What follows is the full transcript of the Press Conference Senior Writer Al Castle conducted with Chris Jericho in December. The edited print version appears in the current issue of Pro Wrestling Illustrated, our annual year-end awards special, available now at newsstands and by following the link on the right.
AL CASTLE: Can you talk a bit about what your status is right now with WWE? We obviously haven’t seen you there for a few months, but there have been some indications that you might look forward to working there again.
CHRIS JERICHO: As simple as you can put it, my contract ran out and I’ve moved on. That’s basically it. People are always looking for dirt and ask, “When are you coming back?” and “What happened?” and whatever. My contract ended and I decided to continue on in my life. That’s basically in a nutshell the answer to give you. I’m not working with WWE. I loved the work I was doing. I think it was some of the best of my career. But I never intended to re-sign again after coming back for that three-year period. And that three-year period ran out and there’s other things going on. That’s basically it. There’s no hidden agenda. No hidden secret. People are waiting for the other shoe to drop, and there really isn’t another shoe to drop. I did the job I was signed up to do, and that’s it.
AC: So do you see your wrestling career in the past tense now? Do you think you’ve wrestled your last match?
CJ: Who knows? I’ve never judged my life that way, in terms of, “I’m going to do this and I’m going to do that.” I’ve always kind of gone with my heart. As of right now I don’t see myself returning to WWE any time soon. That’s not to say that I’ll never return, but I have no plans, no schedule, no time line for it. Every fan that I see is like, “Hey when are you coming back? What’s going? What are you doing?” And I’ve never really thought that far ahead. As far as I know right now, I don’t have any plans to come back any time in the near future. Sorry if that disappoints anybody! (laughing)
AC: For WWE, the timing is not ideal, because it comes at the same time that they’ve lost so much other talent. Shawn Michaels and Batista both left several months ago. The Undertaker is on the shelf. Triple-H is on the shelf. And so I could see them taking your loss worse than if it came at another time. Did that put any pressure on you when your contract was coming up?
CJ: No. It may sound selfish, but that’s really none of my concern. That’s how it works man… I don’t have any obligation to the company to stay because they don’t have anybody else. That’s their responsibility. That’s their issue. And I think it’s better for them if they lose a lot of top guys, because then they don’t rely on the same thing over and over again. They’re forced to make changes. They’re forced to use new guys. They’re forced to move forward, which is something they could have done a couple years ago, but they really didn’t. So now they have no choice. The business will be fine without Chris Jericho. It was fine when Shawn Michaels left. It was fine when Bret Hart left. Guys move on. That’s how it works. You can’t stay there forever. Not everybody’s going to be a Ric Flair type of guy or a Hogan type of guy that stays there for years and years and years. I know I’m not. I never planned to be. So if leaving put the company in a lurch, it won’t be in a lurch for long. WWE is going to be just fine without Jericho. They were just fine before I got there, and they’ll be just fine after I’ve left there. It forces them to take a chance with some guys. You know, that’s the bad thing about the business nowadays. Before there were always lots of guys in other countries, and guys climbing up the ranks, and guys that had experience who weren’t with WWE. Now the way that it works is that all your guys are in WWE, and that’s it. And a lot of those guys don’t have a lot of experience, but that’s just the way the business has moved nowadays. So they’re forced to take a chance on guys who they might not have taken a chance on before… So good for them. Like I said, when Steve Austin left, the business was strong. When the Rock was left the business was strong. Me leaving is not going to affect it either way.
AC: I’d say one thing about your departure that maybe is different than some of the other people WWE has lost. It’s something that’s not easily replaced, and made worse since Shawn Michaels left. It’s having that guy who can wrestle. They have a lot of stars and attractions and they’ve done a good job of bringing guys up. But when you think of who is going to deliver that five-star match at WrestleMania and really bring home the wrestling, I don’t see that many guys there who could. There are a lot of good wrestlers, and even very good wrestlers. But maybe not that many great wrestlers. Do you agree with that?
CJ: Well, the one thing you can’t teach is experience. And that’s what made the great wrestlers great. If you look at all the guys over the years who were able to churn out great matches over and over again, they were guys that had years of experience under their belts to be able to do that. They knew a lot of different styles, and had life experiences and lots of different matches they could draw upon to create great matches. Unfortunately, you might never have those guys again, because times have changed. Now you guys who have five, six, seven, eight years experience working at the top of the top, whereas before you had guys who 15 years experience or 20 years experience. You just might never have that anymore. It’s one of those things where the whole game has changed now the curve will now maybe drop. And what used to be a three star match five years ago, just may end up being the five star match of the future, because you just might not be able to replace that ever. You just don’t have guys like with that experience and it’s not built that way anymore. It’s kind of sad in a lot of ways. You can’t just take out a magic wand and say, “This guy’s going to be a five star wrestler.” You either have it or you don’t, and it takes years and years of experience to be able to cultivate those ideas and mindsets. And a lot of guys might never, ever get that, because they don’t have that diversity to fall back on.
AC: What do you think of some of the recruiting tools that you see now, as far as shows like NXT? There’s some talk of bringing back Tough Enough. Obviously, that’s a big difference from the way you broke into the business and how you finally got into WWE. Do you resent at all some of the guys who are coming through those shows and getting big breaks so quickly?
CJ: I don’t resent anyone. They have to do what they have to do. And they have to get new guys. You can’t get stuck on past ways. “They way we used to do things is this.” Well, those days are gone. Guys working in Japan, and Mexico, and ECW, and Smoky Mountain Wrestling and WCW—It’s done. It doesn’t work that way anymore. So you’ve got to get guys where you can. And once in a while you get guys who come through like Sheamus or (Wade) Barrett or Danielson (Daniel Bryan) who have been in the system for years and years and years. But the majority aren’t like that. So you can’t sit on a high horse and say, “Those guys didn’t pay their dues,” because it’s just not like that anymore. So if they can do an NXT or a Tough Enough and find some new guys who can be entertaining and put on a show, then they’re going to have to do that, because the days of the guys traveling worldwide and ending up in WWE are gone. It took me nine years to get to WWE, and when I got there I still wasn’t polished. I still had lots to learn. Now you get guys with nine months of experience who are on TV. But you have to find those guys somewhere. So whichever way they want to do it, go for it.
