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Q&A with Chris Jericho, his legacy in Japan and reinvention

1 year ago

Q&A with Chris Jericho, his legacy in Japan and reinvention

By: Thom Fain and Fumi Saito

The genesis for All Elite Wrestling started with Alpha vs. Omega, one of six matches in New Japan Pro-Wrestling bringing Jericho and The Elite together to change wrestling forever. The 8x world champion recounts leaving WWE to re-ignite his passion for wrestling in Japan, and the thought process behind his artistry during perhaps the best run of his legendary career.

Monthly Puroresu: Kicking things off, just thinking back to your early run in Japan and the ‘95 Super J Cup, your run in ‘97 over in Japan – when you started talking with New Japan in 2017, did you notice that the Japanese wrestling business had changed a little bit – and how New Japan was operating, was that any different from what you experienced before?

Chris Jericho: Well, I mean, I had obviously done New Japan, and WAR in the ‘90s. So for the ‘00s it was the WWE tours of Japan, which were great. We had great shows in the [Ryogoku] Sumo Arena. I mean, The Rock and I sold out Yokohama Arena, but it was different obviously because that’s an American pro-wrestling company coming over to Japan.

Monthly Puroresu: You brought the two championship belts, WWF title and WCW title on the 2002 WWE Japan tour.

Chris Jericho: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But then you do the tours, and then it’s sort of done. But to go back to New Japan [in 2017], it was very exciting to me because I had only been working in WWE. And then, Don Callis actually pitched the idea of Kenny Omega vs. Chris Jericho. And the reason I really liked it is because I had heard about Kenny Omega – hadn’t really seen any of his stuff – I just knew he was from Winnipeg, which is the same city where I’m from, and the same city that Don’s from.

So it just really was appealing to me. It was right after the Mayweather vs. McGregor, boxing champion vs. UFC champion, which was this kind of inter-promotional faction that nobody ever thought they would see. And I thought, well, Jericho vs. Omega is something else that you probably never thought that you would see. So that, from an attraction standpoint, I thought it was cool. And then just the kismet of the fact that all three of us are from Winnipeg. I really believe in those sorts of things. That appealed to me more than any amount of money could.

Monthly Puroresu: You had a radio show first, right?

Chris Jericho: I had Kenny on the [Talk is Jericho] podcast, I think it was the year prior, when he was at the Tokyo Dome against Kazuchika Okada at Wrestle Kingdom 11. So, I was really intrigued by it. And so we fly out to New Japan. They were intrigued by it. And so we decided to do it.

When we did it, right out of the gate, I think it sold maybe 10,000 more tickets at the Dome. And then of course New Japan World, the streaming service, I think it increased – and this is not exaggeration, Dave [Meltzer] will back this up – I think it went up like 300% or something like that. Some ridiculous huge number. From 30,000 to 100,000 or something along those lines.

Monthly Puroresu: Was it the vignettes, was it the hype and the promotional videos that sold those subscriptions?

Chris Jericho: No, this is Wrestle Kingdom – all that stuff is great. And one of the things about the wrestling business, when you book a match that people want to see, that’s all you need! The rest is just window dressing – and the attack when I attacked Kenny in Fukuoka – that’s just window dressing. When you have a match people are sure they want to see, then the storyline and the interviews and the vignettes and the face-to-face promos, that builds the ticket.

Monthly Puroresu: I just remember looking at the faces of the kids in the crowd when you attacked Kenny Omega – it really was sort of a business-changing and shocking moment, like when Shawn kicked Marty through the barbershop window. It was just like, “Oh my god!”

Chris Jericho: And that was cool. But just the fact, if you’re a pro wrestling fan, that Chris Jericho, I was coming off a very hot run in WWE. And Kenny Omega, who’s the top guy in New Japan, are having a match? And that’s like, “Wow.” Then, like I said, the vignette was great. The attack was great. That’s the window dressing. I think the draw was just in the match itself.

Monthly Puroresu: Basically, Kenny Omega had never worked a major league in the States.

Chris Jericho: Right. Never.

Monthly Puroresu: But, he became a star in Japan. That’s why it was very special.

Chris Jericho: Yeah, exactly.

Monthly Puroresu: The thinking was… these stars would never meet!

