Chris Jericho has had better matches than his AEW Dynamite match against Bandido on Wednesday, September 29. In AEW alone, Jericho has had matches that peaked higher, drew bigger ratings, or got bigger reactions from the crowd. In the long run, few fans will really remember the match as it will get swallowed up by the bigger angles taking place in the company during this period.
Fans really shouldn’t forget about it, because it was one of the most remarkable displays from a veteran superstar wrestler in recent memory.
In an industry where the term “veteran star” often brings to mind memories of older wrestlers working part-time schedules, burying their younger contemporaries and refusing to put other wrestlers over; there are not that many true veteran superstars who wear that label gracefully. While experience and drawing power is always respected, the fact is over the last few decades, being a veteran star from a former era can have negative connotations for how a wrestler is perceived by fans today; they are seen often as overpaid, broken down and difficult to work with.
Chris Jericho, about to wrap up his 31st year as a professional wrestler, is wrestling’s preeminent veteran star. Honing his fame during a time where wrestling was much more ubiquitous in the public consciousness, Jericho’s star power has been a critical component in getting AEW off the ground. More than that, throughout the three years of the company’s existence, Jericho has consistently leveraged his star power for the greater good of the company, time and time again focusing it on promoting the next generation of talent, and willing to compromise his own perceived star power to make someone else look good.
Simply put, Jericho fulfills every requirement one could want out of a veteran star. He uses his star power to anchor TV shows and PPVs, consistently remaining one of the biggest draws in the company. He uses his charisma and experience to tell interesting stories and take on different personas that remain popular with live fans. He can be a top star working main events, or he can be phased-down the card to help a younger wrestler. He is a calm, presentable presence for the company in outside endeavors, and has been an important salesman for AEW as it began to cut into the market.
This has all been magnified in 2022 thanks to an unexpected in-ring revival from Jericho. While Jericho remained a key figure in AEW in 2021, the fact was that he was showing signs of aging in the ring and his match quality began to dip. He was still capable but it was obvious that as he entered his 50s, he wasn’t going to be able to sustain his previous standard of in-ring ability. However, following a health scare last December, Jericho ended up shedding weight and getting into the best shape he had been in years, and what has followed has been one of the best in-ring years of his career.
Jericho has delivered 11 matches this year that have been rated four stars or better by Dave Meltzer, including a five-star match (Anarchy in the Arena at Double or Nothing) and three 4.75-star matches. Just when people began to write him off, he bounced back and delivered one of, if not the, best in-ring years of his career. That and an expected heel turn and the formation of the Jericho Appreciation Society, has revitalized Jericho’s career once again, and with CM Punk and The Elite currently suspended from AEW, his presence has perhaps never been more vital.
When Jericho faced Bandido, Jericho faced an opponent who was far, far beneath him when it comes to notoriety and star power. Bandido had never appeared on Dynamite before, and was not publicly signed to an AEW contract. For Jericho, it was an almost random match; his primary feud is working with Bryan Danielson and Daniel Garcia (another young star that Jericho is working on elevating) and wrestling a former Ring of Honor World Champion in Bandido was just a small step in that story.
Jericho could have easily eaten up Bandido and beaten him easily. He could have given Bandido one or two hope spots before beating him and fans still would have applauded. That was not the case; Jericho recognized that he was in the ring with someone with potential, someone with a chance to be a star, and he wanted to make Bandido look good.
At 51 years old, Jericho took every big spot Bandido was known for. He took a stalling vertical suplex for almost a full minute; he took a hurricanrana off the apron, he took the 21-Plex and he took an avalanche moonsault fall-away slam. Yes, Jericho ended up winning the match, but he went into the ring with a relatively unknown wrestler and allowed them to shine to the best of their abilities before putting them away. It was a selfless job by someone who easily could have mailed it in.
In his book “Undisputed”, Jericho wrote how much pride he took in working with Hulk Hogan when Hogan was having his nostalgia run in 2002. Hogan recognized that wrestlers like Jericho could help him look good, and in turn Hogan was giving (by Hogan standards) to Jericho, allowing him to get offense in and do some spots. It’s not surprising that years later, with Jericho now in the role of the veteran star, that he sees younger guys and wants to work with them in a similar manner.
It’s easy to focus on Jericho’s programs in AEW with talent like MJF or Adam Page as signs of him working to get over the next generation of stars. Those are big feuds with can’t-miss talents. What is more impressive to me is the matches he’s had with people like Bandido or Shota Umino; talents that are less known to US viewers but Jericho recognizes their ability and wants to help them get over.
It’s hard not to compare Jericho to another veteran star in CM Punk. While Punk steamed his way through a bizarre press conference following ALL OUT which led to a fight and subsequent suspension from the company, ranting about how sick he is of working with “fucking children” and how they don’t grasp the intricacies of the business; Jericho calmly came out after Punk and thoroughly explained not only his match and his angle, but his leadership in the AEW locker room.
When asked by a media member what he said during a talent meeting earlier, Jericho gave a long response into what he can teach younger talent who are just emerging as television stars.
“My message always is to remind people how special AEW is, and don’t take that for granted. You know, swearing and that sort of thing, all it takes is for the wrong guy to see someone say something like “pussy” and you know that is it, they are done,” Jericho said. “Always just want to remind guys, please do not potentially ruin this amazing world we have created. Where I came from, working for Vince, it was unacceptable and never happened. I’m trying to let people know we are getting to the point where these things can’t happen. We are going to do what Tony would do in the NFL, or with Fulham. We are a multi-million dollar company, with a huge TV contract and another huge television contract coming up soon. A lot of guys don’t have that experience, and don’t realize just how special this is. That’s why we have these meetings, to remind guys to stay on course.”
In this instance, Jericho expresses similar feelings to Punk in that some of the roster is inexperienced in how to act as a major star in the wrestling business, but unlike Punk, Jericho remains respectful of his colleagues and the success AEW has had. It’s a night-and-day difference in responses, and it highlights the differences that have allowed Jericho to survive and thrive in various incarnations of the wrestling business, while Punk has struggled to remain a team player.
To be clear, Jericho is not doing all of this out of the goodness of his heart. He is being well-compensated by Tony Khan and AEW, and he understands that if he remains a rock for the company and they land a large new TV contract, he is in line for a huge pay bump. Jericho has been a timeless act, but he is also aware his chances at one last giant payday are going to be limited in the future, and I’m sure he has an eye on cashing in whenever his contract is up.
With that said, nobody works for free. Jericho coming to AEW in the first place was an investment for Khan and AEW, and the investment has paid off, thanks to Jericho’s continued effort and interest in trying to promote himself and the company he is a part of. Plenty of veterans can get by playing the hits and getting good reactions from the fans, but Jericho has never been motivated by that. His real artistic motivations–telling stories in and out of the ring, promoting new characters (both himself and his opponents) and his commitment to entertaining fans has made him the most valuable wrestler in the history of AEW.
In the latest episode of the Gentlemen’s Wrestling Podcast, Jesse Collings (@JesseCollings) is joined by Nick Hausman (@Nick_Hausman) of WrestlingInc.com to talk about his experiences working in the AEW media scrums. Nick talks about how the scrums have evolved from their start, the art of asking tough questions, the professionalism of wrestling media and his dramatic interaction with CM Punk at the ALL OUT media scrum.