Once again, Chris Jericho is trending.
What’s old is new again in AEW, as Jericho had a must-see altercation with Mike Tyson this past Wednesday on Dynamite. The story is rich in pro wrestling, as Jericho demands an apology from an incident that occurred between them nine years ago in WWE. A master of his craft, Jericho’s segment with Tyson garnered massive attention and publicity, including an above the fold story in one of Portugal’s top sports sections.
Jericho also announced this week that his Rock ‘n’ Wrestling Rager at Sea will be back for a third cruise in February 2021, sailing from Miami to Grand Bahama Island with “Le Champion” serving as the master of ceremonies at sea.
Speaking with Sports Illustrated, Jericho discussed the excitement surrounding his Triple Whammy cruise, his ongoing story with Mike Tyson and the creativity and criticism surrounding last week’s Stadium Stampede match at Double or Nothing.
Justin Barrasso: Your fingerprints were all over the Mike Tyson altercation from this past week’s Dynamite. Was the finished product and ensuing media coverage best-case scenario for you, Tyson and AEW?
Chris Jericho: Tyson is so hot and popular right now, having him on our show is very much a coup. It just goes to show timing is everything. Had we done this a year ago, it wouldn’t have been the same.
It was very much a timely decision that paid off hugely with press coverage worldwide, with headlines from Chili to Portugal to Mexico to Italy to France, all about Mike Tyson appearing in AEW with Chris Jericho. It’s great for our company, it’s great for me and it’s great for Mike. It puts him right back in the spotlight, right where he wants to be.
Barrasso: The week has been full of activity for you, including announcing that your third cruise, Triple Whammy, will set sail in 2021. What went into the decision for a third cruise?
Jericho: The second cruise was such a hit, we knew we had to do a third. Then the pandemic hit, and ‘cruise’ became a dirty word for a while. But we never wavered, and this isn’t a fool-hearty decision where we said we’d do this no matter what. Norwegian Cruise knows that their business is in trouble if they don’t do things properly and do them right. After much research and deliberation to make sure the boat is as safe as it can be, times a zillion, we decided to move forward.
When I say ‘we,’ I’m just a cog in the Norwegian Cruise lines, but I’m all for it. This is February, nine months from now. I think we’ll have a lot of things resolved by then. If not, then we’ll just postpone and do it later. But we have to at least plan for it. If October or November come around and everything’s cool, then it would be too late if we hadn’t planned. We’re going in optimistically, but also smartly.
And the reaction that we got is just off the charts. Our pre-sales are the same now that they were the last time, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so that’s insane to me. There are also a lot of people that don’t like the idea, and that’s fine, too. If you don’t like it, don’t come. If you like the idea, we’re going to make it the best vacation, like we have for the past two cruises. It’s completely safe, I’m taking my family, and putting together the lineup now is one of my favorite things to do. We’ve been working on this since the week after our last cruise ended, and we can’t wait to surprise people with all the talent we have coming on board.
Barrasso: It’s always great to have something to look forward to. Why is February the right time?
Jericho: You’ve seen what we’ve been doing with AEW. We haven’t stopped putting on shows. I understand there are people that do not want to leave their house, and I appreciate that. We’re putting on a great AEW show every Wednesday for those at home, and people do need something to look forward to. February isn’t that far away, and this can be great. Now there are people who will never go on another cruise again, I get it. But there are also people who would go on a cruise tomorrow if they could. So it’s your choice. We feel it’s going to be above and beyond a great time. It’s a perfect way to put 2020 in our rearview mirror and continue to have fun as human beings.
Barrasso: The Tyson story and the cruise announcement have almost overshadowed your Stadium Stampede match.
There isn’t much you have yet to accomplish in wrestling, but up until last week, a Stadium Stampede match was one of them. I know there have been some criticism from viewers and voices throughout the business, but there was also so much to enjoy. Highlights included the finish, the bar fight, 100 yards of Northern Lights suplexes, your “That’ll move the chains” line—and even Hangman Page using the hard paint machine on you. Was there a particular highlight or a piece of the creative process that particularly resonated with you?
Jericho: That wasn’t so much a match as it was a short film. We wanted to make a spectacle. We knew that, and we wanted to go all the way with that.
In terms of criticism, I heard what Jim Cornette said and it really disappointed me. I’ve known Jim for 25 years, and now he doesn’t want to be friends with me because he didn’t like my match? That’s a very myopic statement. If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. It’s that simple. Don’t say you to don’t want to be my friend anymore because you didn’t like it. I was really disappointed to hear that.
Wrestling has always had this element of humor to it. When I was growing up, I loved Hulk Hogan vs. Andre The Giant, but I also loved Corporal Kirchner taking his zipline down into the middle of a pool and dropping into it. It’s entertainment all across the board, and that’s what we wanted to do with the Stadium Stampede match.
When we walked out on the field that Thursday, we had a completely empty football field with tens of thousands of empty seats, and that was it. We needed to be creative about what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. We found the pool, the bar, then we asked for a mascot and cheerleaders.
When we were filming, there was a huge thunderstorm at 3 a.m. that stopped us from filming for an hour. That’s when we watched the rough edit, and I said, ‘Holy s---, this is great.’ When I walked out of there, after 30 years of being in the business, I said that was one of the best things I’d ever been involved in. And when we played it back and tightened it up with commentating, I was right. If you didn’t like it, that’s cool. But there are hundreds of thousands of people watching that loved it, and all of us in the match all felt the same. If you weren’t entertained by that, you have a problem. You might not like it for hardcore wrestling, and that’s fine. To me, it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.