Chris Jericho: Yeah, yeah, exactly. You never thought you would see that. So, not only was it, you know, kind of a cool match in concept from the guys involved, in the fact it was a larger interpromotional match. Because when I told Vince McMahon that I was gonna be doing it, ‘cause I was kind of nervous.

I was nervous because I hadn’t worked anywhere other than WWE for 20 years. And Vince said, “It’s fine, it’s great. You’re a WWE guy anyways. People know it, have fun with it.” And he was all behind it. The only thing he didn’t like was the “Alpha vs. Omega” tagline, which we later found out is because he just formed a company called Alpha for his new XFL. So he was like, “No, stay away from the Alpha!” And I was like, “Alpha and Omega, it writes itself!”

Monthly Puroresu: It’s a concept – It’s a concept album.

Chris Jericho: Exactly.

Monthly Puroresu: It’s almost like sketching, like you’re putting together songs for a new album at that point. What was that like, vibing with Kenny? We are big music fans, as you know. But the hype and the marketing stuff that goes into the match, it can sometimes be almost as fun. Although it’s not as important as – like you said – these people want to see these two amazing wrestlers fight… This basic idea is to make the impossible, possible.

Chris Jericho: Yeah. I think so once again, we did a full podcast on it. So it’s not like I’m pulling back the curtain. You can go and listen to the whole process, but I just – what I like to do when I’m working with someone that I’ve never worked with before, is watch a couple of their matches.

And there are these really great series of clips on YouTube called “The Top Moves of…” like “The Top Moves of Kenny Omega”, I just watched last week “The Top Moves of Dalton Castle”, “The Top Moves of Bandido”. So I watch that and then I just see a couple cool moves. “Okay, I can probably do this and that and kind of construct some things.” And obviously I didn’t know anything about Kenny at the time. So when I showed up at the New Japan dojo, I had notes like, “Here’s my ideas, if they like them, use them. If they don’t, then let’s come up with other stuff.”

I don’t like coming in with nothing. Now once you work with somebody it’s fine. But I wanted to have something and I came in there with a bunch of pretty cool ideas that they liked. I think probably 10 of them. And I had the match pretty much made in my head. I did the same thing with Naito too. When I met with New Japan office, in 30 minutes or 40 minutes, I was done.

Monthly Puroresu: Your second match with New Japan.

Chris Jericho: Yeah. When I came out of the production meeting in an hour and everyone was like, “What happened? I said, “No, what do you mean?” It usually takes four or five hours to finish the production meeting.. Well, not with me. I also think they liked the ideas that I had, so I was in and out.

Monthly Puroresu: You had good ideas for the match against Naito, too.

Chris Jericho: Yeah. But nobody could believe it, it was like that quick. So, it was the same with Kenny to where I think he was surprised that I actually had ideas because they said, actually in my book The Complete List of Jericho, that he kind of expected, you know, a guy with a big name of Jericho to come in like an asshole and want a free ride and not want to do anything.

Some guys might do that. I was the opposite. I wanted to do everything and really prove that this match was worthy of the buzz that it had. Because you could go old school wrestling promoter and go, “F–k, we got their money, don’t worry about it.” Or you could go with my attitude, which is like, “Okay, now we have to live up to this, 60,000 buys for New Japan World and the extra 10,000 tickets we sold for the Tokyo Dome.” Like this has to be worth it – right?

Monthly Puroresu: It had to be good. Maybe it was the first time in a long time that you got actually excited about wrestling, right?

Chris Jericho: Yeah, I mean I was. I’ve always been excited with everything I do, but the end of WWE… It’s just that WWE is very hard mentally when you’re there [full time]. And I’m not saying it’s like that now. But for me, because I want everything to be so good that – if something doesn’t seem right, I’ve got to go talk to Vince McMahon. And then Vince is a very busy guy. So you’re waiting for an hour, or an hour and a half to talk to him. And then when you get in there it’s, he’s very intimidating. I had a great relationship… but there’s a lot of mental bouncing back and forth.

Monthly Puroresu: Like Warner Brothers music, it’s a big record label. Like they want to have control.

