Without warning, the arena lights go out – NJPW Power Struggle’s 5,480 strong crowd are plunged into darkness.
“I’m becom-, I’m becom-, I’m becoming…”
The familiar – if nonsensical – opening lines of Fozzy’s Judas, the summer hit for Chris Jericho’s band. But what’s it doing playing here? It’s a little on the nose for New Japan to use music from one of its rival promotion’s most enduring stars. They must have spent a fortune on the license.
Oh my god; a countdown.
Good grief. There he is. Bathing in warm rays of glorious colour-corrected light, the iconic Chris Jericho addresses the Power Struggle audience and, obviously, the world.
How? Just… how?
According to Dave Meltzer on Wrestling Observer Radio, it was Jericho himself that came up with this whole thing. He’d been inspired by the immense buzz generated by Mayweather vs. McGregor over the summer and wanted to create a similar kind of buzz for a match of his own. He approached his contact at NJPW, Dan Collins, English language commentator, who then pitched it to Kenny Omega. Together, they took the idea to New Japan brass, and the rest is history.
If you’ve ever read any of Jericho’s autobiographies, one thing that shines through is his privileged position in the WWE. That’s not to say he didn’t earn it, of course, but when you see Attitude Era (or thereabouts) stars suggest that younger Superstars aren’t getting over because they simply aren’t grabbing the brass ring like they did (whatever the hell that means), that strikes me as somewhat insular.
Jericho has VKM’s number on speed dial, and for the most part, they share a uniquely frank working relationship. Even as Mr McMahon’s role as the creative leader on WWE programming is scaling back, Jericho must realise that he has an ability to go over middle-men’s heads in a way that other Superstars simply can’t. It explains the incredibly flexible contracts he’s able to sign, and the myriad extra-WWE projects he’s allowed to pursue without the same sort of backlash that any other WWE performer would receive.
But that is why this match is significant. When I say Jericho has a privileged position within WWE, that’s not to throw shade at the guy. Sure, he was lucky that he arrived at the right sort of time to build up a relationship with Mr McMahon, but it’s Jericho’s own gall that allowed him to become the maverick he is.
When he wanted to do Dancing with the Stars, believing it would be good for both himself and the WWE, Jericho was met with resistance. He did it anyway. When he wanted time away to tour with his band, but not leave the WWE permanently, he was told that he was burning his bridges forever. Now he comes and goes as he pleases.
Jericho has always pushed the boundaries of what is acceptable of a top WWE star, and set the precedent for others to follow.
His match against Kenny Omega at Wrestle Kingdom 12 therefore is huge. Not just because it will be a great match (and oh how it will be), but because this is the first proper ‘fantasy booking’ to take place in a world where complicated legal restrictions normally make such things impossible. It is only because Jericho is who he is that he can saunter off to NJPW for a one-off epic, and still quite happily return to WWE when he feels like it – and be met with open arms.
If the leading promotions of the world can get on board with the idea that when a wrestler isn’t contracted to you, they are genuine free agents, able to work without prejudice, then this could well be the start of a whole new era for pro wrestling.