AC: You responded to a comment Kevin Nash made where he criticized WWE’s youth movement and spoke in favor of having some older, more established guys on top. I wanted to ask you what you thought the right mix was, and what you thought the role of the older, veteran, 40-plus wrestler is in a company that’s trying to get younger.
CJ: It’s like a sports team. You look at a guy like—I know, Brett Favre may be a bad example because he’s having a bad season. But you look at a guy like (recently retired NHL defenseman) Chris Chelios a couple of years ago that was in his mid-40s and was still the best guy in the game. There’s still a place for guys who are older and it’s not necessary to just take care of the young guys. You are who you are. There are guys who are better in their 40s than in their 30s. There are guys who are done by the time they’re 25, 26, 27 years old. So you can’t really say, “Well this guy can work until he’s 45, and this guy can work until he’s 50.” Everybody’s got a certain shelf life. Some guy’s shelf life is longer than others. That’s why you always have to have young guys come in. You always have to have big drafts come in. And you can’t keep guys on top just because they have name value. That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard in my life. You have to be able to entertain and you have to be able to provide the certain quality of work that they’re you’re always used to. Just because a certain somebody had name value in 1999 when wrestling was quote-unquote hot, doesn’t mean they necessarily should be on top in 2010. It’s a case-by-case basis. I remember Eric Bischoff saying when I was in WCW that you have to be on TV seven or eight years before you can really get over. Well, guess what, now 90 percent of the guys you have haven’t been on TV seven or eight years. That’s just a dumb thing to say anyways, because there were guys like the Ultimate Warrior and Bill Goldberg who were on TV for two months and got over huge. So everybody has to be judged individually. You can’t have this blanket statement of “It has to be this” or “It has to be that.” It’s like, well, who’s available at the time? What have we got to do with them? What can we do with them? And what do they bring to the table? And what are their strengths and what are their weaknesses? That was one of the best things about the old ECW. (Paul) Heyman was always good about hiding those weaknesses and focusing on the strengths. We went through a really bad phase in WWE in the 2000s where it was the opposite. People were hung up on people’s weaknesses, and not on their strengths. This business is all show business. We can do whatever we want. So you can mask the things that people don’t do well and focus on their strengths. And that’s what they’re having to do at this point after years and years and years of being spoiled, because there was this huge influx of talent, of all these great performers who had five, 10, 15 years of experience and were fresh. Well, that’s done. So now you have to create a product somehow. And you have to put people on TV somehow. So they’re starting to go back on focusing on the positives and trying to stay away from the negatives, which is something wrestling’s always been built on.
AC: You just criticized some things Kevin Nash and Eric Bischoff have said, and you’ve had other comments about TNA. You calling it a “vanity promotion” was picked up some places. As a whole, how do you see TNA? There’s been some speculation in the past that maybe you’d end up there some day.
CJ: First of all, the “vanity project” thing, you know, you say certain things in interviews. It’s not like I spent hours and hours on end saying that. I might have said it at the end of a long sentence in talking about it. And of course that’s what gets picked up and it becomes “Chris Jericho said this.” As far as going there, I’ll never go there, not because I have any problems with them, but because I’m WWE for life. I always wanted to work with WWE, from when I was a kid. I never cared about WCW when I was growing up. I went to WCW for one reason, and that was to get to WWE. And once I got to WWE, I said I’ll never wrestle another match outside WWE for as long as I’m in the business. And I haven’t. Even when I was off for two years starting in 2005, I never worked anywhere else, in the independents or anything like that. And that will never change. I would love for TNA to get huge. I want them to. And I think there’s glimpses of greatness there. But, to be honest, I don’t watch a lot of what they do to even be able to have an opinion at this point. I don’t have time to watch wrestling as it is. I just think a company with that much talent should be doing better than they are. They’ve had the same ratings for the last three years. It’s just unacceptable with the amount of talent they have there, just as a business. I run my own business as well. I run the business of “Fozzy.” And if somebody’s not performing and we’re not getting bigger, than something has to change. So I just wish they would look at it that way, instead of relying on the same old things and the same old people. They’ve been trying different things and something isn’t clicking. They’ve had the same million and a half viewers for the last three years. Just as an outsider looking in—as any business-owner looking in—if you had the same return or the same results after three years, maybe you might want to try something different to make it grow. But maybe that’s their ceiling. Maybe that’s what they can get. And if they can make a profit with that and have a successful company with one a half million people, they don’t care about doing anything differently. It’s not my concern. I’m just calling it as I see it as a business-owner and as a fan of wrestling. I would love nothing more than for TNA to get 2 million viewers, 3 million viewers, 10 million viewers. Whatever it takes, I’d love to see that happen. I pull for them every time I hear about them.
AC: I want to talk a little bit more about your last few years in WWE before your most recent departure. You took a two-year break from the business and pursued some other ventures. And when you came back there was some speculation about, “Well maybe his heart is not in it as much as before. He wants to do these other things—write books and act and perform with his band.” And then you went on to have what I think a lot of people thought was the three best years of your career, completely reinvented yourself, had some of the best matches, best feuds. Looking back, are you really proud of the work you did over the last three years as a chapter in your entire career?
