Early Saturday morning (it was live from Japan so this match aired at like 5 am EST) Chris Jericho took on Teysuya Naito for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship at NJPW Dominion, one of their annual flagship PPV events. You may be saying to yourself “big deal he’s won pretty much every major title in WWE multiple times.” To that I’d say yes he has, but if that is diminishing this accomplishment for you, then you’re not paying attention to wrestling as a whole.
On November 5th 2017 at their Power Struggle PPV, Kenny Omega, who I consider the best in the world right now, had just wrapped up another US title defense against Trent Beretta. As is customary in NJPW, Kenny is cutting his post match promo where he basically says who wants a shot. He is about to wrap it all up, because no one has the stones to challenge the 5 star match machine. As he and his Elite brethren & the most popular tag team in the world, The Young Bucks, are about to leave the ring, the lights cut out and a vignette begins to air….
MY GOD IT’S CHRIS JERICHO! THE MAN OF A THOUSAND & FOUR HOLDS!!! Y2J!!! LIONHEART!!! THE GIFT OF JERICHO!!! AND KENNY JUST MADE THE LIST!!!
This shocked EVERYONE in the wrestling world. No one saw this coming. Everyone was under the assumption that Y2J was still under contract with WWE and was just taking time off to tour with his band Fozzy & promote the new album (sidebar: how amazing is Jericho all around??? Seriously. Take the scripts out of it. Amazing performer in ring. Helps countless young stars as a mentor. Respects the biz at the highest level. Quietly helps out other struggling talents past & present behind the scenes. Has a successful touring metal band. Big time podcast & podcast network. Insane how much he does. Also he never looks for recognition when helping others. All heart). How could Vince allow one of his all time greats to just waltz into his rapidly growing competition like that? This is when we learned how high the level of respect he gets in the industry. That the big bad wolf, aka my hero, Vince McMahon just lets him work on month to month deals, giving him pretty much the freedom to do whatever he wants. This is VERY rare for a control freak like Vince. Vince also OK’d this, since Jericho, who didn’t have to bring this to him since he was currently not under contract, had the respect to consult him on it. Take that as a lesson fellow readers: if you wanna be a top guy in whatever you do, don’t fear those above you. Work with them. Learn from them. Earn that respect & trust and you will rise like Jericho.
So getting back to the storyline here, Jericho then makes a surprise live appearance at a NJPW World Tag League event that led to one of the loudest pops in Japanese history. (Japanese crowds are VERY different from US crowds. Way more reserved. They clap politely when impressed. Takes a lot to get them to go wild like they did here).
Jericho with a brutal attack on Kenny here, setting the tone for a massive showdown at NJPWs biggest annual event: WRESTLE KINGDOM.
If you’ve never watched this match, you need to. Just stop reading right here and go find it. I can’t give you links bc laws, but I’m sure a google search or a torrent search will get you the footage. Here’s a highlight package to refresh some memories.
An instant classic, where we get an uncensored heel Jericho transforming himself into a brutal sadistic in ring competitor. No respect for the Japanese crowd or the customs. Violent brutal weapons use reminiscent of the attitude era we all want back. No filter so Jericho can swear like a sailor. It’s beautiful. It’s everything you want out of a pro wrestling match if you’ve been watching this as long as I have. Two of the world’s best working with free reign & exceeding all expectations, with Omega winning in the end & Jericho looking strong and giving Kenny “the rub” to go to the next level of his career. Most of us saw this as the end of Jericho’s recent short stint in japan, and that was ok because it was a ton of fun and done so well. Little did we know he had bigger plans. Jericho wanted some gold.
The next day at NJPWs New Years Dash (think the Raw after mania. Sets up the new storylines), Jericho attacks the leader of Los Ingobernales De Japon, Tetsuya Naito. A Japanese star with a laid back attitude and piles of charisma, Naito is a top talent who is someone I could see becoming a big WWE star if he were to make the jump. He’s got it all, so naturally Jericho wants to work with him.
April 29th rolls around, and at Wrestling Hinokuni (think one of the regular monthly WWE PPVs. Like a Backlash), Naito defeated Minoru Suzuki (a personal fave of mine who has a very old school grappling approach mixed with a real physical brutality when striking. Tough as nails image) for the IWGP Intercontinental Championship. This would begin Naito’s second IC title, while the man who attacked him January 5th hadn’t been seen in months. Then, this happens at Wrestling Dontaku.
Another brutal attack on Naito, who’s now got some hardware that Jericho wants to add to his collection. This then leads to Best of Super Jrs night 4
Jericho finally sets a date. 6-9(nice)-2018. Dominion (think Summerslam). Osaka gets the honor of seeing these two do battle. Jericho cuts another scathing vignette just like he did with Kenny. He’s a master of build up. Jericho could challenge a bum in Port Authority and make it feel huge. He’s working with one of the world’s best here tho so it IS huge. It’s time for Jericho to go for some Japanese gold.
This highlight package doesn’t do the match it’s full justice but it gives you enough of the goods to appreciate it enough to want to seek out the full thing. Jericho, reinventing himself again with A Clockwork Orange inspired get up, comes out even more brutal than he was with Kenny. Naito eventually fights back and they have a hell of a match, culminating with Jericho getting the gold, and cementing his spot in the argument of the all time greats.
I know this piece was long, but I wanted to make sure all our readers out there got a solid pic of the Jericho’s work here while giving you as clear a picture as I could of this different style of character build than we are generally used to seeing in WWE. It’s truly impressive, especially given his age. At 47, Chris Jericho is still a top draw in any country, who still performs at a top level. He deserves every accolade for his continued accomplishments and innovations to the industry, with the cruise of Jericho being his next trick. That’s right. He’s hosting a cruise with tons of wrestling & metal bands. A cruise. As in a vacation on a boat. There is nothing he can’t do.
Also, I hope this gets some of you guys to dig into the wonderful product that is NJPW. It’s equal parts innovative & old school. A place where talents get the chance to grow & rise to the world class level. It’s filled with incredible performers who will blow your mind with their in ring work. A great contrast to WWE that’s very deserving of your time.