Chris Jericho will step into the ring Friday night on Rampage in a six-man tag team match, teaming with Sammy Guevara and Jake Hager against Scorpio Sky, Ethan Page and former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos.
But this won’t be the first time Jericho has faced off against a former UFC heavyweight champ.
Five years ago, Brock Lesnar headlined WWE’s SummerSlam in a match against Randy Orton. The encounter did not play out the way the crowd—or even the WWE roster—had anticipated. During the match, Lesnar removed his gloves and hit Orton with a vicious flurry of elbows and strikes, leaving Orton lying in a pool of his own blood as the match was awarded to Lesnar via a rare TKO.
Jericho, who was one of the most prominent voices at the time in the WWE locker room, stormed around backstage demanding answers about the finish of the match. His frustration caught the attention of Lesnar, who invited Jericho to take action if he was truly that unhappy.
So that is what Jericho did.
“When you get into that moment, it is what it is,” Jericho says. “You either go for it, or you put your tail between your legs and hide, and I’ve never been that type of guy. I’m more of the type to die with boots on. So I’ve had my issues and shoots with MMA guys before, like that one with Brock Lesnar, and I survived by the skin of my teeth.”
The match on Rampage with dos Santos will be a far different type of moment for Jericho. Now feuding with The Men of the Year (Sky and Page) as well as with Dan Lambert, the established MMA presence who founded American Top Team two decades ago, Jericho is looking to hit multiple targets.
Lambert has introduced some of his MMA stars to AEW, including dos Santos and UFC star Jorge Masvidal, who will also be ringside on Rampage, bringing more notoriety to the match. The six-man affords an opportunity for heavyweight giant dos Santos to work the craft with a 30-year wrestling legend in Jericho.
“It’s going to stand out as an attraction,” Jericho says. “There is a good chance that Jorge gets involved. And when you watch Junior dos Santos, you’re not going to see him do a leapfrog or a dropkick. He’s going to look like a UFC champion in the ring. I’m not expecting him to go out there and be Lawrence Taylor at WrestleMania. I want him to go out there and beat the crap out of us.
“And Dan Lambert is an actual heel out there. He understands the business. There will be a lot to the endgame here. One of the reasons is to get Junior dos Santos into the ring, which you’ll see on Friday.”
Another integral piece to this program is to use the spotlight to elevate Sky and Page. Jericho worked a brief but meaningful program with Sky two years ago during his run as AEW’s inaugural champion, and he is looking forward to adding another layer to their story.
“The idea is to get these guys over,” Jericho says. “I worked with MJF for nearly a year with The Inner Circle and The Pinnacle, and the idea was always to get MJF and Sammy Guevara over as bigger stars. I now get to work the UFC guys and bring Ethan and Scorpio to the next level.”
One of the early highlights of this program took place as Masvidal drilled Jericho in the head with a running knee, the same spot that has knocked out opponents in the Octagon.
“Seeing Jorge Masvidal kick the s--- out of me is helping get people invested in this angle,” Jericho says. “And if Masvidal tries to hit me again with that knee, we’ll see what happens.”
AEW is using crossover stars in a manner that is reminiscent of WCW’s approach two and a half decades ago. But Jericho wants the payoff to be different in AEW, as the goal is to continue to build stars from within the walls of the company.
“People are going to see on Rampage that this is a different light for Sky and Page, especially next to the UFC stars,” Jericho says. “They have so much to offer. Scorpio had the first-ever victory against me in AEW. That was a big deal at the time. Then he finished his story with SoCal Uncensored, and I think he’s going to be one of our linchpins in the future. The goal is to get Scorpio and Page to the next level, and we’re going to do it in a very entertaining story line.”
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Justin Barrasso can be reached at JBarrasso@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @JustinBarrasso.