CJ: Of course. Speculation always makes you laugh, because I never did anything freewheeling. I stepped away from wrestling because my heart wasn’t in it. That’s exactly it. You hit the nail on the head. I didn’t come back with my heart not in it. I came back 100,000 percent committed. That’s why I came back. And that’s why it took me 27 months to come back. I wasn’t messing around when I said I wasn’t going to come back unless I felt I could be better than ever. And that’s what I did. The last three years of my career were the three best of my career, as far as I’m concerned. That’s why I came back. I wouldn’t come back if I didn’t feel like I was in it and could contribute. I’ve always done other things, my whole career. I never sat back and did just one thing. I’m a very diverse person. I have a lot of ideas and I’m very creative. I have been since I was 10 years old. And that’s how I’m wired. And that pisses some people off. And I’m sorry, but I’ve always had other ideas and other things that I’ve wanted to do. I’ve never been 100 percent just a wrestling guy—never, ever, ever. From the day that I had my first match to me talking to you right now. I love wrestling, but I love music and I love acting and I love writing, and I’ve always done all those things. So, then to come back in 2007, I knew that it would take a couple of months to find out what I wanted to do. I thought coming back as a babyface was bit miscast, but you do what you are told to do or are asked to do by the boss of the company. But I still knew that I wanted to change some things, and that’s why I came back the way I did. I didn’t come back with long hair. I remember a friend of mine before I cam back asked, “Are you going to get hair extensions?” And I was like, “Why?” And he said, “Well, Chris Jericho has long hair.” Well, so did Bruce Dickinson in 1987. And now Bruce Dickinson is a better singer than he’s ever been in Iron Maiden, and he’s got short hair. So it’s obviously not the hair that matters. It’s the guy. So, I wanted to change things, and I did that. And then I really got in the groove, after all these years of kind of being in the groove, but not really. I always knew I could be better in wrestling, and I kind of attained that in the last two years. Is it the best that Chris Jericho could ever be? I’m not going to say that, but it’s the best Chris Jericho has ever been over the course of his career.
AC: Was it particularly scary to embark on that radical change in character? You had been doing the Y2J for so long. Before it was even Y2J, it was loud, boisterous, explosive. And it was such a complete 180 to strip it down to the point that you’re not even smiling. You’re just walking out in your suit, a grimace on your face. I’d think that that was a pretty big gamble on your part. “I’ve been doing this one way for so long and now I’m about to become somebody completely different.” How frightening was that?
CJ: It wasn’t frightening at all. It was cool, because it was a captivating thing. I wanted to be completely different from anything I’d ever been before. I wanted to reinvent myself 100 percent. So, that meant getting rid of the fun guy. The countdown was gone. I switched to the short tights, short hair. Everything that I did before I just changed to the opposite, and that’s why I did it. I always believed that when you turn heel, you should change and make people realize that they’re not dealing with the same old guy. I heard, “Well, people want to cheer for you.” Exactly. Of course you do. That’s why I did it—because people love the Y2J character. And when I got rid of it completely, people were like, “You’re going to bring it back, aren’t you?” And I was like, “No. This is what you get. This is a new guy all the way across the board.” I wanted people to see that I wasn’t screwing around. So no countdown. The only thing I kept was my music. I kept that the same because—I hate to use the word iconic—but it is very identifiable to who I am as a performer. But everything else changed, and that was all a calculated call from me. I wasn’t terrified about it at all. I’m always about the future. I never stay in the past ever. People ask, “When are you coming back?” It’s never been that way. It’s: What can I do better and how can I change things? It’s why I did things that way.
AC: Would you recommend the same kind of complete make over to other guys who maybe feel stuck in a rut? One guy who comes to mind is Edge, who has 12 years in the company now. He came back earlier this year and was cast as a babyface, and it never really took hold. And then they turned him heel, and that didn’t really work. And now he’s back as a babyface, and I’m not sure how much momentum he has. It strikes me, why not take the Chris Jericho route and completely reinvent yourself and become something else?
CJ: It’s all individual. I don’t recommend anything at all. All I could so is recommend for myself. But I will say this: The Edge babyface character last year at WrestleMania was getting over. It took a while because Edge was such a hated heel. You can’t just turn into a rah-rah babyface in five or six months. It takes time for people to sort of trust you. And they were behind him, even to the point where we worked a couple of shows after that when he was already a heel, and by proxy became babyface because he was working with me. And people were into him as a babyface. It just took time. For whatever reason Vince got an itchy trigger finger and decided to switch him back heel. But it would have worked. Now people don’t know how to trust. They don’t know if they trust the good guy or the bad guy, the way they’ve changed him. But I said the same thing to Matt Hardy when he was in WWE and turning heel with Jeff Hardy a couple years ago. I said, “Cut your hair, man. Change it up.” It’s all up to the individual guy and where they feel comfortable. For me, I was so over the whole Y2J thing. I just couldn’t even stand it. I just wanted to get completely different and change it. If you look back at that time, nobody was doing that. Nobody was coming out and being serious and not smiling. Nobody was wearing a suit. And that’s why I did it. And now every heel is coached to be that way. Be silent. Be straight. Because it worked. So now it’s the prerequisite for a WWE heel. But if you go back to 2007, nobody did that. And I have no problem saying that. I’m not saying I was the first guy to do it. But I’m saying I was the first guy to do it in that company and at that time. So if I was there now, I’d almost have to change it again, because everybody’s doing it now, you know what I mean? You have to original and do something different. It’s something Brian Pillman told me years ago. If you want to make it in this business you have to do something that nobody’s ever done before. I did that, and that’s why it worked.
AC: You were somebody who really embraced being hated. For so long, there’s been that “cool heel” thing, where even guys who turn heel still play for applause. It was the nWo and to some extent Triple-H when he was a heel. They still did things to try to get over. You didn’t do any of that. You were loathsome. You were just a total jerk. And you’re right. I think now you’re seeing more and more of that kind of thing. I think the Miz is like that. To some extent Wade Barrett is. It’s kind of a return to that heel that embraced being hated.
