The year is 1999.
Manchester United is completing an unexpected treble, Spongebob Squarepants was debuting on Nickelodeon to a world of hyperactive children, and Woodstock 99 proved that you can party too hard.
What a time to be alive.
In the wrestling world, Vince McMahon’s WWF is firing on all cylinders. The product is on fire, and a plethora of new main event wrestlers have emerged in the last year.
The Rock had found his groove and is making a claim to be THE guy in the company. Triple H has cast off the shackles of the mid-card and blasted through the glass ceiling with a newly found sledgehammer. Put them in with the already well-established Undertaker, Steve Austin, and Mick Foley and you might say things were going good.
So good that they could even afford to give Billy Gunn a singles push.
Things weren’t all good for Vince, though. Steve Austin’s body was starting to break down, Jeff Jarrett was on his way out the door with the Intercontinental Championship in hand, and the only Union in WWE wasn’t exactly cutting the mustard.
Either way, it was an exciting time to be a WWF fan.
One thing I used to love about wrestling during the Monday Night War era was talent jumping ship.
Between 1993 and 2001, it was a blast seeing some top talent switch from WCW to WWF and vice versa. Yes, today we see Jon Moxley gate crash Double or Nothing or watch Cody Rhodes being wheeled out at WrestleMania, but this kind of occurrence rarely happened since WCW went Kaput and was so exciting to watch in real-time.
Back then, I was shocked to see The Giant, now more commonly known as the Big Show, burst through the ring at WWF St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. I was downright dumbfounded to see the group known as the Radicalz turn up on Monday Night Raw with no dress sense whatsoever a year later. I was also left impressed at the re-emergence of Haku at the 2001 Royal Rumble, but they can’t all be winners.
But one jump stood out for me more than the rest: The debut of Chris Jericho.
For me, I knew very little about Chris Jericho pre-WWF. I knew of WCW’s existence sure, but I had no access to Nitro or any of its PPVs. I grabbed what knowledge I could from wrestling magazines, but the big stars like Sting, Goldberg, and all variations of the nWo took the prime real estate in these publications. I had no idea who Chris Jericho was at this time, that’s for sure.
That all changed when I read an interview with Chris Jericho in 1999 published in Power Slam magazine. It was my first copy of the magazine I purchased, and I was hooked. I read this magazine from top to bottom, in particular, I read this Jericho piece more times than was healthy. It wasn’t just backstage gossip or third hand info; it was straight from the wrestler’s mouth. It was the first time I read any real non-kayfabe details from a wrestler direct.
I was captivated by Jericho from jump. This guy wrestled all over the globe, was a member of the Hart Dungeon, and seemed pretty down to earth in the interview. Throw in his unique yet striking good looks, and I was hooked. Jericho was a WCW guy. He was honest and upfront about his woes in WCW and how he was being treated by Eric Bischoff and the WCW machine.
In the interview, Jericho, like many at the time, of his disillusionment with not being booked better in WCW and felt he deserved better. This would become a reoccurring theme over the next two years for WCW. Unless your last name was Hogan, Hall or Nash, or any other ex-WWF star for that matter, you wouldn’t be deemed worthy of a push. The best he got near the top of the card was a short-lived Goldberg feud. Unfortunately for Jericho, big Bill felt the program was beneath him and gave Eric a “this doesn’t work for me, brother” like hissy fit because he didn’t do comedy. He was happy to wear Goldust’s wig many years later in WWE, good man Bill.
In November 1998, Jericho’s WCW contract was expiring, and he was not keen on signing a new one just yet. With WCW aware that he could jump to Vinceland soon, they began to feature him less and less, to the point where they didn’t promote anything he did.
In April 99, Jericho suffered a minor ankle knock and was absent, giving WCW the perfect excuse not to book him. During this downtime, reports of fans having pro-Jericho signs removed from Thunder and Nitro tapings would surface. WCW wanted to decrease his value if he did decide to jump.
At the end of the interview, with Jericho even more unhappy at his treatment, he signals that he is reluctant to re-sign and teases a WWF move. I was excited. At the very least, this guy seems to be interesting with a cool look with a ton of confidence.
But an editor update was at the end of the interview: “ONE WEEK after the interview, the deal was done: Chris Jericho has signed a long-term contract with the WWF”.
I was delighted and excited.
Coincidentally, not only was reading this interview my first real peek behind the kayfabe curtain, but according to Power Slam author Findlay Martin, the Jericho interview was their first completely non-kayfabe interview.
But back to 1999, it wasn’t long before the “countdown to the new millennium” clock began to surface on Raw. Yet the clock wasn’t ready to stop at the end of the year. It was set to end its countdown on August 9. Jeez, WWF can’t even get their clocks right.
But this was no mistake, the clock was going to wind down at Raw in Chicago. Putting two and two together from the July Power Slam interview, I had hoped it was Jericho, and I was making sure I tuned in on that Friday to see if Jericho would appear. (That’s when Raw aired in the UK and Ireland)
The day finally came, and the show emanated from the molten hot Rosemont Horizon just outside Chicago, Illinois. The crowd itself confirmed that he was arriving as the sea of fans was littered with pro Jericho signs. Young Joey was finally going to see what this Jericho lad was about. I got goosebumps.
But I had my doubts.
