In recent years, WWE has been under scrutiny for their usage of legends. While guys like Chris Jericho was still a popular act with their audience on a part time schedule, others with the most notable being Bill Goldberg, have not. The difference couldn’t be more drastic, as Chris Jericho in his final years was putting over anybody with opposable thumbs, including Bray Wyatt and Kevin Owens. Both tremendous talents, but had used Jericho to elevate their personas. Bill Goldberg, however, who is now back in the Universal Championship fold again, defeated both as they were the hottest acts in wrestling in relatively quick fashion.
With a majority of the hardcore base once again terrified of the prospect of Bill Goldberg regaining the Universal Championship from Roman Reigns, Jericho has spent the last two years tearing it up in New Japan Pro Wrestling and more recently All Elite Wrestling, the latter of which recently brought in Sting. In the meantime, a lot of critics of AEW are criticizing AEWs decision to bring in legends. This, however, is nothing new. The contrast between how AEW uses their nostalgia acts and how WWE does is overwhelming. Legends such as Jake Roberts, Tazz, The Brainbusters and Vickie Guerrero are passing on their invaluable knowledge on the business while being presented on television in manager roles and establishing credibility to acts such as Nyla Rose, Ricky Starks, Lance Archer and Will Hobbs and further cementing the already established characters for Dax Harwood, Cash Wheeler and Cody Rhodes. On the contrary, the WWE has given Goldberg the belt only to lose it in his first defense and halt the momentum of a red hot superstar multiple times now. Managers used to be the big thing. When a wrestler was too old to add value inside of the squared circle, they’d become a manager much like Mr. Fuji, who gave instant credibility to a tremendous Intercontinental Champion Don Muraco back in the 1980s. The days of a Freddie Blassie or a Lou Albano are long gone, but AEW has revived this notion in a way that show’s that what’s old is new again, hiding the flaws of some of their greener talent.
Perhaps, I’m longing for days of old where I could be entertained by Jimmy Hart or James E. Cornette get their comeuppance. A manager can add so much to a performer’s presentation, exhibit A being what Paul Bearer added to the early Kane persona. Exhibit B would be what Afa added to the persona of the Headshrinkers in the early 1990s. Exhibit C would be what Melina added to MNM in the mid-2000s.
There are so many other great ways to utilize legends. Back in 2002, Hulk Hogan made Brock Lesnar by passing out to the bearhug, essentially saying that Brock Lesnar killed Hulkamania. Bob Backlund in 1994 got absolutely squashed but it made Kevin Nash. Ric Flair put over anybody and everybody from 2002-2007. Mick Foley with Edge in 2006. Batista submitting to Daniel Bryan in the main event of WrestleMania 30. Mickie James NXT appearance against Asuka. Bruno Sammartino was going to make Randy Savage before he had a falling out with Vince McMahon. Historically, the older crop is there to establish the younger crop in the eyes of the audience. This is what Diamond Dallas Page did for Maxwell Jacob Friedman, Matt Hardy for Sammy Guevara, among other examples. WWE has not done this, whether it be with Goldberg, The Undertaker or most anybody else.
Recently, some defenders have tried to justify Goldberg’s involvement by pointing to AEW’s Chris Jericho. Chris Jericho, a thirty year veteran of the industry, is arguably the greatest of all-time. He main evented WrestleMania in the Skydome, he was the first Undisputed Champion, he is one of the biggest draws in professional wrestling history. He stunned the wrestling world in January of 2019 by inking a three-year commitment with AEW at their inaugural press conference. He defeated Adam Page at All Out to become the first AEW World Champion.
The idea wasn’t that AEW gave an older talent their championship. The idea was that whoever defeated Chris Jericho is an instant draw, unlike Bill Goldberg who dropped his Universal Championship to an already-established UFC Heavyweight Champion. Chris Jericho was brought into AEW to bring eyes, at which point he has given them a broader audience. He was brought in to help establish characters on their television program. As a full-time talent (unlike a Goldberg, Undertaker, Edge or any other legend they’ve recently brought back), he’s done just that.