CJ: Well, at least they think they embrace being hated. But I took it to the next level. There were no catch phrases. There became some by proxy from the stuff that I said. But I never set out to make “I’m the best in the world at what I do” or “shameless pandering” a catch phrase. I mean, who would ever think that “gelatinous parasite” would be a catch phrase?
AC: I like “mucilaginous troglodyte.” You had me look that one up.
CJ: Yeah, I was just saying whatever I could, and when people started repeating it, I didn’t like that. I never wanted to have a catch phrase. I didn’t want merchandise. There’s no Chris Jericho merchandise. There’s no Chris Jericho T-shirt. All that stuff was because of me. They wanted to make a T-shirt, but I said, “Why? Why would I want someone wearing a T-shirt in the crowd that has my name on it? That’s one guy in the crowd that’s not going to boo me.” It’s an art form to be a heel and to stay a heel. Because the best characters of all times are villains. Darth Vader. Terminator. Hannibal Lector. Freddy Kruger. And all those villains turned babyface because they were so entertaining. Each one of those guys I said in the second or third movie became a good guy. If Heath Ledger hadn’t passed away, he would have been a good guy in the next Batman movie, guaranteed, because he was too entertaining. So it’s easier to make people hate you than to make them love you. But it’s very, very difficult to make them stay hating you, and I was able to do that for two and a half years because every time I was going down on a road where people were starting to get into it, I’d turn it, change it, go back and forth. That’s why the Shawn Michaels angle worked and the Rey Mysterio Angle worked—because there was no comedy behind it. And over those last three years there were some comedy bits, and that was fine. There was that whole Bob Barker thing for example. And most of the guest host stuff was done for fun. Once again, you can’t do the same thing all the time. But the crux of it was to be very serious. Like you said, a loathsome jerk, who has no redeeming qualities to him. And that’s why it worked. I did enjoy playing that because it’s a challenge. It’s hard to do. It’s not easy. You can’t just go out there and say, if you’re in New York City, “Ah, I hate the Yankees. The Yankees suck.” Boo! “Well, I’m a great heel.” No, that’s cheap heat. The secret is, how do you get the people in New York to boo you without saying that? Saying you love the Yankees and still get them to boo you. That’s a challenge.
AC: I remember, I was there live for the Great American Bash ’08 when you had a match with Shawn. I thought this was just tremendous heel work. This was the match where I think maybe they stopped it because maybe Shawn was bleeding out of the eye or something. And the next match, or a couple matches later, was the finals of the tournament to crown the first Divas champion. And in the middle of the celebration, you came out and you told all the fans to hold on to their ticket stubs, because they had just witnessed Shawn Michaels’ last match. The place just went nuts. It was just a very, very smarmy thing to say and do.
CJ: It’s funny, you do some of this stuff, and I totally forgot about that. I’ve told people in WWE, “You guys should make a whole DVD set.” There were two great angles at the time. There was Edge and Undertaker and Jericho and Michaels. They both lasted six or eight months. And they were the two last great stories in WWE for a while, I think. You could have put those entire chronicles on DVD—every match, every interview. The whole thing. And it really would be kind of a handbook on now to do a great angle. You had the most evil villain and the long-beloved babyface. Both shows were so hot because you had that cornerstone of Michaels-Jericho on Raw and Edge-Taker on Smackdown. It was kind of a golden time for fans, for sure.
AC: I think you went on to have other angles that had that similar kind of intensity. You mentioned Rey Mysterio. It was maybe a notch below the Shawn Michaels feud, but several notches above almost anything else WWE was doing. What do you think you were bringing to your rivalries that made them more intense, more personal, more compelling than anything else that was going on in WWE?
CJ: First of all, it goes back to the international experience I was talking about before. (Rey and I) had a lot of places we could go, a lot of things we could dip into. The whole Mexican culture of the mask match, and all the spots you do during a mask match. There was just so much stuff that Mysterio and I could do because we had that history there. Not a lot of people know what it’s like to be in Mexico wrestling, and we both did, obviously. And the real thing was the mask. That was the major, major thing. And they had kind of flirted with mask vs. mask matches before, and losing a mask. But this was real. This was not just a one-time thing. This was a three or four-month crusade for Jericho to take his mask. And why did I want to take his mask? Because I could. End of story. I was explaining that to Vince, “I’m a bully and I want your milk money.” “Well, why do you want his milk money?” “Because I want it.” And that’s the reason that I wanted his mask, because I was a bully. It was about giving me that reward. Why can’t everyone wear one? Why does he get to wear one? Just to see this character who had been in WWE for 10 years and wears this mask and was so popular, and yet we had never done anything with that mask. We never explained why he wore it. We never really had anyone try to take it. That was the first time we had really done that, and it really, really worked out well.
AC: Did you think that feud ended a little early? I know a lot of fans thought it did.
CJ: Maybe, but we still ended up having like six matches over or a three-and-a-half or four-month period that were six classic matches. All of them are great. So I don’t think it really ended early. I think a lot of people are just comparing it to the Shawn Michaels thing where there were a lot of twists and turns. Maybe we could have put another twist in it, but for what we had and what was going on, I think three months is long enough. And each match got better than the last. I think the crescendo of that was amazing. So I wasn’t feeling that at all.
AC: After that Rey Mysterio feud, were you disappointed at all where Chris Jericho went in WWE? You went on to main event several more pay per views. But I don’t know if anything you did was as compelling as those two feuds. And toward the end there you were losing a lot on TV and working with some newer, younger guys. Any disappointment or bitterness over the last year or so?