Was he as good as Power Slam magazine made him out to be? They sang his praises in that July edition and his confidence in this interview would lead me to believe that this guy is worth checking out.
And even if he was the next big thing coming from WCW to WWF, would he be given a name change as he couldn’t use the Jericho name in WWF? Would he be subject to a horrible gimmick like Shane Douglas was in 1995? Would he be treated as less than compared to WWF’s homegrown talent as he came from the enemy of WCW? Would he be jobbed out to Al Snow in three minutes?
It was all possible. Vince loved a bad gimmick. In the last two years, we had the likes of Beaver Cleavage, The Real Man’s Man, and Terry Funk in some smelly pantyhose as Chainsaw Charlie. God knows what Jericho would end up like. And he had a habit of making some non-WWF made guys look like dorks. God knows how Vince would first use him.
But it wasn’t long before the clock appeared on the giant Titantron video screen and began counting down to zero, as expected. What wasn’t expected was that this countdown struck its climax in the middle of a Rock promo.
Man, the Rock was on fire at this point. This is going to be something. They are strapping the rocket to this guy, right?
The lights flickered inside the arena, and tense music played (it’s the old Hell in a Cell lowering theme). The anticipation for me and the Chicago fans in attendance was at a fever pitch.
Then it stopped, and the lights went out. Silence engulfed the arena.
Then, like lightning hitting the top of the ramp, a big pyro blast exploded, and the coolest of Jericho’s WWE theme played. This is awesome.
A video of a neon-clad night shot of NYC hit the tron, and it wasn’t long before the memorable “BREAK THE WALLS DOWN” was yelled in the song, and a giant “JERICHO” was spread across the screen. The crowd in Chicago erupted.
He was here.
A spotlight hit as the lights went up, and there he was, in a Jesus Christ pose in a sparkly waistcoat with his back to the crowd. The man of the moment lifted the mic to his lips and announced his arrival with his now familiar “Welcome to RAW IS JERICHO” catchphrase, a retooling of his WCW Monday Night Jericho bit.
He spun around and addressed the crowd with a ridiculous bobbin splitting his front fringe and a silly bit of bum fluff stuck to his chin for facial hair. But somehow, he made it work.
He looked special to me; he seemed important and unique to what WWF typically offered. And that’s before you account that he will verbally spar with the promo king known as The Great One.
So far, everything has been perfect.
I thought, “Yeah, this guy is being viewed as important from the get-go.” Here he is getting a top-tier entrance in WWE, being presented as a kick-ass star, and going straight into a program with the company’s top star. He was a made man already, right?
But I didn’t realize that he was being set up to fail.
In hindsight, the promo that followed, while memorable and entertaining to a point, was nothing crazy. He did foreshadow mediocrity being classed as excellence, something modern-day WWE fans seem to embody and coin his new nickname, Y2J wholeheartedly. He had me and everyone in the arena hanging on his every word.
But sadly, the reality was soon to hit. Jericho was a lamb to the slaughter.
Jericho was soon to be verbally eviscerated by The Rock, the undisputed best promo guy wrestling has probably ever seen. Rocky destroyed him on the mic while Jericho puffed his cheeks and looked like a goof. And I mean, he DESTROYED HIM. If you could transform Mick Foley being chucked off the cell into a promo, this was it. Rocky metaphorically threw poor Jericho’s debut off the top of a proverbial cell. BY GOD HE WAS VERBALLY BROKEN IN HALF.
For all his promise and apparent verbal talent, he was just another guy coming from WCW to make WWF guys look great by comparison, at least at first.
The interaction with WWE’s top star, and subsequent interference in said stars match later that evening, should have at least ensured that Jericho would have been entered into a program with Rocky going forward and eventually match up against the Brahma Bull. Sadly, for Jericho, it not only wasn’t followed up on but Jericho was relegated to verbal interactions with Road Dogg and Big Show before entering into a nothing feud with a soon-to-be departing Ken Shamrock.
Jericho would go on to detail the debut in his amazing 2nd book, Undisputed:
“It wasn’t what Vince wanted from me, even though nobody ever really told me what it was that he did want. On top of all that, I had this huge buildup coming into the company that left me with a target on my back bigger than Val Venis’s penis. I found out very quickly that it didn’t matter what I had accomplished or what my reputation was outside of the WWE walls, I had to prove myself all over again from scratch. And I’d failed round one with my goofy reactions to Rocky’s words.”
While the debut didn’t exactly work out how it should have gone for Y2J, I will never forget the moment. I didn’t care; I was sold on Jericho from that moment.
Yeah, he was set up to look like a geek compared to The Rock, but you could see that underneath all the cartoonish facials he was a star and had all the tools to succeed in WWF. He had the superstar look. He clearly had the mic skills despite being positioned to be killed verbally by The Rock, and going by how he dragged a decent match out of Chyna at the Armageddon PPV later that year, he certainly had skills. I was truly on board as a Jerichoholic.
It was a special debut, perhaps one of the most iconic debuts in WWE history and one that, 24 years later, I still fondly remember. Jericho would go on to have many memorable moments in his first WWF run despite being a WCW guy and is now considered one of the greatest wrestlers of all time. And I loved him from the get-go.
Maybe it wasn’t the best way to debut him in some ways, but this introduction of the Y2J problem that was Jericho is still highly memorable.