When you put together a Lego model you need all of the pieces. If you have one missing piece at the end, then it doesn’t matter how well you’ve put it together, you haven’t got the full thing. WWE spends a lot of time trying to put its pieces together and I think that if they just took a step back and looked at what they had first, they wouldn’t need to be constantly shuffling around in their box.
The WWE is a mixture of different Lego models that slot together. These smaller models are made up of storylines, memorable moments, surprises and, not surprisingly, wrestlers. If you’re slotting together lots of models to make one big one, then those individual models have to be complete first or it won’t look right.
If there’s one wrestler on the current roster that’s complete, it’s Chris Jericho.
I’ve always loved Chris’s work.
Now you’ll note there’s something missing from the end of that statement. When you hear people talk about wrestlers they say they loved so-and-so’s work in the ring, or they loved what’s-his-face on the microphone, or they love that thing that one guy does. There’s a qualifier.
There isn’t a qualifier for me with Jericho – he’s great in the ring, on the microphone and more than both of those, he adds something to any card he’s on just by being on it.
Aside from Cena I can’t think of another active wrestler on the roster who’s captivating at every aspect of being a wrestler. There are lots of guys who are great at one or even good at all of them, but not captivating. Punk and Bryan were but they’re both gone. Taker and Trips are part-time in the truest sense of the phrase. There’s some guys who’ll get there – Dean Ambrose for one is starting to show the signs of that greatness, but there’s still one or two many spots in his matches for me plus, I’d like to see him use the Regal Stretch more. I know not everyone needs a submission finisher that’s really strong, but the smaller guys generally do – it’s an easy way to win a match by being able to subvert a bigger guy’s power. I’d love to see Dean do that to Lesnar on Sunday, by the way.
Chris Jericho is the WWE’s yardstick for me. If you break yourself down as a wrestler into your component parts – be it mat wrestling, promos, enthusiasm, keeping things fresh within your character’s framework, whatever it is – and measure that skill against Chris Jericho, you’ll find out pretty quickly how and why you lack in comparison and what you need to work on. I don’t know if wrestlers do that, I only know what WWE TV shows me on shows like Breaking Ground where they seem to pay that at least some consideration.
So let’s do that. Let’s stack a few guys up against Jericho and see how their cookies crumble. Why don’t we start with Dean? Because he’s well on the way to starting to stack up for me on what I think is the biggest thing Jericho has done over his career and that’s bring his passion to everything he does. In the last few weeks they’ve let Dean talk. In letting him talk, they’ve let him show a bit more of himself to us and in showing a bit more of himself to us he’s shown the passion that was sorely lacking after he lost to Roman at Survivor Series.
Whilst Jericho clearly loves being out there every time he’s out there, he also makes you think that his being out there matters. It mattered to Jericho that he lost to AJ Styles. When he lost to Curtis Axel, it mattered because it bothered him. And it’s not just that night – sure, Jericho might do his one-liners and entertain the crowd, but when it boils down to it, he cares about winning and that makes him realistic, because a wrestler should care if he wins or loses, even if wins and losses don’t matter in the greater scheme of things. A kayfabe wrester shouldn’t be aware of the greater scheme of things – to that character, wrestling is real and that’s how the character should think of it. Jericho brings that every time.
What reminded me more recently about why I love Jericho’s work wasn’t just the AJ Styles matches (although they’ve been great), it was the segment with Paul Heyman on Raw before the Royal Rumble. Chris remembered he had history with Lesnar. Now while that doesn’t sound groundbreaking, too often wrestlers seem to forget who they’ve feuded or had issues with in the past, which I think devalues those feuds a little. We also got a reminder that Chris doesn’t fear anyone on the roster. He might not be the biggest, but he’s the best in the world at what he does, so he can beat anybody.
That one exchange with Heyman reminded me more than the interactions with New Day, Miz or even Styles, what’s great about Jericho’s passion – he loves fun, but when things get serious he’ll get right on with being serious with those things and give them a run for their money. Give Dean that chip on his shoulder about past results, have him remember like he did with Seth Rollins and the rivalries and the moments will flow from there because if Dean shows us it matters, we’ll maybe start to think it matters.
I’m of the opinion that Jericho’s best work was done when he was a heel (and I can’t wait for him to be a heel again, which looks likely) during his last Championship run. The slow-talking, methodical Jericho, patiently explaining to everyone why he’s the best, was the perfect foil for the faces on the roster and is one of the things I think the smaller heels on the current roster could pick up on.
So my next wrestler to stack up against Jericho is Seth Rollins.
Whilst not technically a small guy, Rollins reminded me a lot of Jericho during his heel run last year. Explaining to an audience why he was the best thing they’d see that night, followed up by putting on a great match. So far, so good. The booking might have let Rollins down a bit, but there’s one area where he doesn’t quite stack up to Jericho – on the mike. Sometimes I think Seth is getting it when he takes it slow, before crescendo-ing to a crowd-baiting finale, but it takes too long.