CJ: What was there to be bitter about? I was the World champion at WrestleMania. Some times you have angles that really connect and really work. Other times you try as best you can to do things well. The big thing at the time was that Edge got hurt. We had a lot of plans to do this big tag team that split up and then go from there. And then Edge got hurt and we had to change everything. I think the stuff with Big Show was great. I think it turned out way better than it had reason to. I enjoyed that immensely. And then when Edge came back, we kind of had to start really quickly from scratch almost. And I enjoyed the stuff that I did with Edge. As far as losing, the only guys who were really stuck on the losing were guys who were reporting on it. Most of the losses were my idea. It’s not like there was anything going on behind the scenes. Once again, we’re at a time where you have a lot of young guys and you’ve got to build them up quickly, so you have them win. I could lose every night. I can lose to you. You think anybody’s going to care? Nobody.
AC: Let’s do it.
CJ: I was one of the few guys that could do that make that work. Once again, that was a challenge. Wins and losses mean nothing if you know how to do them properly. So like I said, there was nothing to be bitter about. If anybody is bitter about being world champion at WrestleMania, you should maybe look for another line of work or try to find a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow that doesn’t exist. And the whole thing with Nexus. I thought the whole last month building up to SummerSlam was genius, with me and Edge being the ----stirrers involved. I loved that angle. I thought it was amazing. So I disagree with that.
AC: You’ve had two world title matches at WrestleMania—back in 2002 with Triple-H and again last year. I think it’s fair to say that neither of those are going to be thought of among the most iconic, memorable WrestleMania main events. Any thoughts on that? Disappointments? Was there anything different you wish you had done in those matches?
CJ: I don’t know, man. Once again, just because you have a world title match at WrestleMania doesn’t mean necessarily that it’s a classic. You do the best you can do. Some main events are better than others. My WrestleMania calling card was at XIX with Shawn Michaels, and there was no title involved in that at all. It was the fifth match on the show out of 10 matches. To steal the show in that position, that’s what it was. All the cards aligned and all the fruit lined up on the slot machine. It was the iconic match for that WrestleMania. Last year I was going up against 'Taker and Shawn and pretty much accepting second place at best. But, like I said, you do the best with what you have at any WrestleMania, at any situation. I was fortunate enough that at WrestleMania XIX, mine was the match that people remembered, and there was no title involved in that at all. Just because you have a title at WrestleMania or you go on last at WrestleMania doesn’t mean that you’re going to have this classic match. Even at WrestleMania X8 when we went on last, Hogan and Rock were the true main event. They were just protecting the title by putting it on last, but Rock and Hogan was the match that everyone paid to see. So anybody after that was at a disadvantage. But I don’t regret anything I’ve done in any of those matches because it was the best I could do on that given day. Some of them are more memorable than others, but all of them were Chris Jericho given 1000 percent.
AC: You know one that I neglected to mention because it slipped my mind, but definitely deserves mention with some of the best work you’ve done in the last couple years was the angle you did with the Legends leading up to WrestleMania 25, and especially the work you did with Rick Steamboat.
AC: That photo of you getting the autograph from Steamboat when you were a kid has become this iconic image of that whole thing. How surreal was that for you—not only to work with Rick Steamboat at that point, but to have some really good matches with him?
CJ: Yeah, that’s kind of a forgotten angle that I did. It was all those promos. Everybody’s talking about that promo that (Roddy) Piper did before Survivor Series this year. People forgot the promo that he did before WrestleMania that year in Tacoma, Washington. I went up to him beforehand and we were talking and I said, “Listen, dude, I don’t want Roddy Piper, the funny, happy guy. I want the Roddy Piper who was the biggest heel in the world WrestleMania I. The guy is forgotten man in the reason why that company was built.” That show was a success because of Hogan and Cyndi Lauper. But if it wasn’t for Piper being the quintessential, jackass heel, that show never would have worked. And I said that’s the guy I want to talk to tonight. And he responded in spades. He was great. So, yeah, that’s one of those angles that I did that people forgot, but at the time was very, very good. And that’s all because Mickey Rourke was going to do a match and then pulled out of it, so we were kind of left holding the bag. Vince had this idea to do something with the legends. The criteria was that they had to be in the Hall of Fame and they had to be in the first WrestleMania. That’s why we teased (Jerry) Lawler for a while, but Lawler didn’t meet Vince’s criteria, because he wasn’t in the first WrestleMania. So Vince wanted (Greg) Valentine. And I said, “Listen, man, if that is going to have any chance of being a good match, they’ve got to get somebody else in there.” So I asked if we could have Steamboat. And at the time there were some problems with Steamboat’s name. I don’t know if his ex-wife owned it, or whatever it was. And I think Vince was a little reluctant at first. But after a while, we went with Steamboat, and that’s when I said, “Okay, this is going to be great. Finally I’ve got somebody I can work with.” I wasn’t in awe. It wasn’t surreal. By the time you get to that point in your career—It’s like when I worked with Hogan in 2002. Hogan was my all-time favorite, but I didn’t go into the ring with stars in my eyes and mark out for him. At that point, I’m one of his peers. So it’s time to get the job done, make the donuts, and make some magic here. That was the same with Steamboat. I mean it was cool for about three seconds, and then after that it was like, “We’ve got to make this work and get things going.” I knew Ricky would respond that way. It would be like Wayne Gretsky coming back to play hockey now. He’d still be better than 80 percent of the roster, because he’s that good. And Ricky was. We worked for a couple months. We worked five or six times. And I think the best match we had was at a house show that we worked in Greenville, South Carolina that nobody saw except the people that were there. He continued to get better and better. And that’s just because he’s one of those guys. We talked about guys who have shelf life. His shelf life was definitely a lot longer than he lasted. I think he retired when he was like 45. He probably could have gone until he was 55.
AC: In that way, you kind of did something special for Rick Steamboat, I imagine in letting him have that closure on his career and a last great, memorable match. After this great career he had, it just sort of stopped. I think it was 1994 he had to retire and never got that sendoff he deserved. And now, at whatever age he is, he got that. Was he grateful to you for being able to do that?