Barrasso: This was designed to be a blowoff between factions, and I think it’s important to note that the Stadium Stampede match wasn’t a world title match. Had it been Cody Rhodes-Lance Archer in that match for the TNT title, or Jon Moxley-Brodie Lee for the world title, I could understand why people would have had a completely different perspective.
Jericho: Of course. It wasn’t a title match. That was the culmination of an eight-month story, dating back to the very first Dynamite episode with The Inner Circle beating up The Elite. Eight months later, this was our big blowoff, and it was one of the greatest spectacles of all-time.
Every heel got what was coming to him. Then the next night of TV we come back with a Pep Rally, here comes Mike Tyson and we’re right back on track. That’s what wrestling is all about.
Barrasso: It’s very hard to make people laugh, but you popping Jaxson de Ville’s head with a Judas Effect was incredibly funny.
Jericho: The reason why all that worked is because we played everything straight. That’s why it worked. I wasn’t going to make a joke of it when I saw the mascot. No, it’s ‘F--- you mascot. You’re in my way, and this is what you get.’ That is why our brand of humor works. You always play everything straight. We’re not in on our own jokes, and that’s why it’s funny.
Barrasso: And you followed up Stadium Stampede with the Tyson altercation, which reminds me of a very modern-age version of Roddy Piper and Mr. T. I know Tyson is not a stranger to pro wrestling, but he was always designed to be the special enforcer or the guy who dropped the heel with one knockout punch. What excites you most for a prolonged program with Tyson?
Jericho: What excites me most? A program with Mike. We didn’t have a script for Mike; we’re not giving him cues. He’s going to do what he wants, and you saw that on Wednesday night. There were guys in the ring that I didn’t even know were going to be in the ring. Mike wanted them to be in the ring, so OK. That’s Mike Tyson. He’s a loose cannon, he can go off at any time and he’s dangerous. I don’t care if he’s 53 or 33 or 23, he looks crazy and he is crazy. That’s why we love him.
I loved the concept of Piper-Mr. T, but the actual execution was not good. We’ll never do a boxer vs. wrestler. Either we’ll do a straight up boxing match—I’m not kidding. So what if I’m knocked out by Mike Tyson? I’ve been knocked out by worse—or we’ll do a street fight. Right now, the match is secondary to the pomp and circumstance that we will have in getting to the spectacle of the pay per view. That’s what wrestling is all about, it’s the story. People are so focused on the in-ring, which is great, but if there’s no story, there’s no match.
Whatever we decide to do, it’s the buildup that needs to be great. We don’t know what’s going to happen. We have ideas; his people have ideas. And if we’re able to work something out where Mike isn’t just the enforcer, and he’s in the match, then people won’t know what to expect. You’ll have two loose cannons, because I’m just as crazy as Tyson is, putting on a great performance for everybody that wants to see it.
Barrasso: Wednesday’s pep rally was another fun display for The Inner Circle. There is real chemistry among the group, and everyone is in a better position now across the wrestling realm than they were when the faction started.
At the beginning, Sammy Guevara wasn’t known nationally, Jake Hager needed a new coat of paint, and Santana and Ortiz had standout matches in Impact, but nothing quite on the level of live television every week on TNT. It’s now part of your legacy, too. Are you happy with the evolution of the group?
Jericho: Absolutely, times 10,000. When we put this together, there were different ideas about who should be in it, but we didn’t really know for sure what would work. I actually scouted Sammy for the company, but I didn’t really know Ortiz and Santana. I knew Hager from years ago and I was always a huge fan of his, but what was his mindset like? What was his attitude going to be?
We look cool together. You’ve got a tall, blonde, handsome killer that dresses like he’s going to a golf game. There’s Jericho, half game-show host, half rock star, there’s the muscle from Santana and Ortiz and a 26-year-old that is just a really cool 26-year-old kid.
And everyone’s personalities have really come out. It’s like a rock and roll band with our chemistry. We’ve grown to respect and appreciate the relationship we have, and we share ideas. Look at ‘The Bubbly Bunch.’ That was a Santana idea that went through Hager, then kind of thrown around in a milkshake and poured out.
Find me another combination of chemistry and athletic ability that is better than The Inner Circle. The NWO was great. We’re better workers than them. DX is great. We’re better workers than they are. These guys are great. You said Hager needed a new coat of paint? We poured a whole bucket over him. There were points at Stadium Stampede where he looked like Andre The Giant.
Barrasso: The poem that Hager read on Wednesday’s Dynamite is the most charisma he has shown in his entire career.
Jericho: Let me tell you one better. That poem was his idea and he wrote it. He read it to us once before, just so we could see what it was, and then he read it in the ring. There was nobody writing a script or giving him that idea, he came up with that.
The gifts we gave each other were the same thing. Sammy had the idea for the trophies, Santana and Ortiz had the idea for the gift baskets, Jake had the poem. Nobody forced us to rewrite the script or change it. That’s a reason we love AEW, that freedom.
We’re eight months into this storyline, and that’s a long time, but we’re still the top heels in the company just by doing what we’re doing. All of us came from other companies, but The Inner Circle is another example of an AEW creation that we made into top stars very quickly.
Barrasso: In terms of wrestling, what can people expect if they invest in the Triple Whammy cruise?
Jericho: Our plan is to do a live taping from the ship. Last year was a taped show, and this year, we want to go live. We don’t do house shows, and guys enjoyed working matches on the ship for four days. That’s almost like our own house show loop, and it’s where the guys get to have fun. Last time, Janela and Kazarian had a drink-off in the middle of the ring. We’re doing things you can’t do on TV, but you can on a cruise ship. The biggest difference this time is we want to take it live from the sea.