Chris Jericho: In WWE the artists [can’t jam] and hear their single and be like, “F–k, this is the single!” You’ve got to go back and forth, to get the approval even when in the end – you know you’re right. So with Japan, I was excited because I was a little bit like, “What’s it going to be like,” you know? But I’m excited because I also knew for the first time in 20 years I got a chance to just do whatever I’m thinking creatively.

And I remember when I got there, when I had the idea for the match, I was like “Who do I have to get this approved by?” and they were like “Approved? What are you talking about?” Like…. “Approved?” And I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m not in Kansas anymore. I don’t have to worry about getting matches approved anymore!” You know?

Monthly Puroresu: Even like dropping the F-bombs and taking the camera and putting the middle finger up and so forth?

Chris Jericho: Just all that stuff – it’s like the Wild West, you can do whatever you want. And that’s why I couldn’t believe it. Like, “Wow, I can do anything [creatively].” And that’s, I think, another reason the match is so special. Because it’s the first time – and, this is not burying WWE, or talking bad about WWE in any way shape or form – It’s just the way it is.

So to not have any creative shackles was a whole brave new world, which was really exciting.

Monthly Puroresu: Like writing a brand new song, huh?

Chris Jericho: Yeah. With no worries about whether the record company’s gonna like it or the presidents gonna like it or you know.

Monthly Puroresu: You’ve already got the deal.

Chris Jericho: Yeah, we got the deal and I know it’s good. I know it’s gonna be a hit, So let’s just let the artists be artists.

Monthly Puroresu: Going back to the Tetsuya Naito feud, which was electric. Did your contract with WWE end at that point, or had you negotiated like a little short-term deal?

Chris Jericho: No, it was over. I just informed Vince because that’s the right thing to do. You know, my contract is up, we were basically touring with Fozzy. I said, I got this gig in Japan.

And he was more or less, “Yeah, go for it. Do it. It’s gonna be great. It’s great for you. It’s great for the WWE,” is what he said. Then when I did the angle with Naito the next day after the conversation with him, that’s when he was like, “What’s going on here?” You know, “Are you going to go start working in New Japan now?” And I had to have another conversation
with him.

Monthly Puroresu: Vince McMahon was always kinda suspicious about everything, right?

Chris Jericho: Well, yeah, and I did the angle with Naito because I wanted to keep the door open and I had lost to Kenny at the Dome.

Monthly Puroresu: Right.

Chris Jericho: So then I attack Naito in Fukuoka and you kind of like–

Monthly Puroresu: You were wearing a mask.

Chris Jericho: And you get your heat back. So it’s like, right whether I come back or not, at least I look good on an attack rather than being beat, which is just a little bit of an old school thing. Plus I really enjoyed it and I thought, well maybe I do want to do more. And that’s when we made a deal for more of a run. And, that’s what kind of caused some issues with Vince.

Because, as one last little story, if you guys remember the very first Saudi Arabia show – where they had the biggest Royal Rumble. The original match for me was “Jericho vs. Undertaker” in a Casket Match. When the Naito match was announced – the fact was, that I had extended my relationship with New Japan – Vince changed the match to Rusev vs Undertaker. He was kind of indirectly telling me “You can’t have your cake and eat it too! I’m not going to use you in the spotlight if you’re going to be working on AXS TV as well,” or whatever the network was for New Japan.

Monthly Puroresu: Going back to re-igniting your passion. You come out of the Festival of Friendship, which as you said is well documented on the Talk is Jericho podcast. But you thought you and Kevin Owens had one of the hottest, if not the hottest angles in WWE, but it was still sort of buried on the card. Now, you go to Japan in the Main Event.

What’s the feedback like when you hear the crowd – and you hear how crazy they are – when you come in and attack Naito… Was that kind of the moment you really started feeling something new for yourself, and your character, and these creative ideas start firing in your mind?

Chris Jericho: Well, I think going back to extending my New Japan deal, yeah. I mean the idea was I heard from Don Callis that you’ve got to work with Hiroshi Tanahashi because I wasn’t familiar with everybody, but New Japan wanted me to work with Naito first.

I was like, “Okay, sounds good to me.” So we did the angle at Korakuen, which led to, I think I worked with Naito in June.

Monthly Puroresu: Osaka, Dominion. Yeah.

