Chris Jericho: We Don’t Want All Elite Wrestling to Be WCW or TNA
Chris Jericho is the hardest working performer in show business, but beyond that, the wrestler / rock star refuses to become complacent. Instead of riding his success in WWE, Jericho has jumped ship to the up-and-coming All Elite Wrestling (AEW), a promotion where Chris aims to make a significant impact.
Despite what's certainly a sweet payday for a part-time AEW contract, Jericho refuses to take the Brock Lesnar route, preferring to sacrifice free time and relative comfort for a blooming career with Fozzy, his Talk is Jericho podcast and the upcoming Rock 'N' Wrestling Rager at Sea.
Jericho's life's work is nonstop, but we managed to get Chris on the phone to chat about everything he's up to.
So the big news just dropped. AEW on TNT. Amazing!
Yeah, I mean, it's been a long time coming but a very, very cool announcement and something that took a lot of work to get rolling, but now that it's been announced, it's gonna be another step towards letting everybody know just how legit and how big-time AEW is and is gonna be.
I saw that it's going to have a weekly show in prime time. I've heard a lot of wrestlers say, ‘With AEW, we're really not trying to compete with WWE,’ but I think this changes that, doesn't it?
It's not a war for us, no matter what anybody else thinks or cares about. We're just providing an alternative. Competition, I suppose. Just by the fact that we exist could be seen as competition, but it's not a war for me. I've got no ill will or any desire to put anybody out of business or anything like that. We're just providing an alternative to the norm.
I've seen a lot of wrestling fans leave after the last 20 years of no alternative, no other major companies. To be on TNT and to be on such a major network just shows everybody that we mean business and what we say and what we're gonna do, which is provide a great alternative for people who love the sport of wrestling.
It’s going to be great for fans. Competition always breeds the best content, so I think it'll be awesome for everybody. You'll have AEW on the Jericho Cruise in January 2020. Can fans expect the matches on this to be televised at all? Or is it more like a house show at sea?
I mean, if we're going live every Tuesday or Wednesday, which is what everybody's talking about, and the cruise takes place over a Tuesday or Wednesday, I'll let you do the math as to what we may or may not have planned.
I'll say this, it sure looked great last year when you saw the matches on that boat. You're not gonna see an atmosphere or background or scenario like that anywhere else. I want to continue to take advantage of that because it's something that makes the Jericho Cruise very unique because it's the only place in the world where you're gonna see matches in the middle of the ocean, and just imagine how exciting it would be if those matches were televised live on national TV.
I can't help but notice that your Dad is going to be on the cruise this year. How did you swing that one?
Well, he came last year and he has a great lawyer and a great agent. I had to really give him a hell of an offer, but he came last year and he's just a super friendly guy and just loves to be around and loves to be a part of everything and a lot of people were asking, "Is your dad coming back this year? Is your dad coming back this year?" So I said, ”Well shit, man I might as well advertise he's gonna be there because there's a lot of people that are asking for him."
And once again, the idea of the cruise is just to have a really great collection of awesome people that I'm friends with and that I respect and whether it's somebody like Ric Flair, or the biggest of the big, or whether it's Ted Irvine, or whether it's, you know, Red Cup Geoff being the bartender. It’s people that I know are good characters and that, a lot of them, you're only gonna see on the Jericho Cruise. As you know, when you're doing anything you have to build your home-grown talent, so Ted Irvine at 75 years old is a home-grown Jericho Cruise character now.
I'm guessing he had a blast last year?
Yeah, he had a huge blast. He's very proud of what I've been able to accomplish and respects the business, respects rock and roll, everybody that works hard. He just loves being a part of it. That's where I got my people skills. He fits right in with the gypsies, tramps and thieves that I have on the cruise for the second time around.
I'm glad you get to share this with him. Whenever Scott Ian’s on a metal cruise, he famously locks himself in his cabin and stays there and doesn't like to talk to people. But we can expect you to be mingling with everybody on the Jericho cruise, right?
Yeah, I mean, that's one of the reasons why I think the Jericho Cruise was so successful and word of mouth is so huge. I make sure to check out every band, every act, every comedian. Everyone that I booked on the cruise I want to see, even if it's only for five minutes or the whole show because I want to see it for myself. I'm entertained by all these people.
