How should Chris Jericho’s WWE career be remembered?
He is The Lionheart, The Man of 1,004 Holds, The Ayatollah of Rock ‘n’ Rolla and Y2J.
And now, the WWE Universe must refer to the storied grappling career of Chris Jericho in the past tense.
It seems unfair and almost surreal for Y2J’s tenure in WWE to end the way it did on the Aug. 20 edition of Raw. This is the Superstar who once beat “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night to become the first Undisputed WWE Champion in history. This is the competitor who once went toe-to-toe on The Grandest Stage of Them All with Mr. WrestleMania himself, Shawn Michaels. This is the proud warrior who recently put all of his formidable talents on display to defeat Dolph Ziggler, an opponent nearly 10 years his junior, at The 25th Anniversary of SummerSlam. ( PHOTOS | MORE)
Then again, the meteoric rise and abrupt fall of Chris Jericho is as much a wrestling success story as any to ever come from ringside. The tale begins with a kid from Winnipeg, Manitoba, one who experienced love at first sight as he watched the likes of Jesse “The Body” Ventura, Hulk Hogan and his other favorite AWA competitors on a television in his grandmother’s basement.
That kid grew up to be a student of the squared circle and, more importantly, a pupil of the legendary Hart Dungeon. The skills Jericho acquired under the stewardship of Stu Hart helped him make a splash in rings across North America and across the Pacific Ocean in Japan. A lot of success in those formative years in international rings as well as a few good references soon helped Y2J get the attention of Jim Cornette’s traditionally grounded Smoky Mountain Wrestling and then Paul Heyman’s anything but traditional promotion, Extreme Championship Wrestling (ECW).
Soon after, Jericho won championship gold by defeating Pitbull No. 2 at Hardcore Heaven 1996 to become the ECW World Television Title holder ( WATCH), but that triumph would simply mark the start of his rise to prominence in the ring. One year later, The Lionheart brought his tactical superiority, high-flying maneuvers and his antagonistic personality to World Championship Wrestling and started mowing down the competition immediately.
He quickly added to his resume by commencing the first of his four WCW Cruiserweight Championship reigns less than one year from his WCW debut. He also won the WCW World Television Championship, making Jericho the first and only person to have won both ECW’s and WCW’s World Television Titles.
While most would remark that Jericho’s runs in Smoky Mountain Wrestling, ECW and WCW was impressive, it merely served as the prologue for what would follow the events on Aug. 9, 1999 — or, to be more specific, the day Y2J introduced himself to the WWE Universe on Raw.
Charged with going one-on-one with The Great One in his WWE debut, Jericho interrupted The Rock’s in-ring comments with his own larger-than-life personality and, as was the case for most Superstars who cut off The People’s Champion, suffered the consequences in the form of a fierce tongue lashing. ( WATCH) By the end of August 1999, Jericho was backing up his brash comments with brute force by roughing up “Road Dogg” Jesse James on the inaugural edition of SmackDown. And by the end of the year, Jericho would collect his first of many WWE-sanctioned titles to come.
While Chris Jericho’s rivalry with Chyna was certainly notable for the novelty factor and the extents each went to get under the other’s skin, it also cemented two of Y2J’s defining traits. First, their battles ended with Jericho as Intercontinental Champion, thus continuing his pattern of quickly dominating his competition and becoming a titleholder within one year of his debut — just as he did in ECW and WCW. Second, it marked the first of Jericho’s nine Intercontinental Title reigns, which is nearly three better than anyone else and a higher total than those of WWE Hall of Famers Shawn Michaels, Bret “Hit Man” Hart and Mr. Perfect combined.
Y2J established himself as a mainstay of The Attitude Era, balancing his verbal jousting and athletic capabilities as effectively as any of his peers. It also led Jericho to more success in the ring, with battles against the likes of Triple H, “Stone Cold” Steve Austin and Kurt Angle fueling his competitive fires and leading him to claims on the Intercontinental, Hardcore, European and World Tag Team Titles along the way.
