AEW star Chris Jericho recently sat down with Chris Van Vliet on The Chris Van Vliet Show where he discussed what it is like to be on AEW, as well as the beginnings of The Inner Circle. Jericho discussed AEW and AEW President Tony Khan, and how the company has succeeded due to the passion of Khan.
"I'd never been in Impact, or I never went to Ring of Honor and never left [WWE]. When I left the company, I didn't wrestle and that was my thing," Jericho recalled. "I'm not going to wrestle anywhere but for Vince McMahon, until I didn't, and that's where everything started changing for me. So yeah, I mean, it's one of those things where it's really cool to be in this position to know that we have a really killer company that's got the cool factor to it, and we're really only just beginning.
"They think, 'Oh, it's been a year. How much further can they go?' There's so many ideas, and camaraderie, and teamwork, and people working together, and there really isn't any sneaky behind each other's back, and whenever there is a little bit of that, we stuff it. We kill it because we don't want that environment in our company. We've come from that - we've all dealt with that for years, and we don't want that in AEW. We don't have that, so our boss is great. He's super passionate, he's very smart to the business, he's not a money mark as people might have thought. He doesn't bow down easily. So, I appreciate that. It's great to know who the boss is, and Tony Khan is the boss. He has the final say.
"It's great to know. It's great for a guy like me to know because I need somebody to sign off on my stuff because, sometimes, I'm not sure if it's the best thing in the world. Or, like Mimosa Mayhem, 'Is this going to be total s--t?' So, that's how it works in our company. If we like it, we do it, if not, we come up with something else and there's no heat, no messing with each other, and we just make everything cool."
Jericho debuted on AEW Dynamite with his new faction The Inner Circle. Jericho discussed what the original name of the faction was going to be and how the idea of him being the leader of a faction started.
"Well, Tony wanted me to be part of a faction, and I've never been a part of one before," Jericho noted. "I was a little but reluctant at first, but then he was like, 'It's Four Horsemen - you're Ric Flair here.' 'OK, well, lets give it a try', and he wanted it to be like a band. 'Chris Jericho and The Conspirators', whatever it would be, and my idea was 'Fist' like one, two, three, four, five, and we would be called Fist, and that would be the merch. And then I was doing a BTE bit that Matt and Nick asked me to do, and I said something about 'my inner circle is involved in this', and they're like, 'Inner Circle's a cool name.' I was like, 'Yeah, that's really cool. That could be it.' Now it's funny, too, because now, we say it.
"It's just like Fozzy. You say it, you know it, but when you first say it, you're like, 'that's weird.' And I remember people like, 'Inner Circle? that's a terrible name.' And now, it's a fu--ing great name. But you just got to live with it for awhile, and the idea was, at first, who's going to be in it? And I remember-- let me think about this. It was always going to be the idea of a tag team, an up-and-comer, and a heater, so to speak."
Jericho also revealed who the original wrestlers were going to be for The Inner Circle. He discussed his thought process for every individual member.
"So, I think the original tag team, one of the the ideas that was banding around - it might have been by me - was Fenix and Pentagon. And then I thought, 'I don't want gimmick guys/mask guys,'" Jericho recalled. "And then Santana and Ortiz came up, and I was like, 'I know them from the cruise because they were on the first cruise, but I don't really know much about them.' But The Bucks were saying how good they were on the first cruise. I said, 'OK, lets throw those guys in there.' And then I wanted MJF, but I think Cody wanted to do stuff with him.
"He says, 'well, how about Sammy Guevara?' because I scouted Sammy Guevara and brought him to the table. I never met him before in my life. I just watched him on a NWA PPV that Cody was wrestling [Nick] Aldis, and I saw him. I was like, 'this guy's good', and he's miscast as a babyface. He just looks like an a--hole. So, Sammy? That's cool. And then, for the heater, there's a guy called Anthony Ogogo, who is a boxer, and they were suggesting him. And I was like, 'I don't want that because I had that in WWE a couple of times.' They gave me heaters that were smaller than me or the same size. I want a big guy, and I did kickboxing training-- hadn't spoken to him in years, but I was kickboxing with the same trainer as Jake [Hager] was, getting ready for his Bellator fights.
"And I just started talking to him like, 'Are you interested in coming back?' He's like, 'I'd love to'. And I pitched it to Tony, and I said, 'this is the guy I want.' I've always been a big fan of his. I wanted him to be my heater back in the WWE, but they just miscast him. They didn't know what to do. They didn't know what to do with a 6'6", good looking blonde guy who can work, and had a character that can talk in the right circumstances, 'What the fu--?' But that's fine, and so, we got him involved."
Jericho recalled his thoughts during the first night of their debut. He noted that in WWE, there would already by conflict within the faction and they would have broken up. He said that is not the case in AEW, and said that there is a chance that more members could be added.
"And I remember the very first night when everyone came out, we did a photo shoot wearing Inner Circle shirts. And I was just like, 'this just reminds me of Guns 'n Roses in '87'. It's five guys that don't really belong together. If you look at that original picture, they look like they're in five different bands but it just works, and that's the same to this day. When you get the five of us together, it just works. It looks cool, and I pride myself on the fact that in the whole year we've been together, we've never had any descension, no teases of breaking up, no cross words, and no reason to. If this was WWE, we would've been broken up after three months, and that's not what we're going to do.