CJ: He never came up and said that, but you can tell. Ricky’s a great guy. He’s a very respectful guy and he’s very direct and he’s very thoughtful. Not to get too deep into it, but yeah, I think he definitely respected it. But I respected him, and so did everybody else in the roster. This was no charity case of bringing a guy back for one last run. He’s Ricky Steamboat, man. Any bit of a chance he got from anything I did, he responded to in spades and ran with it. That’s what true pros do. That’s what the greats do.
AC: Let me ask you a little bit about your new book, Undisputed. Your first book was just tremendous. For my money, it’s one of—if not the—best wrestling autobiography I’ve read. Just compelling, really funny. I just loved jumping from country to country and getting a peak at the wrestling scene there at that particular time, especially places like Europe, which you just don’t hear that much about. Just a tremendous book. Did that give you any added pressure in writing this followup?
CJ: Yeah, there was a lot of pressure. I wanted to get a Godfather II with this one—a sequel that’s better than the original. And that’s why I wrote the book the way I did the first time. To include everything up until that point in 2007, I would have had to compromise some of the earlier stories. And I knew I had so much stuff, that I didn’t want to do that. And when it came time to write the second book, it took a long time to get my butt in gear and to do it, because it’s a big commitment. It takes a lot of time. And that’s why it took me about a year and a half to do it properly. And I didn’t even start working on it until January of this year. I had the deal two years before that, but you can’t just jump into something like that half-assed. You have to give it your all, 100 percent. And that’s something I do for everything I’ve done as Chris Jericho. If you see my name on it, you know it’s 100 percent. That’s why it took a while to get this book out. I wanted to make it as just good if not better than the first one. And I think I’ve done that. I think this book is in a lot of ways better than the original, because the first book was dealing with a lot of stories that nobody ever knew. This one deals with a lot of stories that people do know, or think they know. So you have to deal with that and make it better. It also deals a lot with my experiences with Fozzy and stuff I did in Hollywood. So it’s also a little more diverse than the first book is. And I think it’s better. I’m really excited for it to come out. It comes out in February. If you thought the first book was the best wrestling book ever, then this is definitely the best wrestling sequel ever. The fact that I’ve had two autobiographies published by the time I was 40 years old, I’m pretty fortunate for that and very cognizant that both those books are considered classics in their field—or at least I hope the second will be. I’m very cognizant that the first one is a classic in its field. And that’s really rewarding for me, because I wrote every word. And I think that’s the reason it does resonate so well. I’ve always been a writer. And I’ve always wanted to write a book, but I had to wait until I left WWE to do that. I’m glad I did.
AC: How different was the experience writing it under the WWE banner. Inevitably, there are going to be people looking for, you know, “Is he holding back a little bit here? Censoring himself” or “Is WWE censoring him?” Was there any of that?
CJ: Well, WWE can’t censor me, because it’s not their book. It’d impossible. They don’t read a draft of it until you do the final draft. As far as holding back, if you think I held back in the first one, then this one will be about the same. I really don’t hold back, but I don’t go out of my way to bury anybody or to be bitter or angry, because why would I? I mean the book is a story, and I win at the end of both books. I became one of the best wrestlers of all-time, one of the biggest stars in wrestling history. What do I have to complain about? If I’ve had some issues with some people over the years, that’s fine. I think everybody does. But I’m not going to go out of my way to verbally bash them. A book is not a place to settle a vendetta. That’s for sure. I tell the stories as I see fit. And when I was editing it, I did dial back some things, because you don’t want to be mean. Mean is mean. But I’m very honest about the things I went through. And in this book there’s a lot of that stuff. When I first got to WWE, it was a political quagmire. There was so much stuff that I faced that I never expect to face. Look back on my career. The first six months that I was there they basically didn’t do anything. I was just a guy. So I talk about all that stuff in the book, as I should. And I don’t pull any punches. But I don’t go out of my way to be mean or bitter or anything. I just tell the story as it is.
AC: Mick Foley has now written four books dealing with his wrestling career—kind of autobiographies. And I think there’s a popular opinion that they were kind of progressively less interesting. The first one was this incredible, landmark book. The next one was very good. The next one was just okay. And there have been mixed reviews for this most recent one. Do you worry about that same thing happening with you? I guess the one big difference is that the real bulk of your career and what people most know you from—your time in WWE—you didn’t even deal with in the first book.
CJ: Yeah, exactly. So that’s one kind of ace in the hole that I had. I always planned on having a sequel. That’s why it ended the way that it did. I mean, I’m not stupid. And this book also ends in a cliffhanger because it ends right when I come back in 2007. So there’s still this whole other three-year period that some people, including myself, considered the best of my career. But obviously those (Foley’s) books, if you think they’re less interesting, is because there are less experiences to draw on. The first book, for me, was 30 years. The second was seven years. If I started writing another book tomorrow, it would be three years. But it’s three years of pretty good stuff. So I’d like to do a third book, but there’s no rush to do it. I already have more than enough material to fill a third book, and it’s all interesting stuff. At least I think it is. More importantly to the fans, there’s still that whole three-year period of my whole rebirth that hasn’t been dealt with. So that’s a book right there. So I’m not worried about it in the least.
AC: Kind of looking back in a different way now that it may be over, do you start to think about things like the WWE Hall of Fame? I know different guys have different takes on what that means to them. I’ve heard wrestlers pretty cynically say, “It’s all a work. Who cares?” And then other people talk about it being pretty valuable to be recognized by your peers. Is it something that peaks your interest?
