WrestleMania 33 will mark the thirteenth appearance by Chris Jericho at the Showcase of the Immortals. Thirteen matches is good for sixth-most, putting him behind obvious Mania mainstays like Undertaker (#1 with 24 appearances so far), Triple H (#2 with 20), Kane and Shawn Michaels (tied for #3 with 17 each), Big Show (who’s had 16 matches during a WWF/E career that’s basically as long as Jericho’s), and Bret Hart (who’s had 14 matches, a number which Jericho will tie this year).
His record is a pedestrian 5-8, but that puts him roughly in the same company as the others in the top ten. Undertaker obviously has the best record, but Triple H is currently 9-11 (he hasn’t had a winning record since Mania 19, when he was 5-4, before dropping his next four Mania matches in a row). Shawn Michaels—Mr. WrestleMania—is an even worse 6-11. Bret Hart has a winning record at 8-6, but it’s the Big Show that takes the cake: He sits on the worst “appearances to W/L record” of them all, with a terrible 5-11 record. He even started his Mania career 0-6.
So…”perspective” is all I’m saying.
The Canadian superstar is one of the last remaining competitors at his level to belong to the class of wrestler that made their name and earned their stripes travelling the world working for various promotions. Whether he’s been a cruiserweight, a mid-carder or a main-event superstar, Jericho has always brought his A-game and has always been among the best. Over the course of his nearly-thirty year career (almost two-thirds of which have been with WWF/E), Jericho has played every role possible. He’s been babyface, heel, champion, challenger. He’s worked with top athletes, and been asked to carry lesser competition to respectability.
To condense his career into a study of his twelve WrestleMania matches seems unfair. He’s done so much more and has had much greater highs than what this one event has given him. And yet, it’s interesting to look at his WWF/E history through the lens of the biggest show the company has, because it highlights just how much of a roller-coaster his career has been.
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Jericho first debuted in WWF during the run-up to SummerSlam 1999. He was brought in with the expectation that he’d be an instant main-eventer and possibly a WrestleMania headliner. Instead, his legendary debut turned into a botched opening month and by September he was dropping like a rock down the card. Instead of co-main-eventing Mania, which was in the works for at least a little while, he slipped to the third most important match on the card. The outlook was more positive than it had been six months before, however, as he was in a title match with two other of the company’s top rising talents, Chris Benoit and Kurt Angle.
Unfortunately, he was already the “third of three” among that group. Jericho was the hot new midcarder for only a brief window time. Kurt Angle debuted at Survivor Series 1999 and Benoit followed in January. By WrestleMania Angle was holding both the Intercontinental and European Championships and was clearly being groomed for a main-event run in the summer. Benoit was the obvious favorite to carry the midcard title, and he ended up winning the IC belt from Angle in the “two falls” match. Jericho walked away with the far less prestigious European belt, and actually dropped it the next night on Raw.
It was an okay start to Jericho’s WrestleMania career. He was clearly in a better position than he had been and things looked to be moving up for him.
Once again Jericho missed out on the main-event at WrestleMania, but in this case, it’s understandable. Rock vs Austin was the show, everything else was gravy. Jericho ended up opening the night, in an IC title match against William Regal. One year before he was competing for the IC title and walking away with the Euro title. This year he was defending the IC title. It was upward movement, but only barely. Over the course of the year, leading up to the event, Jericho solidified himself as the top mid-card babyface, and spent most of his time feuding with Chris Benoit. The two men had six PPV matches in twelve months, with each man winning half the contests.
But by the time Mania came around, however, Benoit was given a better spot. He wrestled Kurt Angle in a show-stealing showcase that is still remembered, while Jericho’s alright match with Regal was forgotten moments after it ended. He still had the championship, but was not yet as vital to the show as he wanted to be.
The less said about Jericho’s disastrous run as Undisputed Champion, the better. So much of it went wrong, with so much of the blame falling squarely on the shoulders of the writers. Jericho was booked as the weakest, most pathetic, obviously-transitional heel champion the company has had since maybe Bob Backlund in 1994. He finally got the WrestleMania main-event spot he’d coveted since arriving in 1999, but when it came, ironically, he tried to talk Vince out of it. Rock vs Hogan was a match with so much hype and electricity behind it, both Jericho and Triple H knew they could not possibly follow it. They were right, but in the end they still went on last, and, despite giving it their all, put together one of the most low energy main-events in Mania history.
On paper, it would seem as though Jericho’s past three years were finally climaxing in a great reward. He was arguably the top babyface at the beginning of Austin’s heel run with the title, but quickly fell back down the ladder of importance once Rock returned from filming The Scorpion King. After that, a heel turn was required to keep him around the upper-part of the card. And it worked; he ended up winning the WCW Championship (though by then it was little more than a WWF-controlled prop), giving him his first true “world” title. Soon after, as he loves to crow about, he defeated both Steve Austin and The Rock in the same night to win the Undisputed Title. On paper, it looks good. In reality he was the least important champion of his era and getting to main-event WrestleMania ended up being a low mark in his career.