Then I think about why Seth is getting so much time on his own and I realise that it’s because it’s easier to give a good promo when it’s scripted, or when the guys in the ring with you are backing you up. Jericho’s best moments on the mike, be that one of the many with The Rock, or the Best In The World promos from 2012, or my personal favourites…well, pretty much any time Jericho mentions or is in a promo with Stephanie McMahon, come when he’s with other people and too often I don’t see a great back and forth on promo any more. Now it’s true, Seth could be fantastic on the mike but have nobody to go up against, but then the promos face to face with Cena weren’t that great. There was much to remember in the awesome feud with Dean Ambrose, but not that many face to face verbals that stand out, just lots of monologues.
The promos leading up to Jericho’s biggest moment, and my favourite moment of his as a fan, were great. Back and forth between three people, all doggedly determined to emerge as the first Undisputed Champion. Rock and Stone Cold were the top guys and Chris beating both of them in the same night was a fantastic moment for all us Jerichoholics. I remember watching it and thinking there was no way Jericho could win. The whole night was masterfully done. It’s one of my top moments as a fan because I hadn’t expected them to do it.
There’s another three men involved in a title match this Sunday. We’ve already stacked one of them, so let’s take this opportunity to stack Roman Reigns up against Jericho too.
I want to go on record here and say that despite the tone of some of my recent articles, I like Roman Reigns. I think he has potential. But he isn’t the finished article and he runs the risk of being pushed as that finished article too soon. Jericho was seasoned, battle-hardened and had the fans in his pocket when he became Undisputed Champion. If Roman wins on Sunday night, it’s not going to be terribly unexpected and nor will his eventual win at Wrestlemania and the fans most definitely are not in his pocket.
The main thing though is that Chris Jericho ran toe to toe with Rock and Austin all the way. In the ring, on the mike, with his passion and also just being out-and-out entertaining – I loved what all three of them did in those few months when Jericho won the title and also afterwards when he defended against both them. In the WWE’s current number one contender feud, it’s been Dean and Brock who’ve done the great mike work (ok, Heyman really), ring work and been the most entertaining. Roman has sort of been the third wheel.
I’m going to say it again – I’m not down on the guy. I’ve been critical of Roman in the past few months, but that’s because I think he can be what WWE want him to be – he’s just not there yet, which is why it’s frustrating they’re saying he is. Put it bluntly – get him closer to Jericho, then we’ll all have something on our hands we can get our teeth into.
I’m not saying he can be the outgoing charismatic guy Jericho is on the mike. I’m not saying he can be one of the best in-ring performers of his generation. But you know what? He can be one of the most entertaining superstars WWE has if they and he play to his strengths. If anything, Roman has the furthest to go of the three. Seth needs a few more mike skills on face to face promos. Dean needs to be given time to be the entertainer he can be and probably needs to stop using some of his spots quite so much. Roman though, needs to use much fewer words. He needs to find a way of being just as entertaining as Dean and Seth, but in his own way. He also needs a bit of work in the ring and to not just punch, punch, punch.
So what can he learn from being stacked up against Jericho? Well, for the in-ring, maybe he can slow it down. Jericho has spots where he works fast, but often he’s working a methodical, measured style. One of the things that’s great about Jericho is his taunts to opponents in the ring. He’s vocal, he’s loud while he’s wrestling – Roman could do with a bit of that. I know nice guys don’t do that in WWE’s world, but maybe it’s time to shake up what a nice guy is. I can see Roman slapping Triple H’s head at Wrestlemania a la Chris Jericho and the crowd going nuts for it.
He could also learn how to carry himself. Jericho looks and acts like a star – in recent weeks Roman has looked like Dean Ambrose’s pal, not much more. He’d be better off without Dean as a friend and he’d be better off not being the uber nice guy. Can you imagine Jericho standing in the ring saying he wanted to do the right thing? No, he has fights with people that he makes personal and generates interest in. Can you imagine Jericho smirking after having lost a title? No, he’d get right in the guy’s face and tell him he might think he’s won, but all he’s done is make it worse for himself.
If you take a look at who I’ve stacked up against Jericho here, they’ve all been pieces of a larger themselves in the greatest faction I can remember (I wasn’t around for the Four Horsemen), the Shield. If anyone needs reminding that the WWE can get it spectacularly right, the Shield should be that memory. Each of them came out of that group a bigger star, two have held the big one and the third just might develop into the best underdog face since Shawn Michaels and Daniel Bryan.
The Shield though, is gone. They can, all three of them, stand up on their own if they just took a little of what Chris Jericho does on board.