CJ: Well, anybody who says, “It’s all a work,” is probably somebody who’s not in there, you know what I mean? To not be in the Hall of Fame, you think, Oh, who cares. But I think anybody who is in the Hall of Fame probably thinks it’s pretty cool. For me, I think I’d be a little bit embarrassed that all of these people were there cheering for me for the work I did in the past. Like I said, I’ve never really thought of the past. I always think of the future. I think it would be an honor to be in the Hall of Fame, but I think I’d be very, very embarrassed to be up there talking about how great I am, or how great I’m perceived as being, or how great I am on that night. I think that’s one of the reasons I like writing books. I can tell the good things that I’ve done, and also really focus and call myself on the carpet for all the bad things I’ve done as well. So yeah, the Hall of Fame is a huge honor. I hope I’m in it someday. But I’d almost be scared to show up. I might not even go. (laughs)
AC: I just pulled up this list. WWE put out this “50 Greatest Superstars” DVD, and you’re exactly at the halfway point. You are the 25th greatest superstar of all time, in between Bruno Sammartino and Ted DiBiase. Any thoughts?
CJ: Well, I don’t think there’s really any thoughts you can give on that. I think it’s just a gimmick, promotional thing to sell DVDs. I think when you look at that list, it’s pretty crazy all the way through and there’s really no rhyme or reason to the way they’re ranked, with the exception of the first one (Shawn Michaels). Any list where Hogan is at number 20 or something like that, it’s making more of a political statement than anything. But I think if you take the top 25 guys of all-time, maybe I could have done a little bit better. Top 20 maybe. But I definitely don’t see myself in the top 10 of all-time. But any time you can be included in something like that—I’d rather be at number 25 than at number 51 and not make the cut.
AC: What do you see as your legacy? Not a ranking or anything like that, but when you’re dead and gone, how do you want to be remembered in the wrestling business?
CJ: Just as a guy who entertained, who gave his best every single night and found different ways to do that. I think I’ll probably be remembered in a lot of people’s eyes as an over achiever, but in my eyes, I achieved exactly what I always knew I would do. When I started in 1990, there was a real prejudice against me because I was small. I was a small guy. In the '90s it was all about how big guys were. I just never accepted it. I don’t think I’m small. I mean, I know I’m small but I was never going to let it hinder me. So I found other ways to do it. So I went to other countries and I worked on my character and I worked on my presentation and I worked on my showmanship. So I was lucky that I was doing all of that for ten years. And by the time I came into WWE in 1999, it was almost like the perfect storm. It was the right time to be a guy my size to really make your mark. Because in the 1990s, look at all the guys who were on top. It definitely wasn’t anybody like me. But by the time 2000 rolled around, almost all the guys were my size, because the giants were all proven to be, you know, ----. They just weren’t good. So, had I started in 1980, I never would have made it to the heights that I did. So 1990 was the perfect time for a guy like me to start. So I always did my best to entertain every night. And I was always good about adapting to the crowd and adapting to what was going on. I had a great experience in WCW. A lot of people cut on it, talk bad about WCW. But I really learned how to make the most out of the time I ‘m given. If you’re given one minute of TV time, you’ve got to find a way to make that a minute that everybody’s going to remember. How can I make that mark in one minute? So by the time I got to WWE, if I had 10 minutes, I knew what to do. If I had 30 seconds, I knew what to do. I was able to do that on a consistent basis. And that’s why people got into what I was doing. Whatever I was doing, whether people loved it or they hated it—and most of the time they hated it—they always looked forward to see what exactly I was going to do next and who was going to be there to shut me up.
AC: I’d be remiss if I didn’t give you an opportunity to talk about some of your other projects. I know that’s what’s going on in your life right now. How is the Fozzy tour going? You just got back form Australia. Are we going to get a tour here in the U.S.?
CJ: For whatever reason we have a great international fan base for Fozzy, and we always have. And that’s what I like to focus on. Over the last three or four months—as a matter of fact since I left WWE—we’ve been to seven countries. We toured England, Ireland, Scotland, Whales, France, Australia and Canada. That’s seven countries since I left in September. And Fozzy’s not a project. Fozzy’s who I am. We’ve been doing this for 11 years now. I know a lot of people think, “Eleven years, really?” We’ve really made a lot of progress and in roads. And most importantly people don’t see it as the wrestling band anymore, not that we ever portrayed it as that. But people always had it in mind that because I’m a wrestler I couldn’t possible be good at anything else. And that’s something I’ve always proven wrong. And it makes people angry. But we do great business overseas, and even the shows we’ve played in the States have done great. We had a show at the Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles. It’s probably the biggest club in the world. Everyone knows the Whisky. We’re headed to Canada in January. And then we’re going to do all the festivals this summer—all the big 50,60,70,000 people festivals with Metallica, Megadeth, Avenged Sevenfold, Linkin Park, all the biggest bands in the world. Like I said, I’ve been a musician a lot longer than I’ve been a wrestler. I’ve been playing in bands since I was 14 years old. So I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I want to be in a band.” It’s something I’ve always done and something that I’ll always do. I’ll be 65 years old and playing with a band somewhere. I’m just glad that I’ve had the chance to pounce on that and really take advantage of that and really build a band. I think we’re very fortunate that after 11 years we’re a band that’s still growing. The only people who don’t like our band are the people who haven’t heard it. Everybody that’s heard the band loves the band and that includes my peers in music. I just got a call from Slash the other day. He was listening to the record and he loved it. He’s another guy in a long line of guys who are into the band. That’s very cool for me—that I was able to focus and achieve both of my dreams.
AC: It’s kind of a shame that it’s a brand of music that, at least in the United States, has kind of come and gone. Obviously, metal was huge in the mid- and late-'80s, That’s when I was really into it. I went to a Megadeth, Anthrax, and Slayer show out here on Long Island about a month ago in the Nassau Coliseum. And it was like a few cars in the parking lot. I mean, it was a pretty good crowd. It might have been eight-or-nine thousand. But I certainly see more people at the Coliseum for almost any other show going on. And then I saw the movie “The Big 4” with Metallica and those same bands in Bulgaria. And they had like 100,000 people. So it’s like a whole different seen. It definitely has its following here in the United States but nothing like in Europe and other parts of the world.
