Chris Jericho debuted in the WWE in 1999, and right now, in the year 2016, is still the best thing in wrestling. How is this possible? How can a guy who has had the same theme music since 1999, manage to stay so fresh and cool after nearly two decades? It’s because Chris Jericho knows better than anyone, how to evolve his character according to the times.
Enter 1999, the Millennium Man Y2J. A young, crazy haired, blonde kid who went to toe-to-toe with The Rock. It was exactly what wrestling needed at the time. The Rock was the king of quick wit until Jericho came along. When Jericho first arrived in WWE, he was brash, loud, and annoying.
In an era where catchphrases ruled, Jericho learned how to make some of his own. Immediately upon arriving, he had catchphrases like “Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla” to keep up with people who were overusing catchphrases. He was an incredibly fun underdog character at a time when wrestling was at its most fun. However, Jericho couldn’t quite break into the top of the mountain as World Champion, he was missing one final layer to his character.
2001 was the year of Chris Jericho’s big break. HHH went down with a quad injury and WWE needed a new top heel, and Y2J filled that void. Jericho fully became a heel while still managing to be quick-witted, and that’s when that final layer developed. Jericho could talk trash, be ruthless and hit you with a chair, and in the next moment, be a giant coward.
You wanted to see what he would do next, but at the same time, you really wanted to punch him in the face. He was still that fun guy you loved in 1999, but in very small doses. He knew how to pick and choose which moments to be that old Y2J. After three months as champion, he shortly dropped the belt to the man he filled in for, HHH.
2002-2005 was somewhat of a transitional period for Jericho. He changed from face to heel multiple times, chasing world titles, but never winning them. But, that’s where wrestling was at the time, in a transition. WWE lost their biggest stars in The Rock & "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, and began looking for a new face to build upon.
During this time period, Jericho stayed relevant with memorable feuds against superstars like HBK. But, his biggest purpose was to help put over new young talent like John Cena, and that’s how Jericho stayed in the main event picture; by understanding what he needed to be and performing that role perfectly. Shortly after his feud with Cena, Jericho left the company for two years.
In 2007 Y2J returned as a face and tried to be a replica of what he was in 1999, but with shorter hair. He came with his funny catchphrases, the big smile, but for some reason, it fell somewhat flat. So, that’s when he decided to do something drastic.
Jericho knew that WWE needed a really despicable heel, and that’s what he became. He stopped smiling, stopped having catchphrases, and just became an all-around garbage human being. He wasn’t fun at all anymore, just a huge jerk, and it was amazing.
Amazing enough to have him become World Champion again, and amazing enough to have an arena of angry fans throw glow-sticks at him. Jericho did an AMA on Reddit three years ago and a fan asked him 'What are the secrets to being a good heel?' His response – 'Avoid doing anything cool or likable. No catch phrases or merch either.' That lets you know the depth Jericho was willing to go as a heel, to even forego the holy grail of cash flow known as merchandise.
Fast forward to this current iteration of Jericho. He saw that he was middling again as a face, so he decided to become a heel. But this time, it was a much different heel than before. It was a nontraditional, 2016 type heel. One where it’s not about cheering or booing, but more about just getting an overall reaction.
He nixed the idea of “not doing anything cool or likable”, and became the most likable heel you could be. This 2016 Jericho figured out how to pretty much get everything over: A $750 scarf, the words “stupid idiot," The Gift of Jericho, The List of Jericho, the word “it," the word “quiet” and best friends.
Everything Jericho does is meticulous; from wearing a scarf with trunks, to annoyingly putting the words “GOAT” on his trunks. He figures out a different way every week to get the most seemingly irrelevant things over, and it is comedy gold.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Chris Jericho evolve during his 20-year career, it’s that he gets “it." Drink it in man.