By the time the WWE arrived at WrestleMania XIX, the company was clearly transitioning into a new era. Steve Austin and The Rock were both headed out the door and many new talents were starting to emerge that would soon take over the company. It’s interesting that this WrestleMania actually has one of the lowest-buyrates in the company’s history, despite how loaded from top to bottom the card is with talent and great matches. A dozen fans can give you a dozen entirely different rankings from best to worst on the card, but almost everyone agrees that Chris Jericho had one of the top three performances of the night. After years of being an afterthought, he was finally the guy entrusted to work a match with unique circumstances (a task he would eventually make his speciality).
In this case, he was to be Shawn Michaels’ first WrestleMania opponent in five years. The very nervous HBK apparently hand-selected Jericho to work with, singling him out for his professionalism, safety and obvious talent. The match is almost the opposite of the WrestleMania X8 fiasco. It didn’t main-event, there was no title on the line, and yet it was (thanks to HBK’s return being such a hot topic) given special priority on Raw, it had the fans invested from beginning to end, and ended up being, arguably, a show-stealing match. If his main-event title defense at WrestleMania is a low-light, his non-title, midcard match the following year is definitely a career peak.
By the time of WrestleMania XX, the new era the company was transitioning into was almost complete. Jericho was, by this time, playing the part of the seasoned vet, being tasked with helping to bring up the next generation of main-eventers…like Christian?
Okay so Christian never ended up being the main-eventer many of his fans wanted him to be, but he certainly seemed to have a lot of momentum in 2004. Jericho was a big part of that too, as their partnership-turned-feud was one of the highlights of Raw in those days. It culminated in a match at WrestleMania that many felt, when it was over, failed to be as good as it could have been. In the end, Jericho ate the pin, bringing his W/L total to 2-3, with three losses in a row. He wasn’t “the guy” and by this point it was clear he never would be, but he was, after just five years, already being viewed as guy that could be counted on to help carry the company (albeit, from the background). That’s not a glamorous role, but it speaks to Vince’s trust in him, which is huge.
WrestleMania 21 will not be remembered as a “Chris Jericho” show, but the event did debut a concept of Chris Jericho’s imagination that would go on to become one of the most anticipated matches of the year, every year: Money in the Bank. The ladder match is today a bonus Royal Rumble, whose winner is almost guaranteed to become a champion within the next year (only two have failed to cash-in successfully).
The match became so popular that it was moved from WrestleMania to its own PPV, but for the first six years of its existence it was one of the most-anticipated matches on the card each year. A large part of its success is thanks to how well the initial match was handled. Only six men competed, with only Kane being the odd man out. The other five were Jericho and Benoit, who were no stranger to ladder matches back in the Attitude Era, Edge and Christian, who helped to take the concept to a new level, and Shelton Benjamin, the perennial bridesmaid-never-bride in these sorts of spot-heavy matches.
Edge ended up winning and vaulted himself from solid midcard babyface to hall of fame main event heel. Jericho, the man who dreamed up the idea of “an annual ladder match at WrestleMania” ended up largely inconsequential to the match and the finish. This would be Jericho’s last WrestleMania for three years. He took the next two shows off to recharge his batteries and concentrate on his music. He left having achieved a lot in the WWF/E, but still only had two wins (one outright) at the biggest show of the year to show for it.
Jericho made his return to WWE a few months before WrestleMania XXIV, and immediately entered a WWE title feud with Randy Orton. His return promo was preceded by a lengthy and mysterious promotion with several vignettes hyping a “code” that would soon be broken. Finally, during a dreadful Randy Orton promo, the lights went dark, the code was cracked and out came Jericho, with a short haircut and a goofy smile. It was like a bizarre, twisted version of his 1999 debut, only with less enthusiasm. The crowd gave him love, and his initial promo was good, but as it was in 1999, Jericho’s momentum quickly stalled. He lost in the title match and slid down to the upper midcard, basically in the spot he was before he left.
When WrestleMania came around he was only a few months removed from his big comeback, but when it came time to arrange the card, Jericho was without a key feud. He ended being stuck in the Money in the Bank ladder match. And though the match was stellar, Jericho felt like the odd man out. Shelton Benjamin, John Morrison and—surprisingly—Carlito contributed most of the high-flying stuff, though by the end of it everyone had been allowed one moment to shine. Jericho had two memorable spots: One came as he put Morrison in the Walls of Jericho with his body draped over the top of a ladder. The other contributed to the finish, as he was within striking distance of nabbing the briefcase before getting his foot tangled, allowing CM Punk to pick up the win.