"There's no reason to fu-- with it, and that's one of the reasons why I love The Inner Circle. Now, can we add some people to it? Absolutely. That could always be part of the story, and that will be part of the story. But, to me, it's like those five original guys; I like that. I still like it, and I think we really gelled and we've become really good friends after not even knowing each other at all."
Jericho spoke more about MJF, praising not only how good he is at such a young age but also on how much he's able to learn at fast rate. Jericho also discussed whether he sees himself in MJF.
"It's hard to say because he's way more advanced than I was at that age," Jericho admitted. "When you deal with the guy-- I think he just turned 24 years old. He's definitely what you would call an old soul in that. I can't believe how good he is with the experience that he has, but what really blows my mind is how much better he's going to be with the experience over the next couple of years, and what he's going to learn from me, and learn from Cody, and learn from Arn Anderson, and Tully Blanchard, and all these guys being in his ear - Jake Roberts.
"So, it's amazing to me just how good he is, but like I said, there's certain guys that you see that you're like, 'OK, we can do something together'. And it's just a natural progression. If you look all through the summer, once we did the Stadium Stampede, I did not want to be involved with The Elite for awhile because we've been doing that story since October 2, 2019 all the way up to May of 2020. Kenny [Omega], Hangman [Adam Page], and The Bucks, we haven't interchanged at all in whatever that's been for six months now."
Jericho continued discussing the his storyline progression over this past summer. He revealed that his tag team match against Luther and Serpentico was planned weeks in advance, as well.
"That's why I did 14 weeks with Orange Cassidy," Jericho pointed out. "Now, who's next? Who can work with us next? Well, MJF and I have something natural there, so that could be something that we could do. But once again, you've got to sprinkle little things along the way, and that's why even for this program, all along, I was going to do something with Private Party and do something-- the original was was going with Mark Quinn. But then I was really impressed with Isiah [Kassidy] and I wanted to see what he would do. He was great, which leads me to the thing with Luther and Serpentico. That was always on the books. Although, I had it a few weeks earlier, and Tony came up with the idea of doing it on the 7th because of the history with Luther and I. But everybody in our show gets a chance to get over."
Jericho named Joey Janela and Sonny Kiss as other AEW talents that also got a spotlight. He said the difference between AEW and WWE is that the talent that AEW have signed will get used and are not just sitting backstage for long periods of time.
"That's the one thing - if you're under contract with AEW, like Joey Janela and Sonny Kiss," Jericho named. "We had two great matches with them because, listen, if you're on our show, you're not just sitting in the back. Either you're on the fu--ing Dynamite when the time is right and you get over or you don't. Because if not, there's no reason to have people sign. That's something that's very different between us and WWE. We give everyone a shot, a legit shot, and if you do good, you'll continue to get more shots.
"So, I know it's a long way to answer the question, but I think MJF's a guy that every time he's gotten the ball, it's delivered, and the sky's the limit for him. So, it's the perfect time for us to start thinking maybe possibly doing something together in the future."
Jericho was asked about his thoughts about the TV ratings during the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that wrestling without a crowd has hurt, and he said that AEW was hoping to get Blood and Guts going, as that show had sold well and would have featured the AEW debuts of Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy.
"People are used to seeing wrestling in front of a crowd," Jericho noted. "It's the same reason why hockey ratings are down, football ratings are down. It's just not the same without that audience there, and I was actually pretty impressed with how we were able to keep the ratings. We went down a bit, but I bet if you only look, it's probably 10-15%/20% percent. Maybe not even, and to be steady where we ended up? And, once again, I'm making jokes about this but the demo was real, and the demo really, really didn't go down.
"It went down a smidge, but not much. So I was actually bummed out at the independent because we were on a roll, and I remember thinking, if we can just make it to March 25, which is Blood and Guts, the Prudential Center in Newark, [New Jersey], where we had sold 15,000 tickets, that'd be great. And I went to the ring on March 11, Salt Lake [City, Utah] and Rochester, [New York] the following week with the double debut of Brodie Lee and Matt Hardy still on with the Blood and Guts.
"And then, in that 20 minute span of the match, I went to the ring, I came back from the ring and Rochester was cancelled, Newark was cancelled, the NBA was cancelled, and Tom Hanks had corona. I'm like, 'what a fu--ing 20-minute span that was!' And we played up the string in Jacksonville, [Florida], then, that shut down.
Jericho also recalled the long taping that was done as QT Marshall's wrestling school. He said that was when everyone in AEW bonded together, and noted that the ratings started going up during that time and were steady throughout.
"If you guys remember - to go to Atlanta, [Georgia], where we filmed four weeks of TV in one day, and that was where we really came together as a company. We had 30% of our roster available, and that's where the ratings actually went up from the previous weeks, and we're like 'Holy s--t!' So, we got 30% of our roster in a warehouse - QT Marshall's wrestling school in freaking Canton, Georgia or whatever it is, and we still did 900,000.
"We got something cool there, and that's where I think we all kind of banded together as a team and went, 'Listen, this is not futile. We can still keep this rolling and keep it going', and to see the ratings that we had on opposed [nights], you can see those people are still there waiting for us, and it was a cool, gratifying fact to see and to know."
If you use any quotes from this article, please credit The Chris Van Vliet Show with a h/t to Wrestling Inc. for the transcription.
Mehdy Labriny contributed to this article.