Chris Jericho: Osaka, right? Yeah. So, the match was announced, I think probably in April. That’s about when the Royal Rumble/Saudi Arabia thing happened. Vince knew I was going to be working in June and he was like, “Do this casket match!” So then I did the thing with Naito in June and won the IWGP Intercontinental Title. And I actually pitched an idea to Vince of doing (IWGP) Intercontinental against (WWE) Intercontinental. Jericho vs. Seth Rollins – Intercontinental vs. Intercontinental.

I said, “Have whoever Seth is feuding with interfere or cause a double DQ, or whatever.” And this was kinda like, okay, this is starting to become way too much! You know what I mean?

Like, I gotta deal with Harold Meij [then New Japan president] now… and Vince told me, I think at this point, that he was kind of unhappy with my New Japan association. And, I didn’t care because I was really enjoying it. I was having fun, but I was thinking like we could really do something cool here that has never been done before. Vince Sr. had worked with New Japan for years.

Monthly Puroresu: Sure.

Chris Jericho: Vince Jr. too, but it was a different time. Even though it was only four decades ago, it was still very regimented. WWE is on its own and then there’s the rest of the world. If I brought that concept to them now? They might do it, but at the time [in 2018] there was no way.

Monthly Puroresu: Plus, Vince McMahon must have felt that you had too much freedom already.

Chris Jericho: Yeah, yeah. And he’s kind of like, “Okay, what’s going on here? Am I losing my guy to New Japan?” In a lot of ways, he wasn’t losing me because I wasn’t signed there. But, I was just really enjoying Japan. I worked six matches on that run: Kenny, Naito 1, EVIL, Naito 2, then it was Okada and then it was Tanahashi.

Monthly Puroresu: When you think of the book end, when you think of Tanahashi and Kenny Omega; those two matches, are there any highlight moments, have you even gone back and re-watched those or just even thinking back to being in the arena – do you have any special memories?

Chris Jericho: I’d have to say the Kenny match was amazing. I loved it. I think the Tana match was my favorite of the six that I did there. Because just, anything about Tanahashi… he’s so, so f–king good. Like, he’s so good. He is one of one. And Kenny is too! Don’t get me wrong. Two different ways, two different types of guys. And, f–king Tanahashi was so good, man. Like it was, it was so easy. But what a match we had – even though nothing crazy went down, just a special match.

Monthly Puroresu:  Tanahashi represents New Japan and he’s the biggest superstar in the one era, you know?

Chris Jericho: Yeah. And just a great wrestler at getting the most out of little things. And once again, just not knowing much about him and just going in and having this incredible match. Like if you could have a great match with someone the first time you wrestle them, it doesn’t happen often.

Chris Jericho: Sometimes it takes a few matches to get in the groove. But the first time ever you have a match with somebody and it’s that good of a match, you’re like: “Oh my gosh. Like where’s this guy been all my life?” You know what I mean? You almost don’t even want to have another one against them because it was so good.

Monthly Puroresu: Tanahashi was that good.

Chris Jericho: It’s like you don’t want to have another one and you want to have another hundred against them, you know. It’s one of those types of things.

Monthly Puroresu: Well in WWE, you are so programmed! Almost married to one opponent for a certain amount of time.

Chris Jericho: Sure. You’d wrestle with them on house shows. You’d wrestle somebody 40, 50, 60 times. But when you go to Tokyo Dome, it’s one of one. Then right after, I had ideas like, “Well I want Minoru Suzuki, I want to do something with Will Ospreay. I want to do something with Kota Ibushi.”

But if you remember January 4th, 2020 was Jericho vs Tanahashi, what happened two months later? A f***in’ pandemic. So that kinda killed–

Monthly Puroresu: That pretty much stopped the whole world.

Chris Jericho: It did. And it stopped the momentum that I had in New Japan. Like if I go back there, I would have to start from scratch. But it’s a different thing now. It’s not the same as it was when it was like, because then AEW just started and now you know, once again I could still go back tomorrow and have some of these matches. But it’s a different vibe now than it was when it was kind of this independent Jericho.

Monthly Puroresu: Time to reinvent Chris Jericho in Japan again.

Chris Jericho: In Japan, yeah, I would have to do something different. Right.

Monthly Puroresu: You’re always welcome back.

