It is not out of the realm of possibility that Chris Jericho loses to MJF on Sunday at All Out.
MJF has been presented as a genuine star throughout his program with Jericho, repeatedly getting the best of the veteran, most notably by hurling him off the top of a steel cage. More recently, MJF made Jericho tap out (and those familiar with Jericho’s classic “Man of 1,004 Holds” WCW promo will certainly find it endearing that Jericho lost via submission after he was locked in an … armbar).
After losing to MJF two weeks ago on Dynamite during the fifth and final of the “Labors of Jericho,” Jericho asked for a rematch. In order to get that, he needed to agree to a match stipulation. So if Jericho loses to MJF at All Out, he can never again wrestle in an AEW ring. And with his contract in AEW set to expire in the not-too-distant future, it is worth asking: If Jericho loses this match to MJF, does that mean his return to WWE—and a potential program against Roman Reigns (and a host of others)—is imminent?
“I’m very serious when I say that, if I lose, it will be my last match in AEW,” Jericho says. “We honor our stipulations here, most specifically with Cody [Rhodes] not having a world title shot since he lost to me [at Full Gear in 2019]. And just to be clear, this isn’t a retirement match. I’m not going to pull a KISS or a Terry Funk and keep coming back. If I lose, I’ll never wrestle again in an AEW ring. If I lose, my in-ring career in AEW will be over.”
A 30-year pro wrestling veteran, Jericho still has his finger on the pulse of the industry. He has expertly harnessed the craft of misdirection in angles, and understands the value of genuine surprises. Better than most, Jericho knows how to seize the mystery of the unknown. So, asked again whether this Sunday’s match at All Out could mark the beginning of a possible return to WWE, Jericho remains undeterred by the question.
“If I lose, I’ll never wrestle in an AEW ring again,” Jericho says. “That’s exactly what I said, and I mean it.”
The history of AEW will show that the young company benefited tremendously from Jericho as its first world champion. He helped carry the company, adding a unique edge to every appearance on Dynamite, one that felt as though audiences were missing out if they didn’t watch it live. Jericho continues to help elevate new stars in the company—Darby Allin, Jungle Boy and Orange Cassidy immediately come to mind—and he is helping MJF transform into a top-of-the-industry heel.
Jericho’s ability to craft and execute a story has been on another level this past year. He just finished his “Labors of Jericho” masterpiece, and All Out will be the final salvo to this program, which kicked off last September. Jericho has relished performing the closing out to this story in front of packed arenas, and undoubtedly has some surprises in store for this Sunday’s finale against MJF.
“I worked with Orange Cassidy last year, and we had this tremendous story and angle, but the only drag about it was there were no people live for it,” Jericho says. “Getting in front of a crowd again has added so much to what I’m doing with MJF. And my ‘labors’ is a cool little offshoot of what I did in my story with Jon Moxley, when he had to run the gauntlet and defeat The Inner Circle to get to me. But I thought we could switch it up a bit this time so people couldn’t see what was coming next.”
Based off Greek mythology’s Labors of Hercules, this was a storyline that paid off in the short term and will likely also have a positive effect in the long term. The five opponents were AEW’s Shawn Spears, indie deathmatch icon Nick Gage, former WCW rival Juventud Guerrera, MJF’s bodyguard Wardlow and finally MJF.
“I started with Spears, so people would assume I was going to wrestle all of The Pinnacle,” Jericho says. “Then we threw in the Nick Gage surprise, and everybody flipped out. We went into my past with Juvy. So then people were thinking it was going to be all about past opponents, and maybe you’d see someone like Lance Storm, but then we went to Wardlow. That was so important to the story—Wardlow betrayed me and powerbombed me off the stage last March. He’s going to be a very important part of AEW’s future. And then I had my match with MJF, and people thought I was going to beat him, but I didn’t. You never know what is going to happen with my stories. I’m not going to do what people expect.”
The story has continued to elevate MJF, who is now primed for another run at the world title or perhaps even a program with CM Punk. Jericho took considerable pride in their match two weeks ago on Dynamite, presenting a portrayal of pro wrestling that is very rarely on display.
“I thought it was a really important detail that I tap out to MJF,” Jericho says. “In pro wrestling, a clean submission for a babyface is something that never happens. It’s a sign of weakness if you tap out, even though we see it all the time in UFC. Sometimes, submission losses are even worse because you’re making this decision to tap. In WWE, babyfaces don’t tap out. If they do, they’re lower-level babyfaces. Star babyfaces don’t give up; they pass out. That all started a long time ago [at WrestleMania 13] when Bret Hart had Steve Austin in the Sharpshooter and he passed out. So it was different with me and MJF. This was not me passing out, it was a legit tapping out and a facial expression afterward.
“It’s an important part of the story. Not every show can be Return of The Jedi. There needs to be some Empire Strikes Back in there, too. I remember Empire Strikes Back, seeing Han Solo go into the carbonite and Luke getting his hand chopped off. Then I had to wait three years, all pissed off. But it’s all part of it. So I thought, in our match, what we did added a different layer—not only did MJF win, he made me tap. That paints an even more desperate picture for me entering this rematch at All Out.”
With a loaded card in store for All Out, including the return of CM Punk and a cage match pitting The Young Bucks against The Lucha Brothers, Jericho is ready to stand out by telling the most captivating story.
“There are going to be a lot of completely insane, crazy matches,” Jericho says. “We have a story to tell. Every false finish is going to mean so much, almost like a title match, but even more so with what’s at stake. I want to go out there and have the best match on the show, and more importantly, have the best story told.”
The only certainty for Jericho approaching this Sunday’s pay-per-view is to expect the unexpected.
“I’ve always kept people guessing,” Jericho says. “That’s the way I like to do it, and I plan to do that as much as I possibly can.
“We don’t go back on our stipulations in AEW, which makes this match mean even more. If I lose, I’ll never wrestle again in AEW. I don’t think people expected me to tap out in the fifth ‘Labor or Jericho,’ and people may not expect me to lose this weekend. Win or lose, I’m very proud of the work we’ve done, and I’m looking forward to killing it on Sunday.”
Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.