Now let’s talk about three relatively major wrestlers!
XLI. Chris Jericho
I’ve been a fan of Jericho since 1996, so it’s a little weird for me to list him among “relatively major wrestlers,” too. The thing is, I’m not sure he ever really reached his potential.
As we all know, he received his big break in WCW, where he was initially a part of the cruiserweight scene. The cruiserweight scene was a double-edged sword WWE eventually figured out, a division that both gave smaller competitors a guaranteed spotlight, both also locked them into fighting only certain wrestlers, a glass-ceiling situation that eventually greatly frustrated just about every wrestler who ever competed in it, especially in WCW. In WWE, even at that time (1996), Shawn Michaels, who would have been a cruiserweight competitor, was heavyweight champion. (Granted, Vince McMahon is widely known for favoring when he can, larger athletes.)
Jericho began breaking out of the pack by contradicting the stereotype and developing an outsized personality, which might actually have retarded his development as a wrestler. It might be argued that it was more the personality than the wrestler that WWE came to covet, and while it was often said that Jericho was like the second coming of HBK, he soon enough became known as the first coming of Y2J, and that was a harder thing to figure out than anyone first realized. He was a fantastic wrestler, sure, but one who very often relied on the same sequence of moves (think a weird mix of Bret Hart and John Morrison), who could string a good match along with anyone, but who often seemed to be going through the motions. In addition, his outsized personality naturally lent itself to a heel personality, even though his charisma was on par with The Rock’s (so think a petulant John Cena). All of this combined for an oddly unwieldy superstar, who took far longer to become a world champion than anyone expected (there was actually a tease in 2000, but it didn’t really happen until 2001, even though he’d joined WWE to tremendous fanfare and hype in 1999).
It might actually be said that Jericho was more interesting when he was frustrated than otherwise. In 2004, he engaged in one of his most interesting feuds well outside of world title contention when he, long-time ally Christian, and Trish Stratus ended up in one of the most heated love triangles in wrestling history, an angle that lasted for almost a whole year. In 2005, he helped develop the idea for the Money in the Bank ladder match, and helped launch the world championship career of John Cena, before taking the first of his long breaks from the business, to pursue his rock band Fozzy and other entertainment ambitions. Surprisingly, he decided to come back two years later thanks to a match between Cena and Shawn Michaels. Soon, he developed a persona that more closely matched his best possible style, a cocky heel who thought he was better than everyone. Not surprisingly, he became much more successful in this phase, not only engaging in a much more successful feud with Michaels, but capturing several world championships without anyone wondering what he was doing with them. I would actually argue that this two-year period probably helped salvage his career
Like the next man in this block, Chris Jericho has also begun making his name as a memoirist, having now released two books chronicling his wrestling career from a refreshingly candid perspective.
XLII. Mick Foley
Who else could I be talking about? Mrs. Foley’s baby boy has now written four memoirs, plus an assortment of other literary endeavors (including two novels!), an ambition that helped push wrestling into some of its most mainstream popularity at the start of the millennium. The actual wrestling he has participated in has been likened to Jim Ross’s famous phrase, “bowling shoe ugly,” or in other words generally lacking in finesse. One of the original hardcore icons, and at one time described as a “glorified stuntman” by Ric Flair, Mick Foley is also among the most versatile personalities (Cactus Jack, Mankind, Dude Love) to ever grace a wrestling ring, someone who can connect with the fans by squealing like a pig or going for cheap pop (right here, in Colorado Springs!). It might be argued that without him, The Rock would never have become the superstar he is today, both in wrestling and Hollywood.
The irony that some of his signature actions in (or more accurately around) the ring became less important than his increasingly beloved status must not be lost on Mick Foley. The man who was willing to do whatever bump necessary, who’s missing teeth as well as parts of ears because of it, and lives in untold amounts of pain, might never be completely respected as a wrestler (as TNA has discovered, having tried to push him almost exclusively in that regard, and coming up with failure), probably has a surefire legacy all the same.
I remember seeing Cactus Jack on WCW programming, but it was the entrance of Mankind into WWE where my memories truly begin. Mankind was, to put it bluntly, a freak, someone who pulled out his own hair, who was among the first opponents who gave the Undertaker a legitimate challenge (setting him up for Kane, and finally breaking completely free of the supernatural gimmick, even when he finally came back to it). He was such a unique presence, WWE managed to make a star of him, which had proven difficult elsewhere. In time, “Mankind” blended with “Mick Foley,” and we got the Rock ‘n’ Sock Connection (remember that Mr. Socko was originally an extension of Mankind’s Mandible Claw choking maneuver), and eventually just Mick Foley. There was also Dude Love, of course, which was actually Foley’s original idea for a wrestling gimmick, but who really wants to remember that?
Glen Jacobs also portrayed evil dentist Isaac Yankem and the New Diesel, which covers WWE’s original, miscalculated attempts to employ him, but it wasn’t until he became Undertaker’s half-brother (via Paul Bearer!) that he was finally able, under completely ridiculous circumstances, to just be a monster, which was all he ever needed.
Go figure! But he was accepted as a member of the icon scene almost immediately, and rather than being inextricably tied to his “brother,” Kane blended into the rest of the roster pretty nicely, someone who could form a tag team seemingly with anyone (X-Pac, Rob Van Dam, Big Show), offer a challenge to any champion, and who didn’t need to have championship runs more than once almost every decade (a day in 1998, then nearly half a year in 2010, plus an ECW title run). It all sounds so loony, but it really works. Competing under a mask (to hide extensive “fire damage”) in his early years, Kane exposed his face in 2004, and eventually (other than a shaved head and contacts) looked exactly like Glen Jacobs (or Isaac Yankem!), and still easily maintained his monster status. Remember that he was originally mute? Try telling that to fans who marveled at his creepy tirades last year, when he was ranting about the mystery man who attacked his brother, “putting him in a vegetative state,” and then gleefully taking the credit for it, with that cool red lighting.
Still, the knock on Kane is that he hasn’t really evolved his wrestling style, while Undertaker’s been doing that for a decade. But you can’t argue with dependability and success, either. How will posterity remember him? It’ll be interesting when he finally gets to talk about his full career, if he ever breaks the fourth wall while he’s in the ring, or if he waits until the induction ceremony at the WWE Hall of Fame…