I don't understand why you want to go on a cruise and lock yourself up the whole time. I remember Lita Ford did that. We did the KISS Kruise and it's like, it's boring just sitting in your cabin. The very first day, everybody wants to see you and wants to take a picture. Second day, it's half of that. Third day, you're just another guy on the ship. By the fourth day you're one of the gang that's making friends and having a good time, and that's what it's all about.
That's what I made sure to do last time, was to be a part of everything so people would see Chris Jericho onstage singing with Shoot to Thrill, the AC/DC tribute band we had on; get hit in the face with Blizzard of Oz, the Ozzy cover band. The guitar player hit me in the face with his headstock. I had to go for stitches on the first night of the cruise. Fuck me, man, if that's not being a part of it and having a good time, I don't know what is. It's something I encourage, obviously you don't have to, but when you're on the cruise, everybody is having a great time and I want everybody to see and be a part of it as much as they possibly can.
I heard so many good things about the cruise. Everyone I knew who went had the best time. I'm interested in the challenges in booking something like this because it's not just booking an act for one night, you've got these acts for 4-5 days on this boat. What are the challenges in booking them for that long?
There’s a lot of challenges. I think one of the payoffs of the cruise is an all-expenses-paid vacation. Now, if you're talking about in rock and roll, there are so many cruises, but those cruises are dealing just with bands. So the bands are making a majority of the budget and talent budget. For me, I've got wrestling, I've got comedians, I've got live podcasts, I've got rock and roll, so I have to find bands that are going to do it within the budget that I have. Maybe they'll do it as a favor. Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, last year… I mean Phil wasn't getting his full rate to play. He didn't give a shit. He was there just to hang out because he wanted to be a part of it.
When I was starting to look for bands last year, I was realizing that bands want a whole shitload of money and I don't have the type of budget, so I need to find bands that fit my vibe and what I'm looking for, which is a great rock and roll show. Just so happened that Corey Taylor was available. His girlfriend is one of the Cherry Bombs. Like I said, Phil Campbell decided he wanted to go because he's a good friend of mine, he loves wrestling and he just wanted to be a part of it.
Then you throw Fozzy in there. I kind of pulled the old Ron Smallwood with Iron Maiden method where it's like I'll just build the cruise around my band because I know that my band is not going to screw me and I know that my band is not going to try and price gouge me. So when Fozzy signed up, and then you've got Corey Taylor and then you've got Phil Campbell and the Bastard Sons, then you've got the Stir, a great rock and roll band from Atlanta, throw in a couple of others. That kind of gave me my template for what I wanted to do this year.
So once again this year it's Fozzy on top, then I've got Light the Torch because Howard Jones is a great friend of mine. They're a great rock and roll band. Jared James Nichols is one of the best guitar players in the world today. Then I tracked down one of my favorite bands from the ‘80s that doesn't do all the ‘80s rock cruises called Kick Axe, from Canada, put them on the bill, and that's when everything just started panning out from there. That's what I like to do, is book a great cruise and not kill my budget.
Last year, everybody made money on the cruise but me, but that's okay because I wasn't there to make money. The first time I was there to create a franchise, a franchise destination vacation, the same way that KISS has, and make it something that people want to go to every year, regardless of who is or who isn't on it.
You see AEW stars like Cody and the Young Bucks out front. They seem to be working so hard. As a guy with a huge work ethic yourself, what can you tell me about how much effort these guys are putting in to make AEW work?
Well, you're starting something from scratch. That's never happened before. The WWE has been around since the 30s and 40s. WCW was around since around the same time, whether it's the NWA. We're starting from scratch. So you've got a lot of guys from the travel agents to the guys building the ring, to the production guys… everybody is basically doing this for the first time or for the first time in this company. So there's a lot of work to go on. For me, when I was presented with the opportunity to be kind of in an executive role, I didn't want it. I wanted to be a performer. I have too much stuff going on as well.
We were talking about Fozzy, we just had a record that had three Top 10 hits on it. We have a lot of momentum and a lot of expectations and what we need to do for our next records a well. I’m one of the top guys in the AEW. Yes, I’m in the main event of the very first show. I'm going to crush that show and all the shows I'm involved with, but I also got a very successful podcast, I’ve got a rock and roll band that's gone three levels up in the last year and a half, that has nothing but more levels to go. We’ve got a record to write and record, we have a tour in September that we booked around the Iron Maiden show that we're doing at the stadium in L.A. So there's a lot of stuff going on with Jericho outside of the actual wrestling business.