Chris Jericho: Oh yeah, I’m not saying that [I wouldn’t go back to Japan]. I’m just saying that there was a certain vibe that was going on. Because it was like, every couple months Jericho would show up and it was a big deal and it still would be, but you’d have to kind of, like you said, reinvent it and recalibrate it.

Monthly Puroresu: You did reinvent yourself during that Naito feud. You added just a little bit of face paint.

Chris Jericho: Yeah.

Monthly Puroresu: And, I wanted to talk about your Painmaker character. When did that start coming about? Was that always kind of buried in you in like a Great Muta-esque way or you know, that vicious persona?

Chris Jericho: Once again, I don’t ever have plans. Like one day, it just hits me that I’m going to do this thing. But what happened was, when I did the Kenny Omega match, I was going through a big Bruiser Brody phase at the time. Because if you remember it was the 30th anniversary of his death.

I just really got into the concept of this f–king guy who was so crazy. And especially in Japan. Like I said, I’ve been in Japan 60 times or more. My dear friend Masa Horie would have the whole list. And I was like, Japanese fans are the only fans in the world that are still kind of scared of pro-wrestlers. In a good way.

I remember like going back, Dr. Luther, he would just look at the crowd and they’d run away. Tarzan Goto would walk through the crowd and punch fans. They would just accept it, it’s just the way it is. So when I went back there, I really wanted to kind of become this Bruiser Brody character. And we started it with Kenny where I remember like it was actually [Shota] Umino. I put him in the Walls of Jericho on the floor right in front of his father, the famous referee Red Shoes.

Or like throwing Young Lions around and just pushing people. And the only thing that didn’t fit was my look. Because it was the WWE version: Light-up jacket, short goatee. And I thought: This look doesn’t fit what I want to do with this character. So I thought, it’s almost like a killer. What would a serial killer look like if he was in a wrestling ring – and someone had drawn a picture of the Joker with this hat on. And I remember showing it to the New Japan office, I really want to kind of do something in this vibe. And I said “Well, I don’t have a hat.” Somebody said, “I have a hat just like that!”

We were at the New Japan dojo. So they brought the hat and then I was like, I have to have a jacket that had spikes all over it. And I just thought, well what if I like put some face paint on and I don’t know what–

Monthly Puroresu: Was that like “A Clockwork Orange” too?

Chris Jericho: It was a combination of “A Clockwork Orange” and Alice Cooper. I did want it to be “A Clockwork Orange” and I did want it to be like Alice. When I put the first makeup test on, it kind of looked like Vampiro. So I put some over off to the side of my eyes, and then I put on some lipstick that goes down off the side of my face. It’s almost like you’re trying to crazily put it on or whatever. Right.

Monthly Puroresu: And then every time you smiled, it was extra crazy.

Chris Jericho: I was like, okay. It looks kind of what I’m feeling inside. But there’s always the moment, like when you reveal it for the first time, what are people gonna think?

I remember walking out of the dressing room – I had my own dressing room, and I walked out of the dressing room and the guys were all there. Cody Rhodes was there, Mox was there, and Naito was there. And no one even said anything because it’s f–kin’ Japan.

Guys do s***t like this all the time. So it was just like, “Oh, okay.” That’s when I kind of created this character. And then when I was doing the Okada feud. Well – he’s “The Rainmaker”, then I’ll be “The Painmaker”, and that’s where The Painmaker name came from. So, the image came after the Kenny match. Because I wanted to be more of a Bruiser Brody psycho killer type thing. And the name came a year later, when I did the Okada feud and that’s where it started.

Monthly Puroresu: Like almost an album title, right?

Chris Jericho: Well, yeah, but… even better, I’m doing a whole graphic novel now with The Painmaker. A whole kind of concept of what The Painmaker is. It’s not Chris Jericho. It’s a character. Like he’s an intergalactic serial killer that has reformed himself and is now on the hunt for other serial killers across the galaxy. It’s become a whole new side character, that whenever I have some sort of a deathmatch or street fight something violent in AEW – I’ll bring The Painmaker out.

Monthly Puroresu: That character will come out during special feuds, special matches.

Chris Jericho: Yeah. So I used it with Darby Allin in a street fight, Nick Gage in a deathmatch, and with Eddie Kingston in a Barbed Wire Everywhere match. So, I can use that now outside of Japan when the time is right.

