Raw is Jericho: Y2J on the greatest WWE debut ‘eeeeeeeever’

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August 07, 2014

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At approximately 9:20 p.m. on Aug. 9, 1999, in a small suburb somewhere between downtown Chicago and O’Hare International Airport, a talented yet undervalued WCW wrestler stood with his back to 14,000 screaming fans. Arms outstretched and biceps flexed, Chris Jericho turned to face The Windy City faithful and the millions watching around the world, beginning what would become one of the most amazing careers in the history of WWE.

Almost instantly, Jericho went from cracking jokes with bumbling hap Ralphus to mixing it up with icons like The Rock and The Undertaker. Across the three decades that followed, Y2J became the first man to unify the WWE and WCW Championships, nearly blinded Shawn Michaels and faced off with Academy Award nominee Mickey Rourke, all en route to becoming a genuine pop culture sensation.

In a candid conversation with WWE.com, Jericho looked back at that legendary night in Chicago, the genesis of his catchy theme music, and what it was like to visit Mr. McMahon’s house.

VIDEO: Watch Chris Jericho's iconic debut on Raw, Aug. 9, 1999

WWE.COM: When did you decide you were going to make the jump to WWE from WCW?

CHRIS JERICHO: My goal was always to be in WWE. I could tell after about a year in WCW that WWE was still the place to go for a young guy. WCW was a place for older guys. If you came in at the bottom in WCW, you would stay there for the rest of your life. There was not a lot of room for upward advancement. I knew Don Callis, who worked with The Truth Commission in WWE as The Jackyl. He was friends with [WWE producer] Vince Russo, who was a big fan of mine. Don told Vince Russo that I had a year and a half left on my WCW contract and brokered a conversation between me and Vince Russo around Christmastime of ’97. Fast-forward to March of ’99 and my deal was up in June. Vince McMahon flew me to Connecticut to meet with him at his house.

WWE.COM: Is that the first time you met Mr. McMahon?

JERICHO: The first time I ever met Vince was in Calgary in 1997. They had the Canadian Stampede pay-per-view, which was so crazy. It was The Hart Foundation vs. Steve Austin’s gang. I was working for WCW at the time, but I said, “I’m gonna go to the show, I don’t care.” I was going into enemy territory, and one of my goals was to go say hi to Vince. I knew a couple people, but the Monday Night Wars were real, so that took a lot of [nerve] on my part. I just didn’t know any better.

WWE.COM: Were you anxious about going to the WWE Chairman’s house?

JERICHO: I was so nervous because I was a 28-year-old kid, and all I wanted to do was work for Vince McMahon. Shane McMahon answers the door, I go inside and at a table were Jim Ross, Vince Russo, [WWE producers] Ed Ferrara and Bruce Prichard, and Vince McMahon. They’re having a meeting … sitting there with the charts on the wall. This is secret stuff, dude. There was no real Internet, there’s a wrestling war, and here I am, a corporal on the other team’s army sitting in on this war meeting. I remember a couple times Vince even asking me, “What do you think about that, Chris?” And I was like, “Well, I think I like it. Sounds great to me!”

WWE.COM: Was there a moment when you were able chill out and not be so uptight that you were at Vince’s house? Were you able to relax?

JERICHO: Not really, no [laughs]. We went to Vince’s sunken living room, and there was this big giant oil painting of Vince on the wall. It might have been a painting of his whole family, but all I remember seeing was Vince.  I was just so freaked out probably blabbered on like an idiot saying things like, “If I came to WWE it would be the place for me to be, because WCW doesn’t give young guys a chance. If The Rock was in WCW he’d be in my position, and if I was in WWE, I’d be The Rock.” And Vince was just like, “Yes, OK, OK. Well, it was very nice meeting you, Chris. Keep in touch.” And that was the end of the meeting. I was expecting to have this like giant, million-dollar contract drafted up, but he just brought me there. I had no idea why. I asked him years later, “Why did you bring me there?” And Vince said, “I wanted to show you how much we wanted you here. I obviously couldn’t offer you a job because you still had a contract, but I wanted to see if I could trust you.”

WWE.COM: When were you finally offered a contract by WWE?

JERICHO: In June, Vince finally called me on the phone when my deal was up. It was the day Wayne Gretzky retired, and I put up a message on my answering machine saying, “This is Chris, I’m really depressed today and unless you’re Wayne Gretzky, I really don’t wanna talk to anybody. Leave a message.” Phone rings, guy on the phone goes, “Hello, Chris, this is not Wayne Gretzky, this is Vince McMahon. If you still feel like talking, please call me back.” I ran to the phone and Vince said, “We want you to come work for us and we’d love to have you.”

VIDEO: Watch Jericho's first return by breaking the code in 2007

WWE.COM: Were there any other in-person meetings before you debuted in Chicago?

JERICHO: Not really. I passed along the idea of the millennium countdown through Vince Russo, which Vince McMahon approved, and McMahon had the genius idea of having the countdown clock end right in the middle of The Rock’s promo, which I thought was just such a great twist. I did have one in-person meeting about a week beforehand where I went to Titan Towers to discuss my ring music and graphics.

WWE.COM: That music has become so iconic. When you heard that song, what was your reaction? You must have loved it since you’ve had it for so long, right?

JERICHO: When they first played “Break the Walls Down,” I didn’t know if I liked it because it wasn’t really what I was picturing. I listened to it a few more times and my one request was I wanted [WWE composer] Jim Johnston to add some heavier guitars to it, which he did. I think before that it was just a keyboard line. Once I was able to get those extra guitars, I really started feeling it. That’s why Jim’s a genius, because he always finds the right attitude for what the performer does. He really tapped into the attitude of Y2J before I even knew what that was. A bit of swagger, a coolness, arrogance and confidence, but in a real swanky, cool type of way. There have been a couple times when I’ve wanted to change it, but Vince always said, “No, you’re theme is evergreen. It’s never gonna change. As long as you wrestle here, that will be your theme song.” And he’s right. Vince is always right. It is an iconic song and it is the perfect song for me to come to the ring to.

WWE.COM: Was there ever a discussion of changing your name or were you always going to be Chris Jericho?

JERICHO: Always gonna be Chris Jericho. I had trademarked that name. The first match I ever had in Ponoka, Alberta, Canada, on Oct. 2, 1990 — my name was Chris Jericho. I got a trademark on it in Minneapolis when I was getting ready to leave WCW.

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