When Chris Jericho jumped from WCW to WWE, it was one of the biggest shots in the “Monday Night War.” Now almost 20 years later the main event performer is changing the game again as a top acquisition for the new All Elite Wrestling (AEW). Since signing with the Tony Khan-led promotion in January, the 48-year-old feels a renewed passion for the business.
With his showdown against Kenny Omega at AEW’s inaugural event Double or Nothing from the sold-out MGM Grand Garden Arena approaching, it’s becoming all too real. Adding to the excitement is AEW’s recent announcement of a landmark partnership with WarnerMedia that will feature multi-platform program accessibility and weekly live matches broadcasting on TNT in prime time, the first time the premiere network has put on pro wrestling since WCW closed in 2001. Not to mention plans are for other content like Double or Nothing to be available via B/R Live and on Pay-Per-View.
— TNT Drama (@tntdrama) May 15, 2019
“We’ve had this slow build, all of it done without TV,” Jericho said. “We’re doing it with social media and word of mouth, which is a real testament to the potential and excitement and the buzz surrounding AEW. Double or Nothing is the biggest show in AEW’s existence, probably forever. There will probably be bigger shows, but there is the old saying that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
“That’s why we are going with Jericho versus Kenny as the first-ever main event. A lot of people are asking, ‘Why don’t you wait for that and build toward it?’ There is no waiting. There is no assumption there is going to be a second show. We have to come out of the gates with the best show possible to really catch everybody by surprise or to make everybody believe what they already know. That this is going to be a strong, solid, legit contender to be the greatest pro wrestling company in the world.”
Although this Renaissance man of entertainment is dedicated to helping AEW succeed, he also remains focused on growing Fozzy. The band is reaching new heights thanks to their latest Judas record and is regularly touring with a big gig planned to play the Iron Maiden show from the Banc of California Stadium in September. If that weren’t enough, Jericho is planning another Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea: Part Deux, working on his podcast and filmed two Kevin Smith movies (Killroy Was Here, Jay and Silent Bob Reboot). And somehow, he carves out time to be a loving dad and husband.
“AEW is an important schedule, but it’s not a full-time schedule,” Jericho said. “As we get up and rolling and get into the weekly TV sort of stuff, we’ll have to structure Fozzy tours accordingly. But it’s not like this is 150 days a year type of deal nor will it ever be. It was one of the reasons why I decided to sign with AEW. The schedule they gave me was very much conducive to still having a busy schedule with Fozzy and continue the run with the band we’ve been building for the last 20 years.”
The former multi-time heavyweight champion is never one to rest on his laurels. Jericho wants to remind audiences at Double or Nothing that he can still compete at a high level. His training over the last three months has involved a more intense, high energy regimen. The veteran has done MMA sessions with Josh Rafferty in Tampa. He credits the workouts for building up his stamina.
“It’s the best training I’ve done,” Jericho said. “To me it is always the cardio. No matter what the character: skinny, fat, muscular. You have to be able to have that wind and longevity in a match. It was to increase that. It’s funny because last year I’m going into New Japan matches with guys working 10-15 times a month and I’m doing matches every three or four months. Now in AEW the whole crew hasn’t worked in four or five months. I think we are all on the same level. Then again you can do as much cardio as you want, but it’s not the same as being in the ring and being in a match.”
Jericho knows all eyes of the pro wrestling world will be on Double or Nothing. Even before any AEW has taken place, he can feel WWE watching. Their mere presence has affected the landscape of the business as a whole.
“I’m not surprised. I will say this…everyone in WWE owes Chris Jericho a thank you because the moment I signed with AEW, it became legit,” Jericho said. “That’s when everyone started getting these huge raises to not go. It was very similar to what happened to Bobby Hull in the early 1970s when he signed with the WHA (World Hockey Association) for a million dollars. Every other player got a huge raise to not jump with him. My dad [Ted Irvine] went from a $35,000 to a $100,000 a year because they didn’t want him going to the WHA. It’s the same thing for Vince [McMahon] is doing with WWE.
“You’re hearing about prelim guys getting $400,000, $500,000 a year deals. Everyone deserves the money they make, but they never would have gotten that before and wouldn’t get it somewhere else. They can be ones who will never draw a dime. It doesn’t matter. Vince doesn’t want anyone coming to AEW. Doesn’t want there to be a mass exodus whether you are an opening match jobber or a main event Roman Reigns. He doesn’t want anybody to go.”
For Jericho, it is every bit a competition.
“This is a war,” he adds. “Even if you don’t want it to be, it just is. There hasn’t been any competition for WWE on a national basis for 20 years or more. I think this is something they didn’t really want, but it’s great for the fans and great for the guys. I think in the long run it’s going to make a difference because it gives people a choice. And it’s always good to have a choice.”
An important trait for any new company to have is standing out. Separating itself from what’s out there in the market. Jericho believes AEW’s television product will lean more into freer artistry from talent.
“I don’t think you are going to see an over-scripted type of show. We have no intention of being WWE lite,” he said. “WWE is the best in the world at what they do. We won’t be doing that. We have a different mindset. I think when you look at what goes on during a New Japan show. That might be what the in-ring product looks like when you think about the way it’s shot, and guys have a lot more input in what they’re doing from a creative standpoint and character standpoint.”
Later this year we’re introducing some real superheroes with a new live franchise: All Elite Wrestling #AEW - a brand-new league - with a new style and a new generation of talent. pic.twitter.com/Vdc3nS1H6u
— TNT Drama (@tntdrama) May 15, 2019
No matter what the chameleon-like Jericho decides to evolve into, he knows who he is and what works. There is a sense his new pro wrestling home recognizes that.
“If I produce something and think it’s good, I don’t have to get it approved by 10 different people before I post it,” Jericho said. “I’ll have 500,000 people see something, and they say they wish they can see more of that in WWE. The reason for that is because it comes from me. Not five other people. When AEW starts, I’m sure everyone on the show will be getting a little bit of direction. But you have a lot of creative freedom to make your own moves and name for yourself. I think that is a real positive for us.
“You know your character best. I think that gives everybody involved a lot more confidence and freedom to be that character. I think it’s going to be like the way things used to be in WWE. Not that it’s better or worse, but when I came to WWE the opening promo I did where I interrupted The Rock, I wrote it myself. There was no rehearsal. Nobody going through it first. If you liked it, it was all me. If you didn’t like it, it was all me. That gives you confidence to succeed.”
Double or Nothing, Live Saturday, May 25, 8/7c, B/R Live streaming and Pay-Per-View
AEW is coming to TNT in the Fall