Monthly Puroresu: Right, right. “Magical Mystery Tour”.

Chris Jericho: Yeah, exactly.

Monthly Puroresu: Just to touch on AEW and New Japan. We still remember that post-match press conference you had after the Tanahashi match. You said something like, “Let’s cut all the bullsh**, let’s set the egos aside. We could do some good f***king business…”

What were the politics after The Elite had left? I’ve heard so many rumors. I’ve talked to people inside the business who said, “Oh, well Kenny didn’t leave the right way. And NJPW had put so much investment in him.”

I mean, when you have what you guys had at “All In” and that amount of success – and then you have somebody like Tony Khan that wants to form AEW… It’s like, it becomes almost a no brainer, right? And it just all kind of came together organically.

All your different personalities. Cody, you, The Elite, The Young Bucks revitalizing this tag-team wrestling boom period right now. And they’re a big part of that. All the pieces just fit together so well. Did they not see that in New Japan?

Chris Jericho: The problem was Harold Meij, that was the problem. He just didn’t get it. I don’t think he even really understood what he was doing there. I even put a sign up on my room at, I think, the last Tokyo Dome show which said “No Harold Meij allowed.” Like, I just didn’t want to talk to the guy.

Monthly Puroresu: Well, now that he’s really gone.

Chris Jericho: He just didn’t understand. I don’t think he really understood what he was dealing with and what the big picture was. And how big, like for example, having Chris Jericho on the show could be. He was worried about the money I was making… Meanwhile, the money that I made was far eclipsed by the subscriptions that we sold and the tickets sold.

He didn’t know the wrestling business. He just didn’t get it. He didn’t know the wrestling business. It was a strange call [not to work with us], and it just didn’t work. But more importantly–

Monthly Puroresu: Harold Meij is a marketing guy.

Chris Jericho: Yeah. But I spoke to him about it like, “If you’re a marketing guy, you’d understand how huge it could be to have AEW you know, in the Tokyo Dome.”

Monthly Puroresu: He didn’t get it.

Chris Jericho: And how huge it’d be for New Japan to invade The Forum. Maybe he just didn’t get it, didn’t want to have anything to do with it. Almost looking down on AEW. “What are you guys gonna do?” And now, here in 2022, you can see what we have going on with New Japan.

Monthly Puroresu: Knocked it out of the park there. Three years later.

Chris Jericho: Yeah! And we haven’t even done it in Japan yet, which we could easily, but that’s, you know, probably to be happening soon.

Monthly Puroresu: And there was a pandemic, so yeah.

Chris Jericho: Well the pandemic didn’t help, but prior to the pandemic there was no movement on it anyway because Harold Meij didn’t get it.

Chris Jericho: Thankfully, maybe that was for the best. Because had he gotten it and right after we did do something, we couldn’t have executed on it anyway, because of the pandemic. And nobody was going to go over to Japan and sit in a hotel room for two weeks.

Monthly Puroresu: All these pieces of a puzzle will come together somehow. In the right timing.

Chris Jericho: The story is there. And once again, if you look at 2018, 2019 and 2020, Kenny Omega and Chris Jericho headlined the Tokyo Dome between the two of us. Actually, I think 2017 as well. Between four years, the two of us headlined the Tokyo Dome – one of four years in a row.

Chris Jericho: Like the Tokyo Dome. The three years I did, it was two main events and I was one, and Kenny was the other in 2018 and 2019, and in 2020 Kenny had gone – but I was still one of the main events. So in 2017, Kenny was the main event. So you look at Kenny and Jericho, I mean it’s right there. Whatever combination you wanna put us in – we’ll draw. I mean you could put Kenny and Jericho as the “Golden Jets”, which is Bobby Hall’s nickname in Winnipeg in the seventies, the Golden Jets.

This is like Tanahashi and Ibushi or Okada and Ibushi or whatever it may be. I think that’s the Tokyo Dome main event right there. You know, I mean it’s easy. So all of those bullets are in the chamber, so to speak. And I’m sure we’ll get to it when the time is right.

Monthly Puroresu: And, AEW has gotten bigger in the meantime. So New Japan and Japanese fans are looking at AEW differently now.

Chris Jericho: Yes, exactly. Now you know, it’s a viable company. Drawing some big numbers, so everyone knows kind of what they’re dealing with now.