CJ: Well, it all depends on who you’re talking about. People love metal all around the world. And there are all these bands that are coming up playing it. We don’t play like '80s metal. We play hard rock music. Our songs would fit with something you would hear by Stone Sour or Avenged Sevenfold today. There’s definitely influences from those past bands, but we’re not that type of band completely. And anybody who listens to our records would know that there’s always diversity on it—a lot of different stuff. I think we’ve carved out a little niche for ourselves. I think we just don’t spend a lot of time in the States because we really haven’t had a chance to. We’re spending so much time in these other countries. The shows that we’re doing here are getting bigger and the records that we’re selling are more and more. It’s all I could ever ask for.
AC: I would think that, particularly in the States, you would get people at shows that are fans of Chris Jericho, the wrestler, and like the novelty of seeing their favorite wrestler singing. Do you welcome that? Is it a little but annoying in that these are two different sides of you?
CJ: Whatever it takes to get people there. Most of the time, our fan base is probably 60 percent true blue Fozzy fans, at this point and 40 percent people who want to see Chris Jericho do a dropkick on stage, which is fine. That’s cool. Whatever it takes to get people in there. But everybody who leaves are shows are converted Fozzy fans. Every band has a gimmick. Kiss wore make up. And I’m sure there were a lot of people who went to see Kiss because the guys are wearing make up or they kill cows on stage or whatever the rumors were that they did. But when you caught them, you’d say, “Man these guys are actually, really kick ass.” I love challenges. I love people coming and getting into the band. And I also love playing songs where the whole crowd is singing every word of our songs, where they actually know what we’re doing and they obviously came prepared. So it’s all good to me, man. It’s all making people happy and entertaining. That’s what I like to do.
AC: How about the acting side of things and other TV work? Are you doing another season of Downfall?
CJ: I don’t think we’re doing another season of Downfall but there are other projects that have been extended because of that. So that was a huge deal for me in being perceived outside the box in the Hollywood environment because for whatever reason there’s a prejudice against wrestlers in Hollywood. They think, Well we’ve got our wrestler. We’ve got The Rock, and that’s all we need. But I mean there are guys who can do anything. Wrestling is show business boot camp. You learn a little bit about everything when you work in WWE. So Downfall was a huge step forward for me because now people know me in that world, as the host of a network game show and not just the wrestling guy. So there are other projects that have come up that have stemmed from that. I’d love to do more acting because I love playing characters, as you can tell. The hosting gig was fun, too. So I see myself doing a lot more of that in the future as well. I think at this stage in my career, it’s going to transition more to just being Fozzy and doing more of the hosting and acting thing. I think that’s another reason why the wrestling fans are mad at me, because they’re starting to realize that when I say I might not come back, they’re starting to see the result of that, and saying, “Well, jeez. He might actually be serious and not be pulling a typical wrestling thing where they keep coming back.” And I’m not saying that’s not going to happen. But the way things are going right now, the road isn’t taking me down that path right now.
AC: As you talked about in this interview, when you were Chris Jericho, the character, you took it so seriously that you didn’t want people wearing your T-shirts, because you wanted to be hated. And yet, at the same time, you’re doing this show on the other channel, Downfall, where you’re this likeable, nice, jovial game show host. Did you have any personal problems in presenting yourself in different ways?
CJ: Absolutely not. I’m an actor, and I have to play the part of Chris Jericho in WWE. It’s like Anthony Hopkins doesn’t walk down the street eating people’s livers with a fine Chianti and a straightjacket. It’s a character he played in a movie and he’s more than capable of playing two or three different characters at the same time as they shoot two or three different movies. And I played the character of Chris Jericho in WWE and outside of WWE there is no character, unless I’m doing another movie. But, Downfall, that was myself. I was playing myself. I never ever, ever once went into the ring as they guy that’s talking to you right now. I became somebody else, because that’s what wrestling is—from day one for me. It’s not athletic. It’s not a sport. Not even close. You have to be an athlete, but there’s no scoring goals and all that sort of thing. It’s show business, man. One hundred percent. And that’s how I’ve always treated it and that’s why I did as good as I did. That’s why I’ll always do good in anything like that, because I play a character. I understand that. And the best guys in the business do that, and understand that and can be that. And the guys that aren’t are the guys that come and go.
AC: One last thing. I went to a house show in Newark earlier this year where Y2J returned. You announced before the match that Y2J was back, and you worked the match as a babyface and you were slapping hands at ringside with fans. I wondered if that was kind of your way of saying goodbye. Can you give me insight into what was that about?
CJ: You’re reading to much into this, man. This isn’t the DaVinci Code where there’s all these secret messages … I started as a heel, and then turned into a babyface. That’s the one where I challenged Cena to a match, and then Sheamus beat him up. And then Nexus came down and beat me up. And then Orton came down. And I said, “You’re going to see the one night only return of Y2J!” or whatever it was. The thing is, at the end of that match if I wanted to turn back into a bad guy, all it would have taken was two seconds to do it … There was definitely no goodbyes. “(Pretending to sob) This is my last show in Newark.” I don’t want that. I don’t ever want that big, overblown, Shawn Michaels, Ric Flair goodbye. I don’t want it. Good for those guys that got it. I don’t want it. If I never wrestle another day, I wouldn’t feel bad about the fact that I never got my last applause and got to ride off into the sunset. I’m a bad guy. Bad guys are cowards. Bad guys die at the end of movies. And that’s it. You never see them again. That’s what I want to happen to me. I want to fall off the building like the dude in Die Hard and scream “Aaaah!” all the way down. And it’s like, “That guy was a loser. I’m glad he’s dead.” That’s what my mindset is. Although, I don’t want the “dead” part to happen.
The Rock to co-host MTV awards show -
10 months ago