invited Lance or I. I always felt kind of snubbed by the Harts which I always thought was kind of crappy because we trained with the Hart Brothers pro wrestling camp but there were no Harts involved until I got the chance to train with Stu a couple of times in the Dungeon. Other then training with Stu and getting to show Bret the finishing move he used (magistral cradle against Davey Boy Smith at In Your House in December 1995) at Stu’s birthday celebration the night before the pay per view.”
Jericho also spoke to SLAM! Wrestling candidly about the fallout in the media after the Chris Benoit double murder/suicide in June. Jericho made a handful of appearances on news shows like Larry King Live and Nancy Grace. Grace’s shows — especially the early ones — have received scorn from wrestling media and fans alike for some of the many missing facts presented in her broadcasts covering the tragedy.
“I think I am the one lone person who loves Nancy Grace, and I will tell you the reason why. I had heard she was a dragon lady and I went on her show and she said things that were not right. I corrected her and told her the real thing that she was talking about and she respected that and said ‘I appreciate you telling me that because I didn’t know.’ And that is not her fault; it is her handlers’ fault for not doing more research. That said, there are a lot of lazy, sensationalistic journalists out there. That is why I decided to do a couple of these shows because I was sick of these guys who had agendas against the business or just didn’t know what they were talking when it came to Chris Benoit being up there as pundits who are representatives of the wrestling business. A lot of the things they were saying were pure lies and it was bothering me,” he said. While most expressed that Jericho came across well in the interviews, others had a more scathing view.
“I think the reason why I came across well was because I was 100% completely honest. I read afterwards things like I was a shill and sold out and was talking like I had a job interview. I was like, ‘You know what? Fuck that.’ I wasn’t talking like I wanted anything — I was someone who had something to say, I wasn’t interested in debating with anyone. These are the thoughts that I had, this is what I feel and I am not representing the business or anybody else. I was on there to tell the story about one of my best friends who was not the guy who did all these things in the last days of his life. What he did is horrible and inexcusable but he was still one of my brothers and a close friend and this was what I have to say about that. If anybody didn’t like what I said on those shows, they can fuck off. I didn’t say it to debate or argue with anybody; I said what I had to say for my own peace of mind so I didn’t go completely insane trying to figure out what happened. If I came across well it was because it was genuine, real and I said what I had to say and that was it.”
Was it was difficult to come back in the wake of the death of another of his best friends?
“It gives me more of a sense of the business. The book is a very positive book because since I was eight years old I wanted this job of being a wrestler. I have been very fortunate in that I have had a very wonderful life and lived this dream and be part of what I did and tour the world doing what I love to do. That is why I am really happy that people are digging this book because it is a positive side of the business for once. Ninety per cent of this business is positive but you never see it, you only see the negative side reported. Things like going to meet Make-a-Wish children or going to see the soldiers in Iraq or even entertaining 80,000 people at Wrestlemania. If there was any other gathering of 80,000 people, the media would cover it whether it was a Police concert or the Super Bowl or a college football game. You don’t get that with wrestling. It is just as justifiable a form of entertainment as being a rapper or an actor or a comedian, it is everything wrapped up in to one. That is one of the reasons why I am so happy about the book because it is such a positive story about the wrestling business because there is a lot of positives in the business. I think to come back at this point in time, the business needs a shot of positive energy from someone who knows what they are doing and doesn’t have an agenda. I have nothing to hide, anything I have to hide you read about already.”
Jericho is also looking at leaving his wife and three children to go back on the road. While he has been home a lot since his last match in August 2005, he has kept busy and been away from home with several projects including his band Fozzy, the Groundlings improv troupe in Los Angeles, the play Opening Night in Toronto, a satellite radio show, Celebrity Duets, and several movies.
“It is one of those things that even after I left I wasn’t always home. I did an Australian tour with Fozzy and we went to England five times and Ireland, Scotland, Wales; I spent a lot of time on the road with the band. I have also done a couple of movies that have kept me away. My job will always involve being away on the road whether it is with the band, or acting or the book tour. Obviously I will miss my family but it isn’t like going on the road for three to four weeks at a time. I get off days that I can go home. It is a little hard but my job is being on the road to entertain. Until I decide to get a regular 9 to 5 job every day it is going to be like this for a long time.”
When Jericho returns, you can bet that the Bank Atlantic Center in Fort Lauderdale will explode with chants of “Y2J.” Will Jericho once again save the WWE? Time will tell, but Jericho is looking forward to new opportunities.
“I enjoy working with everybody. The fun of being in the business is getting to work with guys like Shawn Michaels or Rocky because it is easy you don’t have to do anything or think about it. But it is more of a challenge when you do. I had a great match with Viscera in San Jose, and was it easy? Hell no. It was one of the hardest matches I ever had but it was really really good. So I really don’t care who I work, I just know that I have a style and like to play and will turn it up a couple of notches. It is about having fun. I think people get excited when somebody comes back or comes in and can really take it up to the next level and bring some of the fire back to the job again. I am actually looking forward to my first feud … against Funaki.”