Jericho’s big return was, to that point, a big nothing…
…Just one year later, however, he was one of the hottest acts around. Soon after Mania 24, Jericho turned heel, ditched his flashy outfits for a suit and tie and began a crusade against hypocrites and pretenders. His entered a feud with Shawn Michaels that’s easily a top-five grudge in WWF/E history. The storyline was stellar, the matches were phenomenal and both men came out of it looking great. But when the dust cleared and plans for WrestleMania 25 began to take shape, Michaels was slotted to work with the Undertaker and Chris Jericho…was not.
On paper this was a terrible use of such a talented veteran. Jericho entered a feud with various legends (to tie in with the “twenty-fifth anniversary” of the big show) including Roddy Piper, Jimmy Snuka and Ricky Steamboat. The indie hit “The Wrestler” was also making headlines around this time, and star Mickey Rourke got roped into the feud as well. It all culminated in a handicap match where Jericho was forced to carry a team of very out of shape and out of practice legends to a respectable match. On paper it should have bombed, but Jericho’s heel run was so on point he had the crowd eating out of his hands. Thankfully for Jericho, Steamboat could still go and their chemistry keep the hot crowd hot throughout. Jericho got the win and even a bonus 1-on-1 match (and victory) over Steamboat at the next PPV, but so far his MVP work was not being rewarded…
Finally by WrestleMania 26, Jericho was getting the props he deserved for having two of the best years of his career. He won the World Heavyweight Title the previous fall and entered a WrestleMania feud with former tag-partner Edge. The intensity wasn’t as strong as it was with HBK from a couple years before, but Jericho’s loathsome personality kept the audience engaged.
Despite the fact that Edge won the rumble and was in the midst of his first main-event run as a babyface, when it came time for their match, it was Jericho who got the win. It’s rare for a babyface challenger to lose a world title match at WrestleMania, but Jericho’s victory was a clear sign that he was being rewarded for the great work he’d been doing.
So of course he lost the title to Jack Freaking Swagger less than a week later.
After dropping the World title in April, Jericho hung around until September, having little to do once his feud with Edge was finished. He got involved in the white-hot Nexus feud (remember that? Remember when Nexus was a thing?) but soon after was punted in the head by Randy Orton (remember when that was a thing?!) and took some time off to tour with his band.
A year later, cryptic vignettes began airing, starting in November, promising the end of the world. They continued periodically until the first Raw of the new year when, as many predicted, Chris Jericho made his big return (sporting his now iconic light-up jacket). After two previous debuts that featured a blistering promo, Jericho (on advice of Vince McMahon) subverted the trope and instead debuted without uttering a word. The crowd was orgasmic for his return, but as he continued circling the ring begging for cheers the excitement turned to restlessness. By the end of the segment, the mute, troll-face-grinning Jericho walked back up the ramp, turned back to the audience and soaked in their boos. It was one of the most remarkable heel turns ever executed. He continued not speaking for subsequent weeks until finally, on the go-home show before the Royal Rumble, he grabbed the mic and promised that he would win the match and bring about “the end of the world as we know it.”
Aaand then he was eliminated by Sheamus.
Still, he got the feud fans were pining for: He attacked CM Punk and proclaimed himself the true “best in the world” competitor. Their match at WrestleMania 28 was maybe a hair below the high expectations people had for it, but it was still great and seemed to solidify this version of Jericho as a permanent fixture around the top of the card.
Jericho wrestled Fandango at WrestleMania, got him over and then put him over in his very first match.
Give the man a medal.
A few more departures and returns came and went in between his big Mania 28 title match and his current run. And by the time WrestleMania 32 came around, Jericho was in danger of growing stale again. He had been working as a babyface almost entirely since his Punk feud ended in 2012. Soon after AJ Styles made his big debut, the two of them met in the ring on Monday Night Raw with Styles getting the win and post-match handshake. Everyone was already pointing to a Mania feud between them, but expectations were turned on their head when, instead, they teamed up. The friendship was short-lived, however, and Jericho finally turned heel once more.
For one of the few times in Jericho’s Mania history, however, he was not the guy fans wanted to see get the “W.”
So of course he won.
After that he maintained his heel persona, even taking it up a notch thanks to a list and a scarf, but as this year’s WrestleMania approaches, he’s back to playing the good guy, ready to fight Kevin Owens for the United States Championship. It’s not quite the world title match either man deserves, but it’s a showcase feud that has potential to steal the show. After that, all signs point to another Jericho departure.
He’ll be back, though. Maybe sooner or maybe later, but he’ll be back. Hopefully when he is, a big WrestleMania match will follow.
Good match or not, the show just isn’t the same without him.