Photo credit: All Elite Wrestling
Chris Jericho is a rather controversial figure in professional wrestling. The Canadian wrestler has such legendary work that some fans consider him one of the greatest of all time.
While it also has many detractors, especially those interested in comments it’s made outside of wrestling, it’s hard to deny that the man of many nicknames and catchphrases is hugely entertaining at his best. His foray into Japan to take on Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12 helped pave the way for All Elite Wrestling. Later, his stint as the first AEW World Champion gave the company its first taste of mainstream star power before Jon Moxley, CM Punk, or Bryan Danielson entered the fold.
However, The Demo God’s act became stale after he turned face and his stable, The Inner Circle, ran its course. His feud with MJF created memorable moments like the Blood and Guts match or The Labors of Jericho. Still, it went on too long and ended anticlimatically after pinning The Salt of the Earth at All Out in September.
Still, it’s hard to count the veteran star. Love it or hate it, it has always known how to adapt and reinvent itself. After what seemed like a creative drought, Jericho did just that after a war of words with Eddie Kingston on the Feb. 23 episode of Dynamite.
The self-proclaimed influencer then delivered one of his best performances with AEW to date and he took on The Mad King in Revolution’s opener. Afterwards, he refused to shake hands with his opponent, which led to a much-needed heel turn the following week.
In the process, he eventually disbanded The Inner Circle and founded The Jericho Appreciation Society. Now, we know it’s easy to be skeptical of another stable led by the first undisputed champion, but the segment featuring his new five-man squad was surprisingly brilliant.
The dawn of the era of the sports artist
Say what you will about Jericho, but he understands his audience. This has been one of his greatest strengths throughout his career, no matter where he goes. As such, he knows how to carefully craft a new antagonistic character that matches his viewers’ desires and masterfully pokes fun at the things they hold dear.
In the latest edition of Dynamite, The Influencer exemplified this by bringing the era of sports entertainment to AEW. This may elicit eye rolls and groans from fans who are fed up with the company’s copious amount of jabs during its distinguished competition. However, it was such a clever way to acknowledge his legendary run with WWE and turn his verbiage into a way to garner mockery from his smarky new fan base.
Professional wrestling is truly at its best when there is great crowd participation. The best speakers in the industry know how to say the right words and hit the right nerves to get the reaction they want. Watching Jericho cheer up the audience live in San Antonio was a thing of beauty.
Initially, there was some truth to his words as he listed his accomplishments and the things we should be thankful for. Then, the former AEW World Champion appeared increasingly bitter and narcissistic as he shattered his need for appreciation. Some knowledgeable fans may immediately recognize that it required thank you as The Champion.
Then he committed a cardinal sin outside of the WWE Universe by stating, “I’m not a professional wrestler. I’m a sports entertainer.” It was a veiled reference to Vince McMahon’s recent appearance on The Pat McAfee Show.
During his first non-WWE interview in 15 years, the CEO said: “The reason we call them superstars and not wrestlers is because anyone can wrestle, bad or good. Do you want to to be a professional wrestler or a WWE Superstar? WWE Superstar sounds a lot better.”
This quote sparked a familiar debate among fans and wrestlers online about the difference between sports entertainment and professional wrestling. More so, it has created a narrative about where WWE stands as a dream destination and whether their marketing approach is the best or not.
It was extremely smart of Jericho to revive the debate and poke fun at the AEW fan base’s disdain for the term sports-entertainment. After all, it’s an idiom that McMahon popularized and All Elite Wrestling established as an alternative to his presentation. It was a shrewd move and it worked wonders as the crowd showered him with boos.
A well thought out story
Then Daniel Garcia added fuel to the flames when he stepped in and approved. Red Death is revered for his technical prowess in independent wrestling. He was considered the antithesis of a sports entertainer. So it was a similar betrayal to watch your favorite underground rapper release a heavily pop-influenced record featuring Ariana Grande. Older fans might compare it to hearing Nas’ “You Owe Me” or Jay-Z’s “Sunshine” for the first time.
Calling Garcia the epitome of a sports artist was like nails on a blackboard for some die-hard fans. However, Jericho deftly brought that aspect of the segment back on a loop. The 51-year-old explained he had donated money to help his new stable mate after he and Kevin Blackwood were seriously injured in a car accident on January 6, 2019. It was the type of nod to real-world events that adds depth to the wrestling storytelling.
As for 2point0, Jericho got rid of their “bad creative bad names,” another throwback to his time as The Champion when he introduced Jake Hager as part of Inner Circle on October 9, 2019. Just as he used Hager’s real name on that fateful day, he reintroduced the team as “Daddy Magic” Matt Minard and “Cool Hand Ang” Angelo Parker. It was a great nod to AEW continuity and a well-placed jab at WWE naming conventions, which angered some fans.
Then the former WWE Superstar gave viewers another Easter egg by explaining that his former best friend Kevin [Owens], introduced them after their release from NXT. Many fans may recall that his feud with a certain Prizefighter was his last major history with WWE. Minard and Parker are real friends with KO, so everything lines up.
Within minutes, Jericho gave what looked like another hodgepodge stable some legit backstory and perfectly detailed their reasons for joining or liking him. He also gave us just enough peeks behind the curtain to make it feel even more special. It’s the mark of a truly brilliant promotion of modern times. It’s an art, and The Influencer has executed it incredibly well.
It’s the JAS and they’ve beaten professional wrestlers. It’s a simple mantra, but their leader created his best segment in a long time around their debut and simultaneously did what he does best. As a parting gift, he told fans to remember the date, which was Austin 3:16 a.m. Day, as he reclaimed the term sports artist.
There’s a certain irony here as Jericho gave fans more of what they wanted by becoming a full fledged heel again. It’s hard to say if that was intentional, but the fact that we even wondered if he was right is another reason why this segment was so phenomenal.