It would not be fair for me to be an executive in AEW when you can't give 100 percent because you have to give 100 percent when you're doing something like that behind the scenes. That's why I think we've got a very young executive team, which is great, because it's the first time ever that you've seen that. I think it's going to reflect on who’s watching the show, the demographics and the ratings that we do.
Is there anyone who is a free agent that you’d really love to see become part of the Elite?
I don’t, because like I said, if you look at the roster that we have it's made up of a lot of great performers. You've get a guy like Kenny Omega, who’s one of the best wrestlers in the world. A huge star, but not on a national basis in the States. People are going to see this guy and go, ‘Who is this guy? He's amazing!’ He’s going to be like a 15-year overnight sensation. The same thing with the Young Bucks and a lot of the guys that are on the roster. I think our roster is stacked and I have matches in my mind for the next two years.
I don't think we're interested in getting a lot of so-called free agents. If you leave the WWE, it doesn't necessarily mean that we're going to take you in AEW. We don't want this to be TNA or WCW, where they were just taking everybody. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but there's too much talent out there with potential huge name value. That's what we want.
We've got Chris Jericho. We've got Jim Ross. We've got Cody who had a lot of WWE experience and I'm sure there will be one or two other guys out there who will come through. Other than that, we're building our own stars because that's how you make it in show business. Like the cruise, you build your own stars. It’s something that no one can see anywhere else and they're going to tune in to check out your show.
You’re saying that you have the foresight to see two years ahead. Is Omega a guy that you'd like to keep working after Double or Nothing?
Oh, absolutely. If you're talking about Jericho vs. Omega at the Tokyo Dome last year, was one of the matches of the year. Great chemistry, the first time we ever met each other in the ring, so obviously you want to do more. When it came time to do Double or Nothing, what's the main event? Well, the biggest main event we could think of is Jericho vs. Omega. A rematch of this match that everybody had talked about that did huge business… everybody wants to see it. The fact that we sold 12,000 tickets in four minutes will tell you that. Some people will go, ‘Well why would you give out that match so quickly?’ Well, to me, you never assume there's going to be a second show. This first show, we had to come out of the gate and totally kill it and let people know what we're all about, and the best way to do that is give your biggest and best match right off the bat.
We have a lot to live up to from the Tokyo Dome match, but I'm completely confident to be in there with Kenny and I think it's going to be another great match at the end of another great show. It really sets the tone for AEW from here on and I think it's gonna be a match that we're gonna do probably quite a few times over the next few years. And why wouldn't you? When you have great chemistry with somebody, you want to do as many matches as you can with them, if placed in the right position.
With AEW, your contract is for three years. What does that mean for Fozzy?
It's business as usual for Fozzy, because my contract is not a completely full-time contract. We're going to pick and choose the dates that we want to do, but they're all going to be important dates, but in the meantime there's still plenty of time to tour with Fozzy and continue to build the band. That's another thing that's very important to me, another reason why I signed with AEW, because I need a little bit of a looser schedule.
Plus, I'm 48 years old, and nothing against the fine people of Sheboygan, Wisconsin, but to work a 5PM show on a Sunday afternoon is probably something I don't need to be doing at this point in time, nor am I going to. I'll play there with Fozzy. [laughs] That's a whole different thing, but if you look at what I did last year, I had 5 matches. I really picked and chose my spots very carefully and made sure that they all were matches and shows that would make a difference for me and continue to help me evolve my character and have that longevity at the highest of levels that people expect from Chris Jericho. I couldn't do that if I was working 100 matches a year.
When do you predict a new Fozzy album?
Rich Ward and Johnny Andrews, who produced the last record, have been writing for the last couple of months. The stuff that we have is amazing. I think the idea is to have at least a single ready by September to coincide with the Maiden show and that Unleash the West tour that we're doing to kind of put around the Maiden gig. I think a new record out early next year.
New Fozzy music on the Cruise?
Yeah, that might be a good place to debut a whole bunch of it. We're with Sony Records now and I've heard some different ideas. Maybe we just do nine singles and don't do a full album. We're excited to do a record if they want us to, or if they want us to release singles like they do in the Top 40 world, that's fine too. All that matters is that people hear your music and get a chance to see you live. Whether you have a full record or whether you have a song that's coming out every six weeks or whatever it may be, as long as people are excited about it and as long as the material is good, that's all that matters.
AEW's 'Double or Nothing' pay-per-view will air on May 25. To check out the full Jericho Cruise lineup and to grab a cabin on board the ship, click here.
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