Monthly Puroresu: Did you know how it would all end up at “All In”? I mean, I felt like as a fan or as an observer, it was just obvious how big what all you guys coming together had done for the wrestling business. Did you sense that? Did you feel it?

Chris Jericho: You know, it’s something special. The fact that it sold out so quickly and it was a great show… But, you never know. I don’t think anybody really knew it either. Even when Tony Khan started talking about putting together a company, I was like, “Okay, whatever.” I mean, how many times have we heard this? And then when the company actually happened, that’s why I decided to go to AEW and was like, “I’m gonna take a chance. We could change the wrestling business here. Things could go well.” And they went well!

I think they probably went even better than any of us expected as quickly as it did. So, it was really the right decision to make. Plus, after having all that freedom in New Japan, I had no interest in going back to the WWE system. I didn’t want to have to worry about that anymore. I think AEW had a very New Japan style of thinking when it started and still does, you know?

Monthly Puroresu: This New Japan x AEW thing can still happen.

Chris Jericho: Of course it can. Yeah.

Monthly Puroresu: You said you’ve got those bullets in the chamber and just to kind of close the loop – are there any of those bullets in the chamber you want to fire first, or could you give our readers insight into your relationship with Japan?

Chris Jericho: My relationship with Japan? Well, I started going to Japan in 1991. So the biggest thing that has changed, when you asked this earlier, was that it was a whole new generation of fans. A lot of people didn’t know who Chris Jericho was in 2018. Versus those who used to go to see me at Korakuen Hall, or Ryogoku in 1995.

But that legacy is there. I was in Japan as a 21-year-old man. Think about that! Like, it’s so crazy. I’ve always loved Japan. I’ve considered it to be my second home. It’s one of my favorite countries in the world to wrestle in. And I’ve seen so many different eras. You know, 1991 to 2020 – that’s ‘90s, ‘00s, ‘10s, ‘20s. So I mean that’s three decades, four decades, right?

Monthly Puroresu: You learned how to read katakana too?

Chris Jericho: I did, yeah, I did. I would have to brush up on it, but I still pretty much know. And that’s just for 1995, I did 12 tours in Japan two weeks a month. So that’s half the year. If you can’t speak Japanese. And you know, it’s hard because like, Sapporo Japanese is different from Fukuoka Japanese. There are different dialects.

So if I learned Japanese in Tokyo and then you go to Sapporo and try to speak it and no one knows what the hell you’re saying. It’s very frustrating. So I could read it. And so I went to the library – what a concept, library – and photocopied the characters for katakana and carried them in my pocket. And every time I was in the bus, I’d read the trucks on the side of the road. I’d read Tokyo Sports and I’d read Burn Magazine, which was a music magazine.

And that’s how I could kind of go, okay, here’s what makes a “c” sound, and an “ou” and that’s how I learned how to read things.

Monthly Puroresu: Then you learned how to get on the trains and subways and all.

Chris Jericho: Everything. And I could order from a menu, if it was a really small Japanese, prefectural town or something. So at least I could communicate. I wasn’t completely illiterate. Japanese fans always appreciated that about me as well.

Monthly Puroresu: Also you were on every single WWE tour during ‘00s and ‘10s, too. Even when you were not on the WWE roster, you still came into Japan for the tour once a year.

Chris Jericho: I did. And then I still worked. I had a great match with Shinsuke Nakamura in Japan! I had a great match with many people in Japan; I had a great one with PAC.

Every time I went, Shawn Michaels, The Rock, every time I came over to Japan I always had a spotlight match because the people that came knew my history in Japan.

Some of the greatest matches I ever had were against Ultimo Dragon in Japan. The match that got me signed to ECW and WCW was against Dragon at WAR’s third anniversary show in Ryogoku.

So there’s a lot of history there. And I’ve worked with Onita, Tenryu, Bam Bam Bigelow, I mean Jushin Liger, I mean you name it. Freaking, the giant sumo… Kitao! I’ve worked everybody there, man!

So you know, I have a lot of history with a lot of diversity in Japan – and not a lot of foreigners can say that. You know, I’ve worked everyone from Onita to Okada and everyone in between in Japan. Quite a legacy.