By Colin McGuire, ProWrestling.net Staffer (@McGMondays)
I know it’s sacrilegious. I know I’m not supposed to say this out loud. I know some might read this sentence and immediately navigate their way to other portions of the World Wide Internet.
But I’ve never really bought into Chris Jericho.
I understand his place in wrestling history. I also recognize all that he’s accomplished, and truth be told, I fully accept why he’s so lauded for his career’s work. He can be really funny. He’s held a bunch of titles. AEW wouldn’t be where it is today if that company didn’t land him. But for me?
Eh. I don’t know.
Still, when the quick teaser about him appearing on “Stone Cold” Steve Austin’s Broken Skull Sessions made the rounds …
… It was really the only thing I was looking forward to when it came to this year’s WrestleMania weekend.
And it wasn’t for the shock value of seeing WWE’s biggest rival’s biggest star appear on a WWE show. Nor was it because I thought any type of news would be broken with the interview (Austin has become a very solid interviewer, but let’s not kid ourselves thinking these talk shows are supposed to be anything other than fluffy bro conversations between bros).
I just wanted to see Chris Irvine be Chris Irvine. No gimmicks, no insulting promos, no real obvious agenda. Just a guy that so many people have so much affection for talking about his career in the professional wrestling business. I know he has a podcast and books and a band, so it’s not like he doesn’t have the opportunity to do that a lot, but rarely has he been interviewed for such an extended period of time on such a large stage. No, the random YouTube sit-downs don’t count.
Plus, him and Austin are friends. So I came for the rapport and stayed for the Grey Goose.
Now, did I, in fact, get all of that?
THINGS I LEARNED
Yes. Though to be fair, Jericho sure does like to talk and of all the Broken Skull Sessions, this one felt the most like Austin struggled to get a word in at times. Dude just threw out a sentence or two and for the next 12 minutes, Jericho would take the wheel.
Which was fine. Because if nothing else, it opened the door for me (and presumably other viewers) to learn a thing or two. What were those things?
Well, I didn’t know that Jericho went to college, and for some reason, that continues to stick with me a day after watching the thing. I also learned that he kept what amounts to a diary of all his matches, which has since turned into a book that he was happy to sell on Austin’s show. Then there was the story about how Paul Heyman once called him in the morning to see if he could make a spot in Philly for ECW that night. The issue, of course, was getting from Calgary to Philadelphia in time, which was impossible, and the inability to do so ostensibly locked him out of ECW for a year.
I also found it mildly fascinating that he hedged his bets by saying AEW is not competition to WWE … but then later on said something to the effect of “AEW vs. WWE is real.” I also got a pretty strong vibe that Vince McMahon wasn’t all that happy when Jericho went on excursion to New Japan, and initially told Vince that it’d only be for one match … only to stay for more than one match (oh, so that’s why we got Undertaker vs. Rusev at one of those Saudi shows?!).
So, yeah. There were fun things to be had, if you paid attention, cared and weren’t burned out on all the wrestling content that exploded into the universe over the weekend. And yet through all of it, I can’t shake one simple question.
LOOKING FOR MEANING
Why did Austin and Jericho do this? A career retrospective for a guy who’s been on top at another company for the last two years. The cynic in me says that Jericho simply wanted to sell some books, create a little bit of buzz around AEW during WrestleMania season (releasing this on the day of the actual event is odd on so many levels), and in some ways, go into business for himself.
Jericho and Austin, on the other hand, went to great pains as the episode wrapped up to stress that it wasn’t about companies, and instead, it was about their love for professional wrestling. Austin says Jericho has one of the best careers that the business has ever seen (which is a platitude he uses quite often with a good portion of his guests, funnily enough), and so to him, it made sense to have him on the show.
What’s the truth, though? As is the case with everything else, it’s probably a combination of all those things. I have no doubt that Austin has the utmost respect for Jericho, and likewise, I have no doubt that Jericho would take whatever opportunity he could get to step into a spotlight and sell things. Nobody’s at fault for any of it. It’s just sort of what it is.
But it still doesn’t necessarily answer the larger “why” question. It doesn’t sound like Jericho is retiring any time soon. He’s also not poised to go into WWE’s Fall of Fame next week, and everything he said throughout the episode indicates that he’s having a fun time being the locker room leader in AEW, mentoring younger wrestlers and conversing with Orange Cassidy about if he sold too long during their feud last summer.
I only ask this for one reason and that reason is this: You mean to tell me there aren’t current WWE superstars who could benefit more than Chris Jericho could and did from appearing on a show like that? There’s nobody in house, especially on WrestleMania weekend, that would have made sense?