As Champion, he worked with young talents constantly, most notably being Jack Perry. He then lost the championship in his first defense to Jon Moxley, who was the hottest act in the company. Unlike Goldberg who’s twice killed the momentum of the hottest act, he helped propel the momentum. As Orange Cassidy gained momentum, he lost clean to Orange Cassidy twice. He got pinned by Scorpio Sky on national television. He lost to the Elite in the Stadium Stampede on pay-per-view. He recently lost on pay-per-view to Maxwell Jacob Friedman. He just gave Frankie Kazarian a really strong showing. Chris Jericho has not had a major win since losing the championship, because he doesn’t need it and this is how the tradition of the industry that AEW is trying to bring back is supposed to work. Jericho even got an unsigned Independent talent over on commentary.
Jericho also hasn’t been a solo act, even as champion. When Jericho was the top guy in the company, he formed the Inner Circle with four floundering talents: Jake Hager, Ortiz, Sammy Guevara and Santana. Santana and Ortiz were one of the best tag teams in the world, yet hadn’t unlocked their personality. Since joining Chris Jericho, they’ve not only become major players, but two of the most naturally charismatic and entertaining performers on the roster. Sammy Guevara has also really shown his personality and has been a staple in the mid-card range when he wasn’t being utilized before he aligned with Jericho. MJF, who recently was praised by the NY Times for his role in a segment with Jericho that was the idea of Jericho, and his muscle Wardlow recently joined. Wardlow is likely to be their 2005 Batista soon, as you can sense the slow burn paralleled to the Batista vs Triple H story heading into WrestleMania 21 that propelled Batista into superstardom. Wardlow, who wasn’t on the radar of most fans, has been extremely impressive since joining AEW and will only benefit from constantly picking the brain of somebody who knows the business as well as Jericho does.
It’s also not as if Jericho’s ring work is bad. Despite not moving as if he’s still in the WCW Cruiserweight division or putting out matches quite as stellar as his match with Shawn Michaels in Seattle, he’s still capable and often puts on extremely entertaining and quality matches. I can’t think of a bad Chris Jericho match the last two years, nor can I think of a single injury he’s caused, whereas a guy like Bill Goldberg almost paralyzed the Undertaker in what’s probably his most memorable match since since 2003, albeit memorable for all of the wrong reasons.
Who knows what it is that AEW does with Sting? As the old adage goes “the only thing that’s for sure about Sting is nothing’s for sure.” However, to point to Chris Jericho as a reason not to trust All Elite Wrestling when they’ve done literally everything correctly with both Jericho and every other legend brought in, is completely apples and oranges and an attempt to discredit AEW simply for the fact that they’re not WWE. It’s as if somebody is projecting WWE’s faults and failures onto AEW. To have any doubt in AEWs ability to not push their future to the side due to WWE’s negligent and ridiculous booking completely overlooks the fact that AEW promised to be an alternative, and has delivered upon that promise. The idea that Sting will be in any way detrimental in any way or pushed to the moon like it’s 1992 and they need a babyface to go against Vader is devoid of any context whatsoever in regards to why Chris Jericho was the first champion and how AEW has utilized every other older talent.
Chris Jericho has been the perfect pick up for AEW. He’s passed on so much to younger talents, established the championships and AEWs success out of the gate is unlike any other promotion before it. Talents such as the aforementioned Cassidy and Darby Allin have gotten mainstream publicity in a huge way and are the future of Pro Wrestling. They’re already a consistent top five television show on cable and do extraordinarily well in the 18-49 demographic, at such Chris Jericho even anointed himself “the Demogod.” Turner Media has bent over backwards for it, already extended their television deal early and giving them an extra show to start in 2021. Jericho is even about to portray the role of Santa spoofing A Christmas Story in the traditional Christmas Story marathon on TBS. Chris Jericho has been extremely beneficial to the growth of his brand, while Bill Goldberg has been detrimental to the growth of his in recent years.
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