Ever since the demise of WCW in 2001, wrestling fans have wanted competition for WWE. Throughout history, wrestling is better when there is real competition in the marketplace. There was hope at one point that TNA could become legit competition, but they couldn’t get out of their own head.
In the last few years, casual fans have been driven away from wrestling as a whole. WWE has spent the last 6-8 years pushing wrestlers down our throats, having nonsense booking (champions lose constantly, 50/50 everything, DQ in a Hell In A Cell, etc) and subpar matches. These reasons, combined with one tweet from Dave Meltzer, sparked the revolution known as All Elite Wrestling.
Not any time soon https://t.co/Vu3xLV2ThZ
— Dave Meltzer (@davemeltzerWON) May 16, 2017
In the initial stages of AEW, it had a feel like the beginning of TNA. They both started out with pay per view only shows, had a bunch of really good talent not known to a lot of casual fans, and brought in former WWE stars to help grow their exposure to the mainstream and land them a major television deal. This is why AEW signed Chris Jericho
I can already hear people coming at me comparing Jericho to Rhyno and Christian Cage. At the onset, there isn’t a comparison. Chris Jericho is one of the best wrestlers of all time and the former were good in-ring, but never had a major run worth mentioning. Jericho beat The Rock and Stone Cold Steve Austin in the same night, had one of the better feuds in the Ruthless Aggression era of WWE with Shawn Michaels, and has continually re-invented himself with the times.
One of the issues with AEW at the onset of the promotion is that most of their talent is not mainstream. To those of us who are wrestling die-hards, we know all of the names. Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks, Lucha Brothers, Best Friends, etc, but to anyone who is just a casual watcher, they would not be draws to the AEW product. Chris Jericho, however, is one of the more recognizable names in the last 25 years and having as the first-ever world champion provided a sense of legitimacy to the brand new promotion.
Having him on top was worth 1.409 million viewers with a 0.68 in the key 18-49 demographic for their first episode. Not only is he the best in terms of star power that the brand has, but he is also doing everything he can to build the brand.
When TNA brought in former WWE stars, they weren’t there to build the roster for the betterment of the company, they were brought in to just be top guys. We didn’t see Christian Cage getting pinned by guys like Bobby Roode and Christopher Daniels, but rather going right for the NWA title. To be honest, it wasn’t a bad choice. Bring in the recognizable name that can draw eyes to your product and push him to the top of the card to draw eyes to the product. The biggest difference in what AEW is doing with Chris Jericho is on top but also building the next generation.
Jericho has had nine matches in AEW so far. He has wrestled the likes of Kenny Omega, The Young Bucks and Cody, but his most important work has been his singles matches outside of the top stars. His first-ever defense of the AEW World Championship was a match on Dynamite versus a former indie favorite Darby Allin. While he was very popular with fans in the wrestling bubble, he was not very well known outside of that. Going toe to toe with Jericho, including the amazing skateboard attack, put him over to a new level. Shortly after that, Jericho took his first-ever pinfall loss in AEW by getting rolled up by Scorpio Sky. One week later, Jericho and Scorpio Sky had one of the best promo exchanges in recent memory setting up a title match.
Chris Jericho Le Champion in AEW totally making it great to watch him on there along with the Talent he is surrounded by. Scorpio Sky vs Chris Jericho wooo ? but this is a classic moment !! pic.twitter.com/S7KKP5hNTG
— The Eternal Legend MQZ (@MQZOfficial) November 24, 2019
While Scorpio didn’t win, he was presented as a credible threat.
On December 18, Jericho has a match with the young Jungle Boy, who has a combined 0-8 record so far in AEW. There was a lot of blowback on Twitter for this match. Why would the champion wrestle against a guy who can’t even win a match in the company? The answer is in the question. Being arguably the best heel in the business, he wants his last match of the year to be easy. Who would be easier than a guy who hasn’t won a match? After claiming that Jungle Boy couldn’t last ten minutes in the ring with Le Champion, the match sets up perfectly to present Jungle Boy as a credible talent to the mainstream roster.
We all know that Chris Jericho at 49 years old isn’t going to be around forever. Hell, he isn’t someone who is putting on wrestling clinics in every match, but what he does do well is presenting himself as the best in the world.
Jericho keeps reinventing himself as the business grows, even changing his finishing move to a spinning back elbow. Any MMA fighter will tell you can knock out anyone, even if the man using it has a dad bod and doesn’t move like he used to. As AEW moves along in their infancy as a company, Chris Jericho is the most important person in the company. As long as he keeps delivering on every show and putting over guys the company sees as future stars, AEW will stray farther from the TNA comparisons and continue to grow as a legitimate American wrestling alternative to WWE.