Chris Jericho is stuck in the mid-card, and that's
testament to the same old WWF booking where only
six-foot-ten bulldozers who can't work to save their
lives get to play. Unless you count Triple H. He can
work. And Kurt Angle can work, too. But they're the
Okay. That doesn't work. So let's try another theory.
Chris Jericho is mired in the midcard, and that's testament to the same old WWF crowd that pops for silly catchphrases instead of solid workrate. Even if they do pop for Y2J's silly catchphrases. And shout them along with him. Man, this doesn't work either.
What the heck's going on here? The smart community has been touting Chris Jericho for his "main event" potential since his dog days in WCW. And why not? He's put together the two magic pieces any wrestler needs to get over: personality and workrate. So why did it take Y2J until Y2K+1 to reach a main event? And why was his stay there so darn short?
As recently as last year, columnists on several heavily-read websites took the WWF to task for giving us the Undertaker AGAIN in the main event picture, while Jericho and Benoit bruised their heads on the famed "glass ceiling" of the upper mid-card. "Give Jericho a chance," they columnists cried, "instead of rehashing main event matches from 1998."
Well, Y2J got his chance in 2001 on two different occasions, feuding big time with Triple H and Steve Austin. Something strange happened on the way to the top of the card. A crowd that was super-hot for Chris Jericho's every promo and blazing entrance turned to Hoboken-born penguins by the middle of his matches.
It's about time the "Jericho Front" accepted the truth. Jericho's matches stink.
I can explain it no other way. The reception Chris Jericho receives at WWF live shows ranks him easily among the top five crowd-poppers on the roster. Y2J is way over. But not for his ringwork, as many try to make us believe. Not anymore.
Before I go further, let me make one thing clear (if I can be serious for a moment). I am a huge fan of Chris Jericho (some of my best friends are... nevermind). The first ECW match I ever saw was between Jericho, 2 Cold Scorpio, Pitbull 2, and Shane Douglas for the TV title. That match got me back into wrestling -- and not just because I got to see a Francine's cool new "Franchise" underpants. When the clean-shaven "Young Lion" popped up on Nitro with a sequined jacket and Baseball Tonight highlight music, I remembered him as that guy from the best match I'd ever seen. He laid low for a while in the undercard. And then, after realizing that politics would not allow him a major angle for himself, he developed a character that became the sleeper star of Monday Nitro -- a show in a major rut. Amongst the NWO retread storylines and Hogan/Sting/Hogan/Warrior silliness, Jericho found his niche as a heel, and captivated the viewers who were willing to pay attention.
I counted myself among those who salivated at the prospect of Jericho going to the WWF where he could have a chance to truly shine. No politics, real leadership, hot angles. It would just be a matter of time before "Feud of the Year" and "Match of the Year" came along. And viewed objectively, Y2J's career in the WWF has been a rousing success. The Planet of the Apes skit aside, his promos are a joy to watch. Even "Vivian" Garcia would agree. But as excited as I get when I hear Jim Ross promote the match (Y2J versus Angle, Y2J versus Benoit, Y2J versus Rhyno), the end product always leaves me a little flat.
For all the wonderfully engaging stories Jericho tells us outside the ring, he tells very few inside the ring. Surprisingly, given he's a product of the most famous and prolific wrestling trainer in modern history, Jericho's matches lack psychology. Lack drama. Lack surprises. His comebacks are too frequent. His arsenal too limited. He never seems to wrestle with a purpose, but flails like a drunk trying anything to connect. It's almost as if his motto is, "When in doubt, try a flying forearm." I expect more out of Chris. And I have seen more out of Chris.
There are a myriad of possible reasons for Jericho's diminished workrate.
(Yes, I said "diminished workrate," because, frankly, athleticism does not equal workrate. I don't care if you can hit a springboard dropkick to the apron. If your matches consist of a Lionsault and 15 chops to the chest, your workrate is limited.)
I couldn't quite decide which of the endless possible reasons held the blame for Y2J's listless matches. He could be nursing and injury, he could have lost some motivation and followed the "Xpac Method" of mailing-in matches. I had no idea where to start figuring out the cause of Jericho's problem -- until a month ago when Kurt Angle turned before my eyes. Angle had just come off a string of matches that tore the roof off the house. He brutalized Shane McMahon at King of the Ring. He suplexed everyone in sight at InVasion. He dissected Raven in a dramatic and effective squash.
Then the dynamic changed. Angle became the clear cut babyface in his matches and suddenly the spine-shattering volley of suplexes was gone. The dominating Angle was gone. Now Angle was the man in the story who had to make the dramatic comeback in the end. So the "lethal" Angle that had become way over with the crowd only showed himself in small doses throughout the match.
With the right heel competing against him, this formula still makes for good storytelling. But the breath-taking dissection with overhead suplexes? It's on the shelf.
For Chris Jericho, the transition was similar. He first got over in WCW as a heel. He garnered what my favorite columnist likes to call "Honky Tonk Man heat." Not only did you want to see what silly thing he'd say, you'd pray someone would finally pin his annoying ass. That came through in psychology during his matches. Lots of near falls. Lots of little cheated finishes that saw Jericho running for his life after stealing a win (and a TV or Cruiserweight Title). Most of all, his matches were filled with the outward show of a charisma that still sparkles in Jericho's current character. Posing. Preening. The arrogant cover and "Come on, baabay!" The WWF put handcuffs on all that when Jericho became a babyface. And Jericho never learned how to make his matches important to Joe Audience-Guy without being a jerk.
Without the pauses to applaud himself, without a break to throw Ralphus in his opponent's way, his matches seem rushed, out of pace.
I concede that the WWF felt like they had little other choice. In his latter days as a heel the crowd was cheering Y2J louder than the midcard "good guy" he battled. The same happened with the Rock and Stone Cold before him. The crowd makes these choices, not the WWF. Being a foul-mouth and being an ego-maniac just isn't enough to keep the people (or the People) hating you. However, the creative forces may have jumped the gun on Y2J. Sure, there was a faction of the audience who knew who he was and cheered in the minority when he arrived. But given a chance to truly annoy, and given the right babyface opponents, Chris Jericho could have riled up some serious "boos." Then maybe he could finally carry all that charisma he shows on the entrance ramp into the ring as well.