Chris Jericho has never been afraid of exploring new paths in his career. As he documents in his first book, “A Lion’s Tale: Around the World in Spandex,” Jericho is no stranger to tapping into unfamiliar territory.
With a career spanning the globe, from Canada to Mexico, to Japan to Germany, to ECW to WCW, you would think that Y2J had seen it all well before he finally settled in the WWE. But after what is widely considered his best WWE run in the past decade as the best friend of Kevin Owens, Jericho put down his notorious list and looked across the Pacific toward New Japan Pro Wrestling. The Ayatollah of Rock and Rollah had an itch to scratch in the form of Kenny Omega.
Omega’s reputation precedes him as arguably the best worker in the business not under WWE contract. Since Kenny has gone on record as saying he has no interest in coming back to North America and signing with WWE, his fellow Winnipegian, Chris Jericho had no choice but to bring the fight to Japan. If someone tells Jericho that something is the best in the world, he has to see it for himself. And so, the challenge was made for Jericho vs. Omega at NJPW’s Wrestle Kingdom 12.
The match and the event as a whole was a great success. Opening the show with another ex-WWE superstar, Cody Rhodes, felt a bit by design; as if to send the message that these men willingly left your company to come to ours. Cody, of course, leaving because he felt he was being underutilized as a talent in WWE, which is a familiar fate for a Rhodes. And so he left on his own accord for the good graces of the highly touted independent circuit. Ever since products like New Japan, Ring of Honor, and Lucha Underground have become more available with certain American cable packages, the Indies have had a bit of a resurgence in the past few years.
New Japan, however, is anything but an Independent promotion. It is perhaps the closest thing the WWE has to competition. In regards to the current race to globalize pro wrestling, New Japan is undoubtedly nipping at the heels of WWE (and quite literally, nabbing heels from WWE). It was only a matter of time before they came in direct competition. Then again, WWE has taken a lot from Japan, and maybe this is more of an olive branch in the form of Jericho. We do live in a more peaceful wrestling world than we did during the great Monday Night Wars of old. Ever since WWE started offering amnesty toward the rest of the wrestling world, some of Japan’s top talents at the time including: A.J. Styles, Finn Balor, and Shinsuke Nakamura, have voyaged to the open and flailing arms of Vince McMahon.
So, Jericho seems to be simply doing the opposite and exploring a more modern Japanese wrestling scene than he had remembered. Visiting his old stomping grounds and paying homage to where his career began is good for the soul. But no one anticipated that Jericho’s tenure in NJPW would be extended longer than a one-off match with Omega. Yes, Chris Jericho attacked Tetsuya Naito at their New Year’s Dash event. In what appears to be the makings of a new feud with Naito, Jericho looks to be gearing up for a full fledged run in New Japan. While he has apparently been given the blessings of Triple H and the McMahons, we don’t know what kind of contract Jericho has with New Japan and how long it will be until he’s back with WWE.
Considering we also don’t know what kind of leniency Jericho has in his contract and what he may have negotiated, could we possibly see Jericho as soon as the Royal Rumble? This would be a feat not seen since Rick Rude appeared on Monday Night Raw and WCW Monday Nitro in the same night (only with less bad blood). And furthermore, we could see Kenny Omega being convinced to make his way to the WWE. After stating that he had no respect for the WWE title, and that it’s passed around like a hot potato (he’s not wrong), would make for some great storytelling. Eventually, Kenny could bring a Japanese Championship title to WWE to flaunt its superiority; a la Ric Flair as the NWA “REAL World’s Champion.”
It is comforting to see Chris Jericho enjoying the freedom to live his dream and accomplish any and every goal he sets out to do. He is able to come in and out of touring with Fozzy and apparently any wrestling company he feels like being a part of. Having earned the right to dictate the terms of his contracts, Jericho can break down the walls and walk on to any stage he pleases. On the back nine of his career, Jericho is checking off his wrestling bucket list. Wrestling in the Tokyo Dome at Wrestle Kingdom against Kenny Omega...you just made the list!
Nathan Burke is a standup comedian based in Boston and can be found on Twitter @IamNathanBurke