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One of the countless catchphrases and nicknames Chris Jericho has gotten over is calling himself "The G.O.A.T" which of course stands for the Greatest of All Time. Jericho's claim is obviously part of his character, but Jericho is one of the few performers who can stake such a claim and actually have some form of credibility to back it up.
In 2016 I created a list titled "The 50 Greatest Wrestlers Of The Last 50 Years" and sadly, Jericho didn't make the list. I convinced myself that while Jericho was tremendously talented, he never was given the chance to be the major star in WWE; often used as a spot main event star but spent most of his career in the mid-card. If I made that list again today, Jericho would have easily made it, I have a new appreciation for his skills and the last two years have been arguably the most interesting of his career.
Jericho isn't the Greatest of All Time, whatever that title may mean. He was never put in the position to draw the amount of money that guys like Hulk Hogan, Ric Flair, Steve Austin or John Cena did, and while he is really good in the ring, he isn't at the level of guys like Mitsuharu Misawa or Kazuchika Okada.
Jericho is the best at something though; something that makes him different from nearly any other legend in the business. Chris Jericho is better at changing his character to connect with an audience and getting that character over with the fans, than any other wrestler in history. Nobody has been more creative, innovative and willing to consistently change their persona over the years and evolve as a performer; it takes a special kind of performer to being having arguably the best run of their career at age 48.
Jericho first broke out in WCW as a cocky, young heel in the cruiserweight division, before emerging as a snarky babyface during the Attitude Era; and later as a dirty heel. He spent some years as a likeable tweener, before reinventing himself as a lecherous heel in a legendendy feud with Shawn Michaels. He continued to transform his character; in 2016 teaming up with Kevin Owens and getting over as a scarf-wearing, list-creating sidekick for the Universal Champion.
Following a brief babyface run after Owens turned on him, Jericho would shock the wrestling world when he emerged in New Japan Pro Wrestling. Adopting a new, sinister heel character that ditched most of his popular catchphrases and his light-up jacket, Jericho would not only thrive with a new character, he thrived in a new company with a different audience than what he was used to performing in front of. This incarnation of Jericho wouldn't be able to get over by cutting funny promos and being the "cool heel", this version of Jericho would get over as a nasty, violent, unconventional brawler.
Jericho in NJPW has been his best transition yet; he isn't necessarily as popular as he was in WWE, but to completely change your game up by stepping foot in a new company when any other legend would have been content to just play their greatest hits in WWE, it takes a special kind of artist to seek that challenge out. The latest version of Jericho isn't as outlandish or flashy as previous versions, but his quiet confidence, violent persona and wild brawls make him just as captivating.
The closest wrestler I can compare him too his Atsushi Onita, who pioneered many elements of hardcore wrestling in the 1990s to big crowds despite working for his own independent company, Frontier Martial-Arts Wrestling, that lacked a major television deal. Onita wasn't the best wrestler, but that didn't matter because he had so much charisma and was so violent in the ring that he became a cult-hero to Japanese fans. While Jericho is a legendary name, his new persona has a lot of similarities to Onita and it's not surprising he's found a lot of success in NJPW.
Jericho had an excellent match with EVIL in the main event of NJPW's Power Struggle show on Saturday, but not in a typical way. It wasn't a great athletic contest with a bunch of cool moves, or a macho slugfest like Minoru Suzuki vs Tomohiro Ishii was earlier in the night. The match was ugly and not particularly well-wrestled, but Jericho's attitude and charisma is so overwhelming (and his appearances in NJPW so rare) that the match felt like a special attraction with EVIL struggling to keep up with the legend.
NJPW's reputation has been built on guys like Okada and Omega having sensational, athletic matches, and some fans might have assumed that when Jericho came to NJPW, he would having those great matches as well. But Jericho isn't successful because he tries to mimic what other performers do well, he is successful because he puts his own definitive stamp on every rivalry he participates in. Every Jericho match so far in NJPW has felt different than other NJPW matches, which is a testament towards Jericho's talent and his ability to influence his matches through his various personas.
Following the bout, Jericho entered the press conference and delivered a line that was both in-line with his current character, but also a nod to vintage Jericho: "That was the first classic match that EVIL has ever had; and that is just number 257 for me." That line was part of a brilliant post-match promo where Jericho turned his anger about there being no water available for him after his match into one of the best heel promos of the year.
To truly understand Jericho's legend, you have to compare his career to other iconic figures in wrestling. Historically, wrestlers have been extremely protective of their characters and rarely have decided to evolve, or completely change the persona that turned them into top stars. John Cena for example, has been largely the same character since he first became a major star. The same can be said for Randy Orton, Triple H, Steve Austin, The Rock, Shawn Michaels, and plenty of others. Sure, some guys make heel or babyface turns, but they continue to don basically the same persona. Hollywood Hulk Hogan was a heel that wore black tights, but he essentially cut the same types of promos with the same delivery as he did as a babyface.
Unlike all of those talents, Jericho has been willing time and time again to jeopardize his popularity in order to continue to evolve his personality and wrestling style. It's that kind of dedication, that at 48 Y2J has never been more exciting, and while his contemporaries like Triple H (tore his quad taking a big bump on the outside of the ring) Undertaker (limping through the last years of his career as fans call for his retirement) and Shawn Michaels (falling on his face after a moonsault in Saudi Arabia) are not doing as well.
Must Watch Matches
Shingo Takagi and BUSHI vs Roppongi 3K vs El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru: **** - NJPW Power Struggle
EVIL vs Chris Jericho: ****1/4 - NJPW Power Struggle
Katsuhiko Nakajima vs Takashi Sugiura: ****1/4 - NOAH Global Jr. League Final