Being the top guy has a specific meaning to Chris Jericho.
The pro wrestling legend is back at the summit of the business at age 49 as the first and only world champion in All Elite Wrestling history. Being the headliner and face of a major company for a significant period of time is a role Jericho has rarely had in his three-decade career. He never won the world title in WCW and only had a combined five WWE or World Heavyweight championship reigns in his nearly 20 years with Vince McMahon’s company.
Being a promotion’s standard-bearer, who carries the weight of helping it and the talent around him succeed, is a job he’s never been more ready for.
“Could I have done more in WCW in a headlining position? Would I have been good? I don’t know. In my mind I’d be great,” Jericho told The Post. “The first time I was put in a headlining position in WWF, I wasn’t ready, and in WCW, it was a couple years earlier. So maybe I wasn’t ready.
“And as the career goes forward, I can tell you the exact moment when I knew I had become a legit, headlining, main-event guy and the exact moment where I became the top guy, which was in New Japan Jan. 4, 2018 [versus Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom], which led to [me] being the top guy here in AEW.”
Now that he’s been “given the baton,” Jericho’s goal is to help elevate others in the company to legitimate main event players, giving them their piece of the spotlight.
In the more than 13 months since AEW launched, Jericho has had singles matches with Scorpio Sky, Jungle Boy, “Hangman” Adam Page, Darby Allin, Cody Rhodes and others. He cut a memorable promo with Maxwell Jacob Friedman (MJF), and has surrounded himself with Jake Hager, Sammy Guevara and Santana and Ortiz in his Inner Circle faction. He has been a big backstage supporter of Allin. Jericho described giving the hot upstarts the chance to beat the grizzled veteran heel as the “magic” that wrestling is about.
“We had a match a couple weeks ago where Isiah [Kassidy] from Private Party had such a great false finish, people thought Isiah was going to beat the champ,” said Jericho, the son of former New York Rangers winger Ted Irvine.
Most of the company’s younger talent had very little, if any, cable-TV time before appearing on “AEW Dynamite.” Now they get to share the ring live on TNT or on pay-per-view with one of wrestling’s most recognizable faces. Jericho said he wants to have a match with Orange Cassidy, a slow-moving comedy wrestler with a cult following, at some point, too.
“When you’re the top guy, you don’t hide and stop others from getting in there because then it just becomes stale and it dies,” said Jericho, who was at the New York Toy Fair, where AEW showed off its new action figures and ring sets from Wicked Cool Toys and Jazwares. The first series will be available this August.
“Your job as the top guy is to help everyone else up on top of the mountain so that there are 15 top guys and everybody is making money and everyone’s having a great time, people are enjoying the show and the product.”
Wrestling legends are among those taking notice.
“Hulk Hogan called me a few months ago and said, ‘What you guys are doing is putting guys no one had ever heard of in a main-event spot and having them believe that they can beat you,’” Jericho recounted.
Jericho’s current rival is Jon Moxley, formerly known as Dean Ambrose in WWE. The two have a match for Jericho’s title set for AEW’s Revolution pay-per-view on Saturday. Jericho recruited Moxley to AEW knowing his talent level and understanding he was unhappy as he was transitioned into a comedy character in WWE. What Jericho didn’t expect was exactly what person and character would emerge in AEW. When Moxley debuted and attacked him and Omega at the “Double or Nothing” pay-per-view last May, Jericho saw someone who had “completely” changed.
“This is not the guy formally known as Dean Ambrose, this is a completely different person, a new character, performer,” Jericho said. “He’s totally different, not even the same guy. And that to me is another feather in our cap because it shows the creative freedom that you have in AEW that allows you to live and breathe and be what you know you can be.”
Moxley, also the name he used prior to joining WWE, is a violent, unpredictable badass babyface whose tendencies AEW announcer Jim Ross has compared to Stone Cold Steve Austin’s.
“I knew he’d be good,” Jericho said. “I didn’t expect him to just become this amazing. I say that with the utmost of respect. I don’t think anybody, including Mox, would have been able to predict that.”
Both Jericho and Moxley also recently wrestled for New Japan Pro-Wrestling, where Moxley is the promotion’s United States champion. When Jericho was in Japan for Wrestle Kingdom in January, he beat legendary wrestler Hiroshi Tanahashi in a match that would have given his opponent an AEW title shot with a win.
It led to Jericho being outspoken about wanting the two companies to work together in the future given the financial opportunities that would come, especially given the history he, Rhodes, Omega, The Young Bucks and other AEW talent have with New Japan.
He is willing to help make that happen, but Jericho noted that “in other people’s opinion, we shouldn’t” work together before floating the idea of an AEW/New Japan invasion a year down the line.
“I think it would be beneficial relationship,” Jericho said. “Do I think we need New Japan? No. Do they need us? Well, if they want to work in the States, they may want to think about it.”
During that appearance in Japan for Wrestle Kingdom, the hashtag #fatjericho made its way onto social media along with pictures from the match that showed a heavier version of the Canadian star.
Jericho said the added weight was by design. He wanted to look more like the character portrayed by legendary wrestler Bruiser Brody, a pain-causing killer whom everyone feared. In Jericho’s experience, bigger-looking wrestlers are more respected in Japan. He likened it to Robert De Niro gaining weight to play the role of Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull.” He has dropped some of that weight since coming back to AEW, posting workout videos to social media.
“When you see the online criticism, I love the idea of the fat Jericho because I can take my shirt off right now and I’ve got six f–king abs,” he said.
It’s all part of Jericho’s constant attempts to reinvent himself, creating new wrestling moments and catchphrases. Recently, the crowd at the episode of “Dynamite” taped aboard Jericho’s rock and wrestling cruise loudly serenaded him with his entrance song “Judas” by his band Fozzy — continuing to belt it out long after he first appeared. It’s continued at each show since.
“The next week, I went to the producer of the show, Keith Mitchell, and said, ‘Let’s pull the music down a little earlier,’ and I went to the announcers, Jim Ross, and said, ‘Don’t say anything,’” Jericho said. “When the music stops, let’s see what happens and let’s see if they continue to sing. We made it a thing.”
When it does, Jericho lets it happen, saying even as a heel, trying to tell the audience to shut up and don’t sing would spoil the vibe and organic nature of the moment.
“If they want to sing the lyrics to ‘Judas’ for an extra 30 seconds, that’s something that everyone’s talking about,” Jericho said. “People are going to go, ‘Wow, are you seeing this?’ It transcends good guy, bad guy. That [leads to] iconic moments in wrestling, which is what we strive for so much and when it happens organically, that’s a gift from the wrestling gods, so don’t mess with it.”
Jericho said the AEW talent is having fun backstage as well. In his opinion, there is no “snaky-snaky bulls–t” going on. The company continues to grow. “Dynamite” was renewed on TNT for three more years. A separate hour-long TV show is in the works, and AEW will run its first “Dynamite” in the Tri-State area on March 25 at Prudential Center in Newark.
“Dynamite” has consistently beaten WWE’s NXT show in the ratings each Wednesday and has had a headlock on the 18-49 demo. While not specifically correlating it with ratings, Jericho believes that AEW highlighting young stars such as MJF, Guevara, Jungle Boy and Marko Stunt is helping to attract a younger audience because “we don’t send them to the developmental league or whatever for five years.”
It’s helping the company expand into action figures and potentially video games down the road. Jericho said he has had around 200 different action figures over his career. The AEW line, which will debut with Jericho, Cody, Brandi Rhodes, Omega and The Young Bucks, stands out to him not only because of the figures’ detailed looks, but the story around them. As the company’s top guy, he’s been one of the biggest driving forces behind all of it.
“We’ve only been on TV since October and these will be coming out in August, so it’s a quick turnaround and the reason why the turnaround is so quick is because the product is hot,” Jericho said. “That’s of great pride to me because obviously when I came to AEW, there was a lot riding on my shoulders to make sure it was a success.”
He’s never been more ready to ensure it.