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Posted in: Just Business
Just Business presents #102: Chapter 3.1 ~ Saving Y2J and the End of Mediocrity
By Samuel 'Plan
Jun 28, 2017 - 7:58:51 PM

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Just Business presents #102: Chapter 3.1 ~ Saving Y2J and the End of Mediocrity

It would be fair to say that, prior to his latest stint starting in 2015, an increasing number of fans considered Chris Jericho’s comeback tours to WWE to be offering up dwindling returns. We felt underwhelmed by the quality of the work compiled by such a talented and vaunted legend of the business. Hence, in the last two and a half years since Summerslam 2014, the resurgence of Chris Jericho has become a prominent conversation; a sense of a career-best run that recaptured the magic he was so easily able to weave in his younger years.

As always, we must at first recognise where we have come from in order to fully appreciate where we are now, in a post-Jericho vs. Owens world at the other end of the aforementioned resurgence. Though the majority of the work put together by Chris Jericho that generated the growth in fan cynicism towards him as a performer occurred before the period this mini-series focuses on, one composition of Y2J’s that occurred early on inside our historical snapshot was Chris Jericho vs. Bray Wyatt inside a Steel Cage on the 08/09/14 episode of Monday Night Raw.

The entire Jericho / Wyatt feud was a fascinating Reality Era exhibit. It weaponised the increasing belief that Chris Jericho was returning to increasingly underwhelming reception each time, and functioned as an extended creative metaphor for the then-perceived state of Jericho’s career.

Wyatt would accuse Jericho of being unable to save even himself, mocking Y2J’s proclamations of returning to ‘save’ the quality of WWE by pointing out Jericho’s fictional failures; a thinly veiled potential comment on the increasing fan cynicism surrounding the Ayatollah of Rock’n’Rolla. That Bray Wyatt emerged the ultimate victor of their three match series capped this extended metaphor off with a fictionalised confirmation that the ‘saviour’ Chris Jericho really had transformed into more myth than matter. And certainly I was among the cynics at the time, feeling like whatever Chris Jericho once had was fading fast.

My memory of the Bray Wyatt feud was one of a storyline that cleverly commented on growing fan sentiment while, at the same time, in an inadvertently Meta fashion, failed to live up to expectations in and of itself. Once their Steel Cage Match concluded, and Bray Wyatt kicked Jericho out of WWE once more with one of Sister Abigail’s much feared kisses, a part of me was relieved, and I doubt I was alone. A disappointing Steel Cage Match, I felt, ended a disappointing feud that failed to convincingly elevate a believed-to-be struggling Bray Wyatt, and confirmed Chris Jericho as having lost…IT!

This all may sound rather harsh, and I shall state now that it is. So too is it an honest account of my feelings at that time; I would much later on, while researching this mini-series, discover the true extent of how harsh my contemporary judgement had been, but nevertheless such was the mindset I, and I think many other fans, possessed at the time WWE announced their first ever Network exclusive special event, The Beast in the East; a show which would open with the out-of-storyline Chris Jericho vs. Neville curtain jerk. Freed of narrative weight and without expectations of strong follow-up, this clash presented an opportunity for the Y2J slate to be wiped clean and start afresh.

So, did it succeed?

Once again, at the time, while a strong effort from both men, the match felt unconvincing. I for one judged the work harshly again; it was just another back and forth competitive Chris Jericho match that rolled out some very familiar tropes and felt a little too much like matches he had wrestled in the not too distant past. More mainstream reception was kinder, with many fans left satisfied, but the NXT Championship Match that same night, as well the Brock Lesnar appearance that caused the event to air in the first place, overshadowed the show opener to such an extent it was not really spoken of by anyone as soon as the end of that calendar year.

This may seem like splitting hairs for the sake of criticism, but far from it. Ultimately, while a performance deemed “good” by the majority, but never better in any minority, it was a forgettable outing from a performer known for his capability to steal shows. Was it a move in the right direction? Certainly; but it felt nothing like a real recovery at the time.

Perhaps that was because, in truth, it was not an endgame. Instead, it was a genesis; the beginning of an upward climb by Chris Jericho back into the better sentiment of the majority fan base. More specifically, it was the first instalment of a trilogy of matches in 2015 that would lay the in-ring groundwork for Jericho’s meteoric return to form the following year. A tag team affair alongside Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose followed some months later at that year’s Night of Champions, but more representative of this week’s issue was a little mooted Intercontinental Championship challenge that took place at another Network exclusive event: Chris Jericho vs. Kevin Owens at Live in Madison Square Garden.

Clocking in at a humble 8 minutes and change, this was no paradigm shifting altercation, but it did pursue the populist style so apparently favoured by the then-defending champion Kevin Owens, being sure to throw plentiful false finish into its mix despite its clipped length.