All of those victories and the championship gold that went with them eventually built to a crescendo at Vengeance 2001. Having remained loyal to WWE during the 2001 invasion by The Alliance of WCW and ECW loyalists, Y2J found himself with a unique opportunity if he could seize the WCW Championship from The Rock. He did just that, and then later defeated WWE Champion “Stone Cold” Steve Austin to unify the WWE and WCW Titles, become a Triple Crown champion and, more importantly, the first Undisputed Champion in WWE history. ( WATCH)
Shedding the criticisms about his inability to win the “big one,” Jericho crossed the path of his childhood idol, Shawn Michaels, shortly thereafter at WrestleMania XIX, in one of the most legendary rivalries of all time. Sparked from Y2J’s meddling in HBK’s bid to win the Royal Rumble Match in 2003, the two engaged in a battle that stole the spotlight on The Grandest Stage of Them All where Michaels ultimately prevailed. ( WATCH)
Despite the countless achievements, including having held championship gold during every year of his first run in WWE, Jericho stepped away from the ring in 2005 to pursue other endeavors. He rocked the mic as the front man of heavy metal band Fozzy, became a New York Times best-selling author and established himself as a star of the small screen. Yet for all of his new notoriety, Jericho’s competitive fires still burned bright within him.
He returned to the ring in 2007 and quickly renewed his rivalry with Michaels by questioning The Showstopper’s remorse at banishing Ric Flair to retirement at WrestleMania XXIV. Michaels and his years of experience once again won out over Jericho’s tactical savvy, but Jericho’s urge to be the alpha dog led to Y2J putting HBK’s face through the “Jeri-Tron 5000” during “The Highlight Reel.” ( WATCH) He shed his Y2J persona in favor of becoming a “self-righteous honest man” and engaged in heated battles for the World Heavyweight Championship that would eventually wind up in Jericho’s sole possession in the long run.
Determined to elevate his legendary status on his own terms, Jericho sought out formidable challenges to reinforce his credentials as one of the best to ever set foot in a WWE ring. He mixed it up with WWE Hall of Famers Jimmy Snuka, Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper as well as movie star Mickey Rourke at The 25th Anniversary of WrestleMania. ( WATCH | PHOTOS)
He collected even more championship gold by winning the Intercontinental Title from Rey Mysterio for a record ninth time ( WATCH | PHOTOS) as well as clinching the WWE Tag Team Titles alongside Edge and later Big Show. He capped this second run by besting the likes of The Undertaker, CM Punk and Rey Mysterio in the SmackDown Elimination Chamber Match to lay claim on the World Heavyweight Championship for the third time at Elimination Chamber 2010. ( WATCH)
After showing off his smooth moves on ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” one year later, Jericho unleashed his meaner side on WWE Champion CM Punk to determine who was truly the “Best in the World.” While Jericho continued to get the jump on The Straight Edge Superstar, he fell short in their highly anticipated battle at WrestleMania XXVIII where Punk claimed victory. ( PHOTOS) The result left many wondering if the 41-year-old Superstar had finally lost a step — a concern that multiplied as his high-profile losses mounted.
At risk of seeing his Superstar status relegated to irrelevance, Jericho tangled with Dolph Ziggler during summer 2012 to show Mr. Money in the Bank what it takes to be a true champion in WWE. The Showoff picked up where Punk left off by continuously getting the best of Jericho, but a funny thing happened at The 25th Anniversary of SummerSlam.
With the odds stacked against him and hope about another rise to the top in jeopardy, Jericho did what he always has done in that situation: He won decisively and without controversy. As he predicted a few weeks prior to The Hottest Event of the Summer, Y2J was back and once again ready to conquer WWE’s competitive ranks.
Except, due to his unceremonious dismissal on Raw, he will now miss out on realizing that goal. A storied career in WWE came to a close now that Jericho is unable to finish what he started against CM Punk last January. Y2J will suffer the indignity of leaving WWE in infamous fashion like fellow Canadian Bret Hart instead of getting one last stand like his childhood idol, Michaels, did at WrestleMania XXVI.
It’s over. Still, Jericho made sure it was one heck of a ride for the members of WWE Universe who tracked his shooting star from its first appearance. He didn’t choose the path that brought him from his grandmother’s basement to some of the greatest moments in WWE history. He just took advantage of every opportunity afforded him, and left behind a story so great that future generations of the WWE Universe will recall it fondly while future Superstars use it as a measuring stick for greatness in the ring.
Not bad for a kid from Winnipeg and one of the most decorated champions in the history of WWE.