The WWE PR machine has been booking Bianca Belair on everything from the six o’clock news to SportsCenter to HGTV’s Property Brothers for the last month, all but giving away the finish to her match with Sasha Banks that closed out night one — and Austin couldn’t have her on his show? On a weekend like this, a weekend that’s so historic and means so much to so many people?
How about Bobby Lashley, the second-most dominant force in the company right now? Speaking of the most dominant force, wouldn’t it be fun to learn something about Roman Reigns that we didn’t previously know? Hell, what about Finn Balor, Karion Kross or Adam Cole? Charlotte wasn’t doing anything this weekend, so maybe it could have done her well to appear on a show like this.
It all makes very little sense to me. Because you know what?
No matter how many IPAs Austin drinks and no matter how many times people act like the Berlin Wall is coming down when they “see a picture of the AEW title on WWE programming,” very few people are going to change their minds about perceiving the AEW/WWE thing as a war. Which, to be fair, is good for business, even if Jericho and Austin spent the last 10 minutes of the show aching for a hug from one another, reminding everyone that companies don’t matter, waxing poetic about their craft.
It all led me back to something I read a week or two ago. It came from CM Punk, who essentially said that Vince McMahon allowing this to happen only means that he doesn’t view AEW as competition. Punk was right. Watching this episode confirmed that. Don’t get me wrong. Tony Khan seems to have all the money in the world and by all accounts, he’s doing a pretty great job running AEW, landing a television deal and creating a work environment that so many say is the best they’ve been in when it comes to the wrestling business.
But WWE isn’t even a wrestling promotion anymore. It’s a conglomerate. It’s the type of business that sells things for $1 billion at a time, sends people to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange, and has its employees land guest spots on “Punky Brewster” while a very recent previous world champion works on his reality television series. If Vince McMahon never steps foot in an arena, stadium or ThunderDome for the rest of his life, he will eventually die (probably at age 291) knowing he crushed his competition long ago and he will rest easy.
So, when Triple H made his comment at the Hall of Fame ceremony a couple years ago, implying that Vince will probably one day buy AEW anyway and crush it, he wasn’t lying. Or, well, that’s if Vince ever wants it, which, you have to think, is fairly doubtful, right? That’s no knock on AEW, of course. It’s just that this guy is almost 80 years old and his empire has grown to enormous proportions. Plus, he knows that the competition is good for everybody involved, and while all the true-believers can wave the flag that AEW stomped NXT’s head into the ground for almost two years, I don’t think Vince McMahon is losing much sleep over it.
But I digress. It’s the biggest flex someone like Vince McMahon could possibly provide at this point in his life — to allow another company’s superstar appear on his programming. He has bigger fish to fry, other mountains to climb … insert whatever cliche you want here. In the end, the fans win, not just because something akin to a cross-promotional thing happened, but also because it opens the door, in theory at least, for potential surprises down the road. Sure, they could all be daydreams, but they now feel .00001 percent more possible.
As for me?
EVOLUTION IS A GOOD THING
I’ll be honest: I came away from the Broken Skull Session liking Chris Jericho just a little bit more than I previously did. Chris Jericho definitely loves himself some Chris Jericho, but I can live with that. He earned it. He might be a little too precious sometimes about his story, his legacy and his art, but he’s not the only one in the wrestling business who’s come across like that, and he’ll be far from the last.
Was the episode a success? I keep coming across social media posts praising all two hours and seven minutes of it, and that makes sense. I don’t think it would be fair to label it a disappointment because it was pretty much everything it needed to be, and realistically, everything most people would expect it to be.
If there was an unintended consequence that felt like somewhat of an Easter egg hidden within the episode, it’s that for all the media AEW wrestlers do, and for all the web series and podcasts employees of that company produce, this felt like one of the few true glimpses into some aspects of that company’s origin from a perspective that we don’t hear often. Sure, Jericho has his own podcast, and he’s not shy when it comes to making appearances elsewhere, but the way he gels with Austin feels a little more honest and a little more revealing than the way we see and hear him in other settings.
Does this mean Christian Cage will be on an upcoming Broken Skull episode? Probably not. But, if nothing else, it does mean the professional wrestling business sure isn’t what it used to be as walls keep crumbling down and doors once forbidden are now open. The future for the business might be bright, or it might not be bright, depending on who you listen to and what you believe. But at least — and perhaps more importantly — it sure does look more interesting than it has in a bit.
And that’s the only bottom line that matters.