That palpable sense of aspiration is exactly what marks it as so indicative of Chris Jericho’s gradual resurgence: despite not having enough time to fully realise the potential of their pairing, both men nonetheless reached for a legacy match nonetheless, looking to replicate the famed workhorse style that fashioned the Intercontinental Championship’s historical reputation.

More than this, the match itself takes on fresh life through a pre-match promo from Jericho, who makes mention of the night being his 25th anniversary of entering the pro wrestling business; a night on which he competed for the title he is most known for in the world’s most famous arena; a night where he thanked the fans for support and promised to celebrate, win or lose. The earnest tones of this promo not only give weight to the action that followed, but in retrospect framed this intermediary chapter in Jericho’s career renaissance as a fork in the road of his career; as an important, tide-turning piece of work that silently promised to return our self-proclaimed saviour to his more renowned form. The match becomes, in this sense, a gateway.

Indeed, we all know now what it would lead to. Chris Jericho would return to our screens at the beginning of 2016, first confronting the New Day with grandiose proclamations of his abilities and success rate – an early indication of the egotism that would so quickly transform into paranoia, bitterness and mania some weeks down the line. That transformation did not disappoint, enabling Chris Jericho to compile some of his greatest ever art. That is why I had to consider Chris Jericho vs. AJ Styles as a potential Must See for this specific issue as well.

It was their first encounter, on the 25/01/16 edition of Monday Night Raw, that I turn to as specific representation because of the similarities it bears with the aforementioned Kevin Owens gateway bout from the back end of 2015. Clocking in slightly longer, it too nonetheless packed the content in tight, showed ambition in the manner it was wrestled but also, importantly, exhibited one or two stumbles in Jericho’s performance, indicating that the demons of more mediocre runs in preceding years were not yet fully expelled. This was an older Chris Jericho, perhaps a slower and less precise Chris Jericho; indeed, I distinctly recall my esteemed colleague Chad Matthews asking if 2008 Chris Jericho would be landing moves mistimed by 2016 Chris Jericho, and the point was a pertinent one.

Consider the barn-burner that was Y2AJ vs. New Day for the Tag Team Championships on the 07/03/2016 Monday Night Raw for example – another match perfectly expressive of the importance of the Styles feud and its role in the 2016 resurgence of Chris Jericho. Wrestled at an outrageously furious pace, relentless in its pursuit of action, it was a match that saw Chris Jericho, the performer, seemingly trying his best to “keep step” with the martial polish of AJ Styles, and often falling slightly short. Chris Jericho’s account of himself was brilliant for a man in the twilight of his career, his role in the match utterly integral and his execution of the post-match turn, if foreseeable, nonetheless brilliantly hateful. All the same, it was a spikier effort from Y2J that, rather like the Wyatt feud in fact, served as an extended metaphor for the character turn that would inform the final act of the Styles feud.

Continuing in that comparative vein, the WrestleMania victory of Jericho over Styles was perhaps the fictional retribution of Jericho’s humbling defeat at the hands of Wyatt some years earlier, then, where Jericho outperforms the man outperforming him and, by extension, finally quells any notions among fans that he could no longer ‘go’ in the process.

Indeed, from the Styles feud onwards, Chris Jericho’s character work would only become more and more addictive. Yes, it was all tongue in cheek and, yes, it carried an enthusiastically humorous vibe throughout, but it reminds even now very much of the work he carved his reputation out of: charismatic performances in and out of the ring that turn heads and get mouths talking. Though reception to various pay-per-view performances remained mixed, there was increasing consensus as 2016 progressed that this Chris Jericho was the best Chris Jericho we had seen in many, many years.

Perhaps ironically, then, in the end, the Jericho / Styles feud was not, as you imagine the intention to have been, Chris Jericho helping to establish AJ Styles in WWE with firm footing, but rather AJ Styles re-establishing Chris Jericho in WWE with firmer footing.

…or was it?

The very notion of Chris Jericho returning to form in 2016 presupposes the widely accepted memory shared among fans that, prior to 2016, his work regularly fell below his usual, famous standard. I myself have long thought this, and not stopped to question just how accurate a memory it might be. That was until I was researching this series. Join me next week I was seek to reassess whether the presuppositions underpinning the 2016 Jericho renaissance are worth their salt, or whether they’re just another slice of fan folklore.

Until then, as ever, leave me any thoughts of yours on the issue, my conclusions or match choices in the comments below or on social media!

This mini-series is a spin-off of my first book, 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die, spawned from the acclaimed LOP column series of the same name. So for more of the same, click below to pick up your paperback or e-book copy today!

Click here to pick up your copy of 101 WWE Matches To See Before You Die from Amazon.com

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