Where do each of these roads lead to? Over the course of the last few months I have laid out my case for the top five greatest pro wrestlers of all-time. Bret Hart, Undertaker, Macho Man, and Dusty Rhodes all made my list.
What do each of these wrestlers have in common as the path leads us to the number one spot?
For starters, the ‘greatest of all-time’ started in Canada under the Hart family school of wrestling. He also has a mean streak that rivals that of the Undertaker. My number one has cited Macho Man on numerous occasions in interviews as the reason he decided to get into the business of pro wrestling and has mimicked everything from Macho’s slow promo delivery, to the sequined garb, and the world famous cowboy hat (not to mention the pompous entrance down the ramp). He is also the best talker in the business, single handedly putting people in seats across the world with his words much like Dusty Rhodes did in his heyday. He now works alongside Dusty’s son Cody in AEW.
And how interesting is it that this month, October 2020, is his thirtieth year in the business?
This is it. The greatest of all-time.
How about a guy who calls himself ‘the greatest of all-time’?
As mentioned, he’s wrestled in Canada and was billed by Paul Heyman in ECW as “the last survivor of the Hart dungeon”. He also cut his teeth in promotions across the world, including in Germany, Mexico, and Japan before his monumental leap to the United States and gaining attention as the Light Heavyweight who was brazen enough to take on Bill Goldberg in WCW.
He’s widely regarded as having made the greatest debut in the history of wrestling by interrupting The Rock, mid-sentence, in WWE and is the sports’ first and only Undisputed Heavyweight Champion, carrying both the WCW and WWE Heavyweight championships before it was dissolved and combined in to one belt.
He’s been a champion everywhere he’s been. He’s the winningest Intercontinental champ of all-time, been the European champ multiple times, and has been a tag champ on more than a few occasions.
He now resides in AEW as the promotions first ever champion and is the only wrestler to come down the aisle to his own music. The guy is a real life rock star.
He’s also a best-selling author (with a new book coming out soon), actor, radio podcaster, and game show host.
He excelled in the business of pro wrestling at a time when most wrestlers got lost in the mix of the ‘Attitude Era’ with Stone Cold, ‘Taker, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, and Triple H all still at their respective peaks. Mixing metaphors, he was the ‘Fifth Beatle’. Now, though, he is known as exactly what his fans knew him to be all along:
The Best in the World at What He Does.
One Bad Mamma Jamma.
The Millennium Man.
The Man of 1,004 Holds.
The Demo God.
The Code Breaker.
I could go on.
He calls himself many names, all of which have worked and caught on, and if you haven’t figured it out yet my number on the greatest pro wrestlers of all-time is, that’s right, Chris Jericho.
Let’s dig in.
The NWO changed the game and kicked off a ratings war like nothing ever seen before in the sport. Bill Goldberg was killing it and so was Sting. And while the WWE had main event matches that beat even that of WCW, the undercard is where it was at in World Championship Wrestling. Eric Bischoff made it a point to grab the best and the brightest of talents from across the world to compete and Chris Jericho was brought to his attention as an afterthought by ECW’s Paul Heyman. Heyman, for his part, had billed Chris Jericho as “the last survivor of the Hart dungeon” after hearing of his extensive training at the Hart school in Calgary and his time as a high flyer as one half of the Thrillseekers with Lance Storm.
It was here that Chris Jericho honed his mic skills.
Skipping forward to his most memorable moments in WCW, after having been relegated to working with mostly undersized guys, the reigns were let loose as the Hulkster’s in the business retook their places in main event status via WCW management.
Give Chris Jericho a mic and let him do his thing?
Well, okay. He’ll become a comedian of sorts, using odd rock and roll references and verbally beat down literally everyone. In doing so, he broke the mold of what was expected at the time from light heavyweights who were supposed to just fill time. Eventually, combining his mic skills with artful skill in the ring, he lipped his way to a cult like status and became a challenger to Bill Goldberg.
When you saw Chris Jericho on the screen, you put down the remote. Simple as that.
However it wasn’t until his grand arrival in WWE that he settled in to the role that his fans, the ‘Jerichoholics’, carved out for him. Nobody, not even The Rock or Stephanie McMahon, was spared from the incessant chicanery on the microphone via Chris Jericho.
He’s quick witted, genuinely funny, and could be meaner than hell. The most interesting aspect of his skills in this regard was not only telling the truth as most people saw it but it was also presented in such a way that made you feel like you were in on the whole thing.
Start to still unfinished, he’s the GOAT on the mic. Period.
In Ring Ability:
He made kick pads popular. He did moves no one in the States had ever seen before. He could work with literally anybody and have a great match. And he had brutal finish moves. And, oh yeah, he is credited as creating the idea for the ‘Money in the Bank‘ ladder match, among many other things.
The elegant flow of matches came from his time in Mexico. The pageantry from Japan. The MMA style, probably, Germany. Either way, he carried matches to the fullest extent possible and had countless classics.
Pound for pound he fit perfectly against mentor Shawn Michaels at WrestleMania 19, replicating every move until the last dastardly moment, returning to classic Chris Jericho at the very end.
Before that, he had one of the greatest breakthrough moments in wrestling history in Pennsylvania. This particular match demonstrated the enormous difference between his match skills and The Game’s.
He’s also had matches against Big Show and Kane, ultimately changing his famous Lion-Tamer/Walls of Jericho to a more half-crab stance that could be applied to anyone regardless of size. The chameleon that he is, Chris Jericho unveiled the “Codebreaker” near the end of his WWE tenure and now performs a move called the “Judas Effect” which is admittedly much more tame but speaks to his ability to adapt and change, never relying on the same things that made him so popular.
Chris Jericho’s time in ECW, though, is really what legitimized his ring ability in the eyes of fans, whether they knew who he was at the time or thereafter. He became a legend ahead of his time because ECW was known for its’ brutal style. Further that, he worked with the best in the world in his weight class in WCW, never wasting a moment of opportunity.
Dolph Ziggler, CM Punk, Kofi Kingston, The Miz, and even Rey Mysterio, during his first WWE run, all owe it to Chris Jericho for paving the way for average size guys to have very large careers.
Originally someone in Calgary wanted to name him ‘Cowboy’ Chris Jericho. The offer was turned down, thankfully.
Before his career even began, Jericho would write on notebooks during down time about epic matches between himself and Owen Hart (calling himself “Christian” Chris Jericho). He never worked with Owen but became tag partners with Christian. Interesting, huh? This, of course, was a wink and a nod to his faith and Christian roots.
Around the world he became known as ‘Lion Heart’. Another nod to his Calgary roots, starting under the Hart family school of wrestling.
Eventually this carried over to ECW and at the behest of Paul Heyman, Jericho became known as “the last survivor of the Hart dungeon”, a reference to the strenuous and often very painful training under the immensely respected Stu Hart.
In WCW he was simply Chris Jericho. At this time his name became synonymous with a crybaby label after several temper tantrums turned him heel during a string of light heavy matches.
It wasn’t until his jump to WWE that he became known as the man for a new millennium, a savior from bad wrestling, and the “Y2J” character was born. The countdown to the dawning of a new era was ushered in after a trip to the post office, of all places. Jericho tells the story as if he didn’t even think about the idea for himself but, rather, a cool way for someone, anyone, to make a debut. After noticing a countdown clock to the year 2000 he decided to use the idea for himself and the rest is history. He became “Y2J”.
Now, and especially in AEW, he seems to come up with something new every week. And it always sticks. This says something: he doesn’t rest on past successes but instead reinvents himself to stay relevant. It’s one of the best characters, if not the best, because his rock star persona, this faux savior of sorts, is so closely tied to who he actually is. And that’s how it works. That’s how the best always do it and, intentional or not, Chris “Y2J’ Jericho has followed suit.
I will argue here that not even his celebrity matches, nor his duels with CM Punk, The Game, The Rock, or Stone Cold, etc., and even his feuds with world class caliber legends like Steamboat could hold a candle to the reception Jericho received at WWE Invasion.
The backstory leading to this moment in time is an entire blog unto itself but it’s essentially the real life story of WWE buying the competition, ECW and WCW, with the inaugural brawl slated to take place in Cleveland, Ohio. Each seemingly independent company formed factions and with Jericho having previously worked for both companies there were some questions as to whether or not he’d join team WWE going in. Well, he did and the reception was incredible.
There are literally dozens of moments in the career of Chris Jericho that could be considered as pivotal to the sport as anything anyone else has done that it’s almost ridiculous to even attempt to narrow it down to one singular match or storyline.
Though his run to become the first and only Undisputed Champion in the history of the business comes to mind. Remember, he beat Stone Cold and The Rock in one awesome night to do it. And these titles have a long history with many, many wrestlers working their entire lifetimes to win just one of them. Simply amazing.
And though he never wavered in his commitment to working for WWE, even to the point of accepting a mentorship role and only working non-televised house shows at one point, he eventually left and went back to Japan which revived his passion for the sport and helped him to set his sights on the newest promotion, AEW, where he has legitimized them with his multi-belt, multi-colored career that continues to leave an impression.
Chris Jericho hits and surpasses every single metric to arrive at number one on my list. He just made the list!
But seriously, the longevity aspect might very well be his most impressive. Thirty years and still going strong with no end in sight. Whether a good guy or a bad guy, Jericho continues to last and much like Hogan in this respect he can do it all.
He’ll always be remembered best for certain things, with certain fans here and there, but he now resides in AEW and continues to have great matches that are adding to his legacy.
Not the biggest, not the fastest, not the strongest, just the best.
Here’s to continued success.
Chris Jericho: wrestling’s Greatest of All-Time.