In the world of professional sports, greatness is well-defined. Those deemed as such live forever in infamy – among fans, historians, and in the fantastical lore of their chosen field. Generations come and go, but those special names transcend evolution and alteration. They exist in memory because the gifts they gave to their art far exceed typical expectation.
In wrestling, statistics matter a great deal less. For one to be great, parameters are largely subjective. Championships and wins don’t carry as much weight as moments created and lasting memories made. How has an individual taken the product they have loved since childhood and made it better for generations to come? Are they leaving it in good hands? How are they seen in the eyes of their peers?
Chris Jericho has been a fixture in professional wrestling worldwide for thirty years. It’s an incredible amount of time to do anything, let alone be a relevant and world-renowned superstar of the business. Through sheer dedication and a refusal to be anything less than legendary, Chris has done it all in his time between the ropes. He’s seen everything there is to see in a world that never fails to surprise and challenge any of us. Wrestling has proven to be especially unpredictable and cruel over many years for many reasons. Yet standing tall in a new golden era – fathered in part by him – here he is at the center of it all. Because where else would he be?
For my entire life as a fan of this thing of ours, Chris Jericho has been the man. From the earlier days as a cruiserweight in WCW, to his memorable debut in the WWF, to returns and fresh character changes as needed, to a run in NJPW that gave us all hope for a new day ahead, to where we currently sit in front of the blown open forbidden door. Right here in All Elite Wrestling, on the eve of what could very well be the end of one of the most magnificent in ring wrestling careers of all time. It’s almost surreal to consider, isn’t it?
I mean, wrestlers retire all the time. They wipe their feet one last time and leave their boots behind, and we all move on. When a GOAT walks away though, I think it’s important to take a moment and remember their journey. They don’t walk down the aisle often, but the footprints left behind leave unforgettable impacts into the very soul of the business they’ve given their lives to. A lifetime spent creating. Sacrificing. Evolving. Living. Along with making music, Chris has always wanted to do exactly what he’s done in a professional wrestling ring. While the joy he’s gotten from doing just that cannot be quantified, it’s almost unfathomable to imagine the joy he has given to others doing just that.
I cannot ponder my favorite wrestling matches of all time without mentioning Chris Jericho. My goodness, his feud with Dean Malenko in WCW is one of my favorites to look back on now and enjoy over and over again. I was too young to live it as it happened, but I carry such appreciation in my heart for what he was able to accomplish in those months of pure undeniable wrestling perfection. He proved so much in those matches and promos, from an uncanny sense of humor and knack for comedic timing to an ability to go toe to toe with one of the best technical wrestlers of all time between the ropes.
Speaking of promos, have you heard his?! I’ve always thought he was great, but over the last couple of years, with the proverbial shackles cut from his wrists, I feel he’s done some of his best work to date. Beyond that, watching him in the ring with a mic in his hand, with the freedom to create as he sees fit, is such a satisfying experience. I’m sure it pales in comparison to what he feels in his heart, but rest assured we can feel it through the screen. Within his eyes, whether he’s spewing heel snark or babyface pandering, burns a fire so rooted in passion and appreciation for the business, that I dare say he’s as happy now as he’s ever been in wrestling. That’s how it truly feels.
He’s earned that. Through decades of violent abuse on his body and time away from his lovely family, giving his all so that we can escape our troubles for a few minutes, it’s a miracle he’s still willing to do it at all any longer. That speaks volumes in respect to the caliber of his heart, which I believe to be one of a kind in and of itself. The generosity he has shown within the business – to talent and families alike – and to people in need, doesn’t get near the publicity it should. I don’t think he’d want it to anyway because that’s not why he does what he does.
Playing off of and in reaction to reality is something he has mastered beautifully over the years as well. People in the business speak of him like the wonderful person he is, yet on screen he has the ability to be as convincingly evil as anyone in wrestling ever has been. I can think of many examples, but the one that sticks out most might be my favorite blood feud in wresting ever. Chris Jericho. Shawn Michaels. From inception to completion, it was simply magic. It was professional wrestling the way it was meant to be. If you haven’t watched it through recently, please do yourself a favor and relive it. Hang on their words, allow the hate to consume you, and cheer as loudly as you did when it first happened. Its place in history is so rightfully earned through all they both gave from start to finish, storytelling at its best told by two master storytellers. Nothing is better.
It was difficult to cheer against him when All Elite Wrestling first launched, even though I knew they wanted me to. It wasn’t that he had lost a step – perhaps the opposite in fact – it was that after all the years in the rearview and all the appreciation earned, nothing remained but good will and happiness for a career magically constructed. I watch him now with that same appreciation, but the possibility that the end was near has existed a little more prominently over the last many months.
I’ll forever be grateful that he saw enough in Tony Khan and the EVP collective to join them in changing the landscape of professional wrestling forever. He certainly didn’t have to do it, but he saw something in them. Perhaps it was a glimmer. Maybe it was much more. Regardless, it’s impossible to know where AEW would be without the instant legitimacy Chris Jericho gave them at their inception. He has said before that he thrives under pressure and embraces change as an avenue to success. He damn near wrote the book on it.
As he walks into All Out on Sunday though, I’m not sure he’ll be thinking of any of this. Judas will hit and a monster crowd will sing him to the ring again. He’ll take his few moments to, “drink it in maaaaaaaaaan,” and he’ll smile at us all as he always does. Facing down a young man who has beaten him three times already, his historic career will hover figuratively over the ring, and whatever will happen will happen.
In my heart, if this is the end, I hope he takes whatever time he needs to reflect on the journey and all the iterations of himself who have helped bring him to this moment. From Lionheart to Le Champion. From Y2J to the Demo God. If when the bell rings, his boots are left behind, I will mourn the career of one of the best I have ever seen. I’m sure I will cry, because that’s just what I do, but there will be lots of happy mixed in with the sad. How could there not be? A lifetime of contributions and memories left in dust. When it settles, he wont be gone, but an era will have ended.
Since he has dedicated so much of his life to music, I feel it only too fitting that I share some words from a GOAT of the rock world, the Foo Fighters:
“Do you remember the days?
We built these paper mountains
Then sat and watched them burn
I think I found my place…
Learning to walk again
I believe I’ve waited long enough
Where do I begin?”
I don’t know if this is the end. Only Chris can decide that. Regardless, he leaves behind trails blazed and opportunities created. Whether it’s Sunday or another day in the future, when he walks up the ramp for the last time and gives us one last signature smile as an in-ring competitor, he’ll enter hallowed halls in professional wrestling history to take his rightful place among the best to ever do it.
Nobody lives forever. Legends never die. What about GOATs?